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Forum Contributor 2016, Distinguished SOTW Member
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I keep running into these posts on here and Facebook where people write "Your sound is your sound, you can't change your sound.Other players sound like that because that is their sound and who they are......" Someone asks about a mouthpiece or sax and they get this response. Someone asks about sounding like Brecker or Sanborn, they get this response. I have to admit that this really annoys the tar out of me. It's like saying you just blow in your sax and whatever sound comes out is your sound and meant to be. Annoys me like crazy!!

My whole life and every day I am always working on my sound and changing it in certain ways. Everyday! When I was young I was trying to sound like Phil Woods and made huge gains in going that direction. After that I did a total 180 and tried to sound like Dave Sanborn. I could pull off a pretty convincing Sanborn sound back in the day. In college, I had to change up and try to get a somewhat respectable classical sound. That was probably the hardest but I made huge strides with that. On tenor, I tried to sound like Brecker. I must of done pretty good at it because on almost every gig I got called for people would say "Wow, you sound like Brecker". To the point that I started to hate it when people said it. Later, I decided I wanted something else in my sound and started going my own way by fattening up the tone more.......

My point here is that your tone isn't just something that is. I believe it is something that you control and can change. It's a matter of practicing and figuring out how to do it. Many have given up just thinking "I just don't have it. Oh well....." Which I think is a shame.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
.....as I think about this, maybe it is easier for some than others. I have a friend that can do impressions. He can immediately sound like almost anyone and always amazes me. I for the life of me can't do a convincing impression of anyone! I have had enough students that I have seen change their sound on sax over time though so I do believe that it is within the power of most.
 

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10MFAN MOUTHPIECES "Innovation over imitation"
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Your choice of saxophone, mouthpiece, neck, and reeds all make a difference in how one sounds.
 

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The most effective way I've found to change my sound quickly is doing a transcription of the guy I wanted to sound like and learn the solo by heart with every single aspect. Works better than every gear change for me.
 

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Your choice of saxophone, mouthpiece, neck, and reeds all make a difference in how one sounds.
I think sound is more than that. It is blowing with air support, phrasing and articulation, vibrato. How much mouthpiece in mouth, tongue position etc. So it has much more to do with control and technical ability.
 

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10MFAN MOUTHPIECES "Innovation over imitation"
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I think sound is more than that. It is blowing with air support, phrasing and articulation, vibrato. How much mouthpiece in mouth, tongue position etc. So it has much more to do with control and technical ability.


I didn't say those other things weren't important either. I was just talking about gear.
 

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I didn't say those other things weren't important either. I was just talking about gear.
I didnt mean it as a attack to you, just that these things are more important to me than gear. Certainly gear can make things easier but I’m sure that Dave Sanborn would sound the same on a Meyer hard rubber if he wants too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
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I think sound is more than that. It is blowing with air support, phrasing and articulation, vibrato. How much mouthpiece in mouth, tongue position etc. So it has much more to do with control and technical ability.
Which is all controllable and changeable.........even the aural cavity can be changed by bringing down your soft palette or puffing your cheeks out which some guys do........
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Steve - I guess you can do convincing impressions of Phil Woods, Mike Brecker, and David Sanborn though?
I think so. There are also a few clips where I sounds a lot more like Paul Desmond and Kenny Garrett which surprised me. I'm not saying exactly of course but tilting in that direction.......
 

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I think i know what you are saying. Its maybe easier to sound like somebody else than accomplish a sound that totally belongs to you. At least that is what keeps me busy.
 

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I think some gear lends itself to a certain kind of style or sound, more easily. Sanborn could sound like himself on a Meyer, I guess, but I think he finds it easier on his Dukoff - it facilitates the sound he's aiming for. Then again, if he wanted to do a Phil Woods or Cannonball impersonation, for some reason, I guess he might be able to do it more easily on a Meyer.

I've played around with lots of different mouthpieces, and have found that Mark's Robusto, and Phil Engleman's Solstice work really well for me on tenor and alto respectively. I think both of these pieces are versatile but at the same time I seem to gravitate towards a certain type of sound. (I don't think I'm getting anything like a Paul Desmond sound on the Solstice BTW). On the other hand, I remember years ago, I was learning at a shop in Manchester, England, and other students would ask about my setup; my teacher at the time would say: 'it's not the setup - it's just his sound'.

I'm kind of thinking aloud here, I suppose. Since buying Mark's piece earlier this year, I've certainly been experimenting more with reeds, and how to place them, and adjust them. I'm totally in agreement with Mark that reeds make a massive difference.

On another note, I've found that Phil's Solstice piece works really nicely on my Yamaha 62 alto, and an old Martin Committee 2. Conversely, an old Selmer soloist that I have works well on the Martin, but I don't like it on the Yamaha - it sounds 'plasticy'. I'm not sure why this might be, or whether it would even be noticeable to a listener.

For my money the combination of horn, mouthpiece and reed makes a massive difference. A player might sound like himself on any setup, but then again, it might be easier to do so on certain combinations of equipment. And then again, certain equipment seems to lend itself, and push the player towards certain sounds.
 

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I think a LOT of people confuse sound vs. concept. If I played on a high baffle 'piece (Guardala-ish) and strapped on a Mk VI, my sound would most definitely be different. How much my CONCEPT changes is heavily based on what kind of band I'm playing with and of course, the style of music being played.
There's a definite difference between sound and concept. Someone can work their rear end off on sound and get it close to what they want, but if the player doesn't have the correct concept regarding how the music they're trying to play *should* sound and be played, it'll fail. I think the most successful musicians I play with can (and do) change their sound (not by changing mouthpieces, reeds or horns) AND more importantly, play the style of music they're tasked with the correct/right/stylistic way. If someone plays different styles of music, you truly need to become a "chameleon" and adapt both your sound AND concept to be successful.

Steve, remember when we were in college and Guardala was just coming out with his mouthpieces? How many people bought one and thought they'd magically sound like Brecker? A LOT of 'em. Yet most of them failed to do so miserably because they were focused on only one thing and not the big picture.
 

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'I think the most successful musicians I play with can (and do) change their sound (not by changing mouthpieces, reeds or horns) AND more importantly, play the style of music they're tasked with the correct/right/stylistic way. If someone plays different styles of music, you truly need to become a "chameleon" and adapt both your sound AND concept to be successful.'

Yes! Its more than 'sounding like' somebody - you do what that player did or would at that moment. When a talented player does this, he makes major changes in every aspect of his playing without really being aware of it, like the embouchure for example or even holding the horn a different way. There are so many different ways of playing that you couldn't list all the changes you made even if you knew what they were. You can change your style and your sound instantly if you wish. Sometimes I do it on the same song (bad, I know, but it can get boring up there).
However, a player not trying to play differently but playing on different mouthpieces/reeds/saxes/necks/ligatures or what-have-you, would continue to be recognizable even though his tone changes with the equipment. This is why we say 'you still sound like yourself', and it really is more about style than tone.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I think a LOT of people confuse sound vs. concept. If I played on a high baffle 'piece (Guardala-ish) and strapped on a Mk VI, my sound would most definitely be different. How much my CONCEPT changes is heavily based on what kind of band I'm playing with and of course, the style of music being played.
There's a definite difference between sound and concept. Someone can work their rear end off on sound and get it close to what they want, but if the player doesn't have the correct concept regarding how the music they're trying to play *should* sound and be played, it'll fail. I think the most successful musicians I play with can (and do) change their sound (not by changing mouthpieces, reeds or horns) AND more importantly, play the style of music they're tasked with the correct/right/stylistic way. If someone plays different styles of music, you truly need to become a "chameleon" and adapt both your sound AND concept to be successful.

Steve, remember when we were in college and Guardala was just coming out with his mouthpieces? How many people bought one and thought they'd magically sound like Brecker? A LOT of 'em. Yet most of them failed to do so miserably because they were focused on only one thing and not the big picture.
Yeah, I remember. But there was one (I think Italian student?? or maybe Japanese, I can't remember) who I would walk past his practice room and he was always ripping out the Brecker licks note for note. I remember thinking that dude sounded pretty close. I don't even know who that was. Might have been before you got there........
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I think i know what you are saying. Its maybe easier to sound like somebody else than accomplish a sound that totally belongs to you. At least that is what keeps me busy.
That's not really my point. My point is just that I believe your sound can be changed and everyone has it within their power to do so. I might be wrong but that is my opinion. The more you listen to someone, and practice copying them the more you will sound like them.
 

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I think of that as the difference between tone and sound. But probably we agree.
And I thought when a sax player talked about their sound, they were really talking about their tone...

...who knows?

To address the topic: I think most players sound like they sound. They can get better (or worse) over time, but everyone’s voice is unique. A different mouthpiece can enhance your sound, but folks will still say (hopefully). “Oh yeah - that’s definitely Pete Thomas on sax.” They might add, “Sounds like he’s playing one of those new 10m pieces, but it’s definitely him - I’d recognize him anywhere.”

Then again - maybe not. But we can all hope to be easily recognizeable. Cats like Gato come to mind. He may have changed his kit over the years, but he was always unmistakable.
 

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One of my sax heroes is Don Wise, who played with Delbert McClinton for many years. Delbert's core music is Texas R&B, but they also do traditional blues, New Orleans, island music and a whole host of other stuff. If you listen to a lot of Don, he always sounds like Don, but stylistically, his playing always reflects the genre of the tune. On a ballad, he will play melodically, with a huge, but tasteful sound. On a ripping R&B tune, he will just tear it up. I used to be "one of those guys" who played too many notes on everything, even something simple like Little Brown Jug. Now I play fewer notes with more space and rhythmic sense. I don't try to sound like Don, but I try to think about how he would approach any particular tune. The guys I play with have really noticed and complimented the change in my playing. I'll never be a virtuoso, but if I can play tastefully within the style of the tune, I'm happy with that. BTW, after playing the mouthpiece / ligature / reed GAS game for almost five years (thanks SOTW), I settled on a set up 15 years ago and haven't changed since.
 
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