Issue: Apr-June 2006
Bandworld Magazine Page


20 Years Ago in Bandworld
Saxophone Embou-Sure (continued)
by Randall Spicer

There are as many or more students that play the saxophone than play any of the other woodwind instruments. The success of jazz festivals, the prominence and leadership of fine soloists and the added strength to the marching band have made the saxophone attractive to many students. The teacher/director's responsibility is to provide good guidance.

1. Assembly
2. Mouthpiece and ligature
3. Choice of reeds
4. Posture
5. Breath support
6. The embouchure
7. Good tone
8. Techniques

Remove the instrument from its case and hook it to the neck strap. A neck strap of webbing (about 3/4 inch) is best. It can be adjusted quickly and it will remain firm and strong. Insert the neckpiece and add the mouthpiece. Be sure the metal joint of the neckpiece and the receiving joint of the instrument are clean. Cork grease is used only on the cork. Tighten the neck screw only enough to keep the neck- piece lined up with the saxophone body. A continual forcing of this screw will "strip" threads. The neckpiece will swing freely from side-to-side and always bother the student. The mouthpiece must fit smoothly to the cork.

Any gap or play at point A will cause a leak in the tone (especially low notes). Yet, the mouthpiece must easily slip down the cork until intonation is OK. Use thin strips of paper to fill in any gap at point A.

Check the octave keys. Any leakage (poor adjustment) at these points will negate low notes and upper notes of the left hand. Quick repairs can be made by adding coats of Scotch Tape. Also check the G# key. This key may stick when the wet pad dries on the pad socket. Just press the G sharp key and "flick" the pad open. The free action of this key allows the pad to stick. This key sticks quite often, but there is nothing wrong with the instrument! These comments on assembly apply mainly to older instruments. Most newer instruments should be well adjusted and ready to play.


Directors know that there are many kinds of mouthpieces for all instruments. Saxophonists will use one style for their band and solo work. They will use another more powerful mouthpiece for their jazz work. A mouthpiece may be roughly placed in one of three styles.

Look at the back bores. "A" (the circle) will give the most pleasant sound for serious playing. "B" is a compromise that will give a good tone with more brilliance. "C" will give the most power to the tone. Of course, there are many, many variations and ideas used with the clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces. Some players spend a lifetime looking for the best mouthpiece and reed.

The ligature must be loosened to allow the back end of the reed to be slipped under the ligature on the mouthpiece. The reed is then lined up to form a good match with the tip rail and the side rails. Tighten the ligature enough to hold reed in place. Vibrations will be stifled and bruise marks may bend the reed if screws are too tight. The teacher should fit the reed to the student's mouthpiece.

Use a brand of reed that is consistently good. A good dealer and advanced students can give advice about reeds. Altitude and humidity are factors to be considered in reed selection. A soft reed can be used in dry Colorado. A stiffer reed must be used in the dampness of coastal areas. Look at the heel or butt-end of the reed.

Look at the face of the reed. Roll the tip of the reed on your thumbnail. 1/8" is flexible and even. A few fibers will go to the tip of the reed and the face cut needs to be even. There will be a balance of light shading between the tip, side rails, vamp and heart of the reed.







A beginning student must have a good reed which has been selected by the teacher. The student will not know if the reed is soft, stiff, out of balance or just right. He will think his money will always buy a good new reed. Yet, there is no sure way to know that reeds are good.

Soak several reeds in water for 3 or 4 minutes. Fit the reed to the mouthpiece with a good fit to the tip rail. If the reed extends beyond the tip rail, the reed will be stiff. If the reed does not reach to the tip rail, the reed will also blow stiff. Vibrations of the reed must make a good seal to the side rails and to the tip rail.

The reed may curl or have wrinkles in it when it is re-moistened (a reed that is several days old). This is caused because material between fibers (grain) of the cane is softer than the grain or fibers of the reed. Plastic reeds may be purchased, but they do not have the rich tone and flexibility of reeds that are made from French cane.

Slide a piece of paper between reed and side rails. This is an easy way to find poor mouthpieces.
Do not "push or force" mouthpieces on the neck cork. Go slow and use a circular motion. You will rip or tear the cork if you are in a hurry and you will ruin the alignment of the reed. THE REED, MOUTHPIECE AND NECKPIECE are the most important details to take care of.


The neck strap, NOT THE FINGERS, must support the saxophone. Hands, fingers and arms must be completely free for playing the instrument. Line up the mouthpiece on the neckpipe to keep the head erect. (Do not let students tilt their head toward the left shoulder). Align the mouthpiece to keep the head erect, even if the saxophone seems to be to the right side of the student's body.

"Sit tall or stand tall!!!" Wind students must apply good athletic principles to their practice and performance: full use of lungs in breathing, a most efficient use of muscle without becoming tense, excellent eye coordination and a mind coordination that plan ahead, plus a repetition of practice that builds success in each activity.


Most teachers have their own method of teaching breath support. Each of the Embou-Sure Series (tuba, clarinet, flute, trumpet,etc.) offers suggestions for breath support or good breathing habits. Good posture, slow deep breathing and an open throat should always be mentioned as the group begins daily practice. (From "day one" of my career beginning in 1936, I never gave a down beat unless all band members were in good position.)

1.Do not raise shoulders. Many young students will raise shoulders when told to take in as much air as possible.

2. Use damp air. Demonstrate how to say, "Haw" with damp air to clean glasses.

3. This is a good trick to teach breathing: Place elbows on knees and touch finger tips to center of forehead above nose. Do not let shoulders move and breath slowly. Feel the low expansion at the beltline, front, side, and back.

4.Mention deep breathing quite often. Tight nerves will often result from a quick breath that "fills only the upper half of the lungs."

5.Breathe with teeth resting on top of mouthpiece. Many young people rest the reed on lower lip and breath by tilting head backward. This causes a movement for each breath. The mouthpiece is never under the control of a sure embouchure.

6. Put a small piece of plastic tape on top of the mouthpiece. Teeth vibrations will not bother the student and less tone will go directly to student's inner ear. The student will hear more of the exact tone as it is produced by the instrument.

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