Beginner Top Teeth! (Again)

randulo

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I was looking over an older post, but I have a simple question:

Assuming you are not doing a double lip embouchure, but the now standard one, how much pressure should the top teeth be exerting on the mouthpiece (or patch thereof)?

Since patches are common, I assume the teeth touch and sometimes press a little on the top of the mouthpiece.

What is meant by biting? That you're exerting a lot of pressure from those top teeth, or just a little? I heard or read somewhere recently that it's a bad habit to clench the teeth when reaching for the higher notes. Makes sense, but we are not trying to have zero pressure, are we?
 

jbtsax

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These are all great questions.

One can't actually "bite" using the top teeth which are in a fixed position in the skull. Biting takes place using the bottom teeth moved up and down by the jaw. Of course the top teeth resting on the top of the mouthpiece in a way gives the bottom teeth and jaw something to push up against. Larry Teal in The Art of Saxophone Playing writes that the weight of the head is supported by the top teeth on the mouthpiece with which I tend to agree. I have also found in my personal playing experience that pressing down with the top teeth actually helps the jaw and lower teeth to pull down and away from the reed to reduce the "biting". Using a thick mouthpiece patch helps.

As far as changing the tightness of the embouchure for the higher notes, standard saxophone pedagogy prescribes using the same embouchure throughout the entire normal range of the saxophone. That said, I'll admit to sometimes tightening a bit for the palm key notes---especially when playing soprano. It is important that the instrument is free of leaks so that the lowest notes come out easily without having to relax the embouchure or play with a "subtone".
 

Wade Cornell

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The biting/tightening question is one that relates to intonation as jbtsax kind of relates. Depending on the sax you're playing some require tightening in order to play above C3 in tune. The higher pitch (alto and higher) Yanagisawas are a good example. Nothing wrong with them, just the way they are made. Whereas the R&C (same range of saxes) you need to relax your embouchure or you'll play sharp.

Saxes are imperfect instruments. The higher the pitch the more imperfect and the more important embouchure is in controlling pitch. As indicated some makers consider that a tightening of the embouchure in the upper notes is a natural tendency, so cater to this, while other makers go for even embouchure throughout. To me "good intonation" means not having to adjust much in order to play the whole instrument in tune. The mouthpiece and reed are part of this equation as well as a person's physical characteristics and their style of playing (e.g. subtoning can flatten a note).

To be honest I cringe when I see a mouthpiece with huge dents from upper teeth. That says to me that the player is using their jaw instead of the embouchure muscles and possibly trying to play a reed that's too stiff.
 
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randulo

randulo

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I don't really understand where sub- toning bit, comes Into it? if I have a leaky horn I find it easier to blast the low notes out than Subtone them
I think it's related to the fact that subtones are made by lowering the jaw on the low notes, and so is related. In passing, I think I'm doing this right. I believe I learned about it on YouTube, with its unlimited sax resources.

I often hear with regard to overtones, you shouldn't bite the reed. That would be the lower teeth, obviously.

As I'm fighting with various intonation issues, like a flat C# and a sharp upper octave D, I'm trying to settle on good habits.
I've begun using the alternative fingering for open C#, octave+LH3 + RH in any combination. I like the new possibilities it brings, especially for C#m G#m, which I use often, as well as better intonation. C# to D, D#, E are a great discovery for me. C# to B is a habit to acquire.

A common suggestion is to push the mouthpiece further on the neck to make everything sharper, and hence relax the embouchure. They will generally keep you on a single path, embouchure-wise, but it's theirs. I have to keep adjusting until I figure it out.
One advantage of an in-person teacher, is that he or she becomes your benevolent dictator, inciting you to "do this, not that". Yes, as this forum tends to confirm, there is more than one way to do things on the instrument. It also seems that for every rule, there's someone who does great, completely doing the opposite, as in the lower lip position, or covering the teeth with the upper lip!

Finally, and this is probably the most important factor, we humans differ in physiology; teeth, lips, jaws, muscles, breath and finger coordination vary enormously in a seemingly infinite variety. With regard to biting, I know I'm not biting the reed below. I am consciously trying to play the high notes without tightening. Regardless of intonation, the high notes are much harder for me. But then, so are the very low ones :old:
 

Wade Cornell

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Whatever works is fair, yet if you're making a lot of adjustments and developing habits based on one sax, you may find yourself wishing you hadn't when you move on to another sax. Those adjustments become body memories. For years I played a Yanagisawa soprano. Great horn, yet required the tightening embouchure for high notes. Took me years to break that habit. Alternate fingerings could be even worse. If you never intend to use a different sax, then no problem...I guess...
 

Pete Effamy

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I was looking over an older post, but I have a simple question:

Assuming you are not doing a double lip embouchure, but the now standard one, how much pressure should the top teeth be exerting on the mouthpiece (or patch thereof)?

Since patches are common, I assume the teeth touch and sometimes press a little on the top of the mouthpiece.

What is meant by biting? That you're exerting a lot of pressure from those top teeth, or just a little? I heard or read somewhere recently that it's a bad habit to clench the teeth when reaching for the higher notes. Makes sense, but we are not trying to have zero pressure, are we?
Intonation problems are dealt with by the shape of the throat or tongue position unless a particular note is way out for some reason. The idea of pushing the mouthpiece on until sharp and playing in tune is a good one, better than trying to sharpen as this will constrict and thin the sound whereas you'll need to be nice and open to flatten. I use this occasionally with students to try and get a bigger sound.
I think that if a particular horn has intonation issues a starting point might be to tune to the open C#. At this point it is the least affected by any poor production issues.
All instruments are "out of tune" though - some are less out of tune. It's our job as players to play them in tune. You can have an in-tune sax if it is only one octave, as each note does one job and doesn't overblow to eventually 3+ octaves.
 

Pete Effamy

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Whatever works is fair, yet if you're making a lot of adjustments and developing habits based on one sax, you may find yourself wishing you hadn't when you move on to another sax. Those adjustments become body memories. For years I played a Yanagisawa soprano. Great horn, yet required the tightening embouchure for high notes. Took me years to break that habit. Alternate fingerings could be even worse. If you never intend to use a different sax, then no problem...I guess...
With some sopranos - all bets are off!
 
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randulo

randulo

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I have some other issues and since I began this post about me and my problems, I'm going to continue it in that vein and leave the improv one alone :)

I have spent the morning practicing and recording with the mpc pushed up higher. My online teacher told me to relax my embouchure, this requires that move as well. I think I am getting used to it! I'll need to watch the tuner more closely again and try to turn this new more relaxed embouchure into a habit. Seems to be working.

I am also practicing exaggerated blues bends up and tremolos and this is a big embouchure exercise as well. I have a short solo set to play in late September, I need to get this basic sound and mastery thing out of the way. One help is realizing that I need to keep the sax parts simple.
 

Guenne

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This is a very interesting thread.

I'm thinking about Eric Marienthal with his rabbit exercise (taking top teeth off the MPC), Joe Allard playing with his top teeth off the moutphiece, and the exercises in John Harle's book "The saxophone" ("Balanced embouchure", where you form a double lip embouchure and the simply let your upper lip out. He tells you to put pressure onto the MPC (with the upper lip) and in direction of the teeth, on the other hand there are exercises where he has you play with the top teeth one mm off the MPC.

I think (and that's when I sound best) most of it depends on a good management of the head on top of the spine.
When you compress (press down) you compress your neck and that has a negative effect on your breathing and fine motor activity.

Cheers, Guenne
 
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Pete Effamy

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I think (and that's when I sound best) most of depends on a good management of the head on top of the spine.
When you compress (press down) you compress your neck and that has a negative effect on your breathing and fine motor activity.
Now that is spoken of far too seldom. Good point.
 

Colin the Bear

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It's been mentioned before on here that the perfect place for the mouthpiece is where the harmonics match the regular fingered notes. Overblowing Bb B C to get the horn in tune with itself. You should be able to get octave and 5th quite easily. this will mean that less input is required right across the range.

It seems instinctive to squeeze the reed when going for high notes. Try very hard not to. Squeeze the air. Reduce the oral cavity rather than squeezing the reed and speed up the air. Think low to play high. Tightening and loosening the embouchure will just make it tire more quickly. Playing tunes on just the mouthpiece is a good exercise to educate your chops. A 12th is possible on sop, an 8ve on alto. Less on the bigger ones. Keep the embouchure the same and increase and decrease the oral cavity.

Try to control the reed by adding and reducing the amount of lip on the reed. You can cut out unwanted frequencies. Sub toning is just cutting out the high frequencies.

@Guenne makes a good point about head position. So many readers seem to have poor posture through trying to keep an eye on the music stand. It's surprising how much more control is available by having the instrument high.
 

Guenne

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It's surprising how much more control is available by having the instrument high.
I agree on having the instrument "high", although neck strap adjustment depends on how you "hold" yourself "up" (I myself suffered more from a posture that was too "upright". But you can have the instrument in the right angle and still press down.

Just try playing in the 3rd octave and have an eye what happens.
Thinking of some trumpet teachers having their students play on a trumpet that's hanging from the ceiling :)
 

Colin the Bear

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I check myself in the mirror quite regularly. If I can eyeball myself while playing I feel about right. I've heard brass players talk about the hanging trumpet. It seems to be about pressure on the mouthpiece too.
 

jbtsax

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As far as changing the tightness of the embouchure for the higher notes, standard saxophone pedagogy prescribes using the same embouchure throughout the entire normal range of the saxophone.
To clear up any misunderstanding of the above comments I would like to offer further explanation. In this context "embouchure" means how tight the embouchure muscles are and how much pressure the lower lip exerts upon the reed. It is not meant to include the shape inside the mouth, the tongue placement, or the speed and direction of the airstream sometimes referred to as "voicing".

A common poor playing habit especially among "self taught" players is to tighten the embouchure or "bite" when playing the high notes, and loosen or relax the embouchure when playing in the lower register. Another variation is to push the jaw forward when going high and pulling the jaw back when going low which also changes the pressure of the lower lip against the reed. Although this second example is used effectively by some jazz players as part of their "style" it is generally not a commonly accepted practice in classical playing.

This "habit" often results in the upper register sounding sharp and the lower register sounding flat. I am all too familiar with this habit because it is how I learned to play until I began to study saxophone at the university level. The advanced literature I was required to perform with many rapid wide interval changes made it impossible to change my embouchure that fast. As a result I was faced with the difficult task of learning to play all over again with an embouchure that stayed consistent from one register to the next. After achieving that goal I was surprised at how easy these wide interval leaps suddenly became.

To say that the "same embouchure" is used throughout the range of the saxophone does not mean or imply that advanced players don't change the voicing or airstream speed or direction when playing certain notes or not make nuanced changes to the lip pressure to bring notes in tune to match pitch, and certainly does not include the movements to produce vibrato.

caprice en forme de valse.jpg
caprice en forme de valse.jpg
 

Guenne

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If you look through different saxophone forums, you always read about how important it is not to bite.
I can "bite" like hell and still get a decent sound.

Maybe the problem is more that when you push down you kind of "freeze", your jaw you cannot "bite" at all.
And you need some kind of (very light) bite.

Cheers, Guenne
 

jbtsax

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I check myself in the mirror quite regularly. If I can eyeball myself while playing I feel about right. I've heard brass players talk about the hanging trumpet. It seems to be about pressure on the mouthpiece too.
This reminds me of the old band director joke. Trumpets do have an octave key after all. Its called the "pinky ring". :)
 
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randulo

randulo

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I went through hell today, pushed the mouthpiece way up, was pretty much in tune, but I still can't get a decent sound from the palm keys. I'm going to need a lot of practice -- well, that's what beginnings are about, and I have the time -- but I'm confused by the possibilities. Plus, how do you reconcile this with the business of "tuning" the sax with the mouthpiece position and the overtone method espoused here many times?
What I am finding is that I can adjust the intonation to be decent regardless of the mouthpiece, hopefully that is a Good Sign™. If it's like slide guitar, I just need to keep playing. For this tuning stuff, I am working on a major tune that lends itself to checking intonation, Mercy Mercy.
 
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