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Low notes and how to do it

jeremyjuicewah

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Have been after this for years. Have now reached the stage where I can confidently go for any note on the tenor below top E (probably more on this, I have lost ability to play high) and get it without foghorn, without delay, without indeterminate octave or motorboat noises. Having pestered this forum over the years, I thought I would put down what happened.

Came near to despair on this many times. Somehow very disheartening to know that there are at least 4 notes on the tenor that you dare not use because you do not know what sound will come out of the end.
From that you will gather that I was ok most of the time down to low D.

I have put in dozens of hours on the low notes. When I chart the progress I am a bit pleased that I have demonstrated such determination. Its an age thing, not everything is necessary today anymore. I have done the breathing excercises and the long notes. I have shoved wine corks down the bell, I have pushed the mpc down to my tonsils, I have breathed into the sax in so controlled a way that the note when it does come it comes 3 minutes after it is needed.

So here is what it comes down to, for me and I am sure for all:

Breathing. You must have the good breath, from deep down, to stand any chance of getting the low notes. Here I found a big difference between excercises and playing. When you use these notes for real you understand why breathing and depth and diaphragm are so important. In an exercise you can take your time, for real you must be ready. To jump very quick from Eb (eg) to Bb will find you out if you don't have the breath down there. Its the open throat, hot breath that you need. I think I have been cheating for ages on the higher notes. Puffing out air and getting by. Its not whats wanted. Get it in deep down and have plenty of it, you cant do it on the last dregs of stored breath.

Make the note in your voice box, or stomach, or wherever you would if you were singing it. You don't have to sing it, but get so you could if you needed to.

If you ignore either of these two, I don't think you will get these notes nicely.

I changed my set up to a smaller tip mpc and a 2 reed. It got me there. If it hadn't worked I would have gone for a 1 reed. Just for the low notes it doesn't matter.

Only other thing is leaky pads. I read a piece recently saying to apply good pressure on the big keys. Perhaps your sax should always be tip top but I surprised myself yesterday when I chucked a leak light down the thing after changing a pad and finding a tiny leak at the C port. I fixed it, but I had no idea it was leaky. A very tiny extra pressure with the pinky would have kept me safe from that.

One more. Cos you don't use these notes if you cant play them, the fingering will hinder you when using them for real. Its a little trickier with these notes, but plenty of exercise up and down will help breathing and fingering. Try them all as separate notes, not sliding one to the other. It will make you more nimble and more fluent.

All stuff you know. All stuff I have been told on here. But now I know its true. Hope it helps.
Cheers
Mike
 

kevgermany

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Good to hear. Lots of useful advice. But on the extra pressure - only use as a diagnostic. If pressing harder gets the note, then get the leak fixed so you can play with light pressure.
 

Jeanette

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Always good to be reminded and hear that the advice does actually work. I've just started alto after sop and finding the low notes hard :)

Thank you

Jx
 

jbtsax

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When I taught beginning band all of the students wanting to play saxophone were required to play clarinet the first year. (I know that can be a controversial topic, so I will just say it was the best choice in my situation and it worked very well.)

The students who were picked to go to saxophone were required to take a three week summer "changeover" class during which they went through the first year method book again but this time playing saxophone. One of the requirements in this class was that they be able to play down to low C and hold it as a long tone. This was required because the open throat, breath support, embouchure control that is necessary to play low C when used on all of the notes in the range of the saxophone produces a big, open, and well controlled "characteristic" sound.

Some teachers let beginners avoid the low notes because they are difficult, I found in my teaching that doing the opposite produces very good results in the long run.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Absolutely agree with that. I wish I had used them and wish we had covered them as part of all scales in my lessons from minute one. We tackle all the trickey stuff and overcome it and then find that there is a whole chunk of the contraption that is we are strangers too. Its all the same instrument and when I think back to guitar lessons at the age of 10 we weren't spared the big stretches because we had small hands. We practised till we could do it and thank goodness for that.
 

Zootsax

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I agree most with what you said about "singing" the note. Voicing is one of the most important, but often overlooked, aspect of saxophone playing that can help every player no matter his/her experience level. For low notes specifically, I like to practice overtones, but not exactly as in the Rascher Top Tones. Instead, I play them very slowly and cascade downward to the original note instead of starting from the bottom. They can help any player find the correct voicing that, along with proper breath control and a good embouchure (haha, I won't get into that can of worms), can make playing low tones much easier. It's much closer to the Joe Allard approach, if I had to give it a name. Hope it helps.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Have to admit I know nothing of overtones so I found this piece:
http://www.bestsaxophonewebsiteever.com/intro-to-saxophone-overtones-part-1-what-are-they/
The first sound clip is of particular interest, its the sound I want but don't get. Sadly I now see a whole area of effort looming up. I don't know how to sound the overtones deliberately, but will have a go later today. I am sure I can find more reading on this but will come back here to it anyway as it seems to me a very important skill of which I have managed to be completely unaware during something over 4 years of playing with 3 years of lessons.

The attached piece I think is very informative though just a first step.

Thanks for the post.
Mike
 

Zootsax

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In the beginning, overtones can be difficult, in the same way that when someone starts toying with altissimo the initial result can be something like: "Hey, I thought that if I put the right fingers down, I should get the right tone." I think the first step in playing overtones is trying to remember the days when you started playing low notes (D and lower) and inevitably played the higher octave by accident. Essentially, overtones ask you to take what was once a mistake and now do it deliberately! I don't know whether this helps, but I believe using the back of the tongue can help. Ultimately, it's about learning to manipulate the throat muscles (specifically, those in the larynx, the muscles used for swallowing), but the back of the tongue is connected to that muscle group. Raising the back of the tongue, as in when you say the syllable "EE" as in "Disney" will cause the back of the tongue to rise up so that the side of the tongue is near the soft palate and you may even feel the top molars with the sides of the tongue. It will feel like a hissing sound, like saying "HEEE" with your tongue in that position, and may help you to get the overtones out. Try starting out on low C#. For some reason, many students find it easier to produce the overtones on those. It also helps to understand what sound you expect to hear. The first overtone above the original note is one octave above. Therefore, the first overtone above low C# should sound like middle C# with no fingers. You can even check by switching back and forth between the two fingerings.

One very important thing to remember with overtones: they won't sound pretty, at least not at first. However, a great goal is to learn to manipulate the tone so that it sounds as full and in tune as possible. Remember, every squeak and squeal the saxophone makes is actually a note, and moreover every squeak and squeal is an overtone. That's all that altissimo is, really, just overtones for which people figured out fingerings to make them pop out easier.

Good Luck and Have Fun!!
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Ok, I have spent the time since the last post reading about this. Its as though another door has opened. Wont bother with the links, what I read and a whole lot more is there on google. Thanks again zootsax. I will have a go with this tonight and get back. The overtones I understand, how to play the fundamental and selected overtones looks like a journey, but an interesting one.
Cheers
Mike
 

kevgermany

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There are good progressive overtone exercises in taming the sax volume 1.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Thanks Kev. Shows how carefully I read it. To be fair, there is a lot of stuff in there and often, with the stuff you have for lessons or band, you don't get a lot of time to explore further. I will certainly have a look in there tonight.

Meanwhile I have discovered something that's quite hopeful. I often read of people doing excercises with mpc only and have assumed, after one or two very half hearted attempts that its something I cant do. Well I just picked up my Soundman 7, which is about a 5 in other mpcs, and a 2 rico reed, the stuff I use for low notes now, and after a half minute or so I played a full octave mpc only. Not pretty, but I aimed for the true notes and got there. Gives a nice feeling of control, too.

Am hopefull. Will have a look at the sax book now I think.
Cheers
Mike
 

altissimo

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re leaks - sometimes the tiniest leak anywhere on the sax can mess with the low notes - leaks around the cork, a loose neck socket, weak octave key spring or even sometimes just touching a palm key enough to cause a slight leak is enough to make the low notes unstable.
I've not tried Matt Stohrer's suction test, with a latex glove stretched over the bell - http://youtu.be/e5dsY0xzzec
 

jbtsax

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In my opinion that suction test is of very little value in determining if there are leaking pads in a saxophone. The natural porosity of leather pads does not allow a perfect vacuum even when pads are seated perfectly. A better test in my view is the "pop" test in which you remove the mouthpiece, put the end of the neck up to your ear, finger low Bb, and "pop" one of the right hand keys. If you hear a "ring" like striking a tom tom, that means the air column is leak free.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Having a problem just now with the palm key notes and alternate fingering for same. Suspect the sax or the set up but will nail that down later. Low end is playing fine so cant be much wrong.

On overtones, probably getting a bit self absorbed but this is a new one and its interesting. In my recent move I have packed my Taming the Sax and haven't found it yet but I played around this evening and found that playing low D the middle D was easy (without octave key obviously) and also octave A. Playing low F the octave was easy to get but couldn't go anywhere else. Low B to mid B and octave F sharp were all there easily too. Not sure why these notes are there easily but the exercise of forming the notes is very good and pleasing to get right.

After that I went back to slaying the low notes and can now rapidly tongue all the low notes, which was a target and can do a fast rolling rock and roll bass line sliding up from Bb then stepping up through the sequence to top middle B and back down again in steps with passing notes to low B. This is big progress and its now coming quickly.

Important with the overtone excercises and the mouthpiece alone playing is the bashing into the memory that the note must be formed (I use that word in place of what is probably the correct word) and the breath controlled. Its easy not to do that with the easier notes so my recommendation is to get stuck into these low notes because getting them right reinforces good technique.

Cheers
Mike

Fanstastic.
 

altissimo

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In my opinion that suction test is of very little value in determining if there are leaking pads in a saxophone. The natural porosity of leather pads does not allow a perfect vacuum even when pads are seated perfectly. A better test in my view is the "pop" test in which you remove the mouthpiece, put the end of the neck up to your ear, finger low Bb, and "pop" one of the right hand keys. If you hear a "ring" like striking a tom tom, that means the air column is leak free.
I think he explains in the video about the porosity of the leather and that even a perfectly set up sax will slowly lose pressure, but that'd be a relatively slow leak compared to say, a leaky palm key or neck tenon.
I don't think there's any one test that could find every kind of leak, I merely suggested it as a possible means of detecting leakage, not some kind of universal panacea
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Havent tried either but will try both later. I checked with a leak light last weekend but I do find a light test quite hard, mainly because in the dark its hard to know if you are checking every angle, the sax is hard to handle for this test. I did find a leak on the low C, tiny but there.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Ok, according to the tom tom test, my sax is leak free. Its a very distinctive sound which you can test by tapping a right hand key with one left hand key open, then close the left hand and hey presto, if your sax is tight, there is the tom tom sound.

Cant track down a surgical glove anywhere and for some reason that must go back to something ghastly in my past am too embarrassed to go into a farmacia and ask for one. I will not pursue that as I do not want to remember. Actually, watching the Stohrer suction test left me clenched up. What is wrong with me?
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Meanwhile I have discovered something that's quite hopeful. I often read of people doing excercises with mpc only and have assumed, after one or two very half hearted attempts that its something I cant do. Well I just picked up my Soundman 7, which is about a 5 in other mpcs, and a 2 rico reed, the stuff I use for low notes now, and after a half minute or so I played a full octave mpc only. Not pretty, but I aimed for the true notes and got there. Gives a nice feeling of control, too.

Funny going back to an old thread. Am doing the same thing again, with a PPT and 3.5 Rico.

However, here is what I wanted to mention.

Elsewhere on the forum you may have seen that I am getting serious about the sax lines on Sick and Tired. I thought I was ok on these low notes but I am not. We have dropped key to A and of course B in the tenor is my very least favourite key but one I should have sorted out ages ago for the sake of Chuck Berry numbers. I can sound the low notes in a civilised piece of music. Certain, sweet notes with no honk and no breaking octave. But coming down quickly in those old bog standard r and r riffs to low B again, and finding it quickly with punch and nice tone, I cannot. So I have done the following and I can now play the thing at full speed though my tone on the B is not always nice. and now and then the octave still breaks. Its a work in progress.

I am using my PPT and a 1.5 plasticised Rico. In the past I have had to use a 3.5 to stop myself squeaking with this mpc but it seems I have adapted at last and that problem has faded away without telling me. l have stuck a couple of layers of cork on the low B left hand pinky key to make a riser so that I am not fumbling in that clump of levers, and I am doing ok. I am assuming that as I am putting three quarters of an hour a day into this I will soon be able to up the reed strength to a 2.5 or a 3 as that will be much nicer tone wise for the solo, but the sax for dummies strategy is working well. I am a bit fed up that I am having to revisit this but it has forced some honesty. I have been ducking the low B in r and r for ever, when I do play it in r and r I have had to use a very low lay mpc and it doesnt sound right. I sometimes have hidden behind a guitar and played it, but the audience are still hearing warts and all. So I am going to get this right. I am getting there. I thought my strategy of the riser was quite smart, it takes away one area of concentration.

Main thing still is sounding that note in my head and being ready with the breath, the poise, the diaphragm, all the things that I thought I had nailed that find me out on a hard piece. Not playing these low notes makes you so lazy that not playing them soon makes you unable to play them.

For info only.

Best wishes
Mike
 

jhol111964

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So I learned a trick to spit out the lowest notes. You have to have a rest right before the note. You blow thru quickly for a split second WITHOUT moving the reed so there's no sound, then you stop the air suddenly, just before the note attack. It all happens very quickly. I think it gets some of the air column moving in the horn and reduces the back pressure.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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I will try that, but as with another trick I read which is to blow with the holes open then quickly finger the note, it wont work in quick stuff and coming down from higher up to hit that low B. Typical r and r stuff from the E, Ab, Bb to LowB, Eb, F# back to low B.

Cheers
Mike
 

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