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Beginner Biting and Pressing Keys Too Hard

jake

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32
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Berkeley, Gloucs.
Been learning to play for 5 years but recently told I use my jaw for upper octave hence, presumably, the heavy bite which destroys my patches in no time and doesn't do my teeth any good and gives me jaw ache. Any advice would be appreciated to get upper octave notes without biting.
Pressing the keys too hard is I think down to not relaxing when playing and to some extent I am beginning to correct this. Any advice again would be much appreciated.
 

jbtsax

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Wow! Five years of playing with bad habits are not going to be corrected overnight. It is going to take lots of practice using good tone production habits to extinguish that behavior and replace it with those that work better.

The "elusive" sensation you want to try to achieve is the jaw and chin pulling down as the bottom lip pushes up to support the reed. It sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. I would suggest playing long tones while concentrating on opening your teeth. One way to do this is to tune your saxophone, and then lip a note very flat. While keeping the teeth apart and the jaw where it is, bring the note back up to pitch using just the muscles around the mouth. On alto the mouthpiece and neck should produce an Ab concert, on tenor an E concert.

Another concept that might help is this. If you can, play a low C with a big full tone. Next, play a scale two octaves up to high C using the same embouchure and air that you used on low C. Do the same exercise on low Bb as well. The saxophone should be played with essentially the same embouchure from low Bb up to high F. You don't relax for the low notes and tighten for the high notes.

As far as pressing the keys too hard, first make sure your saxophone is in good repair. Often times players unconsciously squeeze too hard to compensate for leaks and poor adjustments. A good way to practice playing with a lighter touch is to finger scales and arpeggios without blowing so you can focus 100% of your attention on what your fingers are doing.
 

jake

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32
Locality
Berkeley, Gloucs.
Thank you jbtsax for a clearly expressed and very useful response.
Yes, I didn't think it would be easy. I do have lots of work to do. Tried watching my face movements in a mirror but seem to need jaw to get notes. Not comfortable!
I need to think about what you have written and pull faces at myself. I am figuring out jaw and chin pulling down as bottom lip pushes up and keeping my teeth apart.
Your third para. is, I know, what I am aiming for.
And good idea, concentrating on a lighter touch while not blowing.
I have recently had my sax serviced and have noticed quite a positive difference. That should help with key pressure.
Thank you again.
 

Colin the Bear

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Burnley bb9 9dn
Find a piece you know really well and enjoy playing and keep bashing it out no dots. Play it through five or six times every time before you practice.You'll get to the point where you're not thinking about what you're playing but how you're playing it and can concentrate on whatever it is you need to improve. This will be your warm up piece.

Maybe have a go at the double embouchure to learn self restraint and flexibility. Surprising how little you bite when your lip is getting chewed.
 

jake

Member
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32
Locality
Berkeley, Gloucs.
Know what you mean, Colin. I do concentrate and fret a bit about the dots. Problem is that I bite the same for playing scales. My mind is concentrating on them like mad too. More practise!! Further thought, I bite more when reading dots.
Don't know about double embouchure :). Thank you.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Double lip embouchure - no teeth on the mouthpiece. Jbtsax doesn't like it. But Coltrane used it. Works for some people.

You probably need to develop the embouchure muscles. Excellent set of exercises in Larry Teal's The Art of Saxophone Playing.
 

Colin the Bear

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Don't know about double embouchure :). Thank you.

It's not something I like to use myself anymore.It is how players of a certain age started out. I do think it's something players can try as part of the learning curve.

The most important thing is the embouchure. Everything comes from there. You need a part of your practice regime to be on just that. Playing something you know, even C major scale or a nursery rhyme and concentrating on this one thing will make a big difference to your playing and enjoyment. Hold some long notes up top and play with the shape of your mouth and the position of your embouchure and listen to how you can shape the sound and pitch, by relaxing.
 

jake

Member
Messages
32
Locality
Berkeley, Gloucs.
Th
Double lip embouchure - no teeth on the mouthpiece. Jbtsax doesn't like it. But Coltrane used it. Works for some people.

You probably need to develop the embouchure muscles. Excellent set of exercises in Larry Teal's The Art of Saxophone Playing.


Thanks Kev. Will have a look at Larry Teal.
 

jake

Member
Messages
32
Locality
Berkeley, Gloucs.
It's not something I like to use myself anymore.It is how players of a certain age started out. I do think it's something players can try as part of the learning curve.

The most important thing is the embouchure. Everything comes from there. You need a part of your practice regime to be on just that. Playing something you know, even C major scale or a nursery rhyme and concentrating on this one thing will make a big difference to your playing and enjoyment. Hold some long notes up top and play with the shape of your mouth and the position of your embouchure and listen to how you can shape the sound and pitch, by relaxing.

And thank you again Colin. Amazing response from all on this forum. Been around a while and you know about asking seemingly daft questions. Taking these comments to my lesson tomorrow.
 

aaronrod

Member
Messages
42
What are you using for a mouthpiece and reed?

You may have started on a setup that was a bit too hard for you, which could lead to the biting. Trying a softer reed may help.

You'll probably find that the reed closes up on you at first - to get a sound out, you'll have to relax and loosen your jaw, then use your lips an facial muscles instead (which from your description of biting and squeezing the keys too hard, relaxing sounds like something you need to do).

With regards to squeezing the keys, when was your sax last serviced? Little leaks can pop up over time, and it's easy to compensate by squeezing a little harder to make the seal. Let it go for a few years, and you'll find that you've developed the dreaded "gorilla grip".

(I'm speaking from personal experience - both on having a setup that was too hard for me for far too many years, and waiting too long to fix little leaks. I have a fair size chunk missing from the on the top of my Meyer 7M alto piece to remind me of my biting days...but the patch on my Meyer 5M has barely a scratch!)
 

jake

Member
Messages
32
Locality
Berkeley, Gloucs.
What are you using for a mouthpiece and reed?

You may have started on a setup that was a bit too hard for you, which could lead to the biting. Trying a softer reed may help.

You'll probably find that the reed closes up on you at first - to get a sound out, you'll have to relax and loosen your jaw, then use your lips an facial muscles instead (which from your description of biting and squeezing the keys too hard, relaxing sounds like something you need to do).

With regards to squeezing the keys, when was your sax last serviced? Little leaks can pop up over time, and it's easy to compensate by squeezing a little harder to make the seal. Let it go for a few years, and you'll find that you've developed the dreaded "gorilla grip".

(I'm speaking from personal experience - both on having a setup that was too hard for me for far too many years, and waiting too long to fix little leaks. I have a fair size chunk missing from the on the top of my Meyer 7M alto piece to remind me of my biting days...but the patch on my Meyer 5M has barely a scratch!)

Think you may well be right aaronrod. I have always got a reasonable response on the sax but for high notes have always had to bite. This got worse because the sax needed servicing. Got it back with world of difference particularly the key action .... like different instrument.

I play a Yanigisawa Metal 6 with 2.3 or 3 Vandoren reeds. I have a rubber Yani 5 which came with the sax. Tried this, but as you say struggled with reed closing. Will try the old mouthpiece again as you suggest.

Thank you for your
, it's encouraging to know it's not just me.
 

Colin the Bear

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Burnley bb9 9dn
For a bigger tip opening you need a softer reed. A Yani 6 isn't massive. It compares with Selmer C** to D or a link 5* to 6. A 3 may be a little strong. I'm not sure what sort of lay a Yani mouthpiece has. American or French or neither. Vandoren do a range of reeds of different types. If I try to play a french lay with an american cut reed , it's like playing a plank. if I stick a french cut on an american lay it squeaks and squawks.

I'd be coming down a strength and experimenting with french filed and american cut reeds.

Don't get mixed up with the big numbers better player thing. . What works works. The numbers are for reference and to help you find it. The right set up is a pleasure to play.
 

aaronrod

Member
Messages
42
Don't get mixed up with the big numbers better player thing. . What works works. The numbers are for reference and to help you find it. The right set up is a pleasure to play.

This x 1000.

On my original alto setup, I was playing a Meyer 7M with VanDoren 4's. I now play a Meyer 5M with a Fibracell 2.5 or Gonzalez 2.25's when using cane (it's about a VanDoren 2) - and couldn't be happier. I can play from low Bb to high F at a whisper, without a struggle, which is a very different experience to what I had when I played the bigger opening with the harder reed.

The other bonus is that I became a lot more 'reed tolerant' when I started using softer reeds on a more closed setup, and can now play on just about anything (and still sound like me). However, we're all different - your experience may vary.
 

jake

Member
Messages
32
Locality
Berkeley, Gloucs.
Thanks everyone for all your responses. Trying Teal embouchure exercises and got a smaller opening mouthpiece, secondhand Yani rubber 5 and Buckland book. A little improvement to biting but a lot of effort to come. Sax teacher very helpful too - had about an hour just on embouchure - long road ahead. There was a metal embouchure "trainer". Any good and where can I get it?
 

jbtsax

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Don't waste your money. The best embouchure trainer is called "long tones". Play on the mouthpiece and neck alone. Lip down to the lowest note you can make, and then keeping the teeth apart firm the embouchure to bring the pitch up to Ab concert and hold it as a long tone looking at the second hand on a clock. Try to sustain the note with that embouchure 30 seconds or more, rest, then repeat.

A wonderful exercise to help you learn how it feels to keep the same embouchure pressure throughout the range of the saxophone is to have you blow on the mouthpiece and have your teacher or someone else finger the notes. Good luck.
 
Messages
166
Locality
australia
i think 10minutes of long notes down in the low register,c# and down to low Bb,first thing before any other practice....every day....for 6 months and beyond....
it was the best thing for me.....
also,the over-tone series book by sigerd rasher,or some-such name....wow,thats making some great tonal stuff which helps all over the saxophone,but alot for the highest registers....
i think....also ,when blowing a long note,try lifting the top lip while blowing and moving it around...lots of air comes out and the note might sound pretty rough,but it helps relax the top lip if practiced alot....odd,but works....
good luck...
cheers,philip from down-under...
 

allansto

Senior Member
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477
Locality
Frankston Victoria Australia
can I make a suggestion ?????
Go down to a good horn shop and get the pros there to help you pick out a nice MP and reed setup that blows easy for you .
It will make the world of difference to your confidence and perhaps stop stressing about blowing off key a little.
you will be able to play in key later when you get the hang of relaxing.
I know what youre going through I had this trouble playing clarinet as a boy.
Sometimes its necessary to take a step back before you move forward.
Of course Im also going to tell you to relaaaaaaxxxx .
now find something you know how to play really well and try playing it without the music but see how loosely you can play it
Loosley with the lips that is. after a while you will discover you can play without tensing your jaw too much.
If any proffesionals out there disagree with what Im saying then please refute this advice Im only making this as a suggestion of help.
Good luck
Allansto
 

jbtsax

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i think....also ,when blowing a long note,try lifting the top lip while blowing and moving it around...lots of air comes out and the note might sound pretty rough,but it helps relax the top lip if practiced alot....odd,but works....
I have never heard of this before. It helps to have a relaxed top lip on flute, but on saxophone????
 
Messages
166
Locality
australia
my teacher in australia,taught me this....tony buchanan,he played with crossfire and taught saxophone for many years and was a student of joe allard,i am sure....
he's great,and the stuff he taught me was fantastic.....
the concept was to relax the top lip as its not needed,only to stop air coming out as a seal....it is a relaxing method...
try it out for a few days....
 
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