Getting a truly great sound on the saxophone is one of the most elusive targets for any player. There is no real shortcut, but there are some more efficient ways to get there rather than merely banging out long notes. Long notes are important, but here we are going to look at other, more interesting, ways to get there as well as how to practise long notes efficiently. First though, you need to make sure you are actually hearing your real sound. If you are in the position to record with reasonably good equipment and ideally add some room or hall simulation (ie a good natural sounding ambience), then recording can give you a very good idea of what the listener will hear.
What can differ enormously is the sound of different rooms and the way your saxophone tone is affected by those rooms. With a big PA system in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing (ie they have good ears and have “tuned” the reinforced sound to counter anomalies in the room acoustics) then you have a fairly level playing field to compare a recorded sound with live. If it’s a bad PA or a small room and you have no sound reinforcement at all, then yes there can be quite a difference between what you hear recorded at home and what is perceived in that room.
Even so, I believe that sound of your playing to other people in most environments may well be closer to your recorded sound than it is to the sound you are hearing in your head once what is (a) entering your ears via waves in the air is combined with (b) vibrations through the mouthpiece material, teeth, gums, dental work etc.
As long as you take into account that there are so many variables everywhere and learn what they might be, you can start to do some analysis, but you’ve always got to take the conclusions with a reasonable pinch of salt because it’s impossible to do any proper scientific testing. Just turning 30 degrees towards a curtain in your practice room can (apparently) completely kill certain frequencies.
However your perception (no matter how subjective and variable) is absolutely important. I agree that reeds that sound bad to you usually sound absolutely fine recorded or to another person a few feet away. The important thing to me is that a reed (or indeed a saxophone/or mouthpiece) that sounds good to me is incredibly important as that is what inspires me to play better and practice for longer.
Tone & Sound are not the same thing
Obviously we often use these words interchangeably, but when you are learning an instrument like the saxophone, it’s very useful to consider them separately.
Tone: you can think of this as the “raw” unprocessed sound of your saxophone.
Sound: this is the end result after you have used your technique as a musician to manipulate ... Read more…
Which of these is more “in tune”?
Listen to these two files, then check the video.
First of all please try this little experiment. The two audiofiles on the right (or above if you using a mobile device) are two different versions of the first few notes of an alto saxophone solo. Listen to the first long note of the ... Read more…
The aim of this exercise is for you to be able to control the rate and depth of the vibrato. To achieve this control over the vibrato, it’s necessary to start with an extremely slow vibrato, in fact so slow it’s not really a vibrato, in the same way that a drummer learns to perfect a roll by starting very, ... Read more…
Improve your saxophone tone and expression
There is one well established exercise which some people refer to it as The Mouthpiece Exercise, however it’s definitely not the only one as we shall see.
All of the mouthpiece exercises referred to here are covered in great depth and written out in taming The saxophone Vol 1: Tone Without Tears
The Mouthpiece Pitch Exercise
It’s a common theory ... Read more…
Why is practising overtones so useful?
In order to play the overtones you need to think about and possible develop a more flexible embouchure. Altering your tongue position and possibly the shape of your oral cavity can help with this.
You need to be able to imagine the sound of the note before you play it, so for one thing this is ... Read more…
The altissimo range of the saxophone consists of many notes higher than the “standard” range that is taught in elementary and intermediate stages of learning (up to F or F# with instruments that have that key). The fingerings for these notes can be quite complex. They differ from instrument to instrument, the fingering chart here show fingerings which I have ... Read more…
Another Kind of Blue
Imperial (Midnight in the Naked City)
Polkadots & Moonbeams
See: Midnight in the Naked City CD
Subtone could just as easily have come under the Effects section, as it can be considered as it is no longer as common as a part of normal tone technique as in the old days. This is a particularly soft way of playing, but ... Read more…
There’s no doubt about it. Practising long notes can be boring.
Bored practice is wasted practice
…so if you find that your mind is wandering then that is a good time to either take a break from practising or move onto some other exercises that you find you can concentrate on more easily. Ultimately though you should try to train yourself to ... Read more…
Embouchure How much mouthpiece?
Embouchure (very basically) means what you do with the front part of your mouth (lips and teeth) in order to play the saxophone.
There is more than one “correct” saxophone embouchure. The pictures on the right are from a very good book by Ben Davis (published by Henri Selmer no less) which is now sadly out of print.
The picture ... Read more…
Breathing Exercises Diaphragm Breathing
Good breathing and breath control when playing the saxophone is important for two reasons:
Playing extended phrases without running out of breath
Having good breath support from your lungs
The second of these is probably the most important as it can actually help your tone. It is a well established technique to keep your throat open while playing (an ... Read more…
Breathing Exercises Diaphragm Breathing
What is Diaphragm Breathing, and Why?
This question comes up a lot, and it can be quite a difficult one to answer. People tend to use various analogies rather than a pure physiological analysis of what happens. You may have heard people referring to “breathing from the stomach” or using “warm air” or “cold air”, fast air ... Read more…
What is circular breathing?
It means breathing in while still blowing a note or notes on the saxophone. It sounds much harder than it really is. When you use circular breathing, you are still breathing in and out of your lungs as with any normal type of breathing. The difference is that you are also storing air in your cheeks, so that there ... Read more…
There seems to be a lot of confusion about how we describe sound. It seems many people these days want what they call a dark sound, but when I delve deeper into what they mean, I realise it may not be the same as what I call a dark sound. I write a lot about saxophone sound, but there seems ... Read more…
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