SYOS

Beginner Several (hopefully) quickfire questions

AdamBradley

Member
Messages
134
Hi all!

Brief background - I've played Oboe and Piano for coming on 10 years now, so picking up alto has been relatively straight forward in that I have breath control, can read music, understand harmony etc.

My current experience turns out to be sorely lacking when it comes to just very basic things, as I have quite a few things I'd like to cover I'm going to number them and if anyone has an answer for just one question (as I'm not expecting people to have time to answer the lot!) I'd be very grateful.

This started out intending to be really short obvious questions but some seemed quite ambiguous so I've included a further description of what/why I'm asking below each question, should anyone want to give a more indepth answer!

Thanks in advance :)

Here goes:

1. Where should I be holding the sax, when not playing it?

On the oboe I know where I can grip it to put it together/pull apart, safe in the knowledge I'm not going to bend keys. On the sax I have no idea where's best to hold it. I'm playing Alto.

2. What's the deal with reeds?

Is it generally accepted that the higher the number the 'better'? I'm guessing the higher numbers are harder to blow, but does it 'improve' the sound as much as just provide a different tone? On the oboe the harder reeds tend to thicken and round the sound out, but that's not necessarily what all sax players would want?

I'm renting a sax at the moment, and the shopkeep threw in some Vandoren 2s and 2.5s, but being perfectly honest I can't tell any difference, difficulty or sound produced. I've taken advantage of that shop selling reeds at a quid each, ordered one of each type, ranging in strength just to have a play around, though I'd like to know how most go about picking a suitable reed.

3. The Bb key between B and A, do you use that regularly?

One of the sites with fingering charts I found suggested that was the 'regular' fingering, the other 2 only being used when runs call for it. However I find that diddy Bb key somewhat pointless as just about every other note you're likely to come from requires your fingers down on the A key, it doesn't seem feasible. Do you folk use that and just slide your fingers over a lot or is the fingering with first finger on each hand more common?

4. Are there any books that 'every learning sax player should have'?

Currently I have no sax music. As I'm trying to get used to the fingering and general feel of the instrument I'm mostly playing scales and exercises, then 'playing along' to some Brubeck records and trying to pick out some of Desmonds licks. I've got a bunch of Real books for Piano, I'm pondering transposing a few tunes, but for just plain reading I'm playing oboe music as it has the same range on paper. It's just that Mozart concertos weren't what I had in mind and the 'learn sax' books I've seen so far in shops are mostly geared at complete musical beginners, so would outgrow them quickly.

I've seen Pete Thomas' book linked on this site, I was wondering whether anyone could suggest whether that's right up my street or not, having the brief knowledge of my background I've provided here? I know I might be in for a bit of home-turf bias on that ;}

5. What range is actually possible, officially (and unofficially)?

The fingering chart site I'm currently using is a generic one that covers all saxes and just uses little sidenotes to explain sax specific things. It has notes in what it calls the 'upper altissimo', while another alto-only fingering chart site simply calls it a day at top F. I've been trying the suggested notes for G and above, but I'm not currently consistent enough with anything over Eb to know whether it's me or I'm actually just trying to hit notes that don't exist on Alto.

((6. I have a Buffet Crampon -something- alto. Howarth's of London simply refer to it as an Intermediate sax, I believe it retails for about £750 if that helps anyone identify the model - does anyone have / experience with one of these?

A few things seem really odd so wanted to check if they're normal (f.ex the rod that activates the octave pad on the crook is at an angle, trying to determine if it's designed like that or whether it's received a bash by a previous renter (sax tenant?)))

Thanks again :)
 

Lloyd

Member
Messages
208
Location
Hertfordshire
Morning Adam,

With my (very) limited experience I can help with a couple of your questions.

Regarding reeds, it is not necessarily true that the higher the number the better it is. Low numbered reeds are soft and get progressively harder the higher you go and beginners are encouraged to use soft reeds to start with as they are generally easier to play. This suggests that as you improve you should increase the stength of your reed but this is not necessarily the case, as our very own Pete Thomas will testify - take a look at his section on reeds in 'Home & Information'. For my part I bought several different brands and strength and then tried them out - I found the harder reeds, 3 - 5 required too much puff. The very soft 1.5 was very easy to blow but lacked any real tone or depth and the 2s to 2.5 were perfect for me. It may be that I will go back to the harder at a later date.

The Bb key (biz) is extremely useful where you are playing a passage of music where you constantly use Bb rather than B, maybe if you are in the key of F or D minor. This means that you can keep your forefinger on the B and biz key and not worry about the flat - you just play it as a regular B. With some pieces it can be quite tricky to keep using the side key and on others the side key can be more practical, such as if you are changing from A to Bb.
There are other tricks you can use for Bb, again depending on the music. Depressing the B key plus any of the first three right hand keys will give you a Bb - I am using this for a piece I am playing at the moment where I have to quickly finger Bb,F#,E and back to Bb. For this I keep my middle finger of my right hand on the second lower key and just play the passage.

Hope this helps. More experienced players, I'm sure, will advise on your other questions.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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Location
Just north of Munich
I'm no expert and am a relative newbie, so this is based on the reading I've done.

1 - seems to be OK to hold it anywhere as long as you're gripping the body and not just a key or two.

2 - harder reeds help with higher notes, but are harder to get the lower notes with. Also softer reeds seems to go better with wider tip openings. Different reeed makers have different scales, so a 2 from manufacturer A will probably be different from manufacturer B's 2. Even differs for different reed ranges from the same maker. There's at least one chart on the web that gives strength comparisons for most of the popular reeds. Reed advice will vary depending on who gives it, but work up to something you can play the full range of the instrument on and keep an open mind about strength. Reeds tend to be inconsistent, even between supposedly identical ones frm the same maker. But I guess the same goes for the oboe.

3 - B+C+right palm key is the 'standard' fingering for Bb. Use whatever's easiest for the passage you're playing, but be aware there may be tonal differences between the different fingerings. Same goes for other alternative fingerings. There's a set of good, comprehensive fingering charts here: http://www.wfg.woodwind.org/ and these'll answer your 5th question as well. Altissimo fingerings are probably what you mean by unofficial fingerings. And these extend the conventiional range, but require special blowing techniques, so read with an altissimo guide.

4 - Pete's book is good, will probably be what you need. Look also at Sigurd Rasher's books and Larry Teal's The Art of the Saxophone. For interesting background/history, The Devil's Horn is a good read. Otherwise look for genre specific tunes in the Hal Leonard range that covers the style you're interested in. These usually have good play along CDs, which many of us find helpful. Usually lots on eBay (at least there are in Germany).

5 - see 3

6 - No idea on the model. Could well be a Chinese/Taiwanese model made to their specs. Normally only top line pro stuff manufacterd in the West now, production costs in the Far East are too low to compete with.
Neck octave mechanism should be 'straight' and follow the centre line & curve of the neck on most saxes. Sounds as if it may have had a bash. Doesn't matter if it works, but if you try and straighten it the pad may no longer seal.... Lots of pictures on saxpics.com, you should get an idea for most things there.

Btw., there are schools supprting single and double lip embouchures. Single is more common/generally accepted and taught. You may find the double easier coming from the oboe, have no idea myself. Some of the greats used a double lip embouchure. Others single. Would be an idea to experiment with both, but don't get steamrollered into one or the other.... Was reading a thread (not here) the other day by a lady who'd been browbeaten into changing by forum opinions. And was being browbeaten to switch back again....
 

SteveK

Member
Messages
149
Location
Guildford, Surrey
I see most of your questions have been covered except the range one - or maybe I'm going crossed eyed.
The standard range is Bb (all valves closed) up two octaves to Bb and then up to the next F sharp. So that's about 2 and a half octaves. You can go above that in the altissimo register which are achieved by 'irregular' fingerings but are typically not attempted (not recommended) in the first few years of playing.
As for reeds, stay with a reed that allows you to access a full range comfortably - typically a 1 1/2 (soft) at first and then moving up to gain an improved sound. But this is very dependent on the individual, the mouth piece and the sax - so don't feel that you are pigeon holed for using a 1 1/2.
Steve
 
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A

AdamBradley

Member
Messages
134
Hi guys,

Thanks very much for the swift replies.

Regarding the double or single lip embouchure, I sometimes find my naturally putting the instrument in my mouth with double, but as the reed and mpc are so much more responsive to changes in embouchure than the oboe I find I can shape the sound much better using a single lip. It gives my top lip a rest too, if I play the oboe for a few hours my lip starts aching as my teeth dig in over time as I squeeze the reed :)

I have a few more questions - my mpc has a little plastic cover. Can you put this on with a reed attached to the mpc? I don't want to push it on and damage the tip of the reed, i'm not sure whether it's there to put on between sets while playing etc, or is it purely there for when it's all packed away?

Also, is it a common problem with ''cheaper'' saxes (beginner/student models etc) to have a crook screw that basically doesn't work? No matter how much I tighten the screw (as tight as I dare, the screw isn't particularly heavy duty as it is) the crook still swivels almost freely. Thankfully it doesn't wobble in the seating, but twisting can still be quite annoying. Is that something only found on cheaper saxes or is that something to expect on any instrument?

Final question (for now!) - what's a good standard cleaning routine? While playing I stop every half hour or so and use the pull through a couple of times, and I mop out the crook and mpc. However just doing this usually results in all the keys being sticky the next day. The only way I can avoid this currently is to clean under each pad with fag papers whenever I'm done practising, which seems an overly arduous task to do every time I put it away.

At first I was doing this with a solvent because I'm pretty sure the instrument had a re-pad and was then never played as it wasn't rented out straight away.. when I got it there were plenty of whitish drip marks on the body between the pads that looked like residue gum from a re-pad, and the crook has definately been recorked.. so with time the gum has thinned and is less noticeable now (when I first got it, I coulnd't play for 10min before having to thouroughly clean it), but I still need to clean each pad to avoid sticking the next day.

Is this common or probably just the last of the gum hanging about?

Thanks again

Adam
 

Lambik

New Member
Messages
12
Location
Belgium / Germany
I use the Bb bis key regularly. As a matter of fact, I prefer it to the side Bb for long notes.

First, I find that it sounds better to me when playing it. This may be due to the air leaving the sax in another place than with the side Bb. Second, on my new tenor, its intonation is spot on, whereas the side Bb is slightly flat, a problem which I have not yet been able to overcome. It's probably more noticeable for me than for any hypothetical audience, but still. On my alto, the problem isn't nearly as pronounced and my preferences aren't as strictly defined.

Even for faster movements, I often use the Bb bis key, particularly in arpeggios: G to Bb, A# to C# or Bb to C are much easier with the bis key. I also find licks containing G-Bb-C easier to play using the bis key.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
22,004
Location
Just north of Munich
Cap can go on over the reed, acts as protection and helps to stop it drying out.

Neck screw - this is not right. Needs to be fixed by a tech. Don't overtighten. Neck should be a good fit in the body, not sloppy, and able to move, but not loosely and the screw should stop it turning.

Cleaning - I don't think many of us touch it whilst playing. And just use a pull through afterwards (and a smaller one * brush for the neck). Not sue about the pads, mine doesn't do it, although other people's do. Could be cheap pads... Cleaning with lighter fluid is supposed to help, as is pulling a bank note through a few times. You can use/get pad savers, but the impression I got is that they don't really help. Take a look at Stephen Howards site, www.shwoodwinds.com fo some ideas/feedback.
 

SteveK

Member
Messages
149
Location
Guildford, Surrey
Hi guys,

I have a few more questions - my mpc has a little plastic cover. Can you put this on with a reed attached to the mpc? I don't want to push it on and damage the tip of the reed, i'm not sure whether it's there to put on between sets while playing etc, or is it purely there for when it's all packed away?

Also, is it a common problem with ''cheaper'' saxes (beginner/student models etc) to have a crook screw that basically doesn't work? No matter how much I tighten the screw (as tight as I dare, the screw isn't particularly heavy duty as it is) the crook still swivels almost freely. Thankfully it doesn't wobble in the seating, but twisting can still be quite annoying. Is that something only found on cheaper saxes or is that something to expect on any instrument?

Final question (for now!) - what's a good standard cleaning routine? While playing I stop every half hour or so and use the pull through a couple of times, and I mop out the crook and mpc. However just doing this usually results in all the keys being sticky the next day. The only way I can avoid this currently is to clean under each pad with fag papers whenever I'm done practising, which seems an overly arduous task to do every time I put it away.

At first I was doing this with a solvent because I'm pretty sure the instrument had a re-pad and was then never played as it wasn't rented out straight away.. when I got it there were plenty of whitish drip marks on the body between the pads that looked like residue gum from a re-pad, and the crook has definately been recorked.. so with time the gum has thinned and is less noticeable now (when I first got it, I coulnd't play for 10min before having to thouroughly clean it), but I still need to clean each pad to avoid sticking the next day.

Is this common or probably just the last of the gum hanging about?

Thanks again

Adam
Hi Adam,
Yes, the mp cover should go on with the reed in place. There is a risk of catching the reed as you put it on but this is worth it as the possibility of damaging it without a cover is greater. It should fit on quite snuggly and not fall off easily. All covers don't fit all mps and they do get mixed up so if this is 2nd hand then it may not be the correct one. I have a number of mps and I am always mixing up the covers - even from alto to tenor.
I use a pad saver (a long fluffy thing that goes inside when you are not playing) which has worked well for me for many years of playing. As for the crook and mouth piece I pull them though after playing but not during. The pad saver can be easily put in - you can just remove the crock while it's on the stand and then put the pad saver in. I sometime do this if I take an extended break but am coming back to play soon afterwards. Also the pad savers lightly touch the pads themselves and help to dry them - whereas a pull through doesn't touch the pads. There are varying opinions on this - this is just my opinion. I also run the mp and reed under a tap. As you play more you will find that you leave less saliva inside the horn - just condensation. For the exterior I give it a quick wipe after playing and then once a month or so I clean more thoroughly with a damp cloth and use pipe cleaners and/or cotton buds to get into the difficult places.
I have seen this twisting crook on a number of saxophones - both cheap and expensive - but more often on cheap ones. Do be careful of not over tightening as the screw can easily shear. There maybe a build up of grease on the joint so try cleaning it. Otherwise get it to a technician. A cigarette paper might help until you get it there - but I haven't tried this.
Sorry I can't help with the gum thing - you should talk to the technician when he sorts the crook out. It is not usual to have residue gum around the place. I have never personally come across it - sorry to say but it suggests, to me, sloppy workmanship. Or maybe something has been spilt on the horn? I have read and taken the advise that a little cigarette lighter fuel (the liquid type - not gas) on a soft cloth can be drawn across the pads to clean them - but take care. My Ab sticks (very common), when it dries out, on one of my horns - I find this helps - it also helps if I just operate the key 30 minutes or so after I have played and then it dries out OK and doesn't stick when I next pick it up. I believe that this type of sticking is more due to sugars and fats in saliva that to residues of gum. You may have a double issue here that are partially connected - i.e. residue gum and sticking pads. So, the occasional pad will stick (e.g. Ab) but only the first time you operate it during a session. It should not stick again during that playing session - only after it has dried out again.
It's great to keep you instrument clean but this is only necessary after playing - indeed many players hardly ever clean - yuck! (- but it's true!) - I guess this will probably shorten the life of the pads - and reduce the chance of a tenor meeting a nice young alto:)
Hope this helped.
Steve
 
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AdamBradley

Member
Messages
134
Wow, fantastic replies, thanks all of you.

Some more questions, more regarding playing now. I currently find it very easy to jump and down the octave simply with embouchure, it's overly responsive to the point I sometimes can't control it properly (typically before I'm warmed up). However I do regularly have troubles slurring down a drop of a 5th or more - getting from anything above D to anything below a G without tongueing (tonging) it to bring the reed under control seems near impossible.

I can do it by slackening my lips to the point I'm hardly controlling the reed at all, though even that's hit and miss and when it does 'hit', the sound is usually horrific at the start of the note.

Do others find the notes between F and A just desperate to jump up the octave? I find E and below fine to play or even just hit out of nowhere, but I feel like no amount of diagrpham control helps with others. F and F# also sound kindof 'hollow' - f.ex I find playing F# with F key and the little banana key sounds much more 'solid', less airy.

Also, an opinion question - what's the overall feel with mouthpieces. What justifies them costing 100-200 quid?
 

SteveK

Member
Messages
149
Location
Guildford, Surrey
Wow, fantastic replies, thanks all of you.

Some more questions, more regarding playing now. I currently find it very easy to jump and down the octave simply with embouchure, it's overly responsive to the point I sometimes can't control it properly (typically before I'm warmed up). However I do regularly have troubles slurring down a drop of a 5th or more - getting from anything above D to anything below a G without tongueing (tonging) it to bring the reed under control seems near impossible.

I can do it by slackening my lips to the point I'm hardly controlling the reed at all, though even that's hit and miss and when it does 'hit', the sound is usually horrific at the start of the note.

Do others find the notes between F and A just desperate to jump up the octave? I find E and below fine to play or even just hit out of nowhere, but I feel like no amount of diagrpham control helps with others. F and F# also sound kindof 'hollow' - f.ex I find playing F# with F key and the little banana key sounds much more 'solid', less airy.

Also, an opinion question - what's the overall feel with mouthpieces. What justifies them costing 100-200 quid?
The octave 'split' can be quite sensitive at first and you will learn to control this as you play more and find out your best reed/mp combination. Later on the ability to jump octaves with and without the octave key is useful and a sign of control.
Wide jumps are difficult and it takes time to master them. You should not (ideally) adjust your embrouchure to achieve this - although a slight slackening is OK - it is more of a push from the diaphragm that is required. So work on the breath control.
All this takes time and practise - so just persevere and practise, practise, practise.

More expensive mps usually have a wide range of tones or a specific tone that is attributable to a specific style or player. They can often be harder to play for a beginner. However there are many perfectly good mps in the lower price range and many people stay with these all their paying career. Spending more won't necessarily give you a better sound - especially in the early days.
Once again I suggest you persevere and do not jump about too soon. So many beginners problems are just part of starting up and not due to mps and reeds.
If the mp came with the horn then there is a good chance that it is suitable for a startup and I suggest that you use a 1 1/2 reed. If the mp looks like it is in bad condition then it could be worth having it looked at. Maybe you could post some pictures on this thread - or tell us what it is.
If you have a good local shop then it's always worth trying a few out but don't spend a lot of money until you are really sure and wait until you have gained early control of the instrument.
Steve
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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Just north of Munich
Steve, not sure if you missed it or not, but Adam's an experienced oboe player, so is coming from a different starting point to an absolute beginner.

Mouthpieces - are generally overpriced imho. Spending a couple of hundred or more on a hand made piece is, I think, understandable. Here you're paying for skills and knowledge and customisation. But those prices for simple mass poduced pieces that vary in quality is not realistic. Yamaha and Ricoh do good, mass produced mouthpieces.

You could also look at customised pieces, where a well recognised guy takes an existing piece and reworks it.

Lots of skill involved either way.

Philtone and Morgan Fry both make and customise/refinish mouthpieces and also post here. Maybe one of them will chip in.

Don't rule the ligature out, either - I recently bought a new one, sorted out a problem I've been struggling with. (See the playing forum).

May also be worth getting the instrument checked. You can't expect perfection from a cheapo rented sax... But I can't help wondering how much is down to the instrument. You mentioned the loose neck - if this isn't sealing, then there'll be problems from there. The clamp isn't meant to seal it - just hold it in place. Stephen Howard's book suggests wrapping plumbers ptfe tape around the neck tenon as a temporary fix.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Not really sure about Kev's comments on mouthpieces from three points of view. :confused:

1) Everyone feels they are playing better with new or newly set up equipment, so if it gives you a lift, what's wrong with that?

2) My standard production Vandoren Java T75 has quite a lot of hand finishing which must be costly and I wouldn't like to be held responsible for doing a 'Thatcher' on the Vandoren workers. The main piece, an RPC 105 is special as you stipulate the sound you want and Ron does his best to achieve this. Strangely there was not too much difference in cost, probably as they are produced from similarly priced blanks.

3) The development costs are considerable, even on the Yamaha plastic units. Not sure what Kev does for a living, but he is probably pleased that a portion of those costs are included in his remuneration.

Remember that the mouth / head shape / lung combination also colours the sound and unless you can afford the full transplant and are willing to undergo the disadvantages of anti rejection medicants, have a mouthpiece if you fancy it. ;}
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Adam

I won't attempt to answer all your questions. i would just add:

It's the reed/mouthpiece combo that's important and most beginners need a straightforward mouthpiece, say a Yamaha 4C and a softish reed, say 1.5 or 2. Slightly harder reeds help you play higher up the register but again it needs to be in conjunction with the right mouthpiece.

The Art of the Saxophone is a brilliant book and I strongly recommend it.

The Bis key and side Bb keys should be used at the appropriate times. This depends on what you are playing 'around' Bb and where you are in the register. Same applies to playing top C using the C key or side C key, also F# - there are times to use the side key and times not to. The Art of the Saxophone does some explaining around this subject and also shows other alternate fingerings for notes.

My teacher who's a well known pro jazz player is always adamant about which fingering to use and when and she continually pulls me up. As an example, she tells me to always use side C in the upper register, except if the notes I am playing before or after it make that difficult.

Same can apply to using Bis. It's hard to play Bb B C using Bis but playing a G-7 chord G Bb D is much easier using Bis than side Bb (for me at least).


Also some keys can stay pressed (G# for example) when playing certain notes without affecting the sound which can be useful to know.

Also check out Top Tones for the Saxophone.
 
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jonf

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,620
Location
Betelgeuse
Hi there

Rather alarmingly, I'm in agreement with Old Git's comments above.

About the loose neck, it really isn't a big deal, as it's a lot easier to fix a loose neck than an over tight one. A decent saxophone repair gentleman or lady will be able to make it fit in a few minutes for nott too much money.

What sort of sax music you get wil depend on what sort of music you like to play. You've been playing music for ages so are probably quite disciplined and can focus on the sort of stuff Ian (Half Diminshed) mentions. A really goos melodic play along that's not difficult is Bob Mintzer's 15 Easy Jazz Blues Funk Etudes.

Jon
 
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