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Hi, I bought a tenor sax recently. It's a Thomann TTS antique. It came with an Otto Link 7* mouthpiece and it's included ligature. I'm using 2.5 reeds. I played alto for a year but always wanted to play tenor so I bought this. I can play all the notes fine, took a while to adjust but what I'm really disappointed about is my tone with the octave key on. It's very almost muffled and flat (as in not vibrant) no grittiness and just doesn't really sound like tenor sax. Is it just a matter of more practice or is there any glaringly obvious explanations?

Thanks a lot.
 

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It will take a while to adjust. If the mouthpiece is a modern Link it may be beneficial to upgrade to an NVS or a hand finished piece, but most likely your embochure needs to reset.

I played tenor for the first time about 18 years ago and remember feeling frustrated for quite a while. I was studying with John Ellis who has an amazing sound. During a lesson I told him my gear was faulty. He took the horn from me, same reed and all, and produced the same amazing sound.

Hand your horn to a great tenor player. That will answer your question.
 

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Is it possible the sax is leaking or has something else wrong with it? First thing I would do is take it to a good tech to rule out any issues with the horn.

If the horn is in good playing condition, you could try some different reeds. I don't know what you're playing now, but some reeds are darker and more resistant than others. Reeds that fall on the brighter side of the spectrum would include Vandoren Java Green and Reds, Rico Royal, and Rigotti to name a few. A different type of reed can make a fairly radical change in your tone.

Also, a 7* is a fairly open piece for someone who has only been playing tenor for a short time. All things being equal, a more open mouthpiece will be more resistant than a more closed one. I've been playing tenor for about four years and am not comfortable on such an open tip, though that's a very individual thing.

If none of the above suggestions help, then it's probably a technique issue that would be best addressed with some lessons with a good teacher. Good luck!
 

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It's a much bigger horn. Don't chase down the mouthpiece rabbit hole just yet; get some softer reeds and focus on learning how to blow through the thing, not at it. When you learn how to put full diaphragmatic air through the horn, your tone will improve dramatically and then you can think about different MPs.

I recommend doing your tone building exercises (and if you look up my posts you will be able to see several places where I've posted my personal exercises) outdoors as much as possible. Hey, it certainly worked for guys like Arnett Cobb and Sonny Rollins!
 

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Yeah, you have a few things glaring in your post that might need to be addressed.

1) I know Thomann music as a dealer of all things musical. Not exactly a Brass and woodwind specific brand. I would be surprised if the horns they are selling with their name on them are coming from anywhere other than China. But that's not to say they aren't good or can't be good. Just that it might have come out of the box not being adjusted and 100% playing. So having the horn gone over by a technician will probably save you some grief in the future.

2) If you've been playing alto up until now the switch to tenor is pretty different. It's more about keeping a loose embouchure and using a bit more air as opposed to alto which usually has a little bit tighter embouchure. Something to get used to.

3) The mouthpiece you are using might not even be good enough to play on. You won't know unless you ask someone else to play on it. I tried 20 Modern Otto Link mouthpieces about 10 years back and only 2 of them were good enough to even consider buying. Otto Links are very very inconsistent. And also the larger opening of that mouthpieces might also give you problems anyway. I'd suggest a Otto Link in a 6 or 6* opening to start out. But try everything you can. Get the one that plays well for you. don't order online. Go try mouthpieces from a music store.
 

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'Hand your horn to a great tenor player. That will answer your question.'

This is what you have to do in order to know if its the sax or you. If you can get somebody to actually play your set-up* you could find out more, because then they would play it with their set-up which probably will blow you away. But maybe not, because it might be a stuffy, resistant horn that either needs work or the trash can.


* this can be done by thoroughly washing the mouthpiece and reed in Hydrogen Peroxide.
 

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Practice playing the mouthpiece and the neck alone. Play ff long tones keeping the pitch steady at E Concert. Really blow lots of air to make this "tone producer" have the biggest, most beautiful tone possible. When you have mastered that. Put the neck on the saxophone and play written F#2 with the same embouchure, air, and oral cavity. Do long tones on that note. Once that big full beautiful tone is established, go up 1/2 step to G. Get that note sounding just as good and then go to G#, and so on.

The theory behind this is simple. The saxophone amplifies whatever the "tone producer" puts into it. You know the old saying, "Garbage in, garbage out". This works with the clarinet mouthpiece and barrel, the flute headjoint, the oboe reed on its mandrel, and the bassoon reed on it's bocal.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for all the excellent replies and information. Very helpful. The mouthpiece is an Otto Link Tone Edge and the reeds are Vandoren Classic Blue.
The sax was second hand but never used, everything looks to be in pristine condition. It could definitely be my technique, is it common to have difficulty achieving a consistent tone between the lower octave and notes using the octave key? I've never had a lesson, I studied jazz guitar and have a lot of theory etc so was able to quite quickly play scales and songs quickly but possibly at the sacrifice of my sound.

https://youtu.be/lTg-eanCIwU

Looking at videos of the same model sax it does seem to have quite a warm sound overall? I'd be happy with this sound, maybe a little brighter. But at the moment it's very soft or something.

I appreciate all the replies, I have a friend who plays tenor very well. I'll be seeing him next month and fingers crossed he can make it sound great and then I'll know I didn't throw money down the drain.


I looked at videos
 

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Hi, I bought a tenor sax recently. It's a Thomann TTS antique. It came with an Otto Link 7* mouthpiece and it's included ligature. I'm using 2.5 reeds. I played alto for a year but always wanted to play tenor so I bought this. I can play all the notes fine, took a while to adjust but what I'm really disappointed about is my tone with the octave key on. It's very almost muffled and flat (as in not vibrant) no grittiness and just doesn't really sound like tenor sax. Is it just a matter of more practice or is there any glaringly obvious explanations?

Thanks a lot.
Try the exercises below, they will change anyone's tone for the better. I tried to upload the written sheet music but couldn't but if you want it just email me and I'll send it to you. In the meantime I just used words to describe them. Phil Barone

The point of these two exercises is to learn to play a saxophone without using the muscles in your face, to use the jaw muscles and to be as loose as possible, allowing the reed to vibrate at its maximum. After I did these for several months, I found that I no longer needed a high-baffle mouthpiece to get a funky or really loud sound because my embouchure was no longer getting in the way of the reed. In fact, when I tried to use a high-baffle mouthpiece it was way too bright. Granted, I don't sound quite as loud as I would with a high-baffle piece but darn close and I get a much higher quality sound.

You want your embouchure to remain stable and unmoving and you should put one inch (24 mm) or a little more of the mouthpiece in your mouth so that your bottom teeth are just past where the facing begins to curve on the side-rails of your mouthpiece. That means you want your bottom teeth to go in a little more than one inch; the facing on most tenor mouthpieces starts to break away (called the break) of the side rails at a little less than one inch. So by bringing the mouthpiece in an inch no matter how much you bite or how tight your facial muscles are you won't close the tip opening off which allows for the reed to vibrate the full width of the tip opening. Any less and you'll bend the reed which will cause the pitch to change and won't give you the complete benefit of the tip openings size and the sound the mouthpiece is capable of producing.

For some people using high-baffle mouthpieces, they may unconsciously do this to adjust the sound down and if you play a high-baffle mouthpiece now you may find that after you've been doing these exercises a couple of weeks that you no longer need a high-baffle piece because you will get a much larger variety of tonal colors. You may also find that you no longer need harder reeds because you're no longer closing off the tip-opening.

When you first start to do this you may find the sound obnoxious or unrefined, but your ear will take over and this will go away in several days at the most. You will be left with much more volume and control, with the exception of the altissimo notes which you will no longer play by manipulating or bending the reed. After you get good at exercise one, you should be able to get altissimo notes out by making small adjustments in the muscles at the front of your throat. That's how Lennie Pickette, Ernie Watts, Sonny Rollins does it and that's how Mike Brecker did it so if they did it so can you.

Read this entire post before starting exercises one.

Exercise One

Finger low F but sound middle F by slightly over-blowing and be sure to feel the muscles in your stomach when you blow. When you take a breath your stomach should come out instead of your shoulders going up. Using the muscles in the upper, front part of your throat, "slide" it down to low F. It's a subtle movement so it takes some time to get in touch with these muscles because you may not have ever used them. Before you attempt it remember that the pressure on the reed should just be enough to FEEL the reed through your bottom lip with your teeth using the same muscles you'd use to chew your food, not your facial muscles. You should never use facial or lip muscles. This is crucial.

You will feel this subtle movement in the lower part of your throat if you're doing it correctly when the octave drops to low F. There's no rhythm so hold the note for as long as you have to until it sounds low F but do it with the air stream while opening your throat and supporting your diaphragm. Be patient with yourself because you're doing something new and may take a little time. One way for you to understand how to make it happen and experience the feeling in your throat is to take a deep breath and when you run out of air the low F will sound naturally.

Just keep blowing until you run out of air and the low F sounds but remember to be aware of the front part of your throat. Pay close attention to what's happening and once you get it you'll be able to do it on command.

Now, once you begin to get it, it will most likely be sloppy, you may hear squeaks and other sounds in between the first F and the low F so work on making it clean but don't use your embouchure to drop to the lower octave. If there's a gurgle or some distortion in between the middle F and low F that means you need to use more air or more consistent air but keep trying it until its CLEAN and PRECISE. Use your diaphragm, open your throat and relax more as you go to the low F keeping the diaphragm supported.

Do this exercise chromatically down to low Bb. It gets harder as you go down but the benefits will come by just practicing it, not by perfecting it. As you go further down on your instrument I suggest you return to the previous notes like F. If you're working on B you may want to practice C for a little while because you may have to re-experience the sensation to make it happen on lower notes.

You should probably do it on F and E before you venture further down the register but trying to do it on D or Eb won't hurt because it's harder and may give you some insight on how to do it on D flat for example. If you're not successful then stop and take a break because you don't want to reinforce bad habits and the worst thing that can happen is if you start feeling tightness around your embouchure because that exactly what we're trying to avoid. And remember, these exercises are just for warming up and cooling down and should not be done for too long.

Exercise II

This is part II of the tone production exercises I learned from Joe Allard and Victor Morosco with embellishments by myself but the credit really belongs to Joe and Victor who really revolutionized the way the saxophone and clarinet should be played with regard to the embouchure. From a mouthpiece makers perspective it's completely and utterly ridiculous that anyone would play any other way such as with a tight embouchure while not taking less than an inch of mouthpiece in the player's mouth. Evidence of this is apparent by looking at photos of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Michael Brecker and virtually ALL of the greatest players of all time. While there may be exceptions. Ernie Watts is up past the biteplate on his mouthpiece and so is Sonny Rollins and Mike Brecker used to play way up there too and Mike and Ernie were both studio players and played every genre of music so don't let anyone tell you that you can only play certain ways or a particular style using this method.

Another great exercise is to purchase a very large tip opening mouthpiece to warm up on and do these exercises and to teach you to use your diaphragm completely. However, you can do more harm than good if you use a hard reed on a very open mouthpiece and it may cause you to become tight. Just remember not to bite or use too much pressure on the mouthpiece, you must blow harder on a more open mouthpiece to set it the reed in motion.

Contrary to popular belief, the saxophone is best played with a very loose embouchure in order to let the reed "float". I've studied the Larry Teal method which is very different and having made mouthpieces for so long I believe the Allard method is best. There will always be some tightness and jaw movement no matter what you do and there have been plenty of players that didn't subscribe to this method that sounded great but there are many variables and nothing is unequivocal, especially in art where anything can go and who's to say how these few may have sounded had they embraced the Allard method. Maybe a lot better.

I'll add that it's not necessary to get obsessed with these exercises but try to do them correctly and put in a few minutes to warm up and a few minutes to cool down each day.

Points to Remember

Remember that you can't take too much mouthpiece in within reason. You shouldn't choke but try to pass the point that the facing starts on the rails of the mouthpiece, an inch for tenor, and 3/4 for alto. That's the teeth should be past that, not the lips. At first, this will be uncomfortable and the sound may be crass and hard to control but be mindful and you will persevere. The crassness will go away in a few days or less.
The only pressure on the reed should be with the bottom teeth through the lip USING THE JAW MUSCLES, NOT THE MUSCLES IN YOUR FACE. It should just be enough to FEEL the reed through the lower lip. Any more than that and you begin to close the tip opening of the mouthpiece off.
If you're playing loud or soft you should always be filling the same amount of air through the sax but when you're playing loud you're moving the air through the sax faster and when you're playing softly you're moving the air through slowly.

Whether this is true or not I honestly don't know, it's just a metaphor to enable you to be able to always fill the saxophone up with air all the time. Always imagine your horn being full of air whenever you're playing and you'll always have a fuller, bigger sound.
Do the exercises below. I learned them from Joe Allard and Victor Morosco. If you don't know who they are you should look them up. Everyone should do these exercises. Phil Barone

This is part II of the tone production exercises I learned from Joe Allard and Victor Morosco. I’ve also added the idea of purchasing a very large tip opening mouthpiece to warm up on to teach you to use your diaphragm. However, you can do more harm than good if you use a hard reed on a very open mouthpiece and it may cause you to become tight.

Contrary to popular belief, the saxophone is best played with a very loose embouchure in order to let the reed “float”. I’ve studied the Larry Teal method which is very different and having made mouthpieces for so long I believe the Allard method was best. There will always be some tightness and jaw movement no matter what you do and there have been plenty of players that didn’t subscribe to this method that sounded great but there are many variables and nothing is unequivocal, especially in art where anything can go.

So, for those of you who want to challenge me or post things to the contrary as in part I, please don’t, it will only add to confusion to players trying to grasp these exercises. Many players struggle with intonation, mouthpieces, and embouchure so if you feel a need to post something opposing my views please start a separate thread. I think many players struggle because of the very different opinions they hear and from watching players. However, I think a lot of us feel as though we should be tight around the embouchure because for example when you watch a player they may seem to be suffering especially when playing loud and the veins in their forehead may protrude while there muscles around their mouth grow taught and they may turn red in the face. Well, this is natural if the player is playing especially loud because if the player didn’t tighten up, the mouthpiece would come out of their mouth as a result of blowing loud, okay?

So I’ll add that it’s not necessary to get obsessed with the exercises, as someone pointed out in part I Sonny played incorrectly, so they say but nevertheless sounded incredible. In fact, I think Sonny may have had the greatest sound of all time on the Live at the Village Vanguard albums. I will add though, having worked for Sonny, he seems to do everything correctly, he takes in LOTS of mouthpiece. So a couple of pointers before we proceed.

1. Remember that you should take a lot of mouthpiece in. You shouldn’t choke but try to pass the point that the facing starts on the rails of the mouthpiece, an inch for tenor, ¾ for alto. That’s the teeth should be past that, not the lips. At first, this will be uncomfortable and the sound may be crass and hard to control but be mindful and you will persevere.

2. The only pressure on the reed should be with the bottom teeth through the lip USING THE JAW MUSCLES, NOT THE MUSCLES IN YOUR FACE. It should just be enough to FEEL the reed through the lower lip. Any more than that and you begin to close the tip opening of the mouthpiece off. If you have to do this, then it’s time to get a new mouthpiece but not from me.

3. The last thing I’ll add is that you can break rules but first I suggest getting familiar with the exercises as they are, okay. Or I’ll come and burn your house down.

So, I'm challenged by the limited manner in which I can notate so I'll use words. The first part or section are all open C# until the end when you slur down to C natural. This is the whole exercise and you’ll just continuing down chromatically. The syllable HUH is used with no tongue and the syllable TA is a fast hard staccoto. You should be blowing hard using your diaphragm feeling is move as you blow.

OPEN C# FOR TWO EIGHTH NOTES FOLLOWED BY TWO STRONG STACATTO EIGHTHS FOLLOWED BY ONE STRONG STACCOTO HALF NOTE

SECTION (MEASURE) ONE STARTS HERE:

HUH HUH (EIGHTHS) TA TA (EIGHTHS) TAAA (HALF) Don't tongue these notes, just use your diaphram.
First measure ends

SECTION (MEASURE) TWO STARTS HERE:

TA TA TA TA (EIGHTHS) TATATATATATATATA (SIXTEENTHS)

TAAA (QUARTER) THEN SLUR TO C NATURAL AAAA (QUARTER) FOLLOWED BY QUARTER REST.

Then, start the whole exercise on C natural and work your way down to low B flat. I suggest getting the rhythm in your head on just the C# and C natural notes before you proceed. This will build your confidence. After you feel comfortable, you can start the entire exercise on any note.
 

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I had a crappy sound for years. Started off with the wrong embouchure to start with. Very frustrating. No teacher ever corrected me on that. Thanks to SOTW (and the Phil Barone exercises) I relearned my embouchure. It took me a while, but it was worth every bit.
 

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I’ve used Phil’s exercises that he linked above; they are excellent! I’ve had students try the same exercise and it has changed their sound dramatically.

More mouthpiece, good, standard set up (6 to 7 with 2.5 reeds is a good start) and a non leaking set up Horn will always work. Don’t over think and don’t bite.
 

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I’ve used Phil’s exercises that he linked above; they are excellent! I’ve had students try the same exercise and it has changed their sound dramatically.

More mouthpiece, good, standard set up (6 to 7 with 2.5 reeds is a good start) and a non leaking set up Horn will always work. Don’t over think and don’t bite.
Thank you, you guys. That made posting them worthwhile. Phil Barone
 

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Blue box are very dark and and very hard compared to other reeds as well. For a beginning tenor player on a 7* tone edge I'd most certainly get them to try something else out reed wise.

A 2.5 Java green or red box or even a 2.5 Rico Royal would probably show an immediate decrease in resistance.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Phil and all you other guys thanks a million for such detailed and insightful responses. I'll take all of your advice on board and I'm off to the sax shop this weekend to get some different reeds as a start! A new mouthpiece isn't an option now financially for a while. BTW when people say resistance are you talking about restricted air flow or the reeds are just difficult to play?
 

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A resistant setup requires more effort to get the notes to sound vs. a more "free blowing" one, which responds more easily. Some people like a more resistant setup than others, preferring to have something to blow against, whereas others prefer an easier setup. It takes trial and error to find the sweet spot, as far as tip opening and reed strength to arrive at the right combination for you. Everyone is different.

When you play a setup that has more resistance than you are comfortable with, you will often have difficulty getting the notes in the bottom and/or top of the range to speak clearly. Sometimes the reed can feel "dead" or "muffled." A mouthpiece that has a tip that is too open (or is poorly finished) and/or a reed that is too hard (or poorly finished) will add resistance to your setup.

Hope this helps.
 

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+1000 to the exercises Phil posted. I did not like my tone on alto OR tenor until I figured out that you had to be loose (I was trained as a clarinetist).

"Resistance" is usually due to the hardness of the reed. If you cannot easily create a very soft tone, then the reed is too hard. I agree with littlewailer - 2.5 blue box Vandoren is too hard for someone just starting up again, especially on a 7* mouthpiece. It's like 3.5 or 4 Rico. Work on your sound with the softest reeds possible, as this will give you a strong dis-incentive to bite!

You might also try Rico orange box reeds - a 3 in this is probably just about right. People dismiss these reeds as "beginner" or "student" reeds, but I like them. Another possibility is Rigotti Gold Jazz reeds - they are more expensive (a little) but quite good. 2.5 light or 2.5 medium should be fine. (Those are about equivalent to a Rico orange box 3).

Good luck and keep us posted with your progress!
 

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It would be advantageous if the information written above were prefaced with "in order to achieve a jazz concept of sound here are some useful ideas". There is more than one style of saxophone playing. There are some areas that cross over such as breath support, and a relaxed and open throat, but the amount of mouthpiece in the mouth and how the facial muscles are not used does not work to produce a classical concept of sound IMO.
 

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I mainly play alto, had similar issues switching to tenor, seemed to open up my throat more or something and had that beginner honky quality to the sound I hated. Playing a Theo Wanne Datta now, but also liked the SR Tech Pro, both smaller mouth feel mouthpieces, much more centered sound. (Datta is a bit of a bazooka).
 
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