PPT mouthpieces

What am I doing wrong?


Sax-Mad fiend!
Café Supporter
The Malverns, Worcs
I have to come clean first.... :shocked:
In spite of owning my lovely BW bronze tenor for over a year, I still cannot play it to a level that I find satisfactory.

I have had it looked over twice because I was convinced there was something wrong with it (it couldn't possibly be me!!)

The sax technician loves the instrument and assures me that it is me. :(

So I'm trying to understand what I am doing wrong.
You can see from my signature what instruments I have and what the set up is.

I am wondering if there is any practical reason why I shouldn't be able to play it?
I can play the Bari, right through the range, from top to bottom fortissimo to pianissimo.
the same is true of the alto and sop.

I can play the tenor from top to bottom fortissimo, but if I try to play it pianissimo it breaks up at F#, G and G# in the lower octave only.

What am I doing wrong?

My teacher has suggested that I dedicate myself to the tenor for the next 3 months and make a decision then as to whether I keep it or sell it. (hence the yard sale post)

It's a beautiful immaculate instrument and I desperately want to keep it, but it's no use to me with 3 "missing" notes :crying:

By the way (possibly related) where do you hold a tenor sax when playing standing?
The bari (obviously) goes down the right side of your right thigh.
My alto sits in the join between my body and the top of my right leg, so right of centre but in front of my body.
The sop just sticks out the front.
I've tried the tenor out to the right of my right hip, and resting on the front of my right thigh. This changes the angle of the mouthpiece into the mouth.

I`m no expert but I have noticed you are persisting in using Rico Royale 3`s. I`ve been playing the same tenor saxophone and Mpiece a long long time and I actually Pare/Shave down Reeds from 3,5 to about the 2.5 mark . Nothings perfect in the world of sax. You already know that. but if you can`t play from the bottom to the top F# and you ARE practicing then you have the wrong reed for your mouthpiece and embouchure. You could try a lesser reed, but since you have 3`s I recommend you watch this video and learn this skill. I promise you will never look at reeds in the same light after you have customised one and get your horn speaking well.
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I tend to position my BW Tenor either resting on right thigh or slightly off to the reight. Depends on whether I am getting into the 'groove' :)

I also only play a number 2 reed... OK notes do crack up but I can usually find most of them
to answer your last question first, I hold the tenor (and alto) to my right hand side - I let the sling bear all the weight and just steady it with the thumb rest. I also adjust the sling to just the right height to avoid hunching forward. Mouthpiece angle shouldn't be too much of a problem, I've played the sax at all kinds of odd angles while lounging on the sofa, but perhaps we should draw a discreet veil over my decadent lifestyle... sax teachers would be horrified at my slovenly ways

Regarding your other problem... hmmm, these things can be maddening - if the sax isn't leaking, is the mouthpiece tight on the cork? Sometimes problems can occur if there's slight leakage around the cork. Notes breaking up when you're playing really quietly can often be a symptom of some kind of leak, but if your tech's checked it over... the octave key on the neck can sometimes be the culprit, a weak spring or a tiny speck of dirt.

Does the problem only occur when you play it, or can your teacher or tech replicate the problem, using your mouthpiece and reed?
If they've got other mouthpieces available, try them and see if they're better for you, sometimes a mouthpiece just doesn't suit the player or horn. I don't want to send you on an endless mouthpiece quest, but if you can borrow other mouthpieces to try, at least that will help eliminate another variable.

Have you tried different reed strengths - a Rico 3 on a Selmer D should be ok, but maybe try a 2 1/2.. or a 3 1/2

If you've not already done so, experiment with how far you take the mouthpiece into your mouth and try to shape your oral cavity as if you were singing the note you're playing, the extra resonance can help the instrument make up it's mind what to do with the air you're giving it. You can play the baritone, so I don't think it's an embouchure problem, but practising long tones is always beneficial -
http://www.randyhunterjazz.com/Long-Tones For Saxophone .pdf

don't get hung up on your problem and blame yourself for not being perfect, have fun with all the other things you can do on the tenor, it's quite likely that with practise, you'll solve the issue. Bear in mind that most professional sax players only play one or two types of sax, very few are masters of all 4 SATB, so having a slight problem with one of them is still better than most of us.

Hope some of this is helpful, I'm not an expert tenor player, it's just something I fiddle about with occasionally when I can force myself to put down the alto
I've been trying this out on my tenor and no problem with fortissimo or p1anissimo but was taking a closer look at the mechanics of the sax and what could happen if someone presses the key work more gently when playing quietly the F#. I am wondering whether the F#-G-G# sequence played softly could be prone to temporarily sticking pads. I do not know the technical terms but it would be useful to see whether the particular pads involved in that sequence need some thorough cleaning.

So, I'm not sur whether it is down to you other than you may be pressing softly the quieter you play, and that pads are slightly catching - if I understand what you mean by "breaking up".
By "breaks up" I am assuming that you mean it jumps to the higher octave without the octave key. What is happening acoustically is that at the pp level you are playing at, the fundamental of the note loses enough energy that it allows the first partial or overtone to take over. This happens naturally on the lowest notes of the saxophone due to the fact that the fundamental of those notes is by nature weaker than the second and third harmonics (1st and 2nd overtones).

The fundamentals of F#, G, and G# can be weakened by a leak in the air column in the vicinity of their pressure antinodes (the area slightly above the body octave vent). Another way to weaken those fundamentals and make the 1st overtone take control is to "voice" the higher overtone with the oral cavity as you finger the fundamental.

The solution:

1. Check your embouchure tension by playing low A and with the free hand temporarily popping the neck octave key open. If the note stays high for a considerable length of time, the embouchure is too tight. If the note comes back down after just a moment, the embouchure is correct. Also adjust the embouchure so the mouthpiece + neck plays an in tune concert E with the mouthpiece set where you normally tune.

2. Next hum the low tone you wish to play. Then blow that pitch on your airstream (an "air whistle"). Then play the note mf with that same airspeed and "voicing" inside the mouth and throat. Do this as several long tones.

3. Next start the note at mf and play a long diminuendo down to silence concentrating on keeping the "voicing" the same throughout. As one plays a diminuendo, two things happen. The volume of air decreases, and the opening of the tip of the reed gets smaller and smaller as the embouchure "squeezes" the reed more. Keeping the opening inside the mouth and throat constant is critical. Some players claim to take less of the mouthpiece in the mouth as they diminuendo to make less of the reed vibrate to make the sound.

4. When given these symptoms, a good tech will check the palm keys, high E, and high F# with a strong leak light in a pitch dark room for micro leaks. The tech will also check the air tightness of the neck tenon using a neck leak isolator. An elliptical neck tenon can feel tight and snug with the neck screw tightened and still leak, so this test is essential to eliminate that possibility.

Sorry for going on like this, but it is a common problem that many players seem to have---especially on tenor sax. Hope you find the cause and the solution.

With all due respect there are lots of errors in that video on reed adjusting, but that is the topic of another thread.
Great reply from jbtsax.

One thing that also happens is that tenor's need more air support at/around G. Which is difficult at PP. However I cured mine partly by this, partly by really accurate tuning and completely by swapping to a different mouthpiece.
So possibly a mouthpiece with too narrow a tip opening and too hard a reed may limit sufficient airflow on quiet passages?!

I've been playing my tenor with 7* mouthpiece (Phil-Tone Isotope) and Marca Jazz 2.5 and playing pianissimo is very straightforward, but do practise and play a lot with brass instruments so puff is no problem.
Great reply from jbtsax.

One thing that also happens is that tenor's need more air support at/around G. Which is difficult at PP. However I cured mine partly by this, partly by really accurate tuning and completely by swapping to a different mouthpiece.

I'm not sure I can accept that generalization about all tenors because that has not been my experience. My experience has been that both the low G and the high G on many makes of tenors go quite easily to the overtone above, unless the "voicing" ie. shape of the mouth and throat is accurately set. I have not yet made any type of connection to air pressure or "breath support" as it is often called. I will, however keep that thought in mind when I play tenor in the future.
I too think that your starting point should be to see if your teacher has the same problem with your set-up. It's the first thing I would do if one of my students had this issue.

I had a few difficulties with my old tenor (Keilwerth EX90) on playing a long pianissimo bottom F#. I got over it by using the alt fingering.

i usually play all saxes in front - but then I'm probably a bit bigger than you.
Wow! Guys, what can I say! Some wonderful advice.
JTBSax, I worked through some of your advice- mouthpiece and neck together tuned perfectly to E first time. Then I tried the A and octave pip thing, at mf there were no problems, A sounded up an octave and dropped almost immediately back down.
A played pp sounded up an octave and never came down!

At this point the only other thing I could try quickly was the mouthpiece / reed combo.
The only other mpc I have is a Yani 7, the only other reed I have is a Rico royal 2 (I couldn't get a note out of the Yani 7 with the RR3).
All I can say is WOW!
I could play my tricky notes right down to the point where I could still feel the reed vibrating on my lip, but all I could hear out of the sax was air rushing!

I will do more practicing and experimenting tomorrow, but you seem to have sent me up the right tree at the moment!

Today is my wedding anniversary, so I was already happy, but at the moment I am very, very happy.

Off to quartet practice with Bari now
I can empathise totally with your experience. I have played alto, clarinet and baritone for decades but have always struggled on and off with the tenor. I believe it stems from the different pitching and voicing of the instrument.

I decided to give it another go when I was offered a g4m tenor at a price I couldn't refuse a while back.

I decided to put away the other instruments and concentrate on the tenor for a while. I tried lots of different mouthpieces of varying design and found one I was most comfortable with.

Doesn't the selmer soloist have a french lay? In theory it should be more suited to a french cut reed like the Rico royals or a vandoren trad blue. When I used an S80 C* on tenor a Vandoren blue 2.5 seemed best. So a D lay on a soloist would, in theory need a half size, or there abouts, down.

I do find that a long session on the baritone has a marked negative effect on the sound and control of my tenor. The clarinet and alto don't seem to effect it. A long session on the tenor actualy improves the other saxes but the clarinet goes way off tone and pitch wise.

It is annoying to find one of the set being so awkward. It was my worst instrument till I bought the sop.

If it's not a reed / mp problem then it's a head problem. You have to get away from thinking it's a big alto or a small baritone. In my opinion Tenor is a one off, stand alone instrument that only resembles the others in appearance.

If you could give the others a rest for a short while, It may do the trick.

Tenor is my favourite but I hate and love it all at the same time lol
I too think that your starting point should be to see if your teacher has the same problem with your set-up. It's the first thing I would do if one of my students had this issue.

i usually play all saxes in front - but then I'm probably a bit bigger than you.

We both seemed to have the same problem.... We played a duet, then swapped instruments keeping our own mouthpiece. Interestingly, I had a few problems in the same area with her Yamaha 62!
But she plays a selmer C* I believe, so if the problem is the wrong mouthpiece for the instrument, that would make some sense, maybe. However it doesn't then explain why I had some problems with her tenor.

And I prefer to rest my tenor on my upper thigh. It feels more supported.
Hi Mandy
I had exactly the same problem that you describe on a John Packer saxophone and also a Bauhaus (both altos), I tried different mouthpieces and reeds and drove myself crazy trying different combinations! I ended up returning the John Packer and selling the Bauhaus, I do not have the problem on my Dad's Yamaha or my Selmer alto, nor do I have a problem with my Tenors, I really do not know why this is. I put it down to me having expensive taste in saxes, but realistically I know that it is me, but if there isnt a problem with the saxes that I now have, Im happy and it is one less thing to worry about!
Thinking about it I also have the same problem on my Bauhaus sop, I just dont play it any more.
It clearly isnt the saxes it is me! So frustrating and I can totally sympathise.
On Tenor (which I mostly play now) I also used to play a Selmer soloist mouthpiece but didnt like it very much so now play a Java T45 with legere reeds strength 2.25 and it seems to work for me.
Also I usually practise sitting down, but having recently joined a band I have to play standing up, I asked my teacher about how to hold the sax and he said at the front, resting on my right leg supported as much as possible by the strap, as little weight on thumbs as possible. Obviously whatever works for individuals differs, but I now I now need to practise standing up.
I really hope you get this sorted, it sounds like you have a fantastic sax, I will be really interested to know how you get on. If you sort it out, I may dust off my sop and give it another try!
Sorry this post wasnt very helpful, but just wanted you to know you are not alone!
Good luck
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Hmmmm not convinced we've sorted it yet TBH. A Vandoren Jazz ZZ 2 on the Selmer soloist D is showing promise around the G#, G F# issue, but I seem to struggle with the lowest notes then not sounding very easily.
Today I am taking my drawer full of tenor bits to my sax lesson. We'll see .....
Marca Jazz 2.5....................................................................:thumb:

I'm a convert!

I'm also now a great believer in 'keeping trying' - having started on alto, I then took up tenor after a couple of years. It has taken me nearly 2 years of playing my BW tenor to start consistently getting what I consider to be 'the best yet' out of it (and I'm sure that it has still more to give me). But 'we' are now producing a sound which my tutor/the examiner/orchestra music director have appreciated. And there have been plenty of squarks/non existant notes along the way! Onwards and upwards....

My problems around the upper G happened, and got worse as I anticipated the problem and became more tense. Relaxation and a change to Marca Jazz reeds helped me no end!

Hmmmm not convinced we've sorted it yet TBH. A Vandoren Jazz ZZ 2 on the Selmer soloist D is showing promise around the G#, G F# issue, but I seem to struggle with the lowest notes then not sounding very easily.
Today I am taking my drawer full of tenor bits to my sax lesson. We'll see .....

Souns like it will be a fun lesson! Good luck :)

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