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Saxophone Solos – What Do These 6 Sax Solos Have in Common?

By September 14, 2019January 7th, 2022saxophone solos

What Do These 6 Great Saxophone Solos Have in Common?

Some might say these are some of the best saxophone solos in rock. They’re all tenor saxophone solos except The Logical Song which is played on an alto. They are all played using the pentatonic scale. A pentatonic scale has only 5 notes. The first four songs are in a minor so the scale is a pentatonic minor. Born To Run is in a major key and the last song The Wanderer is in a major key and so the scale used there is the pentatonic major.

Logical Song – Supertramp

This song is in the key of C minor. So if you’re playing a Bb saxophone you will need to play the D minor pentatonic. For Eb saxes you will play the A minor pentatonic scale

Money – Pink Floyd

Money is in the key of B minor. If you’re playing it on a Bb saxophone then you need to play your C# minor pentatonic scale. For Eb saxophones you’ll be playing a G# minor.

Money Tenor Sax Solo

Urgent – Foreigner

This song is in E minor. So if you’re playing a Bb sax you’ll need to use the F# minor pentatonic scale. For Eb sax use the C# minor pentatonic.
My version of Urgent is here.

Urgent Tenor Sax Solo

Born to Run – Springsteen

This song is in E major. So if you’re playing a Bb sax you’ll need to use the F# major pentatonic scale. For Eb sax use the C# major pentatonic.
My version of Born To Run is here.

Born To Run Tenor Sax Solo

Brown Sugar – Rolling Stones

This song is in the key of C major but slips into Eb for the solo. Bobby keys uses the minor pentatonic because Eb is the relative minor of C major so it works out. The Bb saxes need to use the D minor pentatonic and the Eb saxophones will use the A minor pentatonic scale. My version of Brown Sugar is here

Brown Sugar Tenor Sax Solo

The Wanderer – Dion

The Wanderer is in D major. That means Bb saxophones will use the E major pentatonic scale and the Eb saxes will use the B major pentatonic scale.
My version of The Wanderer is here.

The Wanderer Tenor Sax Solo

Below are 2 examples of the C pentatonic scales. You can figure out the pentatonic scale from any regular major scale, simply take the 1,2,3,4, and 5th notes from it and you have the pentatonic major of that scale.
To figure out the minor, simply take the 1, b3, 4, 5, and b7 notes of any regular major scale and you have the minor pentatonic of that scale.

C Major Pentatonic Scale ( 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 )



C Minor Pentatonic Scale ( 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 )

The Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is something that should get you very excited! Why? Because it’s the easiest and perhaps the most commonly used scale musicians use to solo over just about any music.

Why does the pentatonic scale work over just about any song or type of music?

If you look at the notes and their relationship to the major scale you’ll see that 3 of the 5 notes are actually the chordal notes, so of course each of these 3 notes are the most important and perfect-sounding. The other two notes are “scale-friendly” notes, meaning they blend in nicely and are not a scale note with any tension or one that sounds like it must be resolved right away.

I thought it would be interesting and possibly inspiring for some to hear solos you’ve probably heard countless times and not even realized this.

When you do realize it, and then discover that these scales are very easy to play and theoretically simple to understand, then you are a lot closer to being able to play them, plus many others yourself.

The truth is, if I had the time I could sit here all day long and make a list of songs with saxophone solos as long as my arm that fit into this category, but I’m sure you’ll get the picture with these 5 quite varied solos that I picked at random.

What is the most popular type of sax played in songs that have saxophone solos in them?

I can think of many songs with alto and tenor sax solos in them. Songs like Jerry Raferty’s Baker Street which has an alto sax. The sax part is not an actual solo but rather repeated riff lines throughout it. Also George Michael’s Careless Whisper has an alto playing the sax riffs, also not an actual solo. Year of the Cat has an alto solo. A great one is Just The Way You Are by Billy Joel with the great jazz saxophonist Phil Woods on alto.

The most used type of sax in pop songs is the tenor. Just about everything that came out of the 50’s and 60’s usually had the tenor.

Not so many with baritone though. An obvious song with a bari solo is Take a Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed. Also check out the great band Tower of Power with Doc Kupka, one of the co-creators and bandleaders on bari.

For the soprano sax not so much, Listen to What the Man Said by Paul McCartney comes to mind. Also from the 70’s Fool If You Think It’s Over.

If you can think of more songs with saxophone solos in them please leave them in the comment box below…

Do You Want to Play Your Own Improvised Saxophone Solos?

One of the best ways to learn about soloing is to copy other players. This you can do with the music written out from some of the examples above. But ultimately most of us want to be able to create our own improvised solos.

I have a free “Beginning Improvisation Mini-Course” for any sax player that wants to learn how to improvise…

What is the “Beginning Improvisation Mini-Course”?

  • a practical, hands on series of step-by-step tutorials
  • we’ll be keeping it simple using only one scale
  • play-along exercises starting with only one note

FREE Tequila Download Bundle

Register now and receive absolutely free:

  • Tequila saxophone sheet music
  • matching play-along mp3 backing track
  • how to play the Tequila sax solo tutorial
  • Beginning Improvisation Mini-Course (as described above)
Sign up and get started now!


  • jake says:

    Of the many sax solos I love, the one that really inspired me to pick up the sax was the solo from Urgent. I have been dying to play that solo. Finally getting the high F to start flowing after a year. After reading your e-book and looking at scales, it is amazing how many solos are derived from these various scales we are learning. Can’t wait until it starts coming together and flows easier. Thanks

    • I have two. What Does it Take by Jr Walker and Jungle Land by Clarence Clements. If I can ever learn to play those two I would be overjoyed

      • Mike Smith says:

        It was the Jungle land solo for me to, which I have a transcription for . The sticking point for me is the altisimo G though F# is fine. Jonny you mention barritonee. Watch the vidio of Shine on you crazy diamond and see Dick Parry walk on for the solo playing the barritone the half way through swing it out of the way bring the tenor round to finish.

  • Tim56 says:

    Johnny: Outstanding tunes to use! Do you have printed music for these? I don’t have your E book, but now I will get it. Tim

    • john says:

      Hey Tim, Brown Sugar is in the eBook and has several video’s on it to dissect the solo so you can see just how it relates to that particular scale. The rest of these songs were just picked at random so no, I don’t have any notes for them.

  • Lou Canning says:

    Hi Johnny I submitted a comment & it had disappeared

    • john says:

      When a comment is submitted it sits in a waiting list for approval. This is done so we don’t get spammers.
      Just post your comment, click the submit button and forget about it for a while…next time you come back it’ll probably be there.

  • Leave it to Johnny for preserving those awesome songs that we all love so much. HEY EVERYBODY: You should head over to Johnny’s site on and check out the new song that he did “Sax Twist” He did all of the backtrack music on his MAC cpu and I tell you, it sounds so good, you would think he was up on stage playing and someone recorded his performance. And his Sax playing on that song?!? Man oh man. Go check it out!

  • Hey Johnny, I actually started going through what you have to teach on the improvisation link, just checking it out. I will get heavily into learning it though once I finish your ebook How to play Saxophone. I’ve learned half of the major scales-I do mean really learning them, up the scale, down the scale, staccato, slurring, tenuto, etc.. Thanks Johnny!

  • Lou Canning says:

    Lou Canning

    Hi Johnny love the site I no u are a busy man & I have bought most of your songs & sheet music u put up love the Blue but I find it frustrating when u go up to the higher octave to p,ay the tunes & it’s off putting trying to mimic you when you do this,I would love u to do a few lessons on the Ornaments & embellishments u talk about & do in sons like Fly Me To The Moon,wonderful world & mack the knife,night train & Ain’t no Sunshine I’m sure I would have no problem paying u for that lesson or vid u would put up, I asked this of u b4 but u said u were to busy,I can c that the site is getting bigger especially the new part were guys & girls are putting up there own vids,the songs I mentioned above are very well known sing & if u put it out there I think us beginners would pay for your time,just if u could slow down things in a video as how to do the little things that matter.i need to ask u a ? About mack the knife I bought last night from ur site as I said I contribute to u as I love what u do.will get the sheet music & ask the ?s if u don’t mind please respond to my ? Thanks Lou

    September 20, 2013Reply

  • Hey Johnny, i’m from the Netherlands and i would like to buy youre ebook but i don’t want to use paypal because of the privacy, i have heard too many stories of acounts that were lost and other shit stuf about paypal. Is there another way like I-deal to pay the amount and have me sent the book ? You’re doing great, love everything !! X Lida

    • john says:

      Hi Lida, I’m pretty sure when you click the Paypal button you will still have the option to use your credit card so it doesn’t actually goi through Paypal. The other way is to buy it at Amazon.

  • Tim56 says:

    Lida: I have been using paypal for years in the states. I have not heard of the problems you take of? So, I would give it a try. I have done many tunes on Johnny’s site and have had no problems. Good luck. Tim

  • Hi Lida, I too have bought almost all of Johnny’s sheet music/backtrack bundles and have never had any issues when paying with paypal. Same goes with his ebooks.

  • Hey Johnny: I’m really looking forward to playing solos like this! Is that what “How to Play Killer Blues” will teach me how to do? Is the “Improvisation” lessons kind of like what I will be learning in How to Play Killer Blues revolves around? I haven’t looked at the Killer Blues ebook yet, as I didn’t want to try to get ahead of myself and start learning things that I wasn’t ready for. But I’m definitely progressing towards that point. It’s only a matter of time!

    • john says:

      Yes exactly, that is my point. All these solos are comprised of the simple 5 and 6 note scales I teach in Killer Blues.
      The Brown Sugar solo is the one we dissect and study really closely but all these fall into the same category…that was the point of this post.

  • john says:

    Michael, you can have a look at the scaes in Killer Blues. Now that you know the regular major scales, see how they relate and then learn the blues and pentatonic scales in the book to start getting a feel for them.

  • Hey Johnny: I already started looking through it this morning- I couldn’t help myself; what can I say? 🙂 I was looking through the improvisation lesson here on the home page and have had a tune beaming in my head using the scale for Eb sax that you teach there/using the backtrack that you have that goes along with that lesson. That scale is easy–I actually started to take the major scales I’ve learned in the ebook this week and play them like a Pentatonic Scale, 1,2,3,5, and 6, just to experiment–a light bulb went off in my head, not only why you teach the major scales first, but also the things I could do with all of this! What I’m going to go ahead and do is go through the improvisation lesson-all of it-on the home page, break down the lesson so that I really learn it, write down on sheet music this tune beaming in my head using the scale for Eb sax and put something on the blog with the backtrack that you have along with that lesson. Learning notes on a page/playing those songs is great fun for sure, but this would be great to show everyone what even beginners, like myself, can do with these simple scales. This will also be a great intro to get my feet wet for your next book too.

  • HOWARD DALEY says:

    hi johnny
    just paid for e book, can t find it on my computer
    thanks for your time.
    my email is uk

  • paul kelly says:

    Hi johnny
    just downloaded tequila with the backing track
    and I must say thank you. A great tune to play
    I will try and get a vid of myself on here playing it
    and I will download your ebook. Many thanks dude.

  • Hey Paul Kelly, I just did Tequila in the member’s videos about a month ago,and the last few notes of the solo are slightly run-in together and has a slight pause in the high F because of being sick with allergies, you can see in the solo I played for Tequila the truthfullness of what Johnny says in this subject of the blog about Improvisation and how it can help you to do things on your Saxophone that others can’t do–and it’s a really cool feeling to say the least 🙂 His ebook on “How to Play Killer Blues” will give you the understanding on HOW these great players can take a scale and come up with these killing Saxophone solos. Johnny’s instruction gave me the understanding I needed to break down the solo of Tequila and learn to play it. I have been working on breaking down other solos in Alto and Tenor and I will be uploading to the “Member’s videos”here on the blog in a couple of weeks one of Johnny’s songs that he did on Alto Sax, which is very popular and has a fantastic solo. People just want to be learning to play songs all the time and learning how to Improvise will take your playing to a whole new level 🙂

  • Craig Scott says:

    If I can someday play Clarence Clemon’s solo from “Jungleland” I’ll die a happy man.

    • john says:

      You can do it Craig! It;s like all his other solos, basically just using the 5 notes of the pentatonic scale (1,2,3,5,6) Which, since that song is in the key of F most of the sax solo is using F,G,A C,D. Now that you know that (if you didn’t realize it before) start taking his solo one bit a t a time and copy what he does… 90% is using those notes.

  • Hi Johnny. Just purchased the altissimo lesson bundle and I look forward to working on the drills. A pop song that features soprano is Carol King’s JAZZ MAN…solo by Tom Scott, I think. Another tidbit…Others referred to tenor solo in JUNGLELAND which is great and doesn’t seem out of reach for any determined player. I’d heard that Springsteen ‘wrote’ that solo and had Clarence play it exactly as he wrote it. Maybe others can verify. Just trivia; that solo is still great and fits the song perfectly regardless of its precise origin. John Anderson

  • john says:

    yes, like I mentioned in an earlier reply, Jungleland solo is just 5 notes (the major pentatonic scale) I don’t know about if Bruce hummed it to Clarrence but it sounds 100% Clarence to me…just like 90% of his other solos.

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  • Hi Johnny. I love your site and have purchased several songs so far as well as following tutorials and fully appreciate learning the basics is key. Walk before you try to run !! The songs don’t sound great just now but they improve week on week. Just wanted to voice my appreciation and to mention a couple of songs with Sax solos that made me want to learn. One of them is Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’. The other is Hazel O’Connor’s ‘Will You’ from the Breaking Glass soundtrack. Amazing !! Thanks again.

  • john says:

    Hey David, yes good selections there….thanks for posting.

  • Hi Johnny. I am still loving both your site and playing, and as I sound better….. (or I think I do), the buzz I get makes me want to practice more where previously when I sounded so bad for such a long time, it was easy to lose heart. I love the tunes you put up and have quite a few of them now. I had a great time over the festive period with Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Hopefully they will be perfectly polished for next year. I was hoping I could sow a seed for one of next year’s Christmas tunes…. All Alone On Christmas… (From Home Alone 2) by Darlene Love with the great Clarence Clemens. I would like to think I will have figured most of it out myself by next year but if it was available on your site, I would still buy it regardless. Am off now to have my first bash at ‘How Sweet It Is’. Thanks again Johnny. Hope your knee is getting better. Dave

  • Mike Smith says:

    Jonny in the minor pentatonic am I reading write and your leaving out the second and sixth and flattening third and seventh instead of forth and seventh?

  • john says:

    yes almost…
    the pentatonic minor is: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7
    the pentatonic major is: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6

    if you look closely you’ll see that the minor pentatonic has notes from the Eb major scale.
    what is the relative minor of Eb major? the answer is C minor.

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