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Discussion Starter #1
Hello, friends.

I'm an intermediate alto player, but, since I have been "teaching myself" for so many years without having any real teacher to help me, I am afraid that I may have picked up some bad embouchure habits over the years, that I am now finally trying to correct. This is why I am posting in the "Beginner's" section. After all, most school band directors do not bother to help the students with the embouchure, as long as they play the right notes and keep the mouthpiece in a position of good compromise.

In fact, I never noticed a problem until I heard myself on some cell phone videos, playing at parties, and the sound was consistently slightly flat, from song to song. How embarassing. Fortunately the party guests never noticed.

For about seven months now, I have been trying new mouthpieces and reeds and reed strengths, and switched from Fibracell to cane. I also considered switching to a mouthpiece with less "flexibility" of sound, such as with a smaller tip opening. Both changes certainly have made it easier to keep a more consistent tone (whether sharp or flat) but have not helped my consistency of intonation. I am beginning to feel that the problem may simply be my embouchure, and that I should learn how to have a consistent tone regardless of which mouthpiece I use.

In fact, I don't want to start practicing "long-tones" until I have the right embouchure to practice them with. (Never did before)

The problem is that I am not sure that I know precisely the following:

1. how far in to place my lips onto the mouthpiece, to be perfectly correct, (currently about 3/5 deep on the beak)
2. how tightly to keep my embouchure, nor
3. which position on the cork to choose as my point-of-reference for mouthpiece positioning.

Perhaps you pros can tell me where I went wrong, to get to my current embouchure? I will describe how I got here...

1. Until now, I have calculated the "sweet spot" on my neck cork, by comparing the intonation of the low notes to the medium and high notes. When I found the spot where the intonation is consistent throughout that whole range, I marked it as my point-of-reference, and kept my mouthpiece right there.

2. But then I began to notice that that point did not always appease my chromatic tuner app--at least, not with my current embouchure--as the tuner usually showed me to be fairly sharp, and not even consistently sharp to the same degree. Nevertheless, if I pulled out the mouthpiece to compensate, I started sounding flat when playing my songs.

3. In other words, for years, I have been playing into a microphone, with two large speakers shooting the sound back at me at moderately loud volume (smooth jazz/pop). Until now, I have always sounded "in tune," with this method, and have always adjusted my embouchure to compensate any discrepancy as I played along with the accompaniment.

4. However, after noticing that I sounded flat on my homemade videos of myself playing at parties (having attributed the issue to the camera microphone, rather than to my playing) I started recording all my practice sessions at home, as well, with a laptop, so that I could play back each song immediately after playing it, or half-way through, and check whether the intonation still sounded like what I had been hearing live. I discovered that the intonation was not always as "good" as what I had been hearing live, even during the same sessions; sometimes sharp throughout, sometimes flat throughout, but at least, fairly consistent.

Now, if I were to continue "teaching myself," without the help or advice of a pro, and tried to hone in on the root of my problem, myself, I would propose the following solution, but you tell me where I've got it wrong, if you would be so kind:

Proposal:
1. Prepare myself mentally to start over from scratch.
2. Keep the same "sweet spot" on the cork as I currently have, since it is consistent throughout the range of the horn, top to bottom.
3. Use a chromatic tuner again, and if it says that I am sharp, start trusting the tuner more than my own ear or the accompaniment.
4. Instead of "pulling out" the mouthpiece, to compensate what I see on the tuner (thereby losing my "sweet spot" on the horn), compensate with my embouchure, instead, until I can get the pitch low enough to make the tuner happy.
5. If there is any inconsistency at that point, demonstrated by a fluctuating needle on the tuner, I need to practice again and again, until my tone locks in with the tuner, not just as "in tune," but as "consistently in tune"; this will require keeping the embouchure as frozen as possible, into one position.
6. Once I find the right embouchure for playing in tune with the tuner, I should simply adopt that new embouchure as the "correct" embouchure, without moving the mouthpiece from the "sweet spot" on the cork.

(Please see my "signature" info below for any questions regarding my typical set-up, but for months I have been using Vandoren Java Red 2.5s on a bright Metalite M5, and Rico Orange Box 2.0s or 2.5s on a darker Graftonite A7 or B7, so let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I will keep that set-up for a while.)
 

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Conn New Wonder 1 Alto & Conn 10M Tenor
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Hello, friends.


......The problem is that I am not sure that I know precisely the following:

1. how far in to place my lips onto the mouthpiece, to be perfectly correct, (currently about 3/5 deep on the beak)
2. how tightly to keep my embouchure, nor
3. which position on the cork to choose as my point-of-reference for mouthpiece positioning......


(Please see my "signature" info below for any questions regarding my typical set-up, but for months I have been using Vandoren Java Red 2.5s on a bright Metalite M5, and Rico Orange Box 2.0s or 2.5s on a darker Graftonite A7 or B7, so let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I will keep that set-up for a while.)
I'm no pro and I don't play any jazz but....

1. With the reed on the mouthpiece, look at it from the side. Where the gap closes between the reed and the mouthpiece will determine how much mouthpiece to take in. A pro jazz player taught me that and I've seen it suggested on this forum. I use it on my legit mouthpieces.

2. Just enough to keep a seal around the mouthpiece and reed.

3. In school we use to first tune to a concert Bb or G on an Alto. However I've since heard that F or F# is a better option on the saxophone. I tune mine to F but I also check it on other notes and different octaves. If more notes tend to be a little flat I'll push in a little bit more and just relax my embouchure a little on the others. It's easier IMO to relax the embouchure than to lip it up.

The saxophone is not going to be perfectly in tune all the time. The mouthpiece and reed may effect intonation as well as the player and or the saxophone. When was the last time your saxophone was adjusted or checked by a repair shop? Key heights can effect notes (flat or sharp).

Opening the throat can help with your tone and pitch too. You can practice this with a tuner and or tone generator.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you for the observations and for the links. I will check out those videos.
 

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Again, not a pro answer but, hopefully, gives some ideas. When you test the tuning chromatically, is your tuning correct over the whole range of the horn? If yes, you’re probably not biting. Your reed selection looks a bit “strange” to me. In my opinion Vandoren #2.0 would be in the same range than Rico #2.5. I think it was one of the Sirvalorsax videos, in which he sort of encouraged tuning to the sharp side to remind you to play with relaxed embouchure and to keep your lower lip beyond your teeth. The reed as well gets more relaxed after 10-20 min playing. Maybe some of these things causes drifting to the flat end after playing for awhile?

I, personally, think that the reed is the thing we most regularly underestimate. I can see that you are not locked on a specific MPC yet and they are very different in concept. High/low baffle, variable chamber size etc. That is not going to make your problem solving easier. Focus on one MPC, which you play effortlessly, and try to zero in on a reed brand that you like and then check the strength that gives the best result. Once you have eliminated tha other variables, you can truly focus on your embouchure.
 

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Hello, friends.

I'm an intermediate alto player, but, since I have been "teaching myself" for so many years without having any real teacher to help me, I am afraid that I may have picked up some bad embouchure habits over the years, that I am now finally trying to correct.
Would it be possible for you to post any recordings? You give excellent descriptions, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Better yet would be a video showing your embouchure, but I can understand you may not want to post that.

My diagnosis based on what you've posted so far, is that your reed is too soft for that mouthpiece. You're having to relax you embouchure and back off you air pressure too much to keep it from closing up, thus losing control of your intonation. Also, as I've posted before, I think the Ricos are terrible mouthpieces. They do have legions of fans, especially among bari players, but there are so many better options out there, why settle?

My other recommendation is stop looking at the tuner. Use your ears. To really dial it in, you need a drone, not just your regular backing tracks.

Other than lack of support (muscle tone and flexibility), I have no idea what's going on with your embouchure without seeing/hearing it.
 

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I'm curious, @ErikJon if you have a private teacher. If you're in Atlanta, you have one of the finest saxophonists in the world, Bryan Lopes, nearby. A few lessons with him would be well worth it and he'd be able to help you develop a strong, flexible sound that will help both your tone and your intonation. Embouchure is only a small part of it: air support, tongue position (or "voicing" as some people call it), and jaw flexibility are hugely important too. Every person has a different physiology, and the saxophone is a naturally flexible and out-of-tune instrument, so each of us has to figure out our own way to make it work, to a degree. A teacher will be much more helpful than web videos or forums. Remote lessons work great, and that's the safest way to go at the moment, but be sure to check out Lopes in the future, he's incredible!
 

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Erik - The “sweet spot” comes from where your horn is mostly in tune when using your preferred embouchure. It may change as you dial in your embouchure and airstream, so don’t get locked in to a “calculated” dimension.

Realize also that concepts such as “tune sharp and loosen your embouchure” have a limit, just as “take in more mouthpiece” has a limit.

I am glad to learn that you are listening to your recorded sound. Awareness is the first step to making positive change.
 

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I watched that one before and I know the bottom lip placement has been debated in another thread.... But he sounds like he is intentionally biting with the lip rolled in all the way.
His tone sounds horrible with the lip all the way out. Just my opinion but then again I'm not a jazz player. 🙂
 

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I watched that one before and I know the bottom lip placement has been debated in another thread.... But he sounds like he is intentionally biting with the lip rolled in all the way.
His tone sounds horrible with the lip all the way out. Just my opinion but then again I'm not a jazz player. ��
He was exaggerating for the sake of illustration. But lip rolled in will sound like biting because there's less flesh to cushion between teeth and reed, so you get that biting sound with the same pressure as other lip positions.

He agreed all the way out was too far out. He mostly sounded horrible because he went flat.

One important thing he didn't really point out is that when the lip is in the middle in a natural position, a lot of support comes from the chin muscles, at least for a jazz player.

Another thing the OP needs to be aware of is that what's going on inside the mouth can have a huge affect on intonation. By changing just the air speed and direction, you could drop your jaw and still maintain the same pitch, or you could bend the pitch a huge amount. If you slip into the latter, you'll play flat. I think it's important to experiment and get a feel for what affects changes in air stream and direction have on the pitch and timbre. I think most of us do this without thinking as we learn control. But others may never try this.
 

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I'm coming to this topic in progress, so excuse me if this is a digression. (I'm also skeptical towards traditional, master method teaching, so that may make things worse.)

The thing with your typical player (especially less-than-full-time!) is not biting, but biting progressively harder as you ascend into the high range. The chances are that if you do this, you're also dropping your jaw...not just for the lowest notes but for any wide downward leap (say from A to D, or C to E).

That's the typical player. The typical teacher does what teachers do when their "Bad Habit" light comes on...the core concept being, "STOP! Don't Do That!" Well of course, but what DO you do? That's your problem!

The student will try to play the highs, or the lows, with the same embouchure as the middle range....that's a start. But if he doesn't change something, he will fail!

And that's where teachers differ...what should be done, and is it obvious or worth focusing on?

A lot of their answers are vague here too...for example, tongue position to aid the voicing of the registers. Some (Larry Teal) barely treat it at all. Most just tell you to move the back of the tongue up and down. How to get the back to work finely, consciously, and independently of the front? That's your problem!
 

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I'm also skeptical towards traditional, master method teaching, so that may make things worse.
Like the guy in the video, my teacher (a clarinet player) taught me the wrong embouchure for sax. I had to figure it out on my own through listening, pictures, watching live performers, asking other musicians and my own trial and error. And this was back in the 70's, way before the internet, and when you couldn't see any detail on TV.

I think if you experiment enough in an effort to match the sound in your heard, your body eventually will do the correct thing naturally, if you keep at it. No matter how much someone tries to describe what goes on inside and outside your mouth, that will never get you there. You have to find it on your own. The best a teacher can do is steer you away from obviously bad techniques (biting, poor air support, etc.).
 

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I use harmonics to help center my pitch and tone.
I use a tuner but just glance at it to make sure my ear is true.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Hello, again, friends.

I apologize for not responding sooner. SOTW has been very inconsistent about sending me e-mail alerts whenever someone responds to a post to which I am subscribed. This has been going on for over ten years. Today I just happened to check for myself, having received no notifications, and saw that many of you had already answered me. Thank you for your patience.

StefGrani,

I've never measured the tuning over the whole range; just for one note here and there. Thank you for the good point.

I am only recently realizing that even good reeds cannot be judged without breaking them in for a long time. Just yesterday I was doing well with altissimo, thinking that I had finally chosen the right strength of reed, and, lo and behold, after two hours of playing, it got harder to play altissimo, instead of easier, as the reed was softer and wetter, so this made me feel that I needed a harder reed, in the long run.

Yes, having played for 18 years now, far away from any teacher or even SOTW, I am ashamed to say that certain princples are still new to me, but I am now learning fast, so I appreciate the tips that all of you have given, not just on this thread, but on others. It is quite an honor to have some of you offering suggestions, knowing that you surely have so much else to do.

Feel free to make fun of me, because, to add to all the complications of my quest for the right embouchure, mouthpiece and reed, I have been switching from soprano to tenor, over the years, playing one for about six months, then switching to the other, then back. I just thought that some songs of my repertoire laid better with one instrument than with the other, so I had to keep myself warmed up on all three. I've got some soft, light Kenny G songs that I play, for example, that just don't sound good on tenor, but I have some dark, romantic ballads that I play on tenor, that sound silly on soprano. I have been using the alto almost exclusively now for about two years, as I had a nice second-hand Yanagisawa in the closet that was going to waste. At any rate, I have always felt that it was harder to have a professional tone on the alto, so you might say that I am enjoying the new challenge.

So, yes, I am trying to find the right mouthpiece and reed, as soon as possible, because I realize that you are right, that all the rest depends on the set-up that I settle down with. I was looking for a bright sound but not too bright, if that makes sense, but on a very low budget, so I am rather enjoying the high-baffle Metalite M5 for the moment, although I may need a harder reed than the Red 2.5.

You know, I confess that I have babied myself over the years, by playing on softer reeds, so that they would be "easier" to play, especially the low notes. Since I did not play any altissimo in those days, I did not see a problem. Now, however, I am finally getting to where I can play from high G to high E, albeit slowly, so I suddenly discovered that harder reeds on a high-baffle mouthpiece tended to make that easier to accomplish, and the lower tip openings tended to keep the intonation easier to control, but could pose a problem when more volume was needed.

Mdavej, Thanks for your tips, as always. Yes, I came close to uploading a recording of my playing, but a video would be even better. I will try to find something that demonstrates my typical intonation problems. Thank you for your willingness to evaluate my video or recording.

And nice diagnosis. I cannot say that any of my reeds have choked up on me lately, but I did notice a challenge playing altissimo yesterday, but only after two or three hours of playing, so yes, I think I will try a harder reed.

(I used to experience choking on my soprano, using a Runyon Custom 6, then moved up to 7, then up to 8, and that solved the problem, but I confess that I paid less attention to intonation in those days)

HeavyWeather77, thanks for the recommendation about Lopes. I will check him out.

Dr G, I came close to suggesting the same issue as you, in my original post, that whether the instrument played in tune with itself from top to bottom, might also depend on the imperfect embouchure that I was using to find that compromise position on the cork. Yes, I have been experimenting with the tune sharp/loosen jaw concept, for a few months, but I've just noticed that it seems to make the high notes even sharper than the others, so I have backed off of the concept.

To be honest, I have done no experimentation with the mouth cavity and tongue position.

Paul, yes, I am certain that I have been biting progressively, the higher I ascended. I had thought that this was normal until only last week, when I caught a video on Youtube where the sax teacher said that we should keep the same embouchure from top to bottom, more or less. That was news to me, and I am not sure that I can do that just yet, but I am trying.

But I did not know that it would have a relationship with the consistency of my intonation. Thanks for pointing that out.

It's going to take me a while to go over all the videos that you fellows recommended.

One guy says that the mouthpiece on the crook, removed from the horn, should produce a concert F#, to help identify correct embouchure, but he does not say where on the cork the mouthpiece should go for that experiment (and it would seem to depend on the mouthpiece style and reed, as well, to me)
 

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I have found in my playing and teaching that:

1) The embouchure can be tighter or looser, thereby changing the "input pitch" into the saxophone and the tone color.
2) The mouthpiece can be placed farther onto the cork to raise the played pitch or placed farther toward the end to lower the pitch.
3) Regardless of the choices above, if the played pitch of the mouthpiece + neck on the alto saxophone is close to Ab concert the saxophone will play with its best harmonics and intonation.

This concept is supported by Benade in his book "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics". To "paraphrase": he writes that in order for a conical saxophone to play its best it must behave as if it has a completed cone at its end. If the played frequency of the mouthpiece and neck matches the "natural resonant frequency" of a cone of equal length that includes the neck and the "missing cone", it meets that requirement. That along with the requirement that the "equivalent volume" of the mouthpiece as it is being played must be a close match to the calculated "missing cone" from the end of the neck to its apex are the two conditions required of a conical woodwind.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thank you, Saxoclese. I will compare my sound to that.
 
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