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Embouchure

Discussion in 'Playing' started by ArtyLady, Sep 1, 2010.

  1. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Hi all,

    need a bit of advice (or maybe just reassurance!:confused:) - sorry for the long post!

    I'm working on Trinity Grade 6 jazz (on Tenor). All fine apart from one piece - Bob Mintzer's Lyrical. It's been challenging me in the stamina department as I'm not used to playing whole pieces through from the dots (well not since my classical flute days). Most of my playing is improvising - jazz and blues and stuff) and I think I've always been able to compensate a tired embouchure by managing my improvising to take little rests and breaths when I need them so have never been particularly aware that I had a problem.

    Now this piece has many many long notes and faster passages (2.5 pages long) and my embouchure is breaking down very quickly. It reached a peak the other day and I felt VERY depressed and decided I'd better re-evalute things. So I've had a good old rummage round t'internet and Pete's site, done lots of reading including Larry Teal's method.

    I have concluded that my embouchure was not right and that I was relying heavily on biting upwards to get higher notes, so this week I have concentrated on rectifying it - all I've done is long tones whilst relaxing my jaw (dropping my lower teeth down) and working on the "O" shape for the lips and doing the "ooo - eeee" excercised to strengthen my lips and facial muscles. I'm very pleased with my sound this way - so much fuller and richer too :welldone

    Now for the depressing bit.... I cannot get my higher register in tune (and it's wobbly!) If I really pull in the corners of my mouth this seems to straighten out my bottom lip putting the required pressure on the reed (all the whilst avoiding biting up and keeping the jaw relaxed) and using a stronger air stream......does this sound correct? :confused: (and will I eventually be able play for much longer without my embouchure breaking down completely as it was doing?)

    Many thanks for any opinions advice etc,

    Arty :)
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  2. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff

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    When you start to relax your embouchure, it's normal for you to need to push the mouthpiece a bit further in to compensate. It could be just a question of you tuning up with a tight embouchure, but then adopting the relaxed embouchure later.

    Alternativley try actually tuning a little sharp.
  3. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    I get what you're saying Pete and I will try that :) but what worries me is that the upper register is coming out flatter than the lower register if I just keep the same relaxed embouchure, so is it right that I have make some adjustment to correct my intonation? (ie by pulling in the corners of my mouth to strengthen my bottom lip rather than biting up with my teeth which I know now to be wrong? :confused:)
  4. Taz

    Taz Busking Oracle

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    Have you thought about changing your reeds to a slightly softer one? I'm not sure what your using now, but that might help. It may not be a long term solution, but I change my reed strength quite often, sometimes strong, sometimes soft. Depends on the mood and what style I'm playing. When I go busking, I play nice soft ballads so I use a vandoren 2. When I play with my band, I use a vandoren 2.5. It's always worth trying a few different reeds, but give each type a good test.
    I hope that helps.
  5. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Hi Taz - yes funnily enough that's been an issue too so yesterday I went from Vandoren 2.5 down to a 2 - lovely sounding reed and easy to blow - so no trouble there.

    I've just purchased and received Pete's book (many thanks Pete! :welldone) and did as Pete advised above - tuned it sharper than normal so the upper register is in tune on the new relaxed embouchure and amazingly the lower register took care of itself!, - went throught he first Long Tone excercises in the book and really worked on not biting and managed it! :welldone I'm going to keep working on those until it's automatic - might have to take time out from playing any pieces for a while as I don't want to slip back.

    Also worrying me is weak lip muscles are quite shaky (making the sound a bit like a little old lady singing :))) ) seriously though I presume and hope that shakiness goes away! :shocked:
  6. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Today's update.....things improved even in just 24 hours!

    I'm keeping my my lower teeth and jaw down and as relaxed as possible, imagining my lips to be an elastic band and trying only to put just enough tension there to try and stop my lip quivering but it tires very quickly and my tendency still is to start to bite......so thats the point I stop and rest.

    My air stream control has gone a bit awry as I'm just taking deep breaths and going for it just concentrating purely on the embouchure (bit loud and foghorn-like :))) ) Next step long tones soft and loud will hopefully get some control back there.

    I think I just need to keep working on the long tone exercises and some very slow scales work for now - that way I will have the muscle memory well and truly instilled. :) I do hope this doesn't take too long to sort out!
  7. half diminished

    half diminished Senior Member

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  8. Morgan Fry

    Morgan Fry Senior Member

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    +1 to Pete and m7b5. Often the problem isn't that the top end is flat, it's that the bottom end is sharp. One of the best players I know pushes in all the way over the cork and has more control over his sound than anybody else I've ever seen. Doing overtone exercises (like in Rascher's Top Tones) is the way to develop control of the sound without embochure pressure. Another great book is Dave Liebman's Creating Personal Saxophone Sound.
  9. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Update....well i think I've more or less cracked it!

    After lots of faffing and experimenting, essentially all I have done differently from before is to lower my jaw (as it always was on the lower notes anyway) and keep it there so I do not bite up - my lips are more or less in the same position as before with the same amount of tension and I am concentrating on an even tension round the "O" lips shape. My higher register is gradually improving as I work on keeping the same embouchure.

    My lip is no longer sore :welldone but I do however have a long way to go with regard to strengthening the muscles to sustain long periods of playing (which has always been problematic :().........Pete's long tone exercises are the dogs wotsits for working on this while keeping that embouchure consistent! - thanks Pete!! :) :welldone
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2010
  10. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    This thread needs to move to a 'reference' section, willl help lots of people in the future.
  11. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    I totally agree....it has been a major learning curve me :)
  12. Saxlicker

    Saxlicker Senior Member

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    The great thing about this thread for me is the way it proceeded yet shows how much you helped yourself....

    For sure this was compensating and you already knew it.

    Knew where to start

    Drew a good conclusion, got results and asked for further input

    Confirmed via the replies and your own effort that Rome wasn't built in a day.
    Well done :welldone
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2010
  13. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    I must admit I am a bit like a terrier with bone when something needs sorting! ;}

    The nice thing is that in the end I discovered it wasn't actually as seriously wrong as I thought (apart from the biting up bit) - just needed a lot of serious analysis, appropriate tweaking, and now ongoing monitoring! :)

    Arty :)
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  14. saxnik

    saxnik Member

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    Really good work everyone - just to throw in a bit of a curveball, I 'bite' with my lip, there's definitely upward muscle pressure to support the reed. To help support this I turn the corners of my mouth down (rather than smiling outwards clarinet-style) a bit like a flute player.

    Imagine a bulldog, rather than a terrier...

    Nick
  15. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    A bulldog with a sax? That'd be like Winston Churchill with a pipe!
  16. saxnik

    saxnik Member

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    Oh, Yes...
    (Yeah, Right, he told me he was doing a gig with Alan Barnes...)
  17. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff

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    Ok, I'll make it a sticky.

    BTW, those of you with facebook can click on the "Like" button at the top of the thread, this will help people find it also.
  18. Martin

    Martin Member

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    Having just read through this thread, it occurs to me that no one is talking about mouthpiece tip openning.

    My favourite tenor mouthpiece was an RPC115B, with a 115 thousandth of an inch openning at the tip. With a number 3 reed I was quite comfortable, but would tire after 2 hours of continuous, hard playing.

    A few months ago I bought a Dukoff D8. The reference tables list it also as having a 115 thou' tip openning, which is why I bought it. However, looking at it, with the reed in place, the tip openning is clearly very much less than that of the RPC.

    I think I'm rambling...

    Well, with a 3.5 reed, the Dukoff is SO easy to play. The very low notes are more reliable, altissimo is easier and my jaw doesn't ache. There seems to be almost no limit to how long I can play on it.

    So, maybe a mouthpiece with a smaller tip openning might help you.

    Martin

    PS I love the Dukoff...wild sound...raw saxophone...
  19. Rogerb

    Rogerb Member

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    I have been off playing for a few weeks while I had a new bridge mad e for my top front teeth (as I mentioned in another thread).
    The interesting thing is that with the new, better-fitting bridge, my whole embouchure seems better ....I am playing notes on my BW tenor which had been very squeaky previously.
    Of course it may just have been the 'rest' from playing, but I am surprised at being able to get past G2 without a squeak (usually)!
    I am also able to play the JJDV 8* (which I acquired relatively cheaply) ...I couldn't get much from it before!!
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 21, 2010
  20. 814jazzer

    814jazzer Member

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  21. spike

    spike Member

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    Little tip on this subject which may help somebody:
    Two fat ladies - 88 -
    "Eyes down for high notes - Eyes up for low notes"
    it helps avoid the natural reaction to look up (raising the head) when playing the high notes and vice versa.
    Always try to retain the natural neck/head position, it'll relax and ensure a free air flow and prevent changes however slight in the embouchure. gruzzi - spike
  22. VirusKiller

    VirusKiller Member

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    I've just changed my embouchure

    I was having some problems. In particular, I was not getting the sort of volume that I should have been with a #9 facing.

    I worked out that although I wasn't biting into my lower lip, I was using a lot of lip-over and this had the effect of strangling the reed, closing it and reducing the air I could get down the mouthpiece.

    In the back of my mind I remembered reading an article that talked about using no lip-over at all. It was, of course, Pete's article on embouchure over on TamingTheSax where he quotes from Ben Davis' book: http://tamingthesaxophone.com/saxophone-embouchure.html

    In short, I've been trying the embouchure with no lip-over and the results are excellent. Initially, the tone I was achieving sounded very "raw" vs. what I was used to, but with only a couple of practise sessions this weekend, I've managed to tame that rawness without sacrificing volume.

    I wonder, in fact, if the no-lip-over embouchure is almost mandatory for wide tip mouthpieces?
  23. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

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    VirusKiller

    If you have a look at the following link from the Joe Allard website about the embouchure and try and do what he suggests then you will be on the right track.

    http://www.joeallard.org/pedagogy.html

    Having a lip out or "covering the reed" embouchure for your bottom range is a must to get a big full sound thats easy to produce and control, but you have to adjust it as if you are making an 'F' sound with your bottom lip and "uncover the reed" the higher you get or your top range will suffer.

    Malcolm
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 6, 2011
  24. VirusKiller

    VirusKiller Member

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    Thanks Malcolm. I *think* I'm doing what you are saying as it's the only way to get the notes at the top and bottom. I'll definitely have a read of that link though.
  25. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

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    I read somewhere that Ben Webster had a lip out 'covering the reed' embouchure for his hole range, which is the reason he didn't go that high a lot, the bottom lip muscles are just not strong enough on there own to play in the Altissimo range without the support of the jaw.
  26. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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  27. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

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    Artylady

    Did you have a read of the Joe Allard link above on embouchures etc?

    Malcolm
  28. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    Not yet, no time so far.
  29. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Yes I did - again it sounds exactly what I do.

    It seems to me there are 2 schools of thought - the vibrato way or the mouth/throat way. I have always used my jaw for vibrato (had to learn that after years of playing flute and vibratoing with air stream!) and have always bent notes with my mouth/throat shape - as I say no problem until I took up tenor.

    I wonder if it is a sax size thing? on my Alto I can bend notes by just thinking it and my Sop is easier still - in fact I have to rein it back and I prefer it that way - not trying to force a note to bend. :(

    I've had a chat with my tech and he can't see the sax being at fault. Anyway I've ordered my Rico Graftonite and will see what difference that makes. If that is no good then I will head of to Sax.co. and try some other mouthpieces and maybe even some other saxes. >:)
  30. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

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    I don't understand why you are mentioning vibrato when talking about note bending. You sound as if you are on the right track with your technique especially as you have experience playing the flute as it has the same principals for pitch changing. Vibrato should be from jaw movement only as if you are chewing, maybe that is different on flute and you use your Larynx? If you can change the pitch easily on your mpc only then you shouldn't have a problem when you stick a tenor on the end of it.
  31. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Because Pete talks about note bending and vibrato here....
    http://tamingthesaxophone.com/saxophone-note-bending.html

    On the flute you use air stream for vibrato from your diaphragm.

    Yep strange isn't it that's why I asked if it could possibly be a problem with the tenor itself - or just a "tenor thing"! I'm going to keep working on it as I think it must a breakdown of air or something perhaps due to need more air support than on the alto and sop? The other thing I noticed I'm doing is on the attack of the note bend I think I may not be taking my tongue away at the right time and possibly stifling the air flow momentarily? again I wonder if the problem is just that being a bigger instrument the notes don't speak as quickly as on the smaller saxes? I WILL get to the bottom of it! >:)

    I got my B3 graftonite mpc this morning not a huge improvement with the note bending :( but more volume as well as nice tone! At that price I think I might get the A as well for my jazz playing :welldone
  32. johnboy

    johnboy Senior Member

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    If you've been playing for a couple of years, I think you need a wider opening than a 3, at the very least a 5!!

    John.
  33. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Hi Johnboy - Ive been playing nearly 3 years, but still can't manage to wide a tip due to health problems - I did try with the yam 6c and the problem was still there....mind you the B3 graftonite is a wider tip opening than the Yam6c and I'm not having a problem with it - perhaps I should try a wider tip graftonite? (at the price I can get one of each depending on my mood and stamina :))) )
  34. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

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    I think your tongue position might be the issue? If it is low in your mouth then the air stream will not be fast enough for the higher pitch you want to play, it all makes sense now. Try and keep it high in your mouth to produce a faster air speed. A good analogy is putting your thumb over the end of a hose and squeezing it, you get the same amount of water but its only faster. Don't use your tongue to start the notes just your diaphram, your tongue should be high, wide and relaxed touching your top molars with the sides. Experiment with different positions and see how you get on.

    Malcolm
  35. ArtyLady

    ArtyLady Senior Member

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    Hi Malcolm, I definitely keep my tongue high up and make a sort of "uee" shape to bend the note along with the jaw as well. I think you may be right about the air speed because it sort of drops to a lower harmonic. I did manage to bend it okay without tonguing and keeping the air speed up but still not by very much - probably about one quarter of a semitone but at least I got a decent sound! - still strange that I have no trouble on the alto - I don't do anything different! :confused:
  36. Saxade

    Saxade Senior Member

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    Just another look at "Embouchure"...
    When I first stated playing in the late 60's ... It was bottom lip right over teeth .. i played that way till I stoped in the late 70's
    I have stared playing again (for the last 18 months or so) mainly playing on alto I find now that my Embouchure is stronger I find i can move that bottom lip out a bit and I get a better tone over the whole of the instrument al though it needs to controled with plenty of practice.
    I find this a great shot of Dexter Gordon with his Embouchure ...http://www.jazzonthetube.com/page/730.html
  37. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    I started plasying this way because I couldn't stand the feeling of the mouthpiece on my top teeth, and the teeth cutting into my lower lip. I'm nowhere near as far out as Gordon, but it was shots like this that helped me work things out. Funny, my teacher never commented.
  38. Saxodent

    Saxodent Member

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    Re Embouchure
    Check out Dave Liebmans book Developing a Personal Saxophone sound.He was a pupil of Joe Allard.
    It goes into depth about set ups, tone production,lip placement etc.
    I was once told that to play sax you need a woodwind embouchure but a brass players mentality!!
    Trumpet players are all about pushing large volumes of air through the instrument.
    Velocity does not mean loud however. It stabilises the notes and prevents them cracking.
    The other thing it does is cause the metal to resonate like a tuning fork. The overtones produced develop the"ring" that sets players apart. The sax comes alive so much so you will feel the keys tingling under your fingers.
    Experiment with air speed(Bob Mintzer calls it Spinning the air through the horn).It will be different depending on bore and metal thickness.
    Also it takes a while for the metal to warm up especially on tenor or bari.
    You always sound better after 45 mins playing. This is also due to muscle tiredness which will help relax the jaw muscles and lower lip complex.
    Finally a point about set ups. It is a bit like riding a bike .Some people can pedal uphill in 10th gear all day(wide lay mouth piece Hard reed) and vice versa.
    RocknRollers versus Classical/Concertband
    The back pressure/resistance you are comfortable with will change (reed mouthpiece crook sax)but you will eventually find what works for you.
    Finally a while back there was a vogue to play a wide lay 10* with a reed like a plank to get a massive sound.(Ever heard of a microphone? Opera singers please take note!)
    The result was some top players literally turning themselves "inside out" requiring abodominal surgical repairs and not playing for some considerable time.
  39. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

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    Saxodent, some good stuff there. I am a former professional brass player and I feel I am definitely at an advantage when it comes to pushing a steady, supported air stream through the instrument and playing harmonics. The big difference for me is on trumpet I adjusted my embouchure a lot and my throat a little to get the different pitches, with the sax I have found the opposite to be true, the shaping of your vocal tract and tongue are the way to go to get a great sound and extended range.
  40. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    I've been concentrating on alto recently, mainly to try and get good, consistent results out of it. Some days it sounds wonderful, others more like a high pitched vuvuzela.

    One of the problems I've tied down to embouchure... I noticed that getting the best out of it required me to either turn my head to the sky or hold the bow under my right armpit... Without that the sound was terrible, and notes were unpredictable. Did some more experiments, and it was the angle of the mouthpiece and the amount in my mouth. Wondered why, got to thinking about clarinets and the lips damping the reed. Not so important on tenor, but on smaller reeds, more damping's needed. (Look up the USNW music/woodwind theory pages).

    Tried experimenting with embouchure. Found I wasn't supporting the reed enough with my lower lip. For me, and I have a bit of an underbite, I need to puch my bottom lip forwards, further up the reed. When the reed needs support tightening up does what's needed, cutting the vibrating length down a little and allowing cleaner fuller notes without forcing the octave up... And there's no more need for me to keep moving the mouthpiece backwards and forwards for the different ranges...

    Downside is it takes a good development of the lip muscles and you can really feel them after practicing for a while... But the strength soon comes...

    Take a good look at how Paul Desmond is constantly changing his lip/jaw here, as he pulls his jaw back, the lower lip supports the reed closer to the tip, as the jaw goes forward, the lip rolls a little moving the support away from the reed....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faJE92phKzI&feature=related

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