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Flute & sax embouchure changes over different ranges

2170 Views 31 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  adamk
I've played flute for 50 years and feel confident about my abilities.
Sax a long time but didn't have much instruction or serious practice compared to flute.

On flute i change the air stream angle and shape for different registers.
For low notes a wider aperture and higher angle (almost straight across), for high a narrower hole and lower downward angle.

On sax I move my bottom lip/jaw slightly in and out thereby changing the amount of available reed for vibration.
Out for low (more reed) and in for high (less reed).

On both instruments these actions are graded throughout the whole note range.

Does this seem viable?
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Depends. For jazz players, definitely yes. But classical players apparently make no such adjustments. Check out the video I posted here around the 30 second mark.
I think more reed is needed to get a full low note and less reed needs to vibrate for the higher.
Your example possibly corroborates my position.
How can one change the direction of the airstream on a sax mpc?
Airstream direction is changed with the tongue. This also affects the timbre. I can achieve a brighter or darker tone by raising or lowering the back of the tongue, changing the volume of the inside of my mouth. Opening the throat has other effects. All these changes become automatic after a little experimentation and making the connection between the oral/throat cavity changes and the resulting sound you hear, same as you've done on flute.

In my experience, I find that the opposite works for me in terms of getting the best tone and response in different registers. For low notes, I simultaneously drop and pull in my jaw, the net effect changing the pressure on the reed and the direction (vector) of the force applied. This gives me a full, lush sound, probably the opposite of what a classical player wants. Your method would achieve a brighter tone on low notes than mine and a thinner sound up high. I take in more reed up high to counteract this thin sound. This matches what you see in the video.

Bottom line, it all comes down to whatever allows you to produce the sound in your head. That will vary from person to person. Regardless, such adjustments are required in each register, each note in fact.
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It's really hard to describe. But it's not simply a matter of up and down really. If you simply move the tongue up and down, the air flow, direction and volume is constant. It's both changing the shape and expansion/contraction to change not only the trajectory of the air but also the internal volume of the mouth. If you can speak or drink through a straw, you probably have the tongue dexterity required.

Try this. Imitate the sound of a wind storm, vary the sound from a fast wind to a slow. In doing this the volume of your mouth will change and the pitch will change low to high. Your tongue moves forward and back, expanding and contracting. This sort of motion should also result in slight timbre changes. Move on to your throat, expanding as if yawning, then contracting back to normal. This will also have effects.

If this still doesn't work for you, one on one with a teacher is what you'll need (whenever that's practical again). He/she can evaluate any physical limitations, see/hear what you're doing and give more specific instruction.
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I agree that's a crazy hard setup if 9* on Couf is as open as 9* is on other brands. That would take chops of steel.

I'm out of my depth on classical technique so maybe your articulation is normal, but I would personally never tongue that way on sax. Everything I've been saying about tongue shape and position so far has nothing to do with articulation, only tone production. When I articulate, my tongue always touches the reed except when double and triple tonguing, in which case both the tip and the back are used.

Assuming you're a classical player, hopefully a classical player will chime in with better advice to fit your situation.
Just saw this recent post of yours related to this subject:
Reworking tenor embouchure now, alto is ok.
Not blatting but pitch is all over the place.
Have tuner on and referencing once in awhile.
Doing a lot of overtones.
Tone is coming but palm keys and up still weird.
Get tired out fast and take many breaks.
Refuse to bite even a little.
This is EXACTLY what I would expect on a setup like yours. Your mouthpiece is way too open and your reed way too hard. That will naturally result in fatigue and difficulty controlling pitch. No wonder the subtle tongue and throat changes make no difference. You've got nowhere near a workable setup and are fighting a losing battle. You need a much more conservative mouthpiece/reed as others have said. It's like you've just begun body building at the gym but started on the heaviest weights. You've got to start on something easy to handle and gradually work your way up.
Hmm... that's only medium open. I was expecting a 9* to be very open, perhaps 125. Even so, your description of your issues still points to the mouthpiece being too open for you (pitch control and fatigue). Trying the softer reed is a good start, but you may have to find something even more closed if that doesn't help.

In my experience Rico Royal runs a little hard, so a 2.5 may work better. On my Morgan 7, which is about the same tip as your Couf, I play 2.5 or 3.

Are you primarily a jazz or classical player? Any particular artist you're trying to sound like on tenor?
I've seen him live a couple of times as well. Probably the best living jazz sax player there is right now.

You can hear a lot of elements from other great players in Chris's sound, so emulating his influences would also be a good starting point. But if I wanted to sound like him (who wouldn't), I'd stick with your HR Link and a softer reed. But I admit I know zero about the Couf mouthpiece. It may work just as well. Bob Reynolds also play a HR Link and gets a great sound. So give him a listen as well.

I'd also try to get in the habit of using more traditional articulation techniques. As a jazz player, tongue on the reed is the way to go unless you're purposely trying to do something to set you apart from other players. Otherwise, I think it's going to be very limiting and not work very well in most circumstances.
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If a new 3 is as hard as a broken in 3 1/2, buy a couple of 2 1/2's.

Given your latest description, I think the bigger issue is your articulation. If I understand correctly, you interrupt the air flow by touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth while the underside of the tongue touches the reed? Don't do that.

I'm not entirely clear on how your staccato works either. You said tongue between the teeth. While that makes sense on flute, there happens to be a mouthpiece between your teeth on sax. So where does your tongue actually go? If it actually touches your teeth, then you're not putting the mouthpiece in your mouth correctly.

I think you went in the wrong direction very early and developed some bad habits that are going to take a lot of time and effort to correct. You really need one on one with a teacher. Even skype/zoom if that's the only practical solution right now. Something where an experienced player or teacher can see and hear what you're doing and demonstrate the correct approach so you can see and hear it.

I don't think he covers tonguing, but check out Jay Metcalf's (Better Sax) beginner Youtube videos about embouchure to at least get to a good starting point. I'll update this post with a link later, if I can find the video I'm thinking of.
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The "between the teeth tonguing" was a fad in flute instruction some years ago. I was urged by my teacher to try it, but I found it highly obtrusive and detrimental to double tonguing, so I dropped it.
I think I know what you're talking about. If it's like spitting out a watermelon seed, I only use that technique on flute when I'm going for a really funky percussive effect while humming into it like Roland Kirk.

But I can't think of any flute articulation techniques that carry over to reed instruments. You really have to treat flute and sax like completely different instruments. I know first hand how hard that can be. If I go through a period of heavy flute playing, I find myself sometimes trying to use flute fingerings like LH3 for F# on sax.
I really felt where my tongue sits in my mouth when playing.
It doesn't anchor top or bottom and articulates about 1/4 inch from the tip.
When I tried using the tip on the end of the reed it felt uncomfortable on the skin of the tip.
That 1/4" is perfectly fine. The lower you go, the more you'll probably have to use to get the notes to speak. On bass sax, I'm probably a half inch or more back.

Once you get the knack, you'll probably use less or more depending on the articulation. You can also move on to more advanced techniques like ghosting where you rest the tongue on the reed and still have it vibrating for the duration of the note.

Having a good ear like you do will certainly be a huge help. Randomly checking the tuner and relying mostly on your ear is the best approach. Sounds like you're on your way.
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