Tone Sub-tone - advice

Pjonah

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Dick Parry on "Us and Them" produces a first class example of subtoning.

I think it also depends on your set-up largely, my Brilhart Super Ebolin 5* on tenor is excellent for it, a Dukoff may not be so.

Nicely relaxed chops also helps.
 
OP
half diminished

half diminished

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Simon

I have no shortage of examples and can clearly visualise what I want to sound like. It's beginning to come (in some small way) but it just ain't there - not consistently.

I've tried less mp, lowered/relaxed jaw - so much so I'm starting to play flat. And I get a burbling sound especially the bottom 3 notes. I have no problem getting down there normally - just subtone-wise.
 
OP
half diminished

half diminished

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What is it

I have listened to the examples on Pete's site but it just sounds like someone playing quietly

am I missing sumut

mamos
A quote from Mr Thomas:

"This [subtone] is a particularly soft way of playing, but is a technique in itself rather than just playing quietly. With subtone the saxophone sound has a fatter, more rounded and less edgy sound. Great jazz saxophonists who have used this include Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Johnny Hodges and Paul Desmond

Subtone really comes into it’s own in the very low register, especially when played very breathily, but it often takes a lot of practice to extend the subtone down low. It is also crucial to make sure that your saxophone has no leaks, although I recently read that Ben Webster thought the leaks were an important part of the sound. I think leaks could well contribute to the breathiness which is often present (or rather more apparent) with a subtone sound."

I do believe you are.
 
I find a good belly full of air helps to really support the note when playing low, and moving the lower lip forward on the reed towards the crook. If you hold the sax away from you, try pulling it in towards you for the low notes ( and away from you for the high notes), seems to help for me.

Flipp
 

FirstyB

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I've been having a spot of bother with it as well, would you mind sharing the pm if it has any info that might be useful to others? Cheers
 

John Laughter

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Glad to FirstyB. And I will also send more info as a PM because it is too much to poat. Hope it helps.

Subtone

The term subtone refers to the technique of playing with soft tone on slow songs and is a technique used mainly in the lower register.

If you are familiar with Plas Johnson’s tenor solo on The Pink Panther theme you will hear this
tone in the beginning when he plays the low notes. Go to YouTube and copy and paste the following songs;
Plas Johnson The Pink Panther
Stan Getz - Girl from Ipenema
Sil Austin - Danny Boy
Boots Randolph - Danny Boy

and Boots’ version of The Shadow of Your Smile. Paul Desmond also had what some refer to as a fuller subtone approach on alto. Indeed an excellent saxophonist with a classic tone.

Two more outstanding masters of this technique on tenor was Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Jimmy Forest. Go to YouTube and copy and paste the following songs;
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - Ghost Of A Chance
Jimmy Forrest - These Foolish Things

I do not know when this technique was developed but it was very popular in the big band era and remained popular in the 50s and 60s, especially on the slow Top 40 hits. And you will still hear it today in many forms of sax music.

We are all familiar with what I refer to as the “marching band” sax sound in the lower register when the player produces a rather loud honking tone. The subtone, on the other hand, is usually a soft, warm, whisper type tone although it can be used with a lot of volume. The subtone concept can be used in all registers of the horn and in up tempo music but is generally associated with the low register of slower tunes.

A few suggestions to get started;

1. Assuming that all of the pads are leak proof, play a low G.

2. Bring the lower lip back over the bottom teeth so that more upper skin below the lip line area is pressing gently against the reed. Depending on the width and thickness of your lip, you may need more, or less, of the skin below the lip line against the reed. If you have a wide lower lip, this can work to your benefit. If you have a thin lower lip, more meat on the reed from the area below the lip line may be needed for a cushion.

3. Take a little more m/p into the mouth and relax the jaw more than you would normally do in your standard embouchure setting. However, keep in mind that some teachers disagree about “relaxing the jaw.” It works for some us but perhaps not for others so keep an open mind.

4. Play the G. Relax and do not blow hard. Play a soft, yet full tone. Keep adjusting the lower lip until you are getting a little mix of air around the corners of the mouth with the tone. Not a lot of air (which is optional) but just enough to make the lower jaw and corners of the mouth relax. If you can’t produce a little air around the corners do not be concerned because it is not needed to produce the subtone. In place of that, you may want to add some air in your tone which is fine since many players prefer a mix of air and sound to make it sound sweet for the general effect.

5. Play G to F and hold the note long. Keep adjusting and think “whisper.”

6. Now G to F to E and so on.

7. When you get to low D and C, the note may crack and jump an octave. This tells you that you need more lip over the teeth and to relax the jaw. Some players will “lift” the horn slightly on low D and below to take the pressure off the lower jaw. It all depends on what works best for you.

8. Repeat this over and over. G to F to E to D to low C holding and maintaining a soft whisper tone.

9. Once you begin to get good control of it, you can adjust the volume, corners of the mouth, amount of lip in the mouth, amount of air/tone mix, etc. to develop your own subtone quality.

Some players do not use a lot of m/p so try different ways. For example, see Pete Thomas’ web site. It can be confusing to the beginner. Probably has to do with how I was taught to approach it and may have something to do with having a thick or thin lower lip. The main thing is to try different ways and see what works best for the individual since we all differ in mouth structure.

My father played during the big band era and said that some of the sax players who had a thin lower lip would need to use more skin on the reed. To do that the lip would need to be further back over the bottom teeth and more m/p in the mouth.

This is, by no means, the only way to approach the subtone but maybe it will help you get started. It is a technique that is well worth learning.

Other links for the subtone;

http://www.petethomas.co.uk/saxophone-subtone.html

http://www.saxophone-players.com/howtoplaysaxophone-subtone.html

http://www.saxquest.com/forumThreadView.asp?ForumUID=8&ThreadUID=5624
 

kevgermany

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Thanks John, this is one to cut and paste.... I'm intrigued by the extras you've put into the pm.... I get the feeling we're missing out on something...
 

FirstyB

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London
Ah brilliant, thanks alot for that John. I've been going completly the wrong direction, having less mouthpiece in, and less lip. Definatly going to try this out when i get back home.

My email is dfirstbrook@gmail.com, if you could email me the rest it would be very appreciated. Definatly going in the scrapbook
 

John Laughter

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FirstyB, welcome and the rest is in the mail.

Let me mention that some players do use less lip while others use more bottom lip. Some use less m/p and some use more m/p. It is not a matter of being right or wrong. Since physical factors of one's mouth come into play along with the m/p and reed combination, what works for one musician may not work for another. The main thing to remember with any of the "effects" is that there is no one way to make it happen. Keep an open mind and experiment with various setting to see what works best for you.
 
OP
half diminished

half diminished

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Well I'm slowly making progress and I think it's fair to say that like all of these 'nuance individual' subtleties, everyone does it a bit differently to everyone else and comparing these at 'each end' of the spectrum would suggest that no way can both of these work!

I'm not sure what I am doing that I wasn't but it's definitely having an effect - though I'll not be winning any subtone contests in the near future. I am happy that I'm making progress.
 

Morgan Fry

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Leeds
Subtoning seems simpler to me than we seem to be making it here. The thing I do to subtone is take in less mouthpiece, and use my lower lip much more to cushion than normal. The key thing is you don't want the reed vibrating too much, you use the lower lip to dampen a lot of the sound. Play around with how much you can dampen the reed's vibration with your lower lip. There's a spot where you get the right amount of fundamental, edge, and air that you're looking for.
 
OP
half diminished

half diminished

Senior Member
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Subtoning seems simpler to me than we seem to be making it here. The thing I do to subtone is take in less mouthpiece, and use my lower lip much more to cushion than normal. The key thing is you don't want the reed vibrating too much, you use the lower lip to dampen a lot of the sound. Play around with how much you can dampen the reed's vibration with your lower lip. There's a spot where you get the right amount of fundamental, edge, and air that you're looking for.
Thanks. I have made a fair bit of progress with this, though I've not yet managed to sound like Dexter! :)
 

Pete Thomas

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Ah brilliant, thanks alot for that John. I've been going completly the wrong direction, having less mouthpiece in, and less lip. Definatly going to try this out when i get back home.
No , you haven't been going wrong at all. I (and many others as you will notice, use less mouthpiece for subtone). I have discussed this with John and we both agree that whatever works is best. I've just found it best to use less mouthpiece.

Some examples: Subtone on the Saxophone
 
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John Laughter

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whatever works is best.
Absolutely agree with Pete! I have worked with some players who use less m/p and some who use a little more. A little less bottom lip over the teeth to cushion the reed and a little more, etc. Bottom line..what ever it takes to get a nice full controlled subtone. My suggestion is based upon what works for me but it may not work for the next person.
 
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