Sorry - but I'm getting desperate about low-note honking!

Discussion in 'Playing' started by Lodger, Mar 4, 2010.

  1. Lodger

    Lodger Member

    Darwen, Lancashire
    Positive Ratings:
    I apologise because this must be a common problem, but I can't find a thread which obviously addresses it.

    When I try to play notes from low C downwards on my tenor, every note starts with a high-octave honk before settling down to the proper note. This is hopeless when you are trying to play a tune as the moment has passed before the note arrives! I have little problem on the alto and none on the soprano, which is probably significant, but I don't know how.

    I have tried changing the following variables:
    Reed type
    Reed position on mouthpiece
    Ligature type
    Ligature position on mouthpiece
    Amount of mouthpiece in mouth
    Embouchure 'squeeze' strength
    Angle of instrument into mouth

    I have also tried to vary how I blow/breathe/tongue.

    The sax has recently been serviced and pronounced in good condition. I am sure, deep down, that it must be a problem with breathing/embouchure, but I don't know how to work on them. Any suggestion will be very welcome, even if it's only the assurance that concentrating on, say, long tones will eventually work the miracle.

    Thanks - I feel better for that.:(
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  3. half diminished

    half diminished Senior Member

    Positive Ratings:

    I moved from alto to tenor a little over 15 months ago and initially had some issues at both extremes of the sax that I never had on alto. Ultimately I think you need the right reed+mp combo and then it's down to relaxing, hearing the sound in your head and a combination of embouchure and breath support.

    Lower notes are a little harder (at least I found them so) to hit on tenor than alto.

    Long tone practice is the key and there is a great book called Top Tones for Saxophone that is heartily recommended by peeps on here and by pro musicians - I know Andy Sheppard and Karen Sharp recommend and have used it.

    This is what worked for me. Start with notes you can play and walk down and back up slowly. Remember to keep the embouchure relaxed and the air support stable though I do find I need a bit more air pressure for C, B and Bb. So... G down to D then back up to G. And again adding C etc finally adding B and then Bb. Then it's just practice. Once you manage it walking down you can start missing out notes until eventually you will be fine.

    I also use this in the upper register in reverse. It seems easier going Eb, E, F, F# that just going straight for F or F# but I am getting there. :w00t:
  4. jonf

    jonf Well-Known Member

    Positive Ratings:
    Ian's right. I can still remember clearly my surprise at playing tenor sax after being tought to a pretty decent standard to play the clarinet. I found the high notes dead easy after the clarinet, but really struggled with the low. Adding to Ian's spot on suggestion about going down to the bottom notes step by step, make sure your reed is not too hard, as this makes the bottom notes even more awkward. I also found relaxing my embouchure just a smidge, and takin in very slightly more of the mouthpiece just for the lower notes helped.

    Then there's the really trick stuff to overcome - what's in your head. If you worry abould hitting the low notes you'll tense up and it'll be even harder. Try to relax, and think the pitch of the note you're going for. It'll come with time. Once you find you can get the lower notes, try holding them for as long as possible, gradually quietening the note until you're playing ppp. If you can do that, you've cracked it.

  5. Pee Dee

    Pee Dee Member

    Positive Ratings:
    It's probably your breathing. As you probably have to tighten your embouchure up for the high notes you also have to loosen up a bit for the low ones.
    The high octave note probably caused by blowing too hard. Someone said here once that to blow the low notes, it is as if you are huffing on a piece of glass to produce steam. Just takes practice
  6. kevgermany

    kevgermany ex Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

    Just north of Munich
    Positive Ratings:
    Have been experiencing the same problem as I try to adjust to a more radical mouthpiece. Had no problems with the old mouthpiece.

    Came right yesterday - these are the things I was doing wrong....

    Ligature not quite tight enough
    Ligature too far onto mouthpiece
    Too little side tightness in embouchure and too much to to bottom pressure
    Too sharp on the breathing
    Too aggressive with the tongue to kick the notes off.
    Tired/over wet reed

    As suggested above I tried sneaking down to the lower notes. This worked well and allowed me to sort the problems out as I went down. I realised tha notes I'd had no problems with some days were a problem, that led to the lig/reed problem identification. And working/thinking about the embouchure led to those things being addressed. Going lower brought back the tongue/breathing issues, which I was able to sort out.

    So I'd echo the thoughts above, and suggest you tackle things stepwise, thinking analytically. Will soon come right.
  7. Pete C

    Pete C Member

    Positive Ratings:
    Hi Howard - a good exercise for this is playing long notes in the lower octave but with the octave key open - work down from middle C# to low Bb - it will be difficult at first and you will probably make horrible noises at first - but perservere, this really helps control at the bottom end. I describe this and another long note exercise in a link on the teaching page of my website at http://www.petecanter Pete
  8. Luluna

    Luluna SeƱora

    Vermont, USA
    Positive Ratings:
    All great suggestions and the long note exercises really work.

    This sounds strange, but ever since I dropped a wine cork in the bell the low notes flow. It might be just a placebo effect, but it's worth a try. Best of luck!
  9. John Laughter

    John Laughter Member

    Positive Ratings:
    Lodger, many tenor players have the same issue with low C, B & Bb on tenor. Seems to be an issue in getting the air flow past the bow in the bell. Alto does not present the same issues on those notes in most cases. And from what I have read on other message boards the small cork in the bottom of the bell has helped some players.

    When I attended music school and began classical lessons I had used the "subtone" technique on ballads for years so I had no problem at all down going to low Bb. Pete has an excellent article about the subtone;

    I also have an article is you are interested. Just send an email to

    However, when I began the classical lessons I was told that I needed a fuller tone on the low notes, not a subtone. It was the most difficult style that I had ever practiced on tenor. When I used a more classical embouchure setting I could only get a "honk" on low C-Bb. I refer to it as a "marching band" tone.

    After weeks of working on my embouchure setting I was finally able to get a tone that was between a subtone and a "honk".

    I ended up using my hard rubber Berg in those days. The Selmer C* (which the teacher suggested) just did not work for me.

    If you will study the articles on subtone it may help you to get those low notes to respond on tenor much easier. This of course is assuming that your low note pads are seating tight and that the Eb key spring is firm so that the Eb pad is not vibrating open when playing low C which is rare but can happen.
  10. Lodger

    Lodger Member

    Darwen, Lancashire
    Positive Ratings:
    Thanks to everyone who has offered so many helpful suggestions. I have started working on the earlier ones and I am a lot more optimistic. I will work on all the idea and read the suggested articles.

    This, for me, is thr forum at its best - offering both moral and practical support when it's needed.
  11. Moz

    Moz Senior Member

    North of Liskeard, Cornwall
    Positive Ratings:
    One thing you could try: Because you are now expecting the low notes to fail you may be unconciously tensing up when you should be relaxed.

    Try getting someone else to operate the keys for you while you only blow into the sax. This way only the operator will know what is coming and you won't and hence won't tense up with those dreaded low notes. Once you hear yourself doing them then you will be able to play them without worry.

  12. Zmann

    Zmann New Member

    Monrovia, CA
    Positive Ratings:
    Hello Howard, what has really helped me is using intervals and tongue excercises to get a feel for the low notes. Try playing eighth note octaves starting with middle C# down to low C# then move to C then B then Bb. Start off slow and concentrate on making the low octave speak without honking and splitting. This will help define the sweet spot in your embouchure. Once you can do this at a pretty good speed then start do pivot exercises with the high notes as an anchor then vice versa. For example; play a high C then low Bb back to high C then low B etc. Next play low Bb then high F then low Bb then high E etc.
    Next use this tongue exercise to develop sensitivity and accuracy. Place your tongue on the reed in the same place you would normally tongue it then finger a low note, apply air pressure and slowly remove your tongue from the reed. Experiment with different volumes and slowly start speeding the release. You will soon be able to tongue your low notes as well as you tongue the other notes on your horn.

    Hope this helps,
  13. VirusKiller

    VirusKiller Member

    Milton Keynes (ish)
    Positive Ratings:
    Interestingly, I found the opposite yesterday. To reduce the number of variables in my playing, I'd been positioning the ligature deliberately with an equal amount of table on either end. I was reasonably happy with my embouchure and breathing support, but kept bypassing the fundamental on the low notes, hitting overtones instead. So, I tried moving the ligature about 5mm further on to the mouthpiece and, voila, all the low notes popped out with relative ease...

    Using a #9 metal Yani and #2 Legere Signature reed.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 3, 2011
  14. SaxyMalcolm

    SaxyMalcolm Member

    Peebles, Scotland
    Positive Ratings:
    Hi Lodger

    The problem that you are having is common and it happened to me when I first got my tenor. Your throat/aural cavity/embouchure is in the wrong position for playing these notes as it is not used to it and you really need to open up everything. Think of your throat as a reasonance chamber that directs the airflow from you diaphram into the mouthpiece by way of your embouchure and out of the bell. Play the lowest note you can without hitting the higher harmonic first, take the horn out of your mouth and sing the same note, really get some volume and pretend you are Pavarotti!! Try and think of the shape you are producing with you throat to sing this note and then sing a semitone lower, keep going down until you can't sing any lower. Keep practising this and it will train your throat/aural cavity to open up and allow you to play these notes easily. Now play the first note and don't change you throat position from when you sung the note and it should sound without hitting the higher harmonic first. When you get the reasonance chamber in the right shape for the note you want to play your projection of sound/tone/everything will improve considerably. Practising harmonics are by far the best way to improve your tone/sound/range, I spend as at least half a hour on it every day, get the Rascher 'Top tones for Saxophone' book or Pete has a section on it.

    Hope this helps

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 3, 2011

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