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My journey and notes to self

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zaphoon

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As a beginner sax player I have many things to try and learn, so I thought I'd drop my "notes to self", thoughts and questions in one thread here publicly, if that's ok?

Reeds

So far I've been playing Daddario Royal 1.5 which I actually got for my xapoon some time ago. I've ordered Vandroren Blue Box 1-2.5 to try them out. I thought it would be best to go with something classical, although I don't play classical music, to learn the basics.

I've been trying them out today:

strength 1: quite easy to play, the easiest to hit low notes, obviously. It seems to be a bit "unstable" if that makes sense, and perhaps it's a bit to responsive? I don't know the standard ways to describe what I mean. The biggest issue are high notes, high C sounds flat. I'm not even trying altissimo yet, but I guess that's a no go.

strength 2: much more "stable", easier on the high notes, harder to hit the low notes, but not orders of magnitude harder. Sounds a bit airy compared to 1. I think it sounds better than 1, but that's hard to say yet. Transition from upper to lower octave is harder. Still, it kinda feels this is the one I should go with.

strength 1.5: although it's between the two, it's not perfect. In a way it's closer to 1, but low notes seem as hard as on 2. It's not airy though. Rather than having strengths between 1 and 2, it seems to have weaknesses of both. Of course that's all based on trying a single of each reads, so there could be a variation.

I think I'll go with 2 and see where that leads me.


Embouchure

I'm amazed how many sounds there are... how embouchure can change tone quality. Interestingly, if I take a lot of mouthpiece in my mouth, it seems to be easier to play, including the low notes, but sound quality is really bad.. like a loud duck or something.

Turns out I like playing softly and at lower volume. Taking less mouthpiece in my mouth gives me that nice tone (but strength 1 reed is harder to get that tone with). But somwhere about the low E is a breaking point where that embouchure doesn't work anymore and I hit problems.

I've watched this video where Harvey says to take less mouthpiece in for low tones, but my experience is the opposite - when I go low, I need to push my lower lip further out, effectively taking more mouthpiece in. I have quite an overbite, so that might be a factor. So to start playing a low note I would apply lip pressure somewhere in the middle of the reed, get it to vibrate and then pull a bit further out (less mouthpiece in my mouth), seems I can catch it this way.

The most puzzling thing is, if I haven't managed to hit those low tones (other than sluring them), will I ever learn? There doesn't seem to be much more I could be doing with my mouth / lip / tongue. What am I missing? Does it just come to you one day?
 
nigeld

nigeld

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The most puzzling thing is, if I haven't managed to hit those low tones (other than sluring them), will I ever learn? There doesn't seem to be much more I could be doing with my mouth / lip / tongue. What am I missing? Does it just come to you one day?

My experience with high notes and low notes was that initially I had to slur to them and gradually they came by themselves.
I still find low notes problematic at times, especially on Tenor.

If you continue to have problems with low notes, then it would be worth checking your saxophone for leaks.
Shine a very bright torch down the tube, close each pad in turn and see if you can still see the light.
 
Greg Strange

Greg Strange

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The more you practice the better you get. How did John Coltrane, Phil Woods, Charlie Parker, etc. become great saxophonists? Practice and many hours per day. No shortcut. Sometimes you may feel you are achieving nothing, and sometimes you make progress. Part of the journey as a saxophonist. It's a marathon not a 100 metre sprint. With the internet there are lots of opportunities and resources to learn to play the sax. When I started playing the sax over 30 years in small town rural New Zealand basically I had to teach myself with a few books and very little advice from other sax players - virtually zero information.

Check out some of Eugene Rousseau teaching videos...

discussions.html

Enjoy!

Greg S.
 
MikeMorrell

MikeMorrell

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It's a great idea to keep and publish notes on how you're doing and the challenges you face. It's the best say of getting feedback and tips from the folks here, who I've found are only too happy to help.

Finding the 'right' reed is sometimes a process of trial and error. One thing to bear in mind is that individual reeds - even out of the same brand/strength box - can feel and sound slightly different. And new reeds are always a bit stiffer than reeds that have been 'broken in' (played for a while each day). According to Vandoren Youtube videos, their classical reeds are about a 1/2 strength 'harder' than their jazz reeds. Just something to be aware of.

I've posted this link to Steven Mauk's pdf on reed/mpc placement before but IMHO it's worth reading. Small differences in lining up the tip of the reed with the mpc can make the reed feel and sound a bit harder or softer. I try to adjust the reed on the mpc so I get the best tone/control in both high and low notes. Similarly, small adjustments of the position of the lig on the mpc can make a reed feel and sound slightly different.

Playing low and high notes easily and well takes lots of practice. I struggle with 'jumping to' low B and B-flat too! Not only the reed but breathing technique, embouchure, "voicing the note", etc. are all important. If you google "saxophone low notes" you'll find lots of 'how to' videos, articles. This is just one of them which seems to me to cover most of the bases. Others focus more on breathing. From his accent, I think this guy is one of my fellow (Dutch) countrymen so I though I'd give him a shout ;). The sound level is really very low so you need to really turn the volume up! When he talks about using a 'relaxed embouchure' for low notes, I lower my jaw and throat to play low notes. This is (I think) pretty much the same as 'voicing' the note. If you just sing a couple of higher notes and then sing the lowest note you can, notice how your jaw/throat naturally drops.

As a beginner sax player I have many things to try and learn, so I thought I'd drop my "notes to self", thoughts and questions in one thread here publicly, if that's ok?

Reeds

So far I've been playing Daddario Royal 1.5 which I actually got for my xapoon some time ago. I've ordered Vandroren Blue Box 1-2.5 to try them out. I thought it would be best to go with something classical, although I don't play classical music, to learn the basics.

I've been trying them out today:

strength 1: quite easy to play, the easiest to hit low notes, obviously. It seems to be a bit "unstable" if that makes sense, and perhaps it's a bit to responsive? I don't know the standard ways to describe what I mean. The biggest issue are high notes, high C sounds flat. I'm not even trying altissimo yet, but I guess that's a no go.

strength 2: much more "stable", easier on the high notes, harder to hit the low notes, but not orders of magnitude harder. Sounds a bit airy compared to 1. I think it sounds better than 1, but that's hard to say yet. Transition from upper to lower octave is harder. Still, it kinda feels this is the one I should go with.

strength 1.5: although it's between the two, it's not perfect. In a way it's closer to 1, but low notes seem as hard as on 2. It's not airy though. Rather than having strengths between 1 and 2, it seems to have weaknesses of both. Of course that's all based on trying a single of each reads, so there could be a variation.

I think I'll go with 2 and see where that leads me.


Embouchure

I'm amazed how many sounds there are... how embouchure can change tone quality. Interestingly, if I take a lot of mouthpiece in my mouth, it seems to be easier to play, including the low notes, but sound quality is really bad.. like a loud duck or something.

Turns out I like playing softly and at lower volume. Taking less mouthpiece in my mouth gives me that nice tone (but strength 1 reed is harder to get that tone with). But somwhere about the low E is a breaking point where that embouchure doesn't work anymore and I hit problems.

I've watched this video where Harvey says to take less mouthpiece in for low tones, but my experience is the opposite - when I go low, I need to push my lower lip further out, effectively taking more mouthpiece in. I have quite an overbite, so that might be a factor. So to start playing a low note I would apply lip pressure somewhere in the middle of the reed, get it to vibrate and then pull a bit further out (less mouthpiece in my mouth), seems I can catch it this way.

The most puzzling thing is, if I haven't managed to hit those low tones (other than sluring them), will I ever learn? There doesn't seem to be much more I could be doing with my mouth / lip / tongue. What am I missing? Does it just come to you one day?
 
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MandyH

MandyH

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When talking about low notes, you didn't mention your lungs / diaphragm / torso muscles / breath support and breath control..
Imagine you are an opera singer - think how those bass singers open up their mouths and provide a good column of air to support their singing - you need to be doing that too.
But practice will make better ... it will come one day
 
Z

zaphoon

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Vienna
Well, I seem to be back at square 1, as in, back to the Legere synthetic reed. Of all the reeds it's the most playable, and the easiest to play the low notes while still playable high in the 2nd octave.

It's also a bit more jazzy, buzzy as the vandoren, but it has some kind of distorsion to it, which I don't like and can't figure out where it comes from. It could be spit, as it stays on the reed and is not absorbed as with the cane reed, or it could be a tiny leak between lip and reed - since the reed is totally smooth the lip doesn't "grip" as good as with cane reed. Or it's a bit of both, or there's a slight damage to my reed.

Sigh, one can spend more on reeds than on a sax to find "the one" :eek:.
 
Z

zaphoon

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Vienna
I haven't updated this thread for a while... so long story short, I found a great teacher, done some (minor) progress, but now I'm facing a huge problem which is ergonomics. Not only my thumbs hurt (which I could live with), saxophone seems to induce tinnitus for me :-(

I'm not sure how to proceed at this point. I've had some major tinnitus long time ago and managed to bring it to manageable levels. The thought of having constant loud beep in my ears again is horrifying. I've tried a mute (the one you put in your sax) and while it does work to some degree it also changes the feel too much for a beginner.

Well, good that I only have a rental I guess :-(
 
Jeanette

Jeanette

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Ear plugs?

Search the site for recommendations

Jx
 
Bob M.

Bob M.

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I haven't updated this thread for a while... so long story short, I found a great teacher, done some (minor) progress, but now I'm facing a huge problem which is ergonomics. Not only my thumbs hurt (which I could live with), saxophone seems to induce tinnitus for me :-(

Do you have your neck strap adjusted properly? I certainly hope you are using one. small things like this are what good beginning teachers should be for, imo. They should show you correct posture, correct head position, correct weight distribution and holding of the saxophone/etc. there should not be much 'weight' down on your thumbs at all. there are different preferences for your neck straps, but for me, I ave the entire weight on the strap, and adjusted to where the mouthpiece naturally falls into place right above my bottom lip, my holding the sax generally keeps it away from my body so to speak, but with really very little effort, a slight pressure one handed with my thumb, and balanced.
There anre many many many, bad habits one can get into when trying to teach themselves the saxophone alone. seriously. and I have known people who have had to have thumb surgery even, because they got into some bad ones like this early. Don't be one of those. The sax requires really very little effort when setup and used properly, in fact, in is a badge of honor among many players to have as little noticeable movement at all, if you can pull it off. a common exercise is to take small pieces of paper and put it between your fingers and the keys while playing....the goal is to not allow those papers to slip out at all. This is referred to as keeping your fingers glued to the instrument, and it allows a quicker response since the fingers do not travel extra distances to produce the results. ie, if your finger moves 2" then it logically takes more time than for it to only move 1" at the same speed.
 
Filip

Filip

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As a newbie to the sax myself.... it seems to me that you've been walking in the dark and that's put you off...

Not buying a million different strenghts and makes of reeds, mouthpieces etc was probably one of the best things my teacher told me to do. You can't create consistency without keeping any of the variables consistent sort of thing.

Which reminds me of my early mountaineering and rock climbing days... getting the basics right was not as fun as having (all the) expensive shinies in the world, but it made me a lot better in the long run... shinies came later ;)

I guess the same applies to driving a car, food making, love, weight management etc etc,


Keep the sax if you feel its for you, just take a 'kaizen' approach to it. A year on I still wonder how long it's gonna be before i sound relatively pleasant (though i sound a lot less sh** then i did even a couple of months ago), probably never.

But it's a nice slow journey that kept me sane despite this crazy ******* world. That being said, if it makes you miserable then it might just be worth finding a different path - and there's absolutely no shame in that either.
 
jbtsax

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I would not recommend the Harvey Pittel series of videos discussing the Allard approach to playing to a beginning player. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those concepts, but they are several levels above that of a beginning player learning the basic fundamentals of tone production. I know there are Allard disciples who would disagree with that statement, but it should be pointed out that Allard worked with many of the most gifted and talented saxophonists after they had already achieved a professional level of performance. His students were not beginning players working on Twinkle Twinkle. :)
 
s.mundi

s.mundi

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An amazing, intelligent, and sexy woman taught me invaluable lesson... She said " Abaleeto, please don't force it. Allow beautiful things to happen spontaneously"...
Good luck
 
Z

zaphoon

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Vienna
Seems I can hit the low notes! But it didn‘t „just happen“.

So, my teacher is keeping his reeds in vodka. I‘m not on best terms with alcohol, specially vodka, so I kept just using my mouth to wet them. Then out of curiosity I threw one in rum. And oh boy, suddenly that reed I was struggling with before sings! I don‘t know of it’s alcohol or simply properly soaking it, but there is a difference, huge difference!

Then I stumbled on this article SaxHax: Experimenting with the Double Lip Embouchure and gave it a try. For some reason it sems to work much better for me, specially for the lower octave. Maybe it‘s due to overbite? I don’t know.

As for my other isses, yeah I‘m experimenting with earplugs + headphones and hifi earplugs. It‘s better bit I thik my ears need a break to normalise first.

My thumbs are doing better, too. I guess being relaxed is the key here.
 
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I had a problem with my right thumb for a while. I was squeezing too hard on low D#, I think. A funny thing happened to me with low notes. I'm not a decent sight reader and when I was learning someone from an exercise book, the example was played on tenor and I was reading the alto chart one octave low without realizing it. I should have understood right away when I couldn't hit the "low A" (concert C). Anyway, I got a great workout on the low notes, it was a funk tune with a lot of low B, C and D interaction. Bb is still my nemesis.
 
MikeMorrell

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FWIW, I don't think that there are many shortcuts to gradually (by trial and error) finding out what works best for you. In other words, I don't think that 'recipes' always work for everyone. I do believe that there are many good guidelines that can help you move 'closer to the light' than 'endlessly wandering around in the darkness'. A good teacher plays the most important role in this.

I'm not by any means an accomplished sax player. But over the years, I have picked up some valuable tips from this forum that I (from time to time) try to put into practice. Sometimes it's 'breath support' (fully using your lungs via your diaphfragm), sometimes it's it's 'voicing' notes and sometimes it's channeling the airstream through your mouth (with your tongue) to your reed, sometimes it's your embochure,

Leaving aside (for convenience) all the technical stuff about sax leaks, mpc's and reeds (which are just as important too!), each of these factors influence your ability to hit high or low notes. My guess is that a pro sax player could play over the whole range on almost any set-up (mpc/reed). It might not sound great but he/she would instincely sense how to adjust accordingly. So IMHO, it's the combination of factors that determines whether you can play over the whole range or not.

My assertion is that there are few shortcuts to learnng to play well over the whole range but there are many guidelines that work for many people but not for all. There are 'techical tips' (mpc's, reeds) and there are 'playing ability tips'. Both are important. In terms of priorities, I suggest that the 'playing ability tips' are - in the longer term - more valuable.
 
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I agreed with the above from Mike but although it isn't a shortcut but a skill, the ability to hear clearly what is being played is capital. Although not limited to woodwinds and brass, but any instrument that plays one note at a time, there is an infinite number of variables to absorb when listening. When I learn a song, I try to find as many versions as possible, especially sung versions. I try to absorb the words and the differences in phrasing and the little traits like vibrato and dynamics each uses. Then I move on to the great instrumentalists and try to understand what they are doing. This is strictly personal, not to start an argument, but I don't try to learn the scales or licks used by the greats, other than what wears off naturally by osmosis. What I do is carefully study each note. How did the great saxophonist approach it and how did (s)he embellish it with a bend or gracenote? How many little detours before arriving at the next note? In the end, that is a lot of what makes a personal style. My aim is to assimilate how the saxophone is made to sound like it's telling a story with a voice. Sometime I can do that for a minute or two, and that's what I am looking for. Sorry, I was thinking aloud, trying to convince myself that I'm on the right track!
 
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