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Discussion Starter #1
I apologize at the onset if my question or it’s placement here is inappropriate... I am a bit new to posting here, but have been reading for about a year...

I am a reasonably good bass clarinetist, and have good sound and intonation even though I play a beat up, very old, repaired/refurbished by myself, high school cast-off Bundy-Selmer bass clarinet.

I have always thought I would like to double on the tenor saxophone and took the plunge a while ago and acquired a decent used tenor saxophone. I had (mistakenly it seems) assumed I would have a fairly easy transition to playing the tenor. BUT, I find I have considerable difficulty playing well in the bottom 1/3 of the low register (the lowest 4 or so notes). I have what I consider a pleasant middle range and upper register sound, but I have difficulty consistently and reliably producing reasonable quality notes at the bottom.

I have (as many discuss for others) assesses the horn for leaks. I am not an expert, but it seems to me there are no identifiable leaks (I did use a light). So, I am seeking your advice:

1. Is perhaps my embouchure needing some refinement? I would have assumed my embouchure from the bass clarinet would be similar enough that I would at least be confident and successful in getting the low tones... but maybe there are differences I am unaware of and need to learn?

2. I know of the “jaw drop” technique to help with low notes on the saxophone, but that also does not seem to help with any consistency.

3. I play with a moderately hard “real” reed (strength of ~ 3.5) on the old Rico scale. I use this strength because it is a comfortable stiffness with my bass clarinet. Perhaps as a “new” person to the tenor, I would benefit from using a softer reed?

Those are the ideas I have had, but I thought all of you might be able to better advise me on suggestions on how to improve my efforts.

Thank you for any advice you may have!

PipeTobacco
 

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Number 3, yes - softer reed for sure. You may want to reconsider the embouchure as well.

. . . . and leaks can be up high on the horn - be aware of any.

I always thought of my air stream as pushing more on the clarinet reed vs. getting the air stream to "spill out" of the bell on the sax. I guess that's more of a mental concept.
 

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It is pretty normal for saxophone learners to have difficulty with the lowest notes. The saxophone has a conical bore, so it gets more resistant the lower you go, as opposed to the cylindrical bore of the clarinet, on which the response is much more consistent. So playing low notes on the saxophone will always be more difficult than on the clarinet.

Assuming there's nothing wrong with the sax, you probably need to loosen your embouchure slightly, try to bring out your bottom lip slightly, so it's not rolled over the bottom teeth. Softer reeds would also help, at least for the time being.
 

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Have it properly checked for leaks.
By a technician who knows his/her stuff.
It’s a relatively quick and cheap process that will set your mind at ease as to whether the issue is with your horn.
 

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I agree that a hard reed will make playing those low notes a little more difficult, but not impossible. I would say getting your horn checked by a skillful technician is a must. Just because you used a leak light doesn't mean you don't have a leak. I would also suggest you take a few lessons with a qualified saxophone teacher.
 

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There is a clarinet embouchure and a sax embouchure. If you are rolling the lower lip well over the teeth, try using the minimum lip over the teeth and think 'looser'. The softer reed will help with this too.
 

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And don't drop the jaw and slack off to get the low notes, unless you prefer a squawking honking out of control out of tune sound. If anything you need to add a tiny bit of "firmness" (NOT biting) to have the lowest notes speak clearly.
 

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I'll second most of the suggestions above. First and foremost, have a tech check your horn for leaks. They aren't always easy to detect and the tech may find some that you are missing. I'd also strongly suggest a softer reed. Try a medium strength reed like a 2.5. That should help. And use good air support. The air support & embouchure needed is difficult to describe; it's something you have to find by feel. Pay attention to how it feels and what you are doing when you do get those low notes to speak.

Coming from bass clarinet, there are some adjustments to make on the sax. Keep at it and you'll get there.
 

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Of course the first thing to do is take it and get it checked for leaks. One thing that worked for me recently was to switch from 2 1/2 Vandoren ZZ reed to 2 1/2 Vandoren Java. I was having trouble with low B and Bb. I took it in to get it checked and that helped somewhat but the two low notes were still breaking up. Once I put on a Java reed straight out of the box with no adjustments I was able to play them much better. I have to say the tone is a bit duller, less bright, with the Java reeds but I'll take the compromise of having something I can play all the notes on. Something to think about. Another aside - I've been laid up and haven't been playing everyday so that' not helping me any.

I never played bass clarinet but on soprano clarinet I found it easier to play the low notes than the high notes when I was starting out. I think that may be because of the difference in the bores between saxes and clarinets.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Everyone:

Thank you for the suggestions! I am appreciative. I will see how it goes as I try to enact them. In regards to leaks.... my tenor was looked at by a repair person and deemed “leak free” shortly after I got it. But as I started to realize I was having difficulties with the low tones, I did addition leak tests on my own too (with a light). It *seems* solid, but if the other ideas do not seem to help me get the low tones consistently, I will have a repair person look again too.

Another question this discussion has me wondering about..... it seems leaks are more common in the saxophone than in my bass clarinet or other clarinets of various types and sizes I have played over the years. It seems surprising to me that saxes would be so prone to this.... anyone have an explanation as to why saxes seem more prone to leakiness?
 

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It’s much more likely that 3.5 reed than a leak since a tech (and you with a light) can’t find one. Either way - it only costs a few bucks to try a 2.5.

If you have embochure issues due to tightening up, the softer reed will probably help you identify them as well. If you find it closing up, you’ll know.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yes, I am planning to have my first new effort be to try a softer reed. I am looking around to see if I might have one somewhere, or if not I will order a few tonight.
 

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I'll second most of the suggestions above. First and foremost, have a tech check your horn for leaks. They aren't always easy to detect and the tech may find some that you are missing. I'd also strongly suggest a softer reed. Try a medium strength reed like a 2.5. That should help. And use good air support. The air support & embouchure needed is difficult to describe; it's something you have to find by feel. Pay attention to how it feels and what you are doing when you do get those low notes to speak.

Coming from bass clarinet, there are some adjustments to make on the sax. Keep at it and you'll get there.

I totally agree with the above mentioned:

1. Tech for checking the horn
2. lighter reeds ( I use 2 and 2.5)

But the rest is just daily traing - do long tones every day. If you don't know what I mean check the web for respective execises, you will easily find. After half a year you will see - no further problems!
 

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An exercise I use with my students who are struggling with the low notes is this:

- play low G with a big, full tone and quickly slur down to low C
- once you get a low C to sound, hold it as a long tone for as long as you can, and repeat
- when low C is stable, do the same exercise down to low B natural, and then to low Bb

Remember to:

- blow more "pressurized" air as you add fingers to lengthen the tube---unlike the bass clarinet the bore becomes wider as it gets longer
- shape the inside of the mouth and throat open as if you are singing "AHH" on the lowest note you can hit keeping the back of the tongue down
- not relax the embouchure as you go lower---you will do use this when you learn to play with a subtone, but that will come later after you first learn to play the low notes with a "full tone"
- not expect the saxophone to have the same resistance as a clarinet, and don't restrict the air in your throat to make it feel more like one
- not use a reed that is too stiff---a #2 would be a good strength to start with until the low notes start to respond
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Everyone:

Thank you for the additional ideas. I have some softer reeds set to arrive very soon, and I will attempt all the different instructions I have been given and see. I will especially try to practice long tones in the low register... that seems especially logical to help me get a better feel for how to get my embouchure set in the best way I can to be more reliable with those beautiful low tones.
 

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One, just ONE lesson with a seasoned and competent saxophone teacher to help you problem solve and trouble shoot equipment issues and embouchure issuers will save you a ton, A TON, of time and money.
 

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Though not totally clear, I think that the majority of people hear thing that your challenge will be in developing a tenor sax embouchure. (Thought there is always an outside chance of a leak somewhere).

I can just a few points add. I find a focus on dropping my jaw unhelpful, but it is not misguided advice.

1). When I first learned to get whole notes out consistently, it is when I focused more on how the air travels through my mouth (cheeks, through, lips, etc.). When I first started playing lower notes, I had to puff out my cheeks a bit to get them out consistently. (My technique has since been refined).

2). I find that when I need to used my lower teeth to support my lower lip in any way, I have trouble with my low notes. My lower lip need has to be strong enough to support the reed properly all on its own.

I pretty much agree with everything else that has been stated above. I’m just adding some color.
 

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(I'm new here and still finding my way; this is great advice all-around, and replying is the only way I know how to "save" this thread so I can find it later. Thank you all for the great information!)
 

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(I'm new here and still finding my way; this is great advice all-around, and replying is the only way I know how to "save" this thread so I can find it later. Thank you all for the great information!)
Moderator hat on:

Best to bookmark the thread rather than non-contributing replies that don't help anyone. In spite of that apparently snarky comment, welcome to SOTW. Please introduce yourself in the appropriate forum.
 
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