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Discussion Starter #1
I'm approximately 3.5 years in and I feel like while progression in tone, articulation and control is coming along I still need huge help with my dynamics whilst playing - especially just playing softly.

I play with people rarely but enough to always get that look of 'geez, turn it down, man!'
I see/hear other sax players just play nice and soft and I think 'why can't I do that?'
My teacher (who I can no longer afford money or time to visit currently) could never get me to play softer - we worked on long tones going from ppp to fff but I'd just revert back to loud when playing anything else.
I guess I feel that to get the best tone from my horn is to get the biggest tone. I know I'm wrong there, but under pressure I hit it hard every time it seems.

Last night after practise I played the head of 'There Will Be Another You' twice through the first time with the best tone I could muster but softest I could (I can play softer but the tone goes to ####) and then again ripping through it pretty loud but not mental.

Set-up:
SML 'Revision D' // Selmer 'Short Shank' Soloist C* // Vandoren 'blue box' 3 // Vandoren leather ligature with metal plate.

I added a tiny smidge of reverb to give it life but not compression or anything that effects the volume or dynamics at all.

https://soundcloud.com/dubrosa22%2Fthere-will-never-be-another-you-test
https://soundcloud.com/dubrosa22/there-will-never-be-another-you-test

Please guys have a listen and tell me what things I can practise to simply play softer (p or pp even).
Much appreciated,
Vaughan

P.S. Here's a snapshot of the waveform in Audacity of the recording (the Soundcloud image looks compressed?). I can hear a decent difference between the two versions but it looks like there's actually only around 2db difference!
View attachment 52012
 

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I'm far from an expert, but my reaction is that if your quiet tone is lacking, you should probably play softly as much as possible. I have the same problem and my approach is to spend time each practice session playing a few ballads I love and really concentrating on getting the horn to speak at low volume. I also use it as an opportunity to work on my vibrato and just focus on trying to inject the music with as much feeling as possible.

It's damn difficult, but I know it will make me a much better player if I stick with it. Whatever method(s) you ultimately choose, I'd be interested to know how it's working for you. Good luck!
 

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One thing that's very important to keeping a full, resonant tone when playing softly, is to keep the air moving. Of course, one can blow less air and physics will take care that the sound is softer but that can also result in a weaker sound. Are you keeping a focused air stream moving quickly into your horn?
 

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Carry your neck, mp, reed with you and in spare moments blow as softly as you can while getting the reed to vibrate. Practice bending the tone, bringing the volume up and down, but do a lot of playing around at the transition where the reed starts and stops vibrating.

If you can play the mp softly you should be able to play a horn, if it is not leaky, softly.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the responses guys.

MrBlueNote, your response is I guess the obvious answer that I hadn't stumbled upon! :) Practise playing softly more often!
So I did this last night - 45mins all as soft as possible and already I'm feeling more confident about my tone and vibrato control at this level. Scales, triads and patterns seem the easiest to play softly but tunes and improv I tend to play very loud. Especially when reading a new tune.

Thanks Gary, yes steady air stream does seem to be the key to volume.
When I play softly I definitely push as much air through the horn as steadily as possible to vibrate the reed but not so much as to push up the volume. But if I articulate/tongue much at all the tone generally suffers so legato seems to be necessary mostly at low volume? In my pretty poor example recording I feel the marginally softer version is lighter in articulation and the louder is heavily (badly in this instance) articulated. Regardless of preference is loss of clean fast articulation/tonguing a casualty of playing very softly or does that just come with practise?

Great idea Ballad Kid I'd never thought of the the mpc & neck exercise specifically for volume rather than pitch and bending. I won't risk toting my neck and mouthpiece about with me to work but around the house it'll be fine. My horn's definitely not leaky - it's all me ;)

V
 

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Control is the key. It's like asking a drummer to play soft and fast. It takes focused effort.

You've taken the first steps - you are aware of the issue, and you have demonstrated to yourself that you can do it under limited conditions.

Notice when the ideal breaks down - if it is tonguing quickly at low volumes, make that a regular part of your practice regimen. Try playing familiar tunes at low volume - especially tunes with rapid passages. Listen also for changes in your tone as volume approaches zero - keep solid airstream and support at all times.

Playing fast articulation at low volumes was one of my greatest challenges when I took up classical playing after decades of jazz. It's worth the effort. I find that achieving mastery of yet another challenge on the horn is very fulfilling.

G'luck!
 

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Is it easy to get the low end of the horn to speak softly or do you have to work at it? If you have to really work at it, a softer reed may help.

Otherwise, as everyone said above - practice! :)
 

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Discussion Starter #9
You've taken the first steps - you are aware of the issue, and you have demonstrated to yourself that you can do it under limited conditions
Thanks G, it took me awhile to realise it and then actually try to do something about honestly but I think I'm finally getting an understanding of what I need to do to keep a soft volume and keep my tone solid: hard work & practise.

aaronrod & zorroperro, as far as blowing a soft low C, B or Bb on my usual set-up (outlined in the first post) I'm reasonably comfortable in the low-end soft as I can currently manage. I'd like to play softer in volume though of course.
I generally play a La Voz MH or Vandoren Java/V12/Blue Box 2.5 or 3 or 2H or 3S RJS depending on the reed or me.
Any softer and it's just too soft for me to get a solid tone. My C* is pretty darn small.

V
 

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Vandoren Java 2.5 is really different than Vandoren Classic, Blue Box, 2.5. Green Javas tend to work softer at the same number than Blue Box. Well, almost everything tends to be half a number softer than its equivalent Blue Box number.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I don't find a Red Java 2.5 too much different strength-wise from a Blue box 2.5 personally.
Green Java feel quite a bit softer however.

But as you can see from my list I jump from reed type to reed type quite a bit - the lower strengths I mostly just play outta the box whilst the 3s and MH I work on a touch or break in more.

V
 

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Your sound is somewhat classical, and also muscular, pleasing qualities both. You could join a classical group, where you would need to adjust your dynamics to flutes and violins.
There is quite a difference between the two choruses the first while not soft, is softer , and there is more subtlety in the expression, it is less articulated with less rests. The second has more attack and has more defined articulation. You could practise diminuendoes on the long notes you play with vibrato, diminuendo down to no sound at all, crossing the transition that Ballad Kid mentioned, in fact you do do this in the recording.
I too thought of suggesting a softer reed. You can get a big sound on a softer reed playing more gently.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Your sound is somewhat classical, and also muscular, pleasing qualities both. You could join a classical group, where you would need to adjust your dynamics to flutes and violins.
There is quite a difference between the two choruses the first while not soft, is softer , and there is more subtlety in the expression, it is less articulated with less rests. The second has more attack and has more defined articulation. You could practise diminuendoes on the long notes you play with vibrato, diminuendo down to no sound at all, crossing the transition that Ballad Kid mentioned, in fact you do do this in the recording.
I too thought of suggesting a softer reed. You can get a big sound on a softer reed playing more gently.
Thank you for your analysis, suggestions and encouragement DECLANOMAD.
Joining ANY group would benefit me but I'm really not sure I can commit to anything too serious right now - my TV work and child demands are too pressing. I may join a casual jazz group for just 1 night a week if I get the courage. Although classical would be rather nice.
I also might be performing an amateur duo with an acoustic guitar in a few weeks/months (one classical piece) so hopefully I can use that opportunity to hone my soft playing skills (although he'll be miked I imagine/hope!).

I've been playing only softest I can manage exclusively during my practises since creating this thread. Everything I play: diminuendos, scales, arpeggios, patterns, tunes and improv (that's the hardest). And I can hear and feel the improvement already and spookily I can tell my tone is responding positively too and also my musical expression.

Seems like a softer reed is a big consensus suggestion so the last few evenings I've practised with a 2H RJS which is a little buzzier than I'd personally like but does allow me more range dynamically (especially in the low-end) now I'm seriously attacking the problem constructively.

The journey continues...
V
 

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Good news, and good luck. The buzziness depends a lot on lip contact on the reed, how much area of lip on reed, how firm/soft, and how far down, something to investigate for timbre.
It´s funny, knowing this forum, that since several people have suggested trying a softer reed, that no-one has also suggested trying a harder one!
 

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The buzziness is partly in your head, and partly getting used to the softer reed. As you get used to playing a softer reed and relax your embouchure a bit, it will disappear.

I went from playing 3.5's on a Meyer 7M to playing 2.5's on a Meyer 5M on alto. While it took me a couple of weeks to adjust, once I did, my control increased tremendously - it was the first time I felt like I was playing music, rather than fighting with my instrument.

As an added bonus, my endurance increased significantly as well - I went from getting a bit tired after 2 sets, to being able to play for over 3 hours without breaking a sweat.

Have fun!
 

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Please, also remember that the human ear is less sensitive to low frequencies (and high) when the sound pressure lowers. So, even if the percentage weighting of the lower notes when playing softly is identical to that of playing louder, you will perceive the sound as lighter, missing lower frequencies. To read more of this psychoacoustic phenomenon read about the Fletcher Munson curves. This is a start, but I urge reading further searches from physics books and university studies as Wiki is.....well......wiki. I'm just putting this link on Wiki as a starter.
 

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The first thing I did was to strengthen my embrocure and then work on my tone because without the foundation of your whole jaw structure how are you gonna work on the harder stuff. If you know any calc, you can't do a derivative without knowing things like the power rule, chain ect. Its all a structure that needs building. After I sounded like how I wanted I worked on articulation and tounging. I found a lot of the mistakes with tone were also effects caused by air flow, chips in my reed, weather conditions, and plain not practicing. Whenever I play I start with long tones. It helps "Break in the reed" and also gets you warmed up as well as the sax. When I do this I also do dynamic action such as loud as I can play and down to lmjust barely making a sound. If you keep your mouth steady but lessen the air, not the force but physically the amount, you can get as quiet as you please. You have some great potential and just go through the journey like everybody else does. Sit back, do the ground work, and sit back and enjoy the ride.
 

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You have moved to a softer reed, and it seems that this is helping you so far. There are things you can do with your throat and tongue so that you will have adequate power and sound throughout the range of the horn, even at the top end, while using softer reeds. Overtone exercises would be a good thing to add, if you are not doing them already.

Are you using a mouthpiece patch? I went without one for many years, but then discovered that using one allowed me to keep my teeth where I wanted them while biting less, and biting less improved my sound.
 
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