Sax on the Web Forum banner
1 - 20 of 51 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi SOTW community,

I've been playing alto for 10 years and it's become a big part of my life. Although I'm reasonably happy with my tone, over my career I've gotten into the classic habit of relying on excessive lower lip pressure and biting from my lower lip to play in the mid to upper registers. About a year or so ago, I finally made the call to knuckle down and sort out the problem.

I'm playing on a YAS-475, a d'addario 5M (5 tip opening) and d'addario royal 2.5 reeds. I've done a number of checks to make sure that the problem is my own technique. My horn has been serviced thoroughly, I've played a bunch of different mouthpieces with smaller tip openings, I've experimented with size 1.5, 2 and 3 reeds and I've started playing with my mouthpiece much further on the neck cork. After no great success with these attempts, it's safe to say that the problem stems from my own technique.

With advice from a bunch of killer horn players, I've been able to adjust my embouchure so that my lower lip is relaxed and supportive, my throat is open, and my abs and diaphragm are working hard to support my airflow. Unfortunately, these changes have meant that I'm very flat in the lower register and nearly unable to get the reed to sound in the upper register without excessive pressure from my lower lip.

This problem is particularly evident when I practice just using my mouthpiece. Although there is some debate around this, the majority of people I've spoken to agree that, on an alto mouthpiece, a relaxed embouchure with sufficient air support should comfortable produce a concert A5. With my embouchure at present, I'm only able to muster a concert E5. Even when I was biting, I would've been lucky to produce a concert F5. Even though mouthpiece playing isn't necessarily indicative of how your technique may translate to the whole horn, it certainly seems as if there's link between them in this case as I'm incredibly flat in both situations.

I feel like the problem has something to do with air velocity as my embouchure seems to be on the right track. I am engaging my abs/diaphragm and have tried adjusting my voicing muscles (larynx/throat) for each note without much success. But, even without these changes I understand that I still should be able to play in the upper register and not be so flat over the whole horn and on the mouthpiece.

So, with all of that out the way, would anyone have any advice for how I may rectify the problem? Any mouthpiece exercises that could help to reach that A5 from the E5 that I'm on now?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers,

Angus
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
455 Posts
Converting from biting and other wrong embouchure habits to a more "no-embouchure" embouchure requires some time to adjust.

Relying on mouth muscles rather than jaw muscles takes some getting used to. You have to build up stamina to keep the seal happening without biting.
It also may require that you need to take in more mouthpiece and voice correctly. (if you can play about an octave on your mpc alone that indicates good voicing)
It won't happen overnight.
 

·
Registered
Alto Sax (Yamaha YAS-26) with a Selmer S80 D mouthpiece
Joined
·
54 Posts
You mention 10 years of practice, which is way more than me, but in case this is help...

I've integrated the Tonal Energy app into the beginning of all my practices: not just for long tones, but also when I practice scales. I've found that the "analysis" mode when practicing scales is especially helpful to combat my own tendency to constrict my throat in the upper register. Here's what I do:

1) Close my eyes
2) Play any scale across the range of the horn
3) Open them to check the "analysis" graph
4) Rinse and Repeat, adjusting not only mouth and throat as needed but also air volume (more in the upper register)

I do this almost every practice and have seen significant improvement over time.
 

·
Registered
Conn 26M, Theo Wanne Durga 3 in a 6, Legere American Cut 2.25
Joined
·
155 Posts
A few years ago I started doing this exercise in my car during my commute, and it really helped me focus on what muscles to use while playing. Eventually it became second nature and I didn't need to do the exercise any more.

 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
A few years ago I started doing this exercise in my car during my commute, and it really helped me focus on what muscles to use while playing. Eventually it became second nature and I didn't need to do the exercise any more.

Thanks for the tips everyone! I have since managed to reach an F# without tensing my lower lip and biting which is great! Voicing seems to be the way to go for to get to the A but I'll keep experimenting and see how I go
 

·
Banned
YAS-23
Joined
·
33 Posts
Hi SOTW community,

I've been playing alto for 10 years and it's become a big part of my life. Although I'm reasonably happy with my tone, over my career I've gotten into the classic habit of relying on excessive lower lip pressure and biting from my lower lip to play in the mid to upper registers. About a year or so ago, I finally made the call to knuckle down and sort out the problem.

I'm playing on a YAS-475, a d'addario 5M (5 tip opening) and d'addario royal 2.5 reeds.
Hey Angus, as an alto player I've had to address the same issues you're talking about. I wouldn't say I'm that far ahead of you but my current setup is similar - YAS-23, WCW '56 Mk.II (.070) and 2.5 reeds (Ligaphone Jazz/Vandoren ZZ).

I've been working on voicing notes and it makes a huge different. I also use a chromatic scale warm up where I cover the full range of the saxophone. I start at low Bb and play chromatically up an octave and then back down. I repeat this again from low C, then low D, then G, then D2 and finally F to high F (I don't have a high F#). Slowly but surely I'm getting more comfortable and consistent.

Try to think about exercises or warm ups you can do to help you develop in this area. Also record and listen back. I will play something and listen back an not notice how sharp one of the notes is. You have to "hear" the note you want to play and then approach it like you're singing.

Also think about increasing side pressure so it's not all about biting up. I don't use the lip out embouchure but I try to minimize my lip rolling over my bottom teeth and make sure I'm taking in as much mouthpiece as I can while maintaining a good/consistent sound across the horn. Hope that helps a bit. Also - try experimenting with a few different reeds, you may be surprised at how helpful this can be.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
828 Posts
So first off, are you possibly taking in too much mouthpiece or dropping your jaw too much? Let’s take a simple exercise; lip slurs. First, warm up your horn. The way I generally say to warm up the horn is to close all the keys fingering a low Bb. Then blow air through the horn but not trying to play air so much as an focusing it making a ‘Hoo’ shape with your mouth and think about how that connects with the throat. Warm air not necessarily fast air. As the horn warms you should make sure to focus the air the same way on the reed and try to get the horn play. Don’t force the horn to play. It just take changing focus not harder or more air. That means as you do the exercise more learn how much air to start with and work on the focus… ok enough of that on to the lip slurs.

With a tuner, start in the middle of the horn. Move your embouchure to slur the note down or up in pitch. How far does it go each way? If it can’t go down, you are definitely too loose in the jaw. Please keep in mind that you have provide so resistance to help the reed speak. Now, start to move up the horn doing the same thing. How is your range of motion as you get higher? While you are doing this exercise what do you see on the tuner? More importantly, do you hear it out of pitch properly? Is it more in the palm keys or specific notes? Note your tongue position.

I want to make note of this. A lot of horns are not perfectly in tune; especially in the higher register. That being said there are things we can do to help but the motion shouldn’t be on a gross scale. F# (not concert) is a good note to tune to. Try both octaves. Is there a difference?

Embouchure looseness isn’t always in the jaw/underside. It can be an issue in the top. I would suggest finding Harvey Pittel’s video on embouchure on YouTube. He talks about something which is hard but will tell you a lot. Can you play with the top lip off the mouthpiece? As in, no seal, just air. This also can tell you a lot. Let us know and we’ll go from there.
 

·
Registered
Yanigasawa S-6 soprano, Yamaha YAS-62 Alto; Selmer Mk VI Tenor; Martin Committee III Baritone
Joined
·
191 Posts
Thanks for the tips everyone! I have since managed to reach an F# without tensing my lower lip and biting which is great! Voicing seems to be the way to go for to get to the A but I'll keep experimenting and see how I go
G concert on an alto mouthpiece is plenty high for a jazz sound. I play somewhere between F#-G and the mouthpiece on almost as far as it will go with no tuning issues.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,999 Posts
Mouthpiece pitch is (maybe) useful as an indicator, but pretty useless as a goal. IMHO, of course. More useful, if you are committed to mouthpiece exercises, is the ability to play a scale on the mouthpiece alone. Using voicing techniques, NOT increasing lip pressure.

Mel Martin gave a fine demonstration of this years ago (RIP Mel…).
I’m not so sure about the “jaw drop” part of his instructions, if you watch his face you will see very slight movement of the chin, so whatever he is doing with his jaw is equally slight. His embouchure doesn’t move at all. He is doing this all with his vocal cavity and air.

Frankly, I am not convinced that mouthpiece exercises are all that useful. More useful, in terms of embouchure and tone production, are overtones. If you can learn to play the first 5 notes of a Bb major scale, starting on Bb3, while using only the fingerings of low Bb, C and B, you are well on your way to better tone and better control.

Both the mouthpiece scale work and the overtone scale work require use of the same voicing techniques. I just feel that the overtone stuff is more useful.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Hey Angus, as an alto player I've had to address the same issues you're talking about. I wouldn't say I'm that far ahead of you but my current setup is similar - YAS-23, WCW '56 Mk.II (.070) and 2.5 reeds (Ligaphone Jazz/Vandoren ZZ).

I've been working on voicing notes and it makes a huge different. I also use a chromatic scale warm up where I cover the full range of the saxophone. I start at low Bb and play chromatically up an octave and then back down. I repeat this again from low C, then low D, then G, then D2 and finally F to high F (I don't have a high F#). Slowly but surely I'm getting more comfortable and consistent.

Try to think about exercises or warm ups you can do to help you develop in this area. Also record and listen back. I will play something and listen back an not notice how sharp one of the notes is. You have to "hear" the note you want to play and then approach it like you're singing.

Also think about increasing side pressure so it's not all about biting up. I don't use the lip out embouchure but I try to minimize my lip rolling over my bottom teeth and make sure I'm taking in as much mouthpiece as I can while maintaining a good/consistent sound across the horn. Hope that helps a bit. Also - try experimenting with a few different reeds, you may be surprised at how helpful this can be.
Great thanks Chip! Yeah a focus on voicing, especially while just playing my mouthpiece, has helped a lot to expand my range slightly. I'm hoping that my practice on the mouthpiece will address the problem I'm having on the whole horn but we shall see. Fingers crossed!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
So first off, are you possibly taking in too much mouthpiece or dropping your jaw too much? Let’s take a simple exercise; lip slurs. First, warm up your horn. The way I generally say to warm up the horn is to close all the keys fingering a low Bb. Then blow air through the horn but not trying to play air so much as an focusing it making a ‘Hoo’ shape with your mouth and think about how that connects with the throat. Warm air not necessarily fast air. As the horn warms you should make sure to focus the air the same way on the reed and try to get the horn play. Don’t force the horn to play. It just take changing focus not harder or more air. That means as you do the exercise more learn how much air to start with and work on the focus… ok enough of that on to the lip slurs.

With a tuner, start in the middle of the horn. Move your embouchure to slur the note down or up in pitch. How far does it go each way? If it can’t go down, you are definitely too loose in the jaw. Please keep in mind that you have provide so resistance to help the reed speak. Now, start to move up the horn doing the same thing. How is your range of motion as you get higher? While you are doing this exercise what do you see on the tuner? More importantly, do you hear it out of pitch properly? Is it more in the palm keys or specific notes? Note your tongue position.

I want to make note of this. A lot of horns are not perfectly in tune; especially in the higher register. That being said there are things we can do to help but the motion shouldn’t be on a gross scale. F# (not concert) is a good note to tune to. Try both octaves. Is there a difference?

Embouchure looseness isn’t always in the jaw/underside. It can be an issue in the top. I would suggest finding Harvey Pittel’s video on embouchure on YouTube. He talks about something which is hard but will tell you a lot. Can you play with the top lip off the mouthpiece? As in, no seal, just air. This also can tell you a lot. Let us know and we’ll go from there.
Thanks Saxophone Strange. I'm not actually doing any work with the whole horn at the moment as I'm trying to isolate the issue with just my mouthpiece. I'm now able to play a concert Aflat on my mouthpiece/neck which is what I should be aiming for, but I'm still sitting on a concert F# with just my mouthpiece and I should be closer to an A. I'll start to think about some of stuff that you mentioned while practicing and I'll be in touch. Thanks a bunch!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Mouthpiece pitch is (maybe) useful as an indicator, but pretty useless as a goal. IMHO, of course. More useful, if you are committed to mouthpiece exercises, is the ability to play a scale on the mouthpiece alone. Using voicing techniques, NOT increasing lip pressure.

Mel Martin gave a fine demonstration of this years ago (RIP Mel…).
I’m not so sure about the “jaw drop” part of his instructions, if you watch his face you will see very slight movement of the chin, so whatever he is doing with his jaw is equally slight. His embouchure doesn’t move at all. He is doing this all with his vocal cavity and air.

Frankly, I am not convinced that mouthpiece exercises are all that useful. More useful, in terms of embouchure and tone production, are overtones. If you can learn to play the first 5 notes of a Bb major scale, starting on Bb3, while using only the fingerings of low Bb, C and B, you are well on your way to better tone and better control.

Both the mouthpiece scale work and the overtone scale work require use of the same voicing techniques. I just feel that the overtone stuff is more useful.
Thanks for the skeller047. I'll check out the video!
 

·
Banned
YAS-23
Joined
·
33 Posts
Great thanks Chip! Yeah a focus on voicing, especially while just playing my mouthpiece, has helped a lot to expand my range slightly. I'm hoping that my practice on the mouthpiece will address the problem I'm having on the whole horn but we shall see. Fingers crossed!
I'm not sure how practicing just on the mouthpiece could help you more than actually playing the sax normally. I never play the mouthpiece by itself. People have fancy exercises on the mouthpiece, that's great for them but I personally wouldn't waste my time with that. There are only so many hours in the day, I want to make music not squeak on a mouthpiece!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
828 Posts
Thanks Saxophone Strange. I'm not actually doing any work with the whole horn at the moment as I'm trying to isolate the issue with just my mouthpiece. I'm now able to play a concert Aflat on my mouthpiece/neck which is what I should be aiming for, but I'm still sitting on a concert F# with just my mouthpiece and I should be closer to an A. I'll start to think about some of stuff that you mentioned while practicing and I'll be in touch. Thanks a bunch!
I mean, why not play the horn? That’s the fun part right? Mouthpiece exercises are only beneficial once you know where you are. I generally use them as a way to understand the harmonics and being able to play scales; noticing differences in tongue and throat position. It sounds like you need to get back to the horn first. I have assigned mouthpiece exercises when teaching before but generally only when someone doesn’t understand how bad they are biting and it is rare because they are confusing. Even still, play your horn. That’s your goal right?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I'm not sure how practicing just on the mouthpiece could help you more than actually playing the sax normally. I never play the mouthpiece by itself. People have fancy exercises on the mouthpiece, that's great for them but I personally wouldn't waste my time with that. There are only so many hours in the day, I want to make music not squeak on a mouthpiece!
I think the idea is that, by just playing the mouthpiece and not worrying about fingering notes on the horn and using them as a crutch, it's easier to identify how you're vocal muscles are working to produce your sound and whether these vocal muscles, your air support, and embouchure are working in optimally. I'd certainly rather be making music then squeaking on my mouthpiece all day but, at the moment, it's serving as a useful method of exploring how minute changes in my vocal tract/embouchure are impacting my sound so I shall push on. I totally appreciate where you're coming from though. Each to their own.
 

·
Banned
YAS-23
Joined
·
33 Posts
I think the idea is that, by just playing the mouthpiece and not worrying about fingering notes on the horn and using them as a crutch, it's easier to identify how you're vocal muscles are working to produce your sound and whether these vocal muscles, your air support, and embouchure are working in optimally. I'd certainly rather be making music then squeaking on my mouthpiece all day but, at the moment, it's serving as a useful method of exploring how minute changes in my vocal tract/embouchure are impacting my sound so I shall push on. I totally appreciate where you're coming from though. Each to their own.
Do whatever helps you and yes, playing on just the mouthpiece allows you to isolate the things you are trying to figure out. That's fine. But you can still work on the same things while playing and I think what needs to happen is that you recognize that you're playing certain notes on the horn sharp or flat and then making adjustments for that and implementing them until they are habitual. That's what the pro players do, get to know their horn and learn how to voice each note and adjust for the ones that tend to go out the most. I'm not saying I'm there yet but it's what I'm actively doing whenever I notice an issue 'cause it takes a while to make it a habitual thing.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I mean, why not play the horn? That’s the fun part right? Mouthpiece exercises are only beneficial once you know where you are. I generally use them as a way to understand the harmonics and being able to play scales; noticing differences in tongue and throat position. It sounds like you need to get back to the horn first. I have assigned mouthpiece exercises when teaching before but generally only when someone doesn’t understand how bad they are biting and it is rare because they are confusing. Even still, play your horn. That’s your goal right?
Yeah I agree. The goal is certainly to move back to the horn soon, just like Chip.L is encouraging me to do. I'm still keen to do some work on my mouthpiece at the moment though as I'm still not comfortable with the changes that I'm making and haven't been able to manage anywhere near a full scale yet. David Liebman encourages students to aim to play at least a full scale on your mouthpiece by adjust your voicing muscles before moving on to overtones on the full horn. I thought I'd give this a go to try and set myself up for success when I restart work on my overtone series. But, as you say, I'm dying to get back on the horn! Hopefully this won't take more than a week.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Do whatever helps you and yes, playing on just the mouthpiece allows you to isolate the things you are trying to figure out. That's fine. But you can still work on the same things while playing and I think what needs to happen is that you recognize that you're playing certain notes on the horn sharp or flat and then making adjustments for that and implementing them until they are habitual. That's what the pro players do, get to know their horn and learn how to voice each note and adjust for the ones that tend to go out the most. I'm not saying I'm there yet but it's what I'm actively doing whenever I notice an issue 'cause it takes a while to make it a habitual thing.
Ok thanks Chip! I think I'm a bit hesitant to get back on the horn at the moment because, with the embouchure changes I'm making, I can't physically play anything above a middle G. I'll start working on voicing on the whole horn again in the next few days. Thanks for the advice!
 
1 - 20 of 51 Posts
Top