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Tone Another Embouchure Question (sorry, not sorry)

IGoddard

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I know embouchure threads come up quite frequently so I will firstly apologise for the lack originality in this post. Though I hope this has a slightly different angle from most.

Back story. I've been playing my tenor sax for about 12 months now - I previously played for a couple of years before this but had a 4 year break. Previous years were very much directionless self learning with no significant improvement made. Over the last 12 months I've made great progress, I've gone from having a theoretical understanding of music to applying it in practise for the first time. I'm following the ABRSM grades for a bit of structure to my practising and am now almost ready to submit my pieces for grade 4.

In between practising what my teacher provides, I like to follow some youtube channels for inspiration on improving tone - and this is something I've been focussing on quite heavily the last 4-6 weeks or so. I have a 20 min tonal improvement method that I follow most days and I think it's helping quite significantly, particularly with upper register tuning. I've noticed recently that as my facial muscles are presumably getting stronger, my lower mid range notes (particularly F-C#) are looking quite flat on the tuner (~5-12 cents). I can bring these notes back up by pinch my embouchure from the sides but it feels quite unnatural to hold for any significant duration of time and without remaining consciously aware of it, it does tend to leader to the upper notes (octave G+) becoming sharp.

So my double barrel question is this:
Is this a sign I need to change my embouchure or is this a sign I need change my setup?
How do you know when you are ready to make a change to your setup, whether that's a new mouthpiece or stiffer reed? What are the tell tale signs to look out for?


For reference, I am currently playing a SYOS Smoky 6 mouthpiece with a Legere Signature 2.25 reed. I have a D'addario Select Jazz 6 mouthpiece which I've been desperate to get back on the horn but i've struggled to make the step up to it and play as comfortably as my SYOS (I believe the SJ has a slightly bigger tip opening)
 
I doubt it is the setup if this is something recent. Try pushing the mouthpiece on slightly, play closer to the tip of the mouthpiece for better control.
 
lower mid range notes (particularly F-C#) are looking quite flat on the tuner (~5-12 cents)
My question is whether this part of your range is more correct and above this is pinched and sharp - but you tuned to this.

It’s a question of whether the top or bottom range is correctly pitched/voiced. Tune to that.
 
I doubt it is the setup if this is something recent. Try pushing the mouthpiece on slightly, play closer to the tip of the mouthpiece for better control.
This is interesting, how does the amount of mouthpiece you take affect your sound? I've just tested less mouthpiece and it feels quite different, like I have to pinch tighter on the sides to retain a seal.

I tend to tune to a middle C and then test my octaves my playing a low F# and slurring up with the octave. I'm interested to hear more about imperfect octaves - I'm a tuner watcher when I practice long tones or do tonal exercises. I know it's bad practice but my ears aren't developed any where near enough so I often rely on the tuner and the muscle memory I create. I know it's bad practice and my ears are getting slowly better.
 
- I'm a tuner watcher when I practice long tones or do tonal exercises. I know it's bad practice but my ears aren't developed any where near enough so I often rely on the tuner and the muscle memory I create. I know it's bad practice and my ears are getting slowly better.
You know you are in for a hard time for this, here!

I'm nobodies teacher, but playing with drones has improved my ears way more than looking at a tuner! That and playing intervals in different octaves (like C-D at the bottom, middle, top), playing with backing etc.. there are lots of exercises; but using a crutch makes nothing stronger!
 
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You're right - I can't argue at all. It is a dependency I need to get over. I do sometimes listen to a drone for 10 seconds before playing a long tone but as the drone is on my phone, I can't play along to it because it's way too quiet compared to the saxophone.
 
how does the amount of mouthpiece you take affect your sound?
It allows me to get a much more versatile tone and sound. More control over intonation also.
I'm a tuner watcher when I practice long tones or do tonal exercises. I know it's bad practice
I recommernd against that, it won't help. Plus, it seems odd that you would do it if you already know it is bad practice :headscratch:
 
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I'm a tuner watcher when I practice long tones or do tonal exercises. I know it's bad practice but my ears aren't developed any where near enough so I often rely on the tuner and the muscle memory I create.
Just put the tuner away once you have got the mouthpiece in the sweet spot on the the crook, use your ears as the tuner,
they will never develop if you don't use them.
 
You're right - I can't argue at all. It is a dependency I need to get over. I do sometimes listen to a drone for 10 seconds before playing a long tone but as the drone is on my phone, I can't play along to it because it's way too quiet compared to the saxophone.
You can...

Plug your phone or tab into the stereo AUX. Mini stereo plug to RCA.
 
You're right - I can't argue at all. It is a dependency I need to get over. I do sometimes listen to a drone for 10 seconds before playing a long tone but as the drone is on my phone, I can't play along to it because it's way too quiet compared to the saxophone.
I use my wife's old guitar amp to amplify the sound of my phone (for playing along to a song, or I-real-pro) and that works fine.
So you could look for a cheap amp that has an input for a jack (aux input) op even a Bluetooth connection. Most Bluetooth speakers are not loud enough (in my limited experience).
 
Get the horn in tune with itself. Play a middle line B (B2 in saxophone speak), and then without stopping playing, finger low B. Don’t change embouchure or air at all. You should still be playing the same note, just fingered differently. They will likely not be in tune with each other. Move the mouthpiece so they are - in other words tune your horn so B2 is in tune with low B overblown an octave.

You can do the same thing with F#2 (top line F#), as the second overtone of low B is F#.

Moving the mouthpiece tunes B2, low B will be changed not much.

Once these notes are in tune, learn to play with the mouthpiece in that position. Given what you say about your intonation issues, I suspect you will have to push the mouthpiece on - and learn to play with a more relaxed embouchure.

Regarding drones, use them. Don’t look at a tuner. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then seriously consider joining Tuners Anonymous. The have a 1-step program. (Hint - the step involves wearing a blindfold.)
 
I knew admitting looking at the tuner would attract a fair bit of attention :rofl:. I know it's bad but I have no doubt we all have habits that we are aware are bad but do them anyway :confused2:.
I do consciously try to not stare longingly at it but rather glance across to see if what I'm hearing is reflected in the tuner. Though I will reduce my reliance on it, my problem notes have always been octave G-C and the insecurities of being incredibly sharp in the early days transformed into tuner reliance that is mostly habit now. I still struggle to hear if some notes are in tune or not, particularly high D +, they can be 20,30 cents and I'm just finger in the airing them!
Regarding drones, use them. Don’t look at a tuner. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then seriously consider joining Tuners Anonymous. The have a 1-step program. (Hint - the step involves wearing a blindfold.)
What's Tuners Anonymous? A quick google returned nothing relating to music weirdly
 
What's Tuners Anonymous? A quick google returned nothing relating to music weirdly
I think he was joking...
... I think so...
...oh...
15¢... 20¢... 19¢...

Where's my sponsors number....

Looking at the tuner can be addictive... Just look at the acid house face!

1000000951.jpg


People should be more understanding
 
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I know it's bad but I have no doubt we all have habits that we are aware are bad but do them anyway
Yes, but generally we only have enjoyable bad habits. I wonder what is enjoyable about looking a a tuner showing that you are out of tune when there may a good chance that you actually aren't because there is nothing useful to be in tune with?

but rather glance across to see if what I'm hearing is reflected in the tuner.
Whenever I do long notes, I have no idea whether the note would be in tune with a tuner or not. I'm sure most of the time it would be way out.

So playing long notes with a tuner is doing nothing helpful, but what it does do is distract you from the main purpose which is to listen to the tone and sound. So I believe not only does it not help, it could actually harm your playing and slow down your advancement.
 
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