Reeds Reed Question - From Vandoren To AN Other

David Roach

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#41
Given the level at which you play a punter like me would assume that the audiotechnical elements of your performance would be of the highest standard: decent sound engineers, decent foldback, beef sandwiches and a bottle of IPA in the dressing room etc. @David Roach

I'm interested to know what are the real-life demands that you face when you are making musical magic on stage?
Actually, PAs are almost always somewhat lacking, especially in.......no, I'm not going to say which countries in case I get myself into trouble....but duff cables, bad set-up, incompetent crews can be found as often as the wonderful and competent ones. And however good a sound engineer is, he or she can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But yes we do get beef sarnies and IPA (or as near as the continentals can get to it).

The main issue is that in a Band of unequal instruments, one ends up having to amplify (in terms of both monitors and PA) to balance with the loudest instrument and when you've got a very powerful trumpet and trombone, the differential to a 'cello is enormous, so monitoring becomes a nightmare with the quieter instruments upping their monitors to compensate; the outcome of this is a horrible racket on-stage.. I generally have none of anyone but the piano in my monitor, but I sit in front of the Bass Guitar and once the Band really gets going the sound pressure from behind me is quite intense. This can make me 'over-blow'. A short facing not only helps to minimise the deleterious effects of blowing too hard, but also to make a very tired embouchure less of an influence on pitch and tone. No amount of experience can really properly alleviate this issue.
 

Ivan

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#42
Actually, PAs are almost always somewhat lacking, especially in.......no, I'm not going to say which countries in case I get myself into trouble....but duff cables, bad set-up, incompetent crews can be found as often as the wonderful and competent ones. And however good a sound engineer is, he or she can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But yes we do get beef sarnies and IPA (or as near as the continentals can get to it).

The main issue is that in a Band of unequal instruments, one ends up having to amplify (in terms of both monitors and PA) to balance with the loudest instrument and when you've got a very powerful trumpet and trombone, the differential to a 'cello is enormous, so monitoring becomes a nightmare with the quieter instruments upping their monitors to compensate; the outcome of this is a horrible racket on-stage.. I generally have none of anyone but the piano in my monitor, but I sit in front of the Bass Guitar and once the Band really gets going the sound pressure from behind me is quite intense. This can make me 'over-blow'. A short facing not only helps to minimise the deleterious effects of blowing too hard, but also to make a very tired embouchure less of an influence on pitch and tone. No amount of experience can really properly alleviate this issue.
Thanks David

It sounds as though we are all fighting the same battle, though it's disappointing
 

David Roach

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#46
In case anyone's wondering, this is the face of over-blowing. :D

View attachment 10690
Aside from over-blowing there is something else going on here that will definitely effect your ability to produce altissimo predictably.

But first I need to define 'over-blowing'. For me, over-blowing is the attempt to put more air or energy down an instrument than the whole 'system' can handle. As long as the reed-ligature-mouthpiece part of that system is working properly and of a reasonable resistance, the problem always comes down to our frailty as human beings. I.E. weak embouchure-tongue-throat-larynx part of the system.

The main issue in the photo is that you are puffing your cheeks. Whilst this can in the short term produce a bigger sound, it fundamentally disturbs the mechanics of the whole embouchure-tongue-throat-larynx 'system' upon which the altissimo absolutely depends. To put it another way, if part of your 'system' is floating free and therefore producing an unpredictable oral cavity, it makes the larynx's job of creating a viable environment for the altissimo a great deal more hit and miss; because as we know, the altissimo is created by manipulating the oral cavity, particularly the larynx. (Sorry, that's a bit wordy, but I'm trying to be precise).

It is still possible to over-blow with a firm embouchure, particularly when your facial muscles are tired, but it's still a great deal more predictable than with an un-solid one.

Whilst how you blow is entirely up to you :), my experience has proved that, for me, puffed cheeks only serve to diffuse the tone. In loud surroundings, and particularly when attempting to play in the altissimo, what we actually need is really strong control and focus.
 
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#47
The puffy bits aren't technically my cheeks. That's where my cheek bones are. I've tried everything and there's absolutely no way I can stop it from happening. My cheeks, where the muscles are, however, never bulge. You can't see in this pic, but my neck expands quite a lot, too.
 
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#48
I found this album cover of the almighty Mr Gordon, and you can see here more clearly what happens when I play at volume. You can see his cheeks are solid but above those muscles where his cheek bones are has expanded.

gordon_dext_ltdliveat_101b.jpg


Another sax player asked me a couple of weeks ago to show him how to play a little Dick Parry (Pink Floyd sax player) from the song, Shine On You Crazy Diamond. When I went into the tenor sax part, starting on high E, the first thing he said was 'bloody hell! Do you always play it at that volume!?' The answer to which was, 'no, on stage I usually play it louder.'

I think part of the problem is I'm still playing a Trevor James 'student' sax, that is neither as free-flowing as most other modern horns or as potentially loud. My 'dream sax' is a Keilwerth MKX, that doesn't require anywhere near as much effort to play and can be pushed well beyond anything my poor old TJ is capable of.
 

Colin the Bear

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#49
Just because a genius plays brilliantly with poor technique, it doesn't mean you should. Especially if you're experiencing problems. We can buck conventional wisdom only if it solves a personal problem.

IMO If any part of your upper face is puffing, then there's a loss of control in that area, If the upper face is puffing, around the nose, I feel that the air is going in the wrong direction. A tight seal around the upper jaw/teeth will stop any air escaping up there. With an open throat, any puffing will occur around the throat and into the lower jaw cavity below the tongue.

Looking at the picture, You look quite uncomfortable. May I suggest you try altering the angle that the mouthpiece enters the mouth by raising it on the sling and tipping the head a little forward. Too low or too high can make the embouchure compensate and overwork the embouchure causing premature tiring. Bring the horn to your mouth and don't lean into it. Blowing should be effortless at any volume, with enough practice.

I hope my suggestions help. Keep experimenting and you'll find a sweet spot. Don't fight it, master it.
 
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#50
Especially if you're experiencing problems.
The only problem I have is altissimo at rock volumes. And the problem is tensing slightly when screaming out the alt notes above Eb. If I go up one reed size I have no problems at all, but I find there are fewer good reeds per box when I use 3.5 Javas so I was looking for a different reed that's somewhere between a Java 3 and 3.5,

IMO If any part of your upper face is puffing, then there's a loss of control in that area,
It is physically impossible for me to stop the expansion above my cheeks when playing loudly, unless I tense my entire face. And even then they still expand (just a little less), not that I'd do it because it makes the sax unplayable. There's no expansion at all around my mouth and jaw.

Looking at the picture, You look quite uncomfortable.
Nope, not in the slightest. I don't get remotely tired these days until after a good couple of hours of constant playing at normal performance level. At practise levels I don't seem to tire at all, although I rarely play for more than three or four hours. What you're seeing is me putting on a show - it's my guitar face if you like. ;)

I could be wrong but I don't think I'm explaining very well how loud I mean when I say I play loud in these circumstance. When I go for it I'm literally screaming down the sax. This is not something I do when playing jazz, obviously, although I do still pull funny faces in certain songs. ;)

The solution to my problem is simply to be less aggressive when playing altissimo with these bands - and possibly getting a 'piece with a shorter facing for when I get carried away.

This is from the other night (also posted elsewhere on here). Sadly I missed the first high Eb because I was too concerned with trying to find where/how to stand to avoid feedback through the monitors (I thought it would've been deafening out front, but I can't hear the feedback at all in the vid) rather than concentrate on what I'm doing, but it hopefully shows how much physical effort I put into playing these songs. I could just stand there, but I believe that I'm there to put on a show, not just play some notes. I should mention, though, that this is my Modele 26 not the Trevor James.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrGJ0MmOnSE


I've just been asked to join another band, with sax in almost every song, which will give me the opportunity to play a lot more at rock volumes. This should hopefully allow me to explore different ways of playing in these situations until I find what works best for me ... which is probably having enough experience to simply relax.

<addendedumdum>
I don't remember any cheek expansion at all, even when I got a little carried away, when playing the MKX.
 
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David Roach

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#51
@Veggie Dave I take your point about the way your cheek muscles behave, and if you are content that you aren't loosing muscle tone and stability, then all well and good. It's probably simply the development of your throat muscles that needs attention, because playing at super-high volume needs a lot of control and development.

In the end, many frustrations and trial and error led me to using shorter facing mouthpieces. BTW re: the photos, I believe Dexter used quite a small tip, a 6 if info is correct with a medium Rico reed (in the film, a no.3), but who knows what the facing length was! Therefore I tentatively deduce that Dexter's muscle shape comes not from playing a huge hard setup, but from having a really developed musculature from playing long hours.

FWIW Ted Klum, who is a super-Dexter addict makes pieces that are very stable indeed and work with softer reeds than one might imagine (even though Ted himself plays lollipop sticks) - the reason I bring this up is that there has been a trend amongst modern mouthpiece makers to make pieces that feel *in some ways* like shorter facings even though the reality may not be so. Ted Klum, Francois Louis, Ed Pillinger and probably many others are making pieces that operate very very efficiently. Vandoren, with the exception of a few of their pieces (S15, SL4, A8, T9) is not amongst these makers and tend to produce, albeit very good pieces, ones that blow much more easily than pieces from the bespoke market.

This is for the most part shooting the breeze, but if it helps you get a handle on attaining your goal, all is well.
 
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#52
@Veggie Daveif you are content that you aren't loosing muscle tone and stability, then all well and good.
If I could stop it I would. Not because it affects my playing (I certainly can't hear any difference and I think I'd notice. Well, I'd hope so... ;) ) but because I hate how it looks and I'm really vain. :D

It's probably simply the development of your throat muscles that needs attention, because playing at super-high volume needs a lot of control and development.
I also think this is the main problem. I'm not getting enough regular experience in these situations. I'm hoping playing two+ hour long sets with this new band will be my proving ground.

I believe Dexter used quite a small tip, a 6 if info is correct with a medium Rico reed (in the film, a no.3), but who knows what the facing length was!
On the alto I use a Meyer 5m and 2.5 Javas. I'm assuming, given how conservative this set-up is and how hard the Selmer is to play, that my technique is probably okay as I have no problems playing it quietly, loud, funky, bluesy and everything inbetween.

Ted Klum, Francois Louis, Ed Pillinger and probably many others are making pieces that operate very very efficiently. Vandoren, with the exception of a few of their pieces (S15, SL4, A8, T9) is not amongst these makers and tend to produce, albeit very good pieces, ones that blow much more easily than pieces from the bespoke market.
<potentially stupid question>
Are you saying that the bespoke pieces have more resistance?
</potentially stupid question>

To be honest, I seem to prefer less resistance (I much prefer the feel of the Jumbo Java compared to the V16, but not the sound) but that could have as much to do with the sax as the mouthpiece. It always feels like the sax is doing its best to stop me putting air through it. I think that's why I loved the MKX so much - it never tried to get in the way.
 
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#53
I've just realised what's going to happen now... I'm going to spend the next two months staring at myself in a mirror every time I play, like a proper narcissistic numpty, looking for any facial deformation what so ever while playing. And I won't obsess about it at all because I don't get obsessed. No, of course not...

:doh:

:D

If only I was joking...
 

David Roach

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#54
Don't waste time looking in the mirror - not because of vanity, but because everyone is different and it's the end result that matters. Just keep practicing!
 

Colin the Bear

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#57
I don't know how I got the idea that this was a problem solving thread. :headscratch:

I often play into a mirror. Not for the look...well maybe a bit, but for the reflected sound... 7'x4', ...the mirror, not me.

If you switch to a band using a saxophone on most tracks you may get a little more respect for the instrument in the mix.
 
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#58
I'm not sure about that ;) but the extra exercise could be what's missing and the bulging may well decrease as the muscles become firm due to long hours at high volume.

For the moment I'm not going to worry about it as I can't detect any detrimental influence from it, and, to be honest, if I don't then it will become an unhealthy obsession that will be detrimental to my playing.

The simple truth is if I don't play as hard as I can in the loud sections then I won't be able to hear anything and that'll just make it worse. All the bands I'm playing with at the moment had saxophonists before me, all of whom are far superior players to me. And professional players at that. However judging from the vids I've seen, the ridiculous volume has undermined them all in some way or other.

It's all part of the learning process, one which I think only time and experience can really cure. Or kill. ;)

I was going to post images of Coltrane with the exact same bulge over his cheeks that I have, but I figured that probably wouldn't help my case, either. ;)
 
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D

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#59
the bulging may well decrease as the muscles become firm due to long hours at high volume.

For the moment I'm not going to worry about it as I can't detect any detrimental influence from it,

It's all part of the learning process, one which I think only time and experience can really cure. Or kill. ;)

I wasnt going to post here, ( I tend to stay out of these thread types) but on reflection I think I will.

simply because I think its important that readers now and in the future, especially those just starting, dont think it is acceptable to blow with puffed out cheeks. yes, folks get away with it. BUT.... it isnt good and shouldnt be encouraged.

I agree totally with the post re this above, by Dave R. (post 46)

Veggie Dave , in relation to your comments above, im not sure that is wise thinking.

the bulging will only become a bad habit, unless you deal with it.
Practicing the wrong way continually will not make it better. More muscles will not make it better.
If you want to get rid of it, you are going to have to deal with it. On a conscious level.
you may not feel it is detrimental. I disagree, as does daveR and colin
dont allow "time and experience to kill or cure" You may get away with it, but it is more likely to hinder than help.
You have ambition to become good at this. I would suggest that you deal with this now, at this stage of your development.
It wont take long to fix.

Ps have a look at this clip of Dexter. start at say 1.50
It is a really good close up of his embouchure. No puffing going on there.
I actually dont see his cheeks as being puffed out in the picture you posted. I do in your own picture.
His sound is fantastic. one reason is that his air is focused and everything is correct.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KzdS48Lb_I


have a read again of Daves comments (post 46) about focus/air stream etc. that is how it is.

PS , this has nothing to do with the sax you are playing on.:):):):):):)
 
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#60
I appreciate the advice and I will be studying my facial muscles when I play from now on. Mirror already installed in my practise room. :)

However, I know I keep saying this but it only happens in extreme circumstances, when I'm trying to put more air through the instrument than it can take. If you think my upper cheeks expand you should see how my neck bulges. In fact, I started a thread on it because I was so concerned that it wasn't healthy.

The pic I posted was an example of over-blowing, not of normal playing.

Here's a pic from the same gig, but here I'm playing normally. There's no bulging at all.

QN4A2254.jpg


If I can get rid of it completely, I'll be very happy.
 
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