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Beginner Embouchure Modification?!

mangosax

New Member
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10
Hello everyone! I am a newbie sax player and I will probably be posting here quite often, since I don't have the ability to get a sax teacher (I am a student in college, so it was either get the sax or get the lessons!) I believe I am making good progress, but I will post a question to be sure. embouchure

Recently I have discovered that I can play different pitches of notes if I tighten the pressure of my lower lip onto the reed, something which I think is called an overtone. On the other hand, If I want to play a lower note (like for playing the low Bb note) I have to lessen the pressure a bit or, most of the time, just change the air velocity.

Are these correct procedures or am I on the wrong track?
 

muzza

Member
Messages
109
Welcome mangosax, often new members will post a note about themselves at "The Doorbell".

I am self taught, with the odd lesson from my sons teacher. From this experience, I would highly recommend finding an experience saxophone player or teacher that can give you the odd lesson. It helps a lot. I thought I was doing ok until my first lesson, which was spent doing longs tones working on my embouchure.

I've learnt sound comes from within you more than just pressure on the reed. It's how you breath, where you breath from, how you shape your mouth, tongue position... I still haven't got it mastered, so will not give advice. There are some very experience saxophone players and teachesr here that I'm sure will help.

Enjoy, it's a great journey learning to play the saxophone.
 
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kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,947
There are two schools here.

1 Says pitch comes from keys, no variation in lips/embouchure between high and low notes
2 The other says it's ok to adjust pitch this way and it's necessary

It's also necessary to vary pressure on the reed from lip and air to adjust volume, bend notes... tone and pretty much everything else involved in sound production.

Some people get fixated about it, others just get on with playing. Trouble's going to start if you adopt a variable approach and end up with an inflexible 'fixed embouchure' teacher or forum member...

The real thing to avoid is overdoing the lip pressure, this strangles the sound and also tends to imply that you're biting through the lip with your teeth.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
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8,010
I am an adherent of the school that teaches that the embouchure remain unchanged throughout the normal playing range of the saxophone (low Bb to high F). However, the speed and direction of the airstream as well as the shape inside the mouth does change.

Think about what has to take place when playing rapid arpeggios and octave leaps if one loosens the embouchure for lower notes and then tightens the embouchure for high notes. This is working entirely too hard, the sax doesn't require it, and the intonation suffers because of it.

The embouchure "test" on alto that I use is to play the neck and mouthpiece alone and produce the pitch Ab concert. The pitch on tenor is E concert. That is the embouchure tightness setting that will work best throughout the normal range of the saxophone. On alto, for example that corresponds to the note F on the top line of the staff. When the sax is assembled and the note F is played with the embouchure setting that produced F on the mouthpiece and neck, the note just sings.

Keeping the embouchure the same, with a greater volume (not speed) of air, low Bb should "sing" as well if the saxophone is leak free. With that same embouchure and a faster airstream high F above the staff should "sing" as well. High F may also require raising the back of the tongue just a bit as well.

Some "jazzers" use only "subtone" for their low notes because of the quality of sound it produces. I do that as well when playing in that idiom, but I also believe it is important to be able to play the low register with a "legit" sound as well. Some folks confuse the dropping the jaw motion to produce subtone with having to "relax" the embouchure to play the low notes. They are really two different things. Playing the lowest notes on the saxophone does not require relaxing the embouchure. Playing the lowest notes with the breathy subtone sound does require an embouchure change to produce that sound quality.

Just a word about the altissimo register. There are some players who claim to be able to play the altissimo without tightening the embouchure at all. I am not that good a player, nor have I spent considerable time practicing in that area. The best analogy I know for how to produce harmonics on a given fingering and to play altissimo notes is "whistling". To go higher when whistling, one raises the back of the tongue which increases the speed of the air and decreases the volume inside the mouth. To go lower when whistling, one lowers the back of the tongue which slows the air and increases the volume inside the mouth.
 

daveysaxboy

Big ruff Geordie bendy metal blower
Messages
3,312
Some rather in depth advice above which some is great but in the end we are all different.Your physical make up is a huge factor here.Go with what suits you when blowing.Time and error,testing is the way to find what works for you.Spend a couple of more intense weeks at just this and try to find the sweet spot when you blow.
 

mangosax

New Member
Messages
10
Thanks for all your responses.

After doing a little more research, I found that when my formed my embouchure that my chin became bunched up! Some people say this is a little ok, most say it should be flatter, so I'll try messing around with it to see if i can produce better sounds.

The embouchure "test" on alto that I use is to play the neck and mouthpiece alone and produce the pitch Ab concert.
I thought it should produce a concert A pitch? That's what most websites said, anyway.

Keeping the embouchure the same, with a greater volume (not speed) of air, low Bb should "sing" as well if the saxophone is leak free.
Maybe I'm a bit confused on the difference between velocity and volume. Velocity is changing how hard you blow, and volume is like widening your mouth a bit so more air goes through?
 
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MellowD

Lost In Theory
Messages
544
Hi Mangosax and welcome to the forum.

Several of us on here are strapped for cash, so appreciate what its like to invest in the instrument and then £WWhaaaat££ lessons.

I can sincerely recommend the DVD sold on here by Pete Thomas for beginner sax. He goes through a lot of explanation for these early embouchure questions and also gives exercises on how to improve and strengthen even while walking down the street sans sax.

Also, the other resource recommended to me by fellow java consumers here is The Art of Saxophone Playing by Larry Teal. Looks heavy duty when you first open the pages, however it isn't once you start and he explains what your facial muscles will be doing as you work through your blowing alongside much more information on breathing etc.

If you haven't the money for lessons, I'd certainly say, as a fellow newbie, that these have been the best recommendations offered to me by anyone. I recently invested in an actual lesson, and the teacher was thrilled to see I already had the Teal book as she would have been suggesting it too.

Hope this helps the budget. Happy playing

Mel
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,087
There's quite a resource on you tube. Some great advice from some excellent professionals. You don't say if you're new to playing music or just the saxophone.

I would invest in a cheap chromatic tuner and check your tuning against it throughout the range. Lots of problems stem from trying to take the reed out of its comfort zone by having the mouthpiece in the wrong position.

If you're hitting the notes then whatever it takes. As time goes by and your muscles develop along with your ear it becomes instinctive. Playing in tune improves your tone too.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
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8,010
After doing a little more research, I found that when my formed my embouchure that my chin became bunched up! Some people say this is a little ok, most say it should be flatter, so I'll try messing around with it to see if i can produce better sounds.
A "rounded" chin is a good description. An extremely flat chin such as that used on clarinet tends to stretch the lower lip and take away the "cushion" that helps to produce a controlled saxophone sound.

I thought it should produce a concert A pitch? That's what most websites said, anyway.
The A concert pitch refers to the mouthpiece alone. The Ab concert is for the mouthpiece and the neck together.

Maybe I'm a bit confused on the difference between velocity and volume. Velocity is changing how hard you blow, and volume is like widening your mouth a bit so more air goes through?
Great question. The volume of air produces the volume (dynamics) of the sound. The speed of the air contributes to the pitch. You are absolutely correct in saying that the volume/speed relationship of the air is controlled by the opening inside the throat and oral cavity.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
As I've mentioned a few times recently, i've been working on the early sections of this book over the past week or so:

http://www.robbuckland.com/content/playing-saxophone-book-rob-buckland.

It's really helping me with basic sound production. Goes into a lot of detail (with exercises) on embouchure and how the tongue position changes for the different registers. It's helping me a lot. Can now play quietly in the bottom notes on baritone, for example. And today I had a go at some altissimo notes on alto, which I'd not really ventured into before. Was soon playing G#'s and A's with very litlle effort.
 

mangosax

New Member
Messages
10
Thank you very much guys, I think i figured the embouchure out, and as for my first question, I'm beginning to realize its not so much about the mouth moving, but the tongue allowing different amounts of air through!

However, being on the topic of tongues, the book I'm reading, "The Jazz Method for Saxophone", has a section about tonguing, which I am confused about. It says to very gently touch the reed with your tongue, as if you are saying "doo" into the mouth piece, but it should be gentle, yet I'm not sure how gentle is gentle! For example, if I try to be as gentle as I can then my mouth is still blowing air but since my tongue is barely touching the reed it kinda vibrates into my tongue and tickles it, which I think is wrong. I tried pressing it harder and it kind of worked, but the books says if i can be any gentler with my tongue then I am pressing too hard. :confused:
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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21,947
It's about getting sufficient tongue control to get the effect you need. Use just enough pressure to stop the note without nasty sound effects. If you're pressing hard, you may be using a reed that's too hard. This will make the high notes easy, but give you problems with the low ones. Harder reeds tend to improve tone as well, do it's, as always, experiment until you find out what suits/works for you.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,087
The tongue is a very sensitive and versatile organ. Consider why you're tonguing the reed. It's like a brake on the reed. It allows you to attack a note and for that note to begin or cease, loud or soft, at an exact point in time. You need to synchronise tongue, fingers and air for best results. No good blowing hard if you're holding the reed with your tongue.

If the reed is still vibrating and generating sound then you're just muffling it. That might be an effect for a specific interpretation of a certain piece but I don't think it's what you're looking for here.

Try a scale legato, with no tongue, slurring between notes with constant air then try just stopping and starting the air, and finally the same thing staccato, tonguing each note start and finish. You'll see the difference. When you feel you've got it ther's other things you can try, like dynamic control, starting a note soft and then loud with increasing and decreasing volume.

Further down the line double tonguing is waiting for you. Particularly useful for fast passages where you alternate stopping the air at the back of the tongue then the front. Like saying cattercattercatter.


As in speech the tongue has a big role to play and like speech it will come naturally with time and practice. Muscles and brainpaths need to develop. Little and often is better than a weekly marathon.
 

mangosax

New Member
Messages
10
The tongue is a very sensitive and versatile organ. Consider why you're tonguing the reed. It's like a brake on the reed. It allows you to attack a note and for that note to begin or cease, loud or soft, at an exact point in time. You need to synchronise tongue, fingers and air for best results. No good blowing hard if you're holding the reed with your tongue.

If the reed is still vibrating and generating sound then you're just muffling it. That might be an effect for a specific interpretation of a certain piece but I don't think it's what you're looking for here.

Try a scale legato, with no tongue, slurring between notes with constant air then try just stopping and starting the air, and finally the same thing staccato, tonguing each note start and finish. You'll see the difference. When you feel you've got it ther's other things you can try, like dynamic control, starting a note soft and then loud with increasing and decreasing volume.

Further down the line double tonguing is waiting for you. Particularly useful for fast passages where you alternate stopping the air at the back of the tongue then the front. Like saying cattercattercatter.


As in speech the tongue has a big role to play and like speech it will come naturally with time and practice. Muscles and brainpaths need to develop. Little and often is better than a weekly marathon.
Think I got the tonguing down, just had to go at it by playing some songs. But now I'm having another problem which might be embouchure related: when switching between notes (specifically G, A, and B), my sax sometimes plays the note in a higher octave. It's not a leak or anything, its something in my mouth causing it, and I know it only happens when I tongue between the notes, otherwise it stays in the same octave. When I try to replicate it, I usually need to have a tighter embouchure and something that feels like I'm whistling into the mouthpiece, kinda like focusing my airstream. I also notice that when I play notes my throat (larynx area) seems to go up as I go higher and lower as I go lower.

Do you guys have any suggestions to fix the octave switching?
 
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jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
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8,010
You might also try using the Tah (Dah) syllable when you tongue as it helps keep the back of the tongue down. Using a Tee syllable raises the back of the tongue which encourages the note to jump to the next overtone. In the lower octave of the sax this overtone is an octave higher. In the second octave of the sax it is a 5th higher.
 

mangosax

New Member
Messages
10
I tried using a looser embouchure, but I notice that the notes come out flat. I can produce the concert A just fine on just the mouthpiece with the embouchure I use, and when I look in the mirror it does look firm but relaxed. I'll give that Tah syllable a go.
 

muzza

Member
Messages
109
How much mouth piece you take into your month also effects things. When I started, I was not taking enough into my month that caused control and sound problems. As well as looser embouchure, experiment with amount of mouth piece in your month.

Remember when tonguing the sound is only stopped with tongue, you should not be using your breath to help stop/start sound. You need to keep a nice constant flow of air.

Good luck
 
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mangosax

New Member
Messages
10
Think I figured it out. When I practiced my notes, I noticed the B note was a little flat, so I compensated for it by tightening my embouchure a bit. So when I started to go back down the notes, because my embouchure was tighter, the lower notes would go into the overtone. So I fixed it by just tightening when I get to the B then loosening it when I go down, though I'm not sure if this is the correct way to go about this. I've read up on something called voicing that might be of use in this situation, but I'm not sure.

Any thoughts?

(By the way, thank you all so much for helping me!)
 
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