Problem with low notes on tenor


Well-Known Member
Costa Blanca Spain
Big prob with low notes on tenor. I get a decent D, C is hit and miss, but anything short of full blast gets me nothing at all lower than that. After 1 year I reckon I should be doing better. I have gone back to a three reed after trying twos and two and a halfs because at high and low end the notes I do get are stronger and more pleasing. My most used mpc is Otto Link 7 metal and I know there is nothing wrong with the sax. I get octave jumps, I get a sort of long wave vibe underneath the normal vibe of the reed, but this usually goes away when I am warmed up. I havent practiced these notes enough I guess, but I dont avoid them and I feel I am way wrong somewhere.

Other than that playing is come on leaps and bounds and though others tell me there isnt much need to go to low B, I feel that its one thing choosing not to play there, another not being able to.
Best wishes
You can check that the G# and low C# key are closed while you try to blow low C#, B and Bb. Ask someone to slighty press the G# and C# keycups while you're blowing the low notes. /Thomas
As to the sax, what I actually know is that my teacher can play it fine right down to Bb. It plays normal and sub tone. I suppose that doesnt rule out the sax, maybe he can play it when its not quite right and I cant. One other point, if I come down from mid B I can often get a reasonable Bb. Its when I go straight for it that I fail.

Thomas, I will try that out tonight.

I have only just realised why practice on alto is always more pleasing. Its just so much easier to play.
If the sax is 100%, softer reeds is the way to go. 1 year is not a long time in the grand scheme of things... I know your tone is better with harder reeds but if you can't play certain notes somethings wrong...

Definitely try the softer reed - it may be a compromise you have to make. Also try really letting your lip go slack and see if it sounds with a hard reed - that will tell you whether it's the sax or not, or your embouchure/reed combination.

Do check that the screws on the lower keys are tight. I had this same problem a year or so ago and it turned out that one of the really long screws had worked its way partly out, enough to cause a leak on the low B pad. Worth a check over with a screwdriver.
Here are some things that have helped many of my students having a similar problem.

- Say "haup" when you take a breath to open the throat.
- Blow a warm airstream to keep the throat open.
- Mentally direct the airstream toward the LH thumb to keep from biting (keeps the teeth apart).
- Slur quickly down from middle C to low C. Keep the embouchure the same and increase the air.
- When you get a clear and stable low C, hold it as a long tone. Do this repeatedly.
- When low C is solid and dependable, slur down as above but add the B key after the C sounds.
- Practice the above holding low B as a long tone.
- When B becomes solid repeat the process adding the low Bb.

When you can get the low tones easily by slurring down to them, then practice starting on the tone itself. The last step is to do all of these exercises softer and softer (a lifetime process on the saxophone).

Some additional tips: Use the same embouchure throughout. Don't relax for the low tones. Subtone can be developed later as an additional way to play low tones. It should never be a substitute IMO. Keep the back of the tongue down as if singing "AHH" on the lowest note you can hit.

There are certainly other techniques and opinions about producing low tones that also work. The ones I've given are some tips that have been successful for me over the years.
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You need to blow a little every day and the reed needs to "play in" each time before you get the full range with good tone out of your instrument. Let it bark a bit down low for a few hits and it should get smoother and warmer each time you revisit the low notes in a practice session.

I find playing a simple tune that fits in one register helps. Blow it in the top then blow it in lower register. You need to almost hear the note before you play it.

The ligature needs to be as far back as is practical and keep checking the tightness.

After all this if you're hitting the top but can't get the bottom a softer reed is indicated. However if with this softer reed you lose the top but gain the bottom then a different mouthpiece with a different lay might solve the problem.

Changing the make of reed you're using may help. I find the bottom is easier to blow with a warm full tone using a classic blue vandoren reed. The top end is easier for me to get a decent tone using a rico royale. Vandoren are odd with the strength. I find a Vandoren 2 and a Rico royale 3 blow about the same for me.

If you continue to struggle and are sure it's not the instrument itself. I'd be trying a different mouthpiece/reed set up.

When you said your teacher has no problems getting lows on your instrument, does he use your mouthpiece or fit his own?
Hi Thomas. Got the wifey to hold those keys down, no change.

Hi Chris. I've been one year on tenor, two and a half in total inc alto. The dif in note quality with a 2 reed and a 3 reed is so great, I dont think I can go back to the softer reed. I guess its labour on and have blind faith.

Kingsleyhk, I do have better results with a slack lower lip, similarly I do something with my stomach and my throat that I cant really define that also helps. I just have a little feeling that the great sax players dont contort themselves. Not that I think I'll be a great, but then a lot of the time I didnt expect to get this far, so who knows. I'll check the pad on that low one. Thanks.

jbtsax, good stuff, I will try it all.

colinthebear, thanks, I will adjust the lig and yes, he plays it with his own mpc, I am pretty sure of my mpc, I have a few now
and its the same with them all. The Otto Link New York gives me best tones overall and I am just so sure its me. Sometimes it feels like I need to smash the sax up, but I know it will get better. I now have lots to work with, thanks all.

Off to Valencia for five days now, so over and out, but many many thanks,
Just another thing that may or may not help. I've always used a reed cutter on alto since I discovered them back in the day. It allows you to get the half sizes in between.

I find a vandoren 3 too tough and a 2 too soft on the alto. I start with a two and trim it half a millimeter or so. The resulting thicker edge gives a fatter mellow tone down low and a sweeter, to my ear tone up top.

Same with the baritone, I clip a vandoren 4 and it's perfect, for me.

I was trawling the internet looking for Soprano bits and pieces when I noticed a clarinet cutter for under a fiver postage free.

It must be a piece of junk but worth a punt for the price. I've always struggled on the clarinet to get a good tone throughout the range. Good top , bad bottom and visa versa.

It came yesterday and although it's not a quality item it does the job very well. The result was very satifying. Rich at the bottom and fruity at the top. Controlable and squeak free. Pleased doesn't cover it. I was playing it all day lol
It might be worth investing in one.

They have then on e bay for under 10 dollars not much more than a couple of reeds. Worth a try in my opinion.
Take a look at this video by Don Menza:
Lots of good advice about equipment above, but this is another reality that is often ignored or just incorporated by good players without knowing it or being able to recognize what they are doing, much less teaching it. If your jaw and embouchure isn't accommodating those low notes they won't happen. Watch your teacher playing those low notes and see if this isn't the same as what you see Don doing in the video.
I've actually got the exact same problem with my the tenor. Can't play the bottom notes from C# to A# except at eardrum-blasting volume.

I ran a thorough leak check with a bright LED light I dangled from a wire in a dark room (this is the way I check for leaks on accordions... a full-size accordion with a tone chamber may have over a hundred pads, the light comes in handy!), not even a tiny leak anywhere on the instrument.

Then I looked at the video Wade posted, and looking at how Don Menza played the low notes it occurred to me that I am indeed keeping my jaw and throat wrong.

I didn't have much time to practice, but whereas before seeing the video I could only get the low D out, I now went down to C# and a couple of times even got the C out at a reasonable volume. So maybe it'll be a B tomorrow!

Edit: I've noticed that there's been some saliva seeping out from under the neck cork. I tried to blow pretty hard while holding a wet finger where I think it's coming from, but could feel no airflow, so I suppose there can't be much, if any, air escaping that way. Is this normal, and if not, do you think it could make a difference with the low notes?
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A poor fitting cork that does not allow the mouthpiece to fit very snugly at the position you tune the instrument can certainly be the cause of low notes that are difficult to play. This is especially true when the mouthpiece is out near the end of the cork to be in tune. If the tip of the mouthpiece "wobbles" up and down it is a sign that the cork needs to be replaced. A well installed cork should be cylindrical like the inside of the mouthpiece shank, and not tapered like the neck itself.

Another cause of low notes being hard to play can be a leak in the neck tenon. This can only be detected using a neck leak isolator which basically allows the technician to "plug" the bore right below the bottom of the neck and used forced air (or suction) to see if the neck connection is airtight. Sometime a neck will feel tight and still have a leak if one or both of the parts are not perfectly round.
Hi All, loved Valencia. Checked out the guy on youtube and was impressed. Funnily enough a reed cutter has been on the shopping list for a good while now, funny how I have bought so much other gear and not the humble cutter. I shall do since I think it will cut my costs considerably. I will be back in the training room for the first time in five days this evening and will report back.

Just quickly, an amusing thing happened in V. Sitting out on the pavement on Tuesday, probably about half way there, and a sax busker came along with his backing gear on a little trolley and what looked like a brand new tenor. He was about thirty feet away from me. This missus ooed and aaed and off he went. For twenty minutes I could not tell if he was playing or miming. His finger control was astounding and his tone sounded as though it had a slight built in reverb. After 40mins I had to admit he was playing and playing with some considerable skill. The misses gave him 5 euros, good grief. I spoke to him briefly afterwards, I think he was German and he played a Yamaha with a German mpc, SSS or SIS or something. He hardly strayed out of the low range and I would have paid a lot more than 5 euros if he was selling tickets. That guy Don Menza says it so right, make the notes sound sweet. I will get there.
Cheers all
About reed cutters - I've had one for years - in fact since I started playing in my teens (mid-60s) and reeds were hard to get - had to go 20 miles by bus to Gloucester - and if you told kids that today they wouldn't believe you. I can't say I've used it a lot but it has certainly paid for itself in resurrecting good reeds that need a harder edge to them.

Seeing the mention in the post reminded me of the story about burning a reed. For those of you who don't know - and I'm always surprised that so many sax and clarinet players don't know that if you don't have a reed cutter, you use a suitably sized coin that matches the end-shape of the reed, put it against the flat of the reed, hold a flame against the coin and burn off as much of the tip as you need to without burning the rest of the reed. Tastes funny for a while but it works - but definitely not recommended for plastic reeds!

Anyway, one night in a Trad band, the clarinet player turns to the trombone player and says, "Lend us half a crown, I want to burn my reed."

Trombone player replies, "Here's a quid - why don't you burn the whole bl**dy thing!"

As an abysmal clarinet player, I've often felt that way myself.
Hey mate,

Your mouth and throat work as a resonant chamber.

It may sound like a simplistic approach, but try to mentally sing the notes you´re trying to play.

When you do it, your mouth cavity automatically adapts itself to the correct shape, enabling the note to resonate freely. The bottom notes are quite sensitive to your mouth cavity´s shape.

Sing this note and observe the behavior of your mouth and throat, than imitate this behavior while playing the note.

I was having the same problem and this fixed it for me, in fact, this makes all notes sound better and richer.


Couldn't agree more Raf,
The sound sound starts deep down in yer solar plexus, it takes it's form when the air comes up out of the throat and into the mouth. Like Raf says the mouth is the resonance chamber. It's how you hold your tongue, how you form your mouth, how you control the airstream, how you form the sound even before the reed starts vibrating.

It doesn't matter if it's a solid gold digi wazz platinum coated lig with a reed burned around a silver dollar from the Alamo strapped on the hand made wally wonker mpc with the bullet hole baffle from the waffle waffle waffle laser factory.

It boils down to hard work and a lot of practice to get those low notes working, but it's well worth the effort, and once you're comfortable and confident down the bottom end you can start playing the harmonics and really learn the meaning of control, it'll develop your sound all over the horn and you'll be sounding like your favourite sax god and playing top tones and beyond like Lenny Pickett et al. in no time.

I've been rooting through my old archives over the last few days, I'll load up some interesting articles for download on my server when I can blow the dust off. I'm sure I posted 'em on the old "Breakfastroom" forum in the good old days before it became "Le Petit Déjeuner Bistro a la Sax"

Enough for now - time for my tablets, a mug of hot horlicks and a chocolate covered wholewheat biscuit. "Nurse, Nurse, can you hear me . . . "

gruss - spike

A clarinet reed cutter has sorted out my problems.

I wouldn't be without my cutters. I now have one for clarinet alto bari and sop.

I was struggling for tone yesterday on the alto. I was opening my throat and moving my jaw but it still sounded like sweep on steroids. Tried a new reed. bit better. Trimmed about half a millimeter off it and we were there.

I received a set of mouthpiece pads in the post today. I've never used them before but the old alto mouthpiece has worn through the plastic insert and was starting to wear teeth marks into the brass. I simply stuck a pad over the worn area for now. The difference down low is very noticeable. Maybe it's the mouth position or something else but I can get those breathy soft low C to Bb that have been missing for some time.

Something else to try if nothing else works.
Very disappointed to say the least. Not playing for five days I had resolved the problem in my head and was as good as there. When I actually went for the low end it was as if I was playing a different instrument to the busker guy, and the youtube guy. I tried reeds 2, 2 and a half and 3s. Awful. I have loads of stuff to get trying here, I am pretty sure breathing has much to do with my dreadful sounds, will get to it and overcome it before anything else. It feels as though these low sweet notes are not part of my instrument. Get back to you all. Many thanks,

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