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Beginner How to initiate a note?


In the spirit of cutting to the chase my big problem by far is the inability to initiate notes correctly:

Nothing happens for half a second and then the note starts; or ditto and then it's too strong and has to be pulled down; or there is a horrible blairy noise at the start of the note before it gets half way sensible. And generally that sort of thing.

If you blow into a recorder, for example, you immediately get the note and it is easy to play therefore.

If a note won't start reliably you are screwed, especially if you do not know how long it will take after starting to blow for the note to come.

The answer is probably: You are cocking everything up. But ask hoping there might be something simple wrong. Great thanks any help.

EDIT: Should have said it is alright if I can move between notes once the reed is vibrating, it is sort of trying to start a sound again that is the cock up.
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obvious questions are how long have you been playing and have you had at least some initial lessons to address the basics. The very bottom and top notes are more difficult and take a lot more practice and consideration for reed strength etc. But the midrange notes should be easy to articulate, so if they are still a problem then you either have some basic errors in your technique (eg. not tonguing the notes correctly) or/and you have an incorrect setup which could be from a simple thing like way too hard reeds to a badly leaking sax.

Either way a trip to your local sax tutor is highly recommended!

Regards Rikki
Thanks. Do have a teacher, in near desperation I suspect he thinks I should get a Yamaha 4c, or is it c4 mouthpiece. Currently using a rico royal b3.

But can't help wondering if it's easier than that. It is starting the note that is the problem. Is it possible there was some way of reliably getting a sound immediately you blow into it? Assume not. But just asking in case there might be.

Once the read is going and avoid doing much tonguing things are quite good.
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In the spirit of cutting to the chase my big problem by far is the inability to initiate notes correctly:

Nothing happens for half a second and then the note starts; or ditto and then it's too strong and has to be pulled down; or there is a horrible blairy noise at the start of the note before it gets half way sensible. And generally that sort of thing.

Being a raw beginner myself all I can say is welcome to the club!

I think these things just take time. There's no magic bullet for experience, and experience can only come with time. It think too it's not really a matter of "intellectual theory" so much as just a matter of your mouth and tongue muscles getting the 'feel' for what they are supposed to do. I don't have a live teacher, but I've been reading books on tonguing notes and starting notes. On thing these books typically agree upon is that everyone's mouth and tongue are different. So it's really something that you're just going to need to work out for yourself by feel. Assuming that you have indeed been taught or read the various tonging techniques etc.

When I first started playing the violin I couldn't sound a decent note to save my soul. All I got were chirps, scratches and garbage. I thought I'd never be able to play a violin. But I kept at it and eventually it came to me. Now that I've been playing the violin for several years I find it difficult to actually make a scratchy just to demonstrate it for someone else. MY muscles have become so accustom to bowing the strings that I find really difficult to play a bad sounding note (save for perhaps intonation).

I imagine it's going to be the same way with the sax. It's FRUSTRATING, I know! But just know that it will come with time. I started on #2 reeds and that was a mistake. I mean I could play with them, but I have FAR MORE control with #1.5 now.

I don't think there is any magic wand that can be waved to make a beginner play smoothly right off the bat. You either take to it like a duck to water, or you squawk for a while like a bullfrog. I'm a bullfrog now, but owl be a duck tomorrow. Well, maybe next year, but I think you know what I mean. With any luck you eventually evolve into a songbird.
Sounds as if you're not using your tongue properly. Just blowing makes it diffcult to get the notes instantly, as you've found out.

Make a t (not tea) with your tongue as you start the note. Tongue should be touching the tip of the reed. Idealy the tip of the tongue as well, but I find it easier with the tongue slightly further forward. Once you get used to tonguing the notes and they start cleanly, vary the sound by varying the tongue.

The other thing is that you need the air pressure in your mouth before releasing the reed, so you should be blowing with no air coming out until you release the reed.
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Sounds as though the reed is closing up to the m'piece preventing the passage of air. you then slacken your embouchure to compensate, so:-

New m'piece with increased tip opening (most likely),


Harder reed.

@rotate: Been there and done that (only yesterday evening in fact as I was experimenting with low note production).

Two things for low note production: Breathing control and embouchure.

As Kev says, you have to have a good pressure in your mouth before you start the note (by removing your tongue from the tip). From what you've said, I think you have plenty of pressure. What I think is happening is that you're not supporting the reed enough which is allowing the fundamental to be bypassed, and you're producing an overtone: this is the messy start that you're experiencing. After the note has started, you back off on the pressure, the fundamental returns and the note is stable.

In short, proper low note production requires you to alter your embouchure (just for the low notes though). I solved this by keeping my top teeth in the same position on the mouthpiece, but supporting the reed further from the tip by moving my lower jaw forward so that there is more of my lower lip in contact with the reed. In doing so, I am able to achieve a cleanly articulated fully-resonating low Bb. I'm doing something completely different to achieve a subtone Bb, but I won't describe that here as that will confuse things. :)

Unfortunately, embouchure is difficult to explain. If you have a teacher, arrange a lesson specifically to address low note production. Whether you have a teacher or not, I suggest a few dedicated practice sessions of experimenting with your embouchure to achieve clean low note production. You'll eventually stumble on what works for you with your reed/mouthpiece combination.

BTW, I don't know if the Rico Royal mouthpiece is any good, but on the alto (at least), a #3 facing corresponds to a Yamaha 6C. It will require a bit more "puff" than a 4C, but I don't think that that's your problem. Certainly, the facing is wide enough.

Anyway, to repeat myself, I believe your problem is embouchure. Changing other things such as reed strength may help, but you should be able to produce a decent low note with a soft reed.

Edit: A recorder isn't the same because it doesn't have a reed ;}
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In short, proper low note production requires you to alter your embouchure (just for the low notes though).

Er, no.

Your embouchure should be able to cope with all the notes (apart from altissimo) without any change. If you're having to alter it to play some notes then you're doing it wrong.

Going back to the original question, it sounds like the sort of thing I see quite often. Student can't tongue until the note is actually sounding, ie. can't initiate the sound by tonguing. Bugger all to do with the mouthpiece really but the reed might be too hard for it. Just got to keep trying. You'll get there. No magic solution. Wot Kev said.
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What book? They may have been describing a short cut that works for beginners. Developing a good embouchure is a long process. Do you find your low notes going flat if you do this?
The Complete Saxophone Player. The way I read it was that you had to adjust your embouchure to play the low notes rather than adjust you embouchure to play all notes. Can't say I've noticed tuning problems.

I've got a lesson on Monday and I'll bring this up.
From internet research and talking I came to realise that there are two schools of thought on this. One lot says you should be able to play all the notes without an embouchure change, the other says changing is OK/necessary. And the arguments for/against seem to be circular and unresolved.

If you can get all the notes without an embouchure change, great - it's one less thing to worry about. But if you need a little help, you'll find that some, not all, teachers say it's OK (mine does for instance). However beware of being too tight - the low notes won't come - and too loose means the high notes won't come.

My personal feeling (as a newbie) is that it's best to minimise embouchure changes -they trip you up. But Nick's both teacher and experienced - and will probably disagree with a lot of what I've posted. Certainly the fixed school gives a beginner one less thing to worry about - once the student finds that elusive magic one size fits all embouchure.
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No, I don't disagree. If you can play all the notes from pp to ff in tune, then it doesn't really matter how you achieve this. But saxophones tend to be built (I believe) with the assumption that the input from the embouchure is constant. If you think about it, it's the only sensible way they could operate (not sure that Selmer would agree though;}). So, if the sax has been built well (great temptation to write Builth Wells there), your best shot at playing it in tune is to keep your embouchure constant. And when I say 'constant' I mean including all the tiny changes that you use to correct slightly less than perfect intonation.
Thanks. Do have a teacher, in near desperation I suspect he thinks I should get a Yamaha 4c, or is it c4 mouthpiece. Currently using a rico royal b3.

You suspect he thinks this? Ask him outright and do as he says. He is there and can hear what is going on, we are only guessing.


Yes he does, I'll do that then, get a Yamaha 4c: just have feeling mouthpiece is not the problem.

Huge thanks to all above. It is extreemly helpfull to have various theories to work on, otherwise you are just at sea.
Wthout going through all what has been said before, ( as you can see lots of different advice ) It also seems like you need to strengthen your embouchure. Play long notes, preferably against a wall, you can then really hear what sound you are making. Relax but really listen to what sound you are making, you only have to start with say 5 mins a day and then maybe do more as time goes on, don't stress yourself trying to get low Bb or high altissimo notes, stay in the middle register, so that you can start to gain confidence. As you get better you can move onto te other notes.
I mean you won't lift 100kgs without first having lifted lighter weights.
I play long notes every day which not only helps to strenghen the embouchure but will also help improve your tone.
Let us know how things improve, good luck, Phil
If you get a 4C, you may also need to move up to slightly stronger reeds.

Perhaps not. We're not there, so we're all shooting in the dark, but if the problem's not tonguing, then it may be that the current reeds are too strong for Rotate at the moment - on the B3. In that case, going to stonger reeds on a more closed mouthpiece will move the problem to the new mouthpiece.

My money's on tonguing, however.
I hate the thought of people waisting money.

From your description of the problem, that once you've got the notes flowing, they keep going. It sounds as if you don't need a narrower tip opening.

Go to your local shop and see if they will let you try m'pieces either side of your B3 Rico, i.e. Yam 4C & Yam 7C.
If things improve one way or the other, then you know which one to buy.

Do take one of your reeds that you are used to playing!!!!!!!!!!

hi rotate and welcome on board, when i first got my sax it came with a mouth piece not knowing how to play or even how to blow a note i bought a reed (rico 2 )and tired to make a note nothing started looking around found this web site asked some questions and had the advice it was the mouth piece i bought a 4c on ebay (best price i could find) i then was able to play thee middle range and low ,i still struggle to play high notes but getting better after playing 3 months.
how long have you been playing
what reed are you using

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