While it might seem almost any saxophone would do for a beginner, having a saxophone that works properly is actually critical. Making the initial notes is challenging when the saxophone works as it should, impossible when it doesn't. A beginner who can't make the correct sounds while others do is quickly discouraged. Band directors can often predict a student will drop out of band by looking at the quality and condition of the instruments they begin on.
A beginner doesn't need the best saxophone, but s/he does need a saxophone that doesn't leak (require excessive air), is in correct adjustment (plays the correct notes when the right keys are pressed), plays in tune with the other instruments, and can be repaired and adjusted as it (inevitably) needs it.
Appropriate beginner saxophones are available from many sources:
- Buying outright. If you're sure your child will like playing music and will want to stay with the saxophone, buying a saxophone outright might make sense. However saxophones that are appropriate for school band aren't inexpensive, and it's difficult to tell which type of saxophone will be right for the long term until the student has played at least a few months.
- Renting. Renting gives the child (and parents) time to see how s/he likes playing
music, consider whether saxophone is the correct instrument, and consider
what type of saxophone is right for the longer term. The band director knows and usually advises beginners' parents where they can rent the right kind of instruments, considering not just the cost of rental and quality of the instruments, but also the condition they are kept in and the support the company provides to keep the instruments playing properly. Rent paid is usually applicable to the later purchase of an instrument. This is the most popular way to start a student in music.
- Buy (or borrow) a used one. When a good used saxophone can be borrowed or gotten at a low enough price, it might make sense for a beginner to get started. But check first with the band director to assure the saxophone you're considering is the appropriate quality and will play in tune with the band. Then take it to an instrument repair shop to see what it will take to put it in playing condition. (Saxophones that have been sitting up for a year or more virtually always need some or all of the pads replaced to play properly, typically at a cost of $200-600. )
- Internet. Although the Internet is considered a dangerous place to buy a musical instrument, someone who knows what they're doing and is careful can sometimes find a bargain. By some estimates 90-95% of the saxophones sold on the Internet are foreign off-brands or are otherwise inappropriate for school band use (despite what the ads say); indeed many directors say they are the directors' and students' worst nightmare. However someone who is knowledgeable about brands, models, and condition can occasionally find a suitable saxophone on the Internet, sometimes at a good price. Once again, be sure to ask the director if a saxophone is appropriate for band, and either check its condition carefully or anticipate repair costs as part of your purchase math, since a saxophone that has been sitting up virtually always needs pad replacement to play properly.