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Mouthpieces First Mouthpiece, Discovering personal sound and jazz language.

eliotttanner

Member
Messages
45
Locality
london
Hi,

I have been playing Saxophone for around 2 years now. Although not a huge amount of time, I feel I have made fast (ish) progression. I am currently preparing for my auditions at two colleges in London. Previously I have used this forum to ask about technical faults in the hardware of my saxophones but have been previously overwhelmed with the support that this forum has given me and of course thankful.

I am currently at a bit of a stand still in my playing and progression and have a couple of questions I'd like to ask. Although I know gear isn't fundamentally helpful, I thought I'd include some information to help people gather as much context. I play a Selmer USA liberty tenor saxophone, the mouthpiece that came with it and Stuer 3.5 reeds. My first question I have is about mouthpieces. Currently I am not happy with my sound at all. I just ordered a new box of Stuer reeds and the first three I have used feel too soft and just buzzy. I am not happy with how much resistance I am getting from the reeds. I have been told a tenor player named Denys Baptiste to buy a new mouthpiece however my private teacher for my whole 2 years of playing says I do not need one as I don't have an idea of what I want to sound like as I have not been playing for long. When Denys told me that I needed more resistance he first recommended going up in reed strength. When he told me I was a 2. It has been about 3 or 4 months since then and I am now on a reed strength of 3 and a half. I feel every time I go up, my mouth gets used to this strength and I have hardly any resistance in the mouthpiece as it's a cheap and very low tip opening. I hate my sound a lot, but my teacher ignores this and says I should not focus on this yet. I am a huge fan of Joe Henderson's sound, Wayne Shorter's sound and Chris potters. I often prefer the sound of metal mouthpieces when I hear them. The reason I am posting about this is because I am struggling to understand my teachers thought behind this. The reason I want to sound better now is because I have auditions coming up and the sound of my saxophone deters me hugely from wanting to play.

I am hugely inspired by players and composers of Jazz and never ever lack motivation to get into the practice room, however I normally am overwhelmed with needing to practice too many things, never knowing what technical stuff to practice and getting bored of the same tunes I have been practicing for my audition. I have transcribed a bit but not enough to have really helped. It's almost like I know what I need to do to get better but I am often discouraged very quickly, due to a variety of things like my sound being frustratingly bad (I practice long tones alot and overtones), my solos containing un interesting and boring stuff. I could go on for hours about how many things I hate about my playing. Saxophone and music is a huge priority in my life and I my love for it is extremely strong. Right now I feel like I am at a standstill, knowing the place I want to be, yet completely overwhelmed by how much I need to do in order to get there. I suppose the reason I am posting this is because I feel like I need a different perspective and a different view as my teacher is normally the person I refer to. I am not expecting answers to all of these problems as I know the problem does pretty much rely on myself and forcing myself in a direction. Please forgive me for the chaotic, disorganised rant that I have just had however any help and anyone with different perspective would be hugely appreciated. Also pleas do not hesitate to ask any more questions as I am more than happy to answer.

Thank you
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
27,051
Locality
Cheshire UK
Get yourself down to sax.co.uk and try some mouthpieces. You'll either find one you love or realise your teacher is right and you just need to practice more :)

Jx
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
27,051
Locality
Cheshire UK
I probably shouldn't really be advising you to go against what your teacher is saying and do bear in mind it can take a while to adapt to a new mouthpiece and without knowing what piece you are playing I don't know if it is any good or not.

There is also a school of thought that you will eventually sound like you on any piece.

But it is fun to try and the guys down there are usually helpful and knowledgeable.

Jx
 

Wonko

Member
Messages
589
Locality
Belgium
Get yourself down to sax.co.uk and try some mouthpieces. You'll either find one you love or realise your teacher is right and you just need to practice more :)

Jx
Or possibly both!

In my personal development on the sax, I have found that changing your mouthpiece (when you are ready for it) can be a useful step in the evolution of your technique.
I would say, if you feel that you are being held back by your mouthpiece go check out some other pieces. You say that you play a cheap and small-tip mouthpiece, so an upgrade could give you some freedom to evolve further (IMHO).
And, of course, your teacher is right, your sound concept and technique is still developing, that mouthpiece will not be the mouthpiece that you will keep playing. But it could be a useful step up the ladder.
 

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
Café Supporter
Messages
8,012
Locality
Bristol, UK
If you are currently preparing for conservatory auditions, then I'm not sure this is a good time to change your setup.
But I have found that trying out mouthpieces has helped me to find out how I want to sound.
So, as @Jeanette says, spending some time in Sax.co.uk or Howarth seems like an obvious thing to do, even if you end up not buying anything.

However, you should be aware that there is a good chance that your choice of mouthpiece in a year's time may be different to today, so I would advise against spending a lot of money on an expensive mouthpiece unless it is really shouting "Buy me. Buy me!" at you.

You should also be aware that supposedly identical mouthpieces by the same manufacturer can be different, so if you find one that you want, make sure that you take that one, not another one in a box.
 

7201

 
Messages
3,293
Locality
UK
Two years studying an instrument is nothing at all. I haven't heard you play, so I could be talking to potentially the most gifted player that ever lived. But, whilst this might be true 5-8 years down the line the odds are significantly with the view of your teacher. Worse still, if you are not ready for a larger tip mouthpiece or one with a baffle the chances are that you'll mess with your technique. Just as racing car drivers set up the same car differently to suit their own style and feel for driving, the same is true for instruments. Deny Baptiste is a terrific player but his setup might not suit you a) at all, ever; or b) not yet.
 

eliotttanner

Member
Messages
45
Locality
london
Or possibly both!

In my personal development on the sax, I have found that changing your mouthpiece (when you are ready for it) can be a useful step in the evolution of your technique.
I would say, if you feel that you are being held back by your mouthpiece go check out some other pieces. You say that you play a cheap and small-tip mouthpiece, so an upgrade could give you some freedom to evolve further (IMHO).
And, of course, your teacher is right, your sound concept and technique is still developing, that mouthpiece will not be the mouthpiece that you will keep playing. But it could be a useful step up the ladder.
Yes it’s not so much about how I think it will make my sound better but more to do with the resistance and the need of the higher tip opening that most beginner mouthpieces don’t give you. It’s more about playability at the moment. I have no room to blow hard into my born as most notes will come out squeaky because of the softness and little resistance.
Thanks for your advice and help!
 

eliotttanner

Member
Messages
45
Locality
london
Two years studying an instrument is nothing at all. I haven't heard you play, so I could be talking to potentially the most gifted player that ever lived. But, whilst this might be true 5-8 years down the line the odds are significantly with the view of your teacher. Worse still, if you are not ready for a larger tip mouthpiece or one with a baffle the chances are that you'll mess with your technique. Just as racing car drivers set up the same car differently to suit their own style and feel for driving, the same is true for instruments. Deny Baptiste is a terrific player but his setup might not suit you a) at all, ever; or b) not yet.

Haha, I wish that was the case and I was the most gifted player. Thank you for explaining that to me. I understand that sound is important but a good foundation of technique must be there in order to move onto sound and tone development. As I said above, I am just frustrated with not being able to have enough resistance in the mouthpiece, Denys had no influence over which setup he just recommended that I purchase a new one as I will have a bit more room to breath in terms of developing my sound to a better level but obviously still not perfect. Thank you very much for your advice and taking the time to reply.
 

7201

 
Messages
3,293
Locality
UK
Haha, I wish that was the case and I was the most gifted player. Thank you for explaining that to me. I understand that sound is important but a good foundation of technique must be there in order to move onto sound and tone development. As I said above, I am just frustrated with not being able to have enough resistance in the mouthpiece, Denys had no influence over which setup he just recommended that I purchase a new one as I will have a bit more room to breath in terms of developing my sound to a better level but obviously still not perfect. Thank you very much for your advice and taking the time to reply.

Ok.
I could go on for hours about how many things I hate about my playing.
Anyone who is serious and dedicated about their playing can identify with this, no matter how good you get. Sometimes it's in your head, feeling one day that your sound/articulation/control is worse, but a listener who knows you might not detect any difference at all. Anyway, when you feel really negative about one particular aspect of your playing just move onto something else. Finger exercises, or a study and ignore your sound. As you say, the negativity can be crippling and if you're the type of guy that succumbs to it and puts the horn away you need to learn to work past it, as it will likely always affect you in that way. I'm the same. I think most players have a lifelong struggle with their playing - I really like what I play maybe 5% of the time.
 

7201

 
Messages
3,293
Locality
UK
With regard to a mouthpiece upgrade, the best thing by far is to take yourself off to a store and try lots. The first thing to follow is playability, no good having a great sounding 'piece if you can't control it over the whole horn. I worry about you using a hard reed. It isn't wrong at all, but I think that it backs you into a corner especially when trying bigger tip mouthpieces etc. Lastly, metal mouthpieces on the alto are probably the hardest to get used to, so beware of that.
 

6441

 
Messages
6,293
Unfortunately, like underwear, mouthpieces can't usually be tried at home and returned, although I've heard some shops allow it. I tried a new mouthpiece in a store, it felt and sounded good. When I got it home it was unplayable. I took it out every few days, but it was too wide. It wasn't the store's fault. In fact, they did not encourage me, but I could tell they were surprised because they knew I hadn't been playing too long. So, if you do try them in the store, try to concentrate on how they feel and sound, without the pressure of time and hopefully no one listening, which is a distraction.
 

Mark Hancock

Member
Café Supporter
Messages
607
Locality
Zurich
The first thing to follow is playability, no good having a great sounding 'piece if you can't control it over the whole horn.
I recently had this experience. I bought a mouthpiece which sounded great and was really easy to blow over the whole horn. The problem is that it is so flexible regarding the tones it can produce - I don't have the ability to control it. I'm sure I'll come back to it at some point.
 

Ivan

Undecided
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8,157
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Peeblesshire
The one I was referring to in the previous post is a Drake. They are both really nice mouthpieces, but I can control the Syos ...
What exactly is difficult to control?

Is it the Schizophrenic Drake that comes complete with out of control psychobabble about the sonic capabilities of that rarest of rare mouthpiece metals.... Brass?
 

Mark Hancock

Member
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607
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Zurich
What exactly is difficult to control?

Is it the Schizophrenic Drake that comes complete with out of control psychobabble about the sonic capabilities of that rarest of rare mouthpiece metals.... Brass?
And "approximately" 31% extra mass is exactly what we were missing. You know to get that extra flexibility AND control. Yes. Or maybe not.
No, mine is the tenor NY Jazz 6. There are 2 tricky aspects to it (for me). One is that the pitch is very sensitive to changes in lip pressure, so it's difficult to control the intonation. The second is that the slightest change in embouchure results in quite a noticeable change in the tone. In the hands (or even mouth) of a more seasoned player these "problems" would be advantages. But with me, it sounds a bit too much like uncontrolled warbling.
 

malteof

Grew a beard, shaved it off, growing my hair
Messages
131
Locality
Zurich, Switzerland
I haven't played that long either, but found that proper mouthpieces made a huge difference to my sound (and enjoyment).

What's your budget for a new mouthpiece? Something like a more open Otto Link type mouthpiece would probably get you were you want. Or at least allow you to practice to get you to where you want.
 

Ivan

Undecided
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Peeblesshire
I stick to hand fettled mouthpieces if I can e.g. Pillinger or Morgan Fry in the belief they are finished to ensure note stability

No complaints so far and my emouchure has gone through a number of permutations over the past six or seven years
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,378
Locality
Just north of Munich
I get annoyed by directives to change. Often it's someone with a what works for me is what everyone else needs.

If you're having problems, then try other pieces. Try them for fun anyway and go experiment. But... Careful. The more a mouthpiece shapes your sound, the less it is you. If you want a better sound, embouchure, breath control and opening your throat have a huge effect. Flexible mouthpieces are better for most things.

Same goes for reed strength. There's no real need to go along the harder is better route. Play what you're comfortable with.
 
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