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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all. Just thought I'd give a brief introduction before I leap in with questions. My name's Chris, I'm 21, and I've just finished a 3 year course at university (I actually graduate this Friday). I've never been an especially musical person; I've never taken music lessons, and the last tuition I had was back in pre-GCSE secondary school (I suppose I should point out that I'm British), which consisted of incredibly basic keyboard skills. I do however enjoy the sound of the saxophone, and I've always said that if I were to learn an instrument, it would be this. Well, returning from university, I had a sum of money in my account, and thought 'why not?' Usually at this point I'd have gone into the music shop in town to have a look and a play, but I was irritated to learn that whilst I'd been away, the company had gone bust, and the shop was no longer there.

Well, as impulsively as ever, I picked a tenor saxophone; a Chinese gears4music model - I didn't say it was a large sum of money - but I'd heard good things about this supplier and the 14-day returns policy was reassuring, and it arrived this morning. My only real preparation was Raphael Ravencroft's "The Complete Saxophone Player: Book 1". I've had a brief look around this forum too. The book is obviously designed for the very beginner, as it contains instructions on how to put the horn together; helpful seeing as the instrument itself doesn't come with any info.

And as you'd expect from someone who'd done something as daft as this, the problems began soon afterwards. I'd really underestimated how much air is needed to make the reed vibrate. I think I've got the reed positioned well, and the ligature is tight, but it takes a considerable amount of air for any tone to be produced. Now unfortunately I've never been a particularly active person, and my level of fitness is, shall we say, not good. This combined with the air needed to produce any sort of tone means that I can only produce a sound from the mouthpiece for 6 or 7 seconds before my lungs are empty. It's also quite loud. I've heard saxes being played live before, and the volume was dipping an awful lot lower than the lowest I can produce.

Hazarding a guess, I'd say that either the mouthpiece or the reed was the problem (I've been 'playing' the mouthpiece on its own, with the . I've seen comments here that Chinese saxes can be reasonable instruments, but the mouthpieces that come with them are typically rubbish. The single reed that came with the outfit has no markings on it, so I can't identify the strength (unless there's a way of telling from the appearance that I don't know about of course). It could of course be that I'm not breathing properly, but with most of the primary articulators in the mouth used in gripping and sealing around the mouthpiece, it would be a question of lung technique which I'm not sure about.

The question then is what to do next. Should I just buy myself a Yamaha mouthpiece? Should I go for a box of reeds first? If so, what strength should I go for? Does a stronger reed vibrate more easily, or would a softer one do that?

I've looked around the forum, and can't find an answer to my problem. I do apologise if there is one, but it's a big forum, and everything I came across was clearly aimed at more experienced players.

Anyway, apologies for the long post, but I'd appreciate any help you could offer.

Chris.
 

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Forum Contributor 2011, SOTW's pedantic pet rodent
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hi chris. You will find a lot of useful info via the "Sax Tips and Lessons" section which you can get to via SOTW Main at the top of the page. All the best.
 

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Hey Chris, welcome.

Probably the best advice I can give would be to invest a little time and money into at least one session with an experienced saxophone instructor. It's hard to say whether your problems are mouthpiece, reed, horn or you or a combination of all of them :D An instructor would be able to get to the bottom of things quickly and give you some direction for things to work on to get started.

Good luck with it, it's worth the effort.
 

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First bit of advice: Get a teacher. Some things can't be learned by looking at a fingering chart or reading a book. I guarantee you that if you take the do it yourself approach, you will form some really bad habits.

Now that that's out of the way, the MPC is probably 'OK' but not ideal. It might be alright to start on though, but with a noname moutpiece it could be a crapshoot.

Reeds are the main source of resistance in the blowing setup. The harder the reeds are, the harder it is to blow. It doesn't have much to do with being in shape. A lot of fat, out of shape guys have strong air support. VanDoren Classical reeds (in the blue box) are generally the standard reed of choice. To start off with, you might want to try 2 1/2's. Even if those are still a little hard, you should be able to adjust to it within a week or two if you work on it everyday.
 

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Hi Chris and welcome to the world of music making!
TheHerbert said:
I'd really underestimated how much air is needed to make the reed vibrate. I think I've got the reed positioned well, and the ligature is tight, but it takes a considerable amount of air for any tone to be produced. Now unfortunately I've never been a particularly active person, and my level of fitness is, shall we say, not good. This combined with the air needed to produce any sort of tone means that I can only produce a sound from the mouthpiece for 6 or 7 seconds before my lungs are empty. It's also quite loud. I've heard saxes being played live before, and the volume was dipping an awful lot lower than the lowest I can produce.
This is absolutely normal for a "first go", I was exactly the same both in terms of time and volume. But don't panic, it's actually a surprisingly quick process to begin to get the basics (and then a lifetime to actually get any good of course ;) ).
TheHerbert said:
Hazarding a guess, I'd say that either the mouthpiece or the reed was the problem (I've been 'playing' the mouthpiece on its own, with the . I've seen comments here that Chinese saxes can be reasonable instruments, but the mouthpieces that come with them are typically rubbish. The single reed that came with the outfit has no markings on it, so I can't identify the strength (unless there's a way of telling from the appearance that I don't know about of course).
A mouthpiece and/or reed that came with a sax (even a good quality sax) is almost always going to be poor quality. The good news is that reeds are relatively inexpensive and they wear out so you'll need to get yourself some anyway. Get yourself some reeds - Rico or Vandoren is fine and probably 1.5 thickness or maybe a 2 if you're feeling brave. You could also get yourself a decent mouthpiece if you have the cash. Make sure you get something in a beginner's tip opening though (between .070 and .080 would probably work) and don't spend much money on it because you'll only want something else in a few month's time anyway. Check other threads for good beginner's mouthpieces.
TheHerbert said:
It could of course be that I'm not breathing properly, but with most of the primary articulators in the mouth used in gripping and sealing around the mouthpiece, it would be a question of lung technique which I'm not sure about.
Heh, that's a fantastic description for what everyone else calls "embuchure" and at first it's not very strong and needs to be developed through hours of practice. This is why thinner reeds and smaller tip opening mouthpieces are best for beginners, it makes it less difficult to get the reed vibrating. With regard to breathing properly, it's always difficult when you're first learning something because you're thinking of a dozen things at once and then you forget to breath properly, so again it's normal. It will improve with practice.
TheHerbert said:
The question then is what to do next. Should I just buy myself a Yamaha mouthpiece?
If you've got the money then it certainly won't hurt to have a decent student mouthpiece, that way at least you'll know for sure that you're equipment isn't getting in the way of your learning.

BUT...

The one thing I would recommend above anything else is to get yourself some lessons! Find a local teacher and even if you can only afford say 2 or 3 lessons to get you started it will help A LOT if you have someone helping you with the basics of embuchure, holding the sax, blowing notes with control, fingering, etc, etc.. The book's a good idea but a couple of lessons is strongly recommended!
TheHerbert said:
Should I go for a box of reeds first? If so, what strength should I go for? Does a stronger reed vibrate more easily, or would a softer one do that?
A softer (or thinner) reed will vibrate more easily and a smaller tip opening mouthpiece will require less air (which is why they're great for beginners) but they don't give you the best tone or dynamics (which is why improvers and above tend to migrate to thicker reeds and larger tip openings when they're ready).
TheHerbert said:
I've looked around the forum, and can't find an answer to my problem. I do apologise if there is one, but it's a big forum, and everything I came across was clearly aimed at more experienced players.

Anyway, apologies for the long post, but I'd appreciate any help you could offer.

Chris..
I enjoy telling people stuff :) and I was where you are very recently so hey what goes around comes around.
 

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TheHerbert,

Hello and congratulations on your graduation.

Cleger & Agent 27 said what needed to be said.
I'd just like to add that you should act in time
to return that horn if necessary (on the advice
of a knowledgeable instructor) because Chinese
horns can be hit-or-miss.

Best of luck & enjoy.

rabbit
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Many thanks for the replies. I had originally been intending to teach myself in my spare time (and I have *lots* of spare time at the moment, I'm yet to get a job, that'll hopefully be remedied soon), but I think you're right; this is far too much to learn by myself. I'll have a look through the phonebook for instructors.

Rick, I think that was the answer I was looking for. As for my description of embouchure, the degree I've just completed was in Linguistics, and the elements of the mouth (articulators) used to create speech were covered in a large part of the course, so I tend to use the vocabulary. Makes me feel like I've earned my 2:1.

Sorry for the double post by the way; I'd read through the rules section of the forum, but didn't catch the "First posts" bit.
 

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Even if you can't afford a teacher for lessons, getting help from a friend that plays would do a lot of good to help you learn the foundations and answer questions you may have.
 

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I endorse what everyone else says. You clearly are already ahead of the field - not many people emerge from uni with a sum of money, rather than a megadraft, in the bank.
 

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I'm pretty new to the sax as well. I'm 43, am not in fantastic shape, and a trying-to-quit smoker. As far as getting air through the sax, I had a similar issue. You'll find that you have more air and more stamina over time. The first couple of months I played I could only get through about 3 bars of music (about 24 eighth notes) in my exercise before I had to take a breath. Now I can get through about 16 of those same bars in that same exercise. It's hard to focus on embouchure and breathing, and tone at the same time, but it will become easier over time. Get "The Art of Saxophone Playing" by Larry Teal. Read it and do the exercises for embouchure, and do some breathing exercises a few minutes every
day. You'll find that they help strengthen your embouchure and you'll be able to put more air through the horn and for longer. Also, use a mirror to check your embouchure (e.g that your chin is straight and not wrinkled up which means your not using the proper support. The first thing has to be embochure. It took me a long time to get it firm but relaxed, but it was worth it because I play in tune rather than sharp or flat, and my tone is pretty good.

Definitely take some lessons. A good teacher is critical because s/he can make sure you're getting the basics right. If you don't get the basics right you'll either get very frustrated and stop playing or you'll go to great pains to correct it all later. Take some lessons earlier rather than later.

Just some initial advice from someone who just went through the frustrating but fun process of starting to learn sax.
 
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