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Beginner newbie question - bottom lip NOT over teeth - bad news?

ChrisC

Member
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44
Guys - I havnt had my first lesson yet but I am trying to learn the embochure and dont want to get into a bad habit so a little direction please...

Beginner books and youtube videos say to curl your bottom lip over your teeth...

But I discovered today that I can get a smoother more full and even sound by pressing my lower lip against the vertical face of my teeth but NOT actually over them. I am still pressing the reed with my lower lip.

Is a non supported lip bad practice? MUST I curl my lip over my teeth? I.e. its a fundamental sax law :)

I envisage you will all say lip-over-teeth... and i will accept that and learn it if that is the case - but why is the sound better if i dont?

I think I have found a local teacher who would of course tell me - but I am waiting for him to come back off holiday before I can ask about lessons.
 
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Taz

Busking Oracle
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3,661
No you don't have to pull your bottom lip over your teeth. I'll try to describe how I do it. If you shut your mouth, keep your teeth parted and apply a little suction, you will feel the soft inner part of your bottom lip get pulled over your teeth. This forms a cushion that will support the reed.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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What you're doing is good. But it'll take a while to build up the necessary strength. Be prepared to play for short periods with a soft reed, building up the time you play as the strength builds. It'll also help you avoid a common problem - biting. Just make sure you keep your teeth off the reed, otherwise you'll get some nasty noises.

Listening to the way you sound and working on that is fundamental to playing.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
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13,073
Different mouthpieces require a slightly different technique. I tend to lip out on tenor and baritone. Soprano and clarinet is a more lip over teeth embouchure. On alto I move about depending on the tone and volume and the battered state of my lip.

You're doing the right thing to listen to what sounds best and adapting.

Back in the day both lips over the teeth was recommended.

I can't say what your teacher may recommend, I've never had a lesson.

I suppose if you were going the classical route there may be strict rules to stop bad habits developing.

If you're going the blues /rock /jazz route then developing a comfortable embouchure and your own sound is fine.
 

BigMartin

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3,904
Whenever I see the lip over teeth thing I think "clarinet player" (I used to be one).

Be very wary of YouTube instruction videos. Some of them are complete rubbish.

Unfortunately, different teachers will tell you different things. What you're doing sounds a lot like what I'm doing. But as your lips get stronger, you can drop your jaw so that the lower teeth are quite a long way (vertically) from the mouthpiece. I don't think of it as lip in or lip out now as my teeth are miles away. I'm just squeezing with my lips supported distantly by the jaw, and the top teeth rest very lightly on the mouthpiece. This gives you a lot of flexibility.

This book has some very sound advice from one of the best teachers and players in the country.

http://www.robbuckland.com/node/320.

Be aware that there's a lot of stuff in there that you won't be ready for yet (I know I'm not!). But he takes you right from the ground up and shows you how to develop a sound basic technique. It's just about playing the sax itself though, nothing about how to play or read music. It's made a huge difference to my playing over the last 3 months, and I'm still only working on the early sections.
 

jbtsax

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This topic generally opens a can of worms since there are so many different opinions. I am of the traditional school which teaches beginning players to roll the bottom lip in just enough to cover the tops of the lower teeth. Perhaps the best description of this traditional approach is given by Bruce Pearson in this article: Teaching the Saxophone Embouchure

Larry Teal, in The Art of Saxophone Playing writes: "The lower lip should be above the teeth, in a rolled position but supported entirely by the chin muscles and aided by the compact position of the mouth corners, which when drawn in, furnish a firmer cushion for control of the reed's vibration".

It needs to be emphasized that this embouchure produces consistency and control from the fact that the lower lip contacts the reed directly beneath the top teeth on the beak of the mouthpiece. This alignment of the top teeth with the pressure point on the reed does not exist when the lower lip is in front of the lower teeth. In this scenario to have the correct* amount of reed in the mouth, one must take less of the mouthpiece in the mouth by not putting the top teeth on the mouthpiece as far because the lip reed contact point is out in front of the lower teeth.

Let me be clear that I am referring to the teaching of this embouchure as a good foundation for a beginning player. As any player matures, develops muscle tone and embouchure control, it is certainly their prerogative to try different variations on the basic embouchure to pursue a different sound or style. There is nothing wrong with "lip out" or "double lip" embouchure on the saxophone. Many fine players play this way. I just don't think it is sound advice to tell a beginning player to use a more advanced playing technique until he has mastered the time proven traditional approach. Leaving soapbox now . . . . .

* This is widely accepted as the amount of reed beyond where the reed and mouthpiece come together.
 

ChrisC

Member
Messages
44
Thanks folks

Blues / rock / jazz is more my thing than classical so for me its all about the sound but i fully respect that i know nothing about how to play yet so I will listen to my new friends on this forum :)

I think my initial problem may be that I was biting the mouthpiece using my lower lip as a cushion against the reed. I will try various lip combinations as an experiment with the aim of holding the mouthpiece with my lip rather than biting it... its only messing about with the sax for a minute until lessons start.

Thanks for the replies - it all helps.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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The lower lip's job is to support and control the reed (amount of opening/loudness). It also damps the reeds vibration. The smaller the reed, the more damping that's needed, which is why clarinets are played with a lot more lip contact. Also explains why Colin adjusts his embouchure according to which sax he's playing. And also reed damping affects tone.

Another factor is mouth anatomy, especially the relationship of the two jaws (underbite/overbite...), this is the starting point from which you need to move to get the correct reed support and will affect the amount of lip in/out that's appropriate.

My personal view is that when you begin you need to develop the embouchure in general, but especially the lower lip muscles. BigMartin's given a good description of how this progresses. The 'sin' is to use jaw muscles to apply pressure to the reed by pushing the lip onto the reed with your teeth, because the teeth cut into the lip.

Another issue with this is that you've got much better fine control with the lip than you have with the jaw muscles - so you can think of jaw as coarse control, lip fine control. Jaw position also controls the volume of air in your mouth, which has a big effect on sound. But you can't drop your jaw much until your lower lip is strong enough to support the reed the way Big Martin described.

JBTSax's view is traditional, and clearly helps when the lip muscles are still too weak. But it's essential with this approach to make sure that the embouchure develops enough that the player doesn't slip into biting. A good teacher will be wise to this, but guys going alone will often fall into the trap.
 

TomMapfumo

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5,219
Listen to KevvyG - he knows his embouchure stuff! :thumb: Just be aware that not all teachers are that knowledgeable and some can be quite biased/strict when it comes to such things.
 

ChrisC

Member
Messages
44
You know I am really pleased that I asked this question as i WAS biting the underside of my lip which just didnt seem like the right thing to do and could not for the life of me work out how you were supposed to have a relaxed jaw with which to generate vibrato and affect volume (sorry I was reading ahead in my books).

I am even more pleased that i get to keep the better sound i was producing but I sense quite a lot of lip strengthening is going to be the order of the day to keep the reed off my teeth.

Thanks guys - another boost to my feel good factor about the sax and I'll change my tutor if he doenst agree with KevG...:D
 

jbtsax

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The lower lip's job is to support and control the reed (amount of opening/loudness). It also damps the reeds vibration. The smaller the reed, the more damping that's needed, which is why clarinets are played with a lot more lip contact. Also explains why Colin adjusts his embouchure according to which sax he's playing. And also reed damping affects tone.
In my understanding it is exactly the opposite. The flat chin of the clarinet embouchure stretches the lower lip thin so there is less contact with the reed. The larger the mouthpiece and reed, the more mouthpiece is taken inside the mouth, but the larger instruments don't necessarily require more lip surface on the reed. The saxophone family as a whole require more of a lip cushion on the reed to produce their characteristic sound than does the clarinet family. Because of the downward angle of the clarinet mouthpiece it may appear that there is more lip contact with the reed, but there is actually less to produce the characteristic classical tone quality.

JBTSax's view is traditional, and clearly helps when the lip muscles are still too weak. But it's essential with this approach to make sure that the embouchure develops enough that the player doesn't slip into biting. A good teacher will be wise to this, but guys going alone will often fall into the trap.
Well said. However, the optimum solution to biting is not to place the lip in front of the lower teeth, but to develop the sensation of the jaw pulling down as the muscles around the mouth push the lip upwards to press against the reed. All it takes is for the student to remember to open the teeth when he/she plays and the "biting" will go away.
 

ChrisC

Member
Messages
44
I tried various lip placements today and achieved a mix of sounds (mostly good but a few squeaks) - knowing that i should not be biting upwards with my jaw and to use my lip has definitely helped even if my lip is curled above my teeth.

"open the teeth" was a good tip that worked - I even achieved a sound edging towards a slight vibrato by raising/lowering my jaw but thats way to advanced for me right now.

I'm liking the sax - its more fun than learning to play guitar was...
 

Wade Cornell

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2,140
From my experience jbtsax has got it right and this is the best method for beginners. It is old school but works. The "lip out" option gives a slightly brighter tone (if that's what you want), but sacrifices the control that beginners desperately need. I seldom use the lip out technique unless I need a very bright tone.

I know of several good musicians who played other instruments (flute, clarinet) and went to learn sax. The local (New Zealand) teachers seem to all push the lip out technique. After years of playing not one of them has a decent tone. It's bright, but sucks. This is a case of theory pushing aside practicality where (once again) the dogma of "so and so" (name a favourite player) uses that technique, so they will too. Once you have got some control and a decent tone, then, if you think you need that extra brightness, would be the time to try out the "lip out" technique. Learning an instrument is difficult enough. Not being able to produce a good tone for a very long time in order to play in the most current "fashion" is just putting off having the reward that you need as a beginner in having a tone that makes you want to continue to play.

As jbtsax indicates, you can more easily switch to that technique later once you've developed your chops. If your teacher disagrees, I'd find another teacher.
 

ChrisC

Member
Messages
44
I think I have worked out that the actual issue was that I was starting to bite the mouthpiece - the 'lip out' technique obviously took me away from doing that - but I now know what I was doing wrong.

Following all your help - I find that it is just as easy to have my lip curled above my teeth but not use my jaw to push my lip onto the reed... a simple dropping of my jaw achieved what the books were trying to tell me.

Guess thats the problem with being new to an instrument - i can certainly see how i could fall into bad habits, i wasnt doing that when i first picked up a sax all of 1 week ago....
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,947
In my understanding it is exactly the opposite. The flat chin of the clarinet embouchure stretches the lower lip thin so there is less contact with the reed. The larger the mouthpiece and reed, the more mouthpiece is taken inside the mouth, but the larger instruments don't necessarily require more lip surface on the reed. The saxophone family as a whole require more of a lip cushion on the reed to produce their characteristic sound than does the clarinet family. Because of the downward angle of the clarinet mouthpiece it may appear that there is more lip contact with the reed, but there is actually less to produce the characteristic classical tone quality.
I can't remember where I read it. I'll do some digging.
 

gregerhillman

Member
Messages
52
There are some good points being made here already so I will just let you know that I have a video on this exact subject over at my site.

I'm unsure on the policy for adding links in posts but you can find it pretty easy in my profile if you're interested.
 

gregerhillman

Member
Messages
52
Please add a link, no problem.
Ok, thanks Kev.

The URL is: http://saxophonehub.com
and to be fully transparent, you'll need to subscribe to the newsletter in order to access the videos.

Right now there are 18 videos in the free section and can be a very good starting point for beginner sax players.

The video regarding this particular question can be found in Module #3. It's the first video there.
 
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