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Tone Air Support, the quickest way to your best tone


Senior Member
Out in the Countryside of Nelson NZ
Thanks Ben,

This is timely as I've recently started on Long tones practise & finding it opening my sound up....I'm also linking this to Kenny Werners ideas like "every note I play is the most beautiful sound I've every heard"

I know with these type of practices it's consistently and attention that makes the improvements.....with a nice sound one enjoys even more playing the sax.
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Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
The best way to teach new players what breath (air) support is was shown to me by a friend who plays the tuba---an instrument that demands good breathing and breath support just to sustain a tone.

He would tear a sheet of typing paper in half and have his students hold the paper up against a mirror or window using one finger at the top of the paper. He would tell them to take a large breath and release the paper while blowing against it trying to hold the paper up as long as possible with just the airstream. After several trials he would then have them blow the tuba with the same airstream and using the same muscles that they used to hold the paper up. At this point he would tell them this is what we mean when we say play with "breath support".

I shared this method with a french horn teacher one day and she said she did the same thing, but with a phone book instead. I though OMG she makes these poor little kids try to hold a phone book up against a mirror by blowing on it. How cruel! Then she went on to explain that the phone book is set on a table open to about the center, and the students try to see how many pages they can turn over by blowing across them on one breath of air. Her method also gave the students a good concept of "breath support".

In my early playing experience I had several teachers and festival adjudicators mention playing with more "breath support" to get a good tone, and I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. Not one took the time to explain how to do it or how it felt. When I became a music teacher myself, I resolved to not just be able tell students what to do, but to be able to teach them how to do it.


Well-Known Member
Costa Blanca Spain
Thanks Ben. I diagnosed bad breathing just this week as why my playing is not what it used to be. Moved from a country house to a flat last Nov and playing quietly has nearly ruined me. Thank heaven I found out in time. Your piece has brought back to me the long tone excercises and warm ups I always used to. I am working now to get back on track. Very timely piece for me.



Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Playing in big band I often feel like shouting "may day, may day, we are being defeated... trumpets are too noisy, we need artillery or AIR SUPPORT"

.... shame on me


Sax-Mad fiend!
Café Supporter
The Malverns, Worcs
I was reaching up into a top cupboard this week, when my 16yo daughter poked me in the belly. She then said "actually you've got muscles under there " (I'm thinking she meant my own cosy covering as being "under there") :)))

I pointed out to her that those muscles are care of many hours spend playing long low notes, predominantly on the bari.
I hadn't actually realised that I'd devolped said muscles to be honest, but I had noticed that hitting lower notes on the bari was becoming easier. :welldone

I've also noticed that if I "pre-tense" the stomach muscles, hitting those low notes, especially stoccato, is also far easier. :sax:
Philadelphia, PA
Thanks everyone for the input. Just to be clear, I actually wouldn't suggest some of the I exercised I posted for beginners. These are really meant for medium - advanced level players as most of my articles are.

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