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Tone How to improve Tone

KernowSax

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Somerset
Hi!

I’ve been playing since June. I’m playing high notes, middle and low notes. Still some notes on the lower scale to practice on. It’s hard to know what progress to expect at this stage. I’ve gone through a couple of beginner books like Abracadabra and have downloaded sheet music from sheet music.com and l am learning new songs.
I’ve started playing the songs to the backing music and record myself so I can hear how I sound.
I think I’ve hit a bit of a plateau with my playing and would love some advice on how to progress and enhance my tone.
 

turf3

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First recommendation would be to engage a qualified instructor.

Second recommendation would be tone building exercises. The one I use is to play long tones from ppp to fff and back again, over the entire range of the horn, outdoors without nearby reflecting surfaces.
 

jbtsax

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I second what Turf3 suggested. This is an article by Bruce Pearson that contains some important fundamentals of tone production. Teaching the Saxophone Embouchure

I would add to his "formula":
Good Equipment + Good Airstream + Good Embouchure + Good Concept = Good Tone.

The best way I know of to develop a "concept of sound" is to play along with recordings of players whose sound you want to emulate. Music Minus One has some excellent books and recordings by well known players. I would recommend starting with "Beginning Sax Solos" by both Paul Brodie and Vincent Abato to develop a good concept of a "classical" sound which can provide the foundation for other styles of music as you progress.
 

mizmar

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In addition;
I found a transition happened when I started on overtones. That's when you are making the tone, more than the instrument just responding to fingers and air. You have to really take control and that control flows back into all the other notes.

A good thread

 
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Yansalis

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I second what Turf3 suggested. This is an article by Bruce Pearson that contains some important fundamentals of tone production. Teaching the Saxophone Embouchure

That article is the first instance I have run into of advocating a position of the mouthpiece based on aligning the outside of the lower lip with the point where the facing/lay transitions to the table. Other sources advocate a starting position that aligns that point with the bottom teeth.
 

turf3

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Everyone's anatomy is a bit different. I recommend doing a lot of high volume playing and a lot of real soft playing, and your embouchure will naturally adapt to positions that work. In most cases, I predict that the embouchure that actually works when you put in the time on tone development, will be very much what the standard references (Teal, Viola, etc.) recommend.
 

Pete Thomas

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That article is the first instance I have run into of advocating a position of the mouthpiece based on aligning the outside of the lower lip with the point where the facing/lay transitions to the table. Other sources advocate a starting position that aligns that point with the bottom teeth.

I find that article a bit weird and misleading. I'd initally forget anything about aligning things and worrying about syllables or mouthpiece pitches.

IMO teachers should just listen, look, and base what they teach on that rather than random articles and formulae on the internet.
 
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Colin the Bear

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Burnley bb9 9dn
You'll find all the way through your saxophone career that there will be plateaus. Just keep going and you'll get through, wondering what the problem was.
Sometimes you will feel there's a backward step. Keep going and it will pass.
A very useful skill to learn is to be able to listen to yourself while playing.
It all takes time. You'll always feel as if you're not as good as you want to be. It's par for the course.
Take one piece that you like, that you "can" play and learn it inside out and backwards.
Find another piece that you like, that you find way beyond you at the moment and work it till it happens. It may take years.
No rush. It's an endless journey. Enjoy the scenery. ;)
 

turf3

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When I'm playing, I feel like the action comes from the airstream and the embouchure just gently "steers" the reed. Try thinking of it that way, and you may find that softer reeds don't close up on you any more and you can play from top to bottom with greater ease. I think there's too much concentration on the details of embouchure and not enough on how to blow through the horn.

I would suggest watching the video "The Music of Joe Temperley" - I think sections 4 and 5 - where he talks about how it all comes from the breath - and then proceeds to demonstrate, the 80 year old guy having a more powerful, yet rich and compelling sound, on a Selmer C* mouthpiece, than the 35 year old guy with a high baffle piece. He relates playing the saxophone to the "bel canto" school of singing.
 

Dr G

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Northern California
When I'm playing, I feel like the action comes from the airstream and the embouchure just gently "steers" the reed. Try thinking of it that way, and you may find that softer reeds don't close up on you any more and you can play from top to bottom with greater ease. I think there's too much concentration on the details of embouchure and not enough on how to blow through the horn.

A huge +1 for airstream. Well said!

I am also a fan of “Blow through the horn” vs merely “into the horn”.
 

jbtsax

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That article is the first instance I have run into of advocating a position of the mouthpiece based on aligning the outside of the lower lip with the point where the facing/lay transitions to the table. Other sources advocate a starting position that aligns that point with the bottom teeth.
You have made an important observation. Mr. Pearson's instructions to place the thumb at that line to provide a "stop" for how far the outer portion of the lower lip goes onto the reed does put the portion of the lower lip slightly behind where the reed and mouthpiece begin to separate. I am familiar with the advice given to jazz players to place the lower lip in a more forward position in order to take more mouthpiece into the mouth to get more volume and edge to the tone. Beginning players typically do not have the embouchure muscle tone and strength to control the sound with that much mouthpiece in the mouth.

These instructions from Bruce Pearson are directed at guiding a beginning student's first experience at tone production on the saxophone. As such these directions are a "starting point" from which, as the student progresses, small adjustments are often made to match the student's individual physiology. In a one-on-one setting in a private lesson it may be possible to have the student "experiment" to find what emouchure/mouthpiece position works best for them. In a class of 30 or more beginning band students this approach would not be successful.

A related technique I found useful in teaching beginning saxophone and clarinet students was to determine a good starting position for the top teeth on the mouthpiece, and using a thick mouthpiece patch, make a deep groove in the patch with my thumbnail and instruct the students to "find" that groove with the top teeth each time they play. This also had the advantage of making placing the top teeth on the mouthpiece more comfortable for those students whose teeth are sensitive to the vibrations. I would also differ from Mr. Pearson in using "mouthpiece pitch" test for beginning students. Because of the difficulty of playing on the mouthpiece alone, I found it more practical at first to work with the pitch produced by the "tone producer" which is the mouthpiece + neck for the saxophone and mouthpiece + barrel for the clarinet.
 

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