Issue: Apr-June 2006
Bandworld Magazine Page


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


1. Place upper teeth on mouthpiece.

2. Think exaggerated, "A" to firm up lips to the teeth.

3. Now add a, "Q" which will bring in corners of lips and result in even pressure of lips from top, bottom and sides.
Almost one half inch of reed will be inside of mouth. Air for clarinet is directed "at" the reed. Air for saxophone is more parallel to neckpipe of the instrument. Any uneven lip or facial tension will cause distorted tones. Tones will be thin if embouchure is too tight and tone will be a duck-quack if the embouchure is too loose. Lower teeth biting into lower lip will result in the bunched chin, a sore lip and thin tone. Keep lip pressure even and the lower lip controls comes from jaw strength, not from a bite of the teeth.


A fine tone is similar to a fine human voice. The purpose of air is to set the reed in motion. The reed has been soaked in water and fitted to the mouthpiece. The ligature screws are firm but not tight. Now, form the embouchure, breath deeply and start a flow of air through the mouthpiece. Speed up the air until tone has quality and volume preferred by teacher and student. SING THAT TONE! Match tones by playing and singing. Always think that the next tone you play is your best tone yet! The tongue is used lightly to stop reed vibrations. Air is brought to the reed at same speed and pressure that produced a good tone. Tongue is then released and a tone is heard. The throat remains open and relaxed. Keep tongue low and think of easiest way to touch tip of reed.

dah   1.Tip of tongue to tip of reed.
lah    2.Slightly back of tongue tip (1/4") to tip of reed.
thaw 3.Tip of tongue touching lower teeth. Tongue is then arched to touch tip of reed.

Some suggest, "too," "doo," and "thu.." The "ah" keeps the throat more open. A tone's release can happen by lightly touching tip of reed with the tongue or by stopping flow of air. Keep throat open and motionless in both methods of release.

Play and sing tones C2, B1, and C2, D2, and E2. Keep speed of air constant as if playing one long tone in a straight line.

Keep throat open (feel like a bass singer). Tones will change because the fingers move. Do not change tones because resistance to the air column changes. This is best approach to keeping C, D, and E in tune. A big change of tightness and air speed will cause sharpness in D and E when note goes from one finger to six fingers.

#1--CORRECT RESULT More often than not, a reasonable tone results. Imitation of your tone and pitch will be automatically attempted by the student. When it happens, it should sound like this:















Arms, hands, and fingers do not hold the instrument. Its weight is well balanced by the neck strap. Fingers are completely free to press and release keys. Play with fingers in a definite arched style as if student is holding a ball. (You would not catch a ball with straight stiff fingers) Do not "BLUFF". We try to play next note before fingers are set. We let a bad note enter a line of technical notes because we do not have enough patience to be sure of that particular note. Technique is a problem of eyes, finger control, breath and tongue. One correct answer will solve a problem in mathematics. One correct rehearsal is only the beginning for music. It must be correct every time. Try to play a passage five times without a mistake.
Practice slow trills. The effort to lift a group of fingers is the same effort as needed to put down a group of fingers. Trills will give each finger and each combination of fingers an exactness that has no lost motion.
Practice scales. Brass students quickly think in terms of the skips or arpeggios that go with the valve combinations. Woodwind students think in terms of the diatonic scale. These combinations are awkward: E flat to E needs two finger movement, E flat to F needs three finger movement, E to F# to G# just does not fall easily. B to C# is easier than B to C. Work slowly. The eyes must recognize first. Then fingers must be taught to easily press or lift the keys.


The great soloists will have one idea of tone. The great jazz artists will have their individual tonal characteristics. Yet, the section must fit into the band's balance and technical proficiency. Saxophones can sound like French horns. They can fill in for the third clarinets. Tenors and Baritones can blend with the euphoniums. Remember that the "buzz' of a wide reed instrument is easily heard. It will not blend.

Teachers must have their hearing checked. Can teachers hear a difference of two vibrations, three vibrations, etc. An examination will give confidence to the teacher in some areas of recognition and will show the teacher where work is needed in ear training, etc. Young wind players do better in flat keys. They are not confident in sharp keys. In other words, we feel best when we tune down and we are sure when we try to "tune up".

Vibrato, phrasing and interpretation are an extensive treatise beyond this Sax Embou-Sure article. So get the basics first and many of the other facets of playing will come easily.

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