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Discussion Starter #1
Whenever I have blown into an alto mouthpiece, of varying tip sizes with different strengths of reeds, I have never been able to reach the desired "A" pitch without biting to an extent that is uncomfortable. I have experimented with every embouchure, tongue, and thoat configuration that I can think of without any success. I use proper voicings and get a great sound that I love, but as I reach the upper register I have to start biting, with the palm keys being nearly impossible to play without significant pressure from my teeth. When I blow into the mouthpiece by itself my pitch usually lands around an "E" or "F". This made me begin to wonder something. Can an alto mouthpiece be made to have a standard pitch above "A", while still producing a good tone that works well throughout the registers? If I always go flat while blowing into a mouthpiece, would a mouthpiece that's been pitched higher fix the upper register biting problems that I encounter?
 

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I never bother with the pitch of a mouthpiece on it's own, what is important is how it plays on the saxophone.

However it is a very good exercise to be able to get as many pitches as you can on the mouthpieces by itself, ie playing scales, tunes and pitch bends.

What those actual pitches should be would depend on the individual mouthpiece, player and style of playing.
 

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Are you targeting for a concert A or an A as heard on an Eb alto sax? A concert A would actually be a F# as heard on your alto.

The "A" pitch target is a good guideline for classical and wind ensemble sax playing. Especially if you are having intonation problems and you need to do some trouble-shooting. Jazz players often like to play looser to get the sound they want and they push the mouthpiece in a little farther to compensate. This embouchure can be 1.5-2.5 steps flatter than the "classical" MP pitch targets. But it usually requires more muscle memory to lip some of the notes in tune.
 

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You may also want to experiment with some reeds of different brands. Sometimes a different "cut" can make a difference with a particular mouthpiece/player. If you find that "biting" is a fairly common error for you, I would suggest a slightly softer reed. Try "pitching" some higher notes with a reference (an "intune" recording or keyboard) and focus on not biting but keeping the air stream constant. A mistake some of my students have attempted is to use a tuner too much when attempting this exercise. I suggest you only use the tuner at the beginning to find a spot on the neck cork that works for you on several pitches. Then, rely on your ear to show you where you need to make the subtle embouchure adjustments on some pitches.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I was targeting concert A. I don't do concert band on the sax, but it was my starting instrument and I have pretty much only used it for jazz in the 6 years that I have played. I am aware that the mouthpiece pitch tends to be lower for jazz, but I have never been able to reach A on a classical setup either without biting. I can't play the palm keys in tune because the amount of biting required just to get the note to speak makes it be really sharp. It's rather frustrating considering I've been working on this problem every single time I practice. I've tried to do overtone exercises to help remedy the issue but in the last couple of years of practicing those the highest I've been able to reach is a high Bb from fingering a low Bb, on a good day. As for reeds, I have tried every brand on the market from Alexanders to Zondas in varying strengths. I actually have found that I have better success in the upper register when I use harder reeds.
 

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I actually have found that I have better success in the upper register when I use harder reeds.
You will, everybody does. It sounds like you consistently bite too much and voice the horn too low. As Pete alluded to, try playing a wider range on the mouthpiece alone, you should be able to play an octave or even a 10th. Play some scale exercises. Do it with a double embouchure, that should keep you from biting. The point is that you have to be able to do it with a fairly loose and consistent embouchure and make all the pitch change with your vocal cavity alone. Once you figure this out your problem should disappear.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
My range on the mouthpiece without biting is from concert B (I can't start on that pitch but I can bend down to it) to concert F. I tend to play with a "tah" or "tee" voicing depending on the register. "Tee" puts me at a concert E with additional embouchure support getting me up to the F. I constantly push from my diaphragm when I'm playing so it's not like my airstream isn't supporting me. Is there anything else I should focus on?
 

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It's hard to debug this over the net; a good teacher is the best bet. Failing that, here are some thoughts:

But try more or less lip on the reed and vary how much mouthpiece you take in. Likely your lip is too loose and flabby: try firming it up some. Too much lip close to the tip of the reed will damp out the overtones so that could be an issue. When you find something that works to raise the mouthpiece pitch, it will likely feel strange for a while because it is different. You may squeak for a while as you learn a new way to control the reed. You'll need to give it a chance. My feeling you ought to be able to get the mpc pitch up to C or C# when playing with more than usual embouchure tension, so your limit of F combined with the flatness means something is wrong.

How do you know you are biting? Maybe what you call biting is really proper embouchure tension and you've been playing too loose. Just a thought.

In general when reworking embouchure, it it best to start with a soft reed and not push the range too high (on the horn.) Gradually increase both as you learn your new approach.
 

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I agree with Pete, forget about playing just the mouthpiece (at least for now).
Reading your second statement you have bigger problems than trying to get concert pitches out of your mouthpiece: You've been playing 6 years and you cannot play the palm keys easily and in tune? and what Bb are you talking about B3 or B4? If it's B3 you have some big problems somewhere.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I agree with Pete, forget about playing just the mouthpiece (at least for now).
Reading your second statement you have bigger problems than trying to get concert pitches out of your mouthpiece: You've been playing 6 years and you cannot play the palm keys easily and in tune? and what Bb are you talking about B3 or B4? If it's B3 you have some big problems somewhere.
When fingering a low Bb I rarely can reach the highest "normal" Bb on the horn (not altissimo). The first two harmonic jumps are absolutely no effort at all and haven't been since day one. Every teacher I've worked with on my issues doesn't really know what going on because every trick they have does nothing. It's so frustrating being told it appears I'm doing everything right only to have it come out of the horn wrong.
 

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Are you putting the top teeth on the mouthpiece? If so, measure the distance from the tip of the mouthpiece to the teeth marks and report it here.

Describe what you mean by biting to an extent that is uncomfortable?

Are your lower teeth sharp or jagged?

Does the mouthpiece go straight into the mouth, or is it up or down at an angle? If so, how much?

When you play the mouthpiece and neck apart from the saxophone what pitch is produced?

The answers to these questions will give some important information that will enable us to help with your tone production issues.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Are you putting the top teeth on the mouthpiece? If so, measure the distance from the tip of the mouthpiece to the teeth marks and report it here.

Describe what you mean by biting to an extent that is uncomfortable?

Are your lower teeth sharp or jagged?

Does the mouthpiece go straight into the mouth, or is it up or down at an angle? If so, how much?

When you play the mouthpiece and neck apart from the saxophone what pitch is produced?

The answers to these questions will give some important information that will enable us to help with your tone production issues.
My top teeth are a little more than 1/2 inch on the mouthpiece.

To me biting is getting grooves in my lower lip that hurt for a day or two.

Lower teeth are normal, not sharp or jagged.

If I stand straight and have the body of the sax parallel to my body, the mouthpiece naturally enters my mouth at the angle determined by the horn's neck.

When I play into the mouthpiece and neck as if I were playing, I produce a concert Bb.
 

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My top teeth are a little more than 1/2 inch on the mouthpiece.
I would like you to try taking a bit more up to 5/8". Get some mouthpiece patches, the thicker ones and mark with a pen where your top teeth go. Make an indentation in that spot with your thumbnail and make sure you put the top teeth in exactly that spot every time you play.

To me biting is getting grooves in my lower lip that hurt for a day or two.
That is not unusual, especially if you are practicing a lot. I recommend that you get a box of EZO denture cushions from the pharmacy, cut an oval large enough to cover the front bottom teeth, heat it in hot water and then form it over your bottom teeth. It will harden a bit and make a custom fit cushion for your bottom lip to rest upon.

Lower teeth are normal, not sharp or jagged.
That's a good thing. Use the teeth cushions for a while anyway. It also means you are not British (that's a joke).

:) If I stand straight and have the body of the sax parallel to my body, the mouthpiece naturally enters my mouth at the angle determined by the horn's neck.
Try this. With the head erect, balance the sax between your thumbs and the neckstrap and then push the bottom of the sax forward and see where the mouthpiece touches on your face. Adjust the neckstrap so that when you do this the mouthpiece touches the curve just above the chin. Then tilt the head down slightly to let the mouthpiece enter the mouth. This is the angle of the mouthpiece that works the best for most players.

When I play into the mouthpiece and neck as if I were playing, I produce a concert Bb.
You are a whole step too high on the pitch! Relax the embouchure to produce an Ab concert on the mouthpiece and neck. Blow some long tones and get used to the feel of the embouchure at this setting. Your problem with the high tones is not embouchure so much as it is air and tuning. By playing too high on the pitch of the mouthpiece + neck you have to pull the mouthpiece out farther when you tune. This causes the high tones to be flat, which in turn is causing you to "bite" to get the notes up to pitch.

By playing with the embouchure setting that produces an Ab concert on the neck and mouthpiece, you will be able to push the mouthpiece farther onto the cork when you tune and the high notes won't cause you to work as hard. It is also important to let the air do most of the work when you go into the higher tones. Blow fast cold air as you go higher and you will be surprised how much easier the high notes respond. Don't use a reed stronger than a 2 1/2 or 3 for now and concentrate on blowing "pressurized" air and not biting when you play.
 
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