Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 17 of 17 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
443 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Hello!
Another questoion in my 'newbie series'.
I 've found many posts in which beginners complain about low notes. I have no troubles with low notes on my alto starting at low Bb up to C# open.

I have problems with notes that engage the octave key. I can play relatively smoothly up to C# but when I hit the octave key with D fingering to produce the second octave D there is no change in pitch from the lower octave D unless I squeeze the mouthpiece really hard as I perceive it. As a result I can play those high notes at the edge of my physical abilities. I have to blow hard as well, I don't know why as I do it intuitively. I probably tense up as well as those notes look really difficult for me.

I saw some posts where it was mentioned that higher notes require tighter emouchure but I haven't seen a single post where it was really stressed. I've read lots of stuff on sax tone production including Larry Teal's 'Art...' book and watched some instructional videos like Walter Beasly's 'Tone...' but I don't remember that I noticed any emphasis on the tight embouchure for high notes. It sounds to me like those beginners with 'low notes' troubles get high notes naturally while the opposite troubles me.

Thanks for advice!

My equipment: Trevor James Classic alto with stock mouthpiece and #3 Vandoren reeds. The sax was checked by my teacher before he went on vacation. We didn't touch the high notes with him as a study material though but he played the whole range of the sax.
As I mentioned in my another post I yesterday tried #1.5 Vandoren reed that came with my sax kit and it was really much much easier to blow than #3 but it didn't help to produce the higher notes easier, only the low notes wich is the subject of my other post.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,207 Posts
Congratulations on taking up the alto, you have made a good choice.

I think you have answered your own question, to a degree, and Mr Teal's advice is pretty sound, although some people here suggest a different embouchure, his still works OK

The basic idea is not to let any air escape from around the mouthpiece. This means drawing in your mouth like an elastic band, as hard as you can.

Now, no-one told me this either: but initially playing the sax can be tiring on the mouth. It takes a long time to build up those (until now) underused muscles.

Both of the teachers I have had get sore lips after prolongued playing, my current teacher had a terrible mouth after a workshop weekend (5 hours a day playing) and he has been playing and teaching for 30 years!

So, as long as you are not "biting" dont be alarmed if your mouth aches at first. I think I could always get to top D without much trouble, but it is only now after nearly a year that I can get to top f# without "playing up to it" and that is still tough when my mouth is tired.

BTW, The idea is to be able to play every note without altering your embouchure at all, so if you have to tighten to player in the upper register, then this is your embouchure!! In reality though, I think we all tighten a touch :) I certainly do because I like a fuller tone on the lower notes (this is call subtone, and might be what you are doing without even realizing it!)

In fact, if you can easily get down to those low notes, you are probably subtoning!! Store this embouchure for future use, as it is a lovely sound. This technique is hard to explain, but involves a very soft embouchure, with the bottom lip pushed very slightly forward, and a moist reed. The problem is it is hard to subtone on high notes!!

On this clip I am subtoning for the first few notes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5lo-c5Auwk


One good test is to shut your eyes, blow a bottom D for example, and get someone else to press your octave key without warning you first. You cannot adjust your mouth in anticipation, and this simple excercise can find the best embouchure for you.

BTW, dont overblow.... look for a nice sharp attack to you breath, but dont try and force the note. You should be able to play those high notes nice and softly, so it is all about the tightness of your embouchure.

My personal opinion regarding reeds, 1.5 is fine for now, but look to go up to a 2 when you can, try Rico Royals, they are a nice flexible reed. Also reeds vary withing the box, so try and buy a whole box, some are duffers. Wet them well before playing, and lay flat to dry, and then store in a proper case. Try and keep 3-4 on the go at once in rotation. I number mine with a pencil on the back (sad)
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
5,336 Posts
First check to see if your octave mechanism is operating correctly. Do this by fingering low G and then pressing the thumb octave key. When you press the thumb key you should see the body octave key (small pad) open about 3/16". If it does not this is the problem. Also keeping the thumb key pressed going from G to A should close the body octave and open the one on the neck. Also fingering G and striking the thumb key hard should produce no bouncing of the neck key whatsoever.

If this is not the problem, using your #3 reed (not the 1 1/2) take off the neck and mouthpiece and play the neck only to see what pitch is produced. With the mouthpiece approx halfway on the cork, the pitch should match Ab on the piano. Try adjusting the embouchure till you can make that pitch on the neck and try the sax again slurring from C to 4th line D. If the octave mechanism is working properly and if you are putting the correct pitch into the sax, the notes D and above should come out easily.

Regardless of what you have read on SOTW about tightening the embouchure more for the high notes, it is not an accepted part of standard saxophone pedagogy. Except for the altissimo (notes above high F) the saxophone is best played with the same embouchure from low Bb to high F.

John
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
599 Posts
I remember when I first started, I wasn't able to hit many of the notes in the second register. It took me quite awhile, around a year, to "fully" develop my embrouchere muscles, so that I could still support my air stream while playing higher notes.

Though the thing about your post is strange. Usually beginners can hit D2. When you try to play it, is your neck octave key opening a fraction along with the one on the body?

I find that that often happened on my old Yamaha YAS-23. If I blew hard enough on D2, the pitch would often come out to an A2, because the regular D wasn't working, and instead I accidentaly lipped up.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
443 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for your replies! The octave mechanism was the first thing that I checked when I didn't get those upper notes easily. Both valves worked as expected.
When you say that no embouchure change is required to get to the higher notes it sounds to me as if you would say that to lift 10 pounds is the same as lifting 30 pounds. This is how I feel when changing from low D to high D. If someone would press the octave key when my eyes were closed while I was holding the low D I would get the same low D even If I new the octave key would be pressed at that moment. I am really making a great effort to play the high notes.
If the high notes didn't come out at all I would suspect the saxophone but since I can at least get them it is something different.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
5,336 Posts
It does seem a bit counterintuitive to not tighten the embouchure as one goes higher on the sax (like on the trumpet), but keeping the embouchure the same works if the embouchure is set at the correct tightness to begin with. If the mouthpiece alone produces the pitch A=880 (Concert pitch) or the mouthpiece and neck produce Ab Concert this embouchure tension or tightness will produce all of the notes in the regular range of the saxophone with a good tone and intonation.

You do speed up the airstream as you go higher and raise the back of the tongue slightly---especially for the palm key notes above high C.

Bruce Pearson discusses the placement of the mouthpiece and the embouchure in this article. http://www.brucepearsonmusic.com/article/SaxEmbouchure.htm

There are also some excellent suggestions on saxophone playing at this link: http://www.tsmp.org/band/saxophone/utley_embouchure_basics.html

One additional thought. The body octave "pip" (small hole) can sometimes get clogged. Very carefully bend a soft pipe cleaner and push it through the opening. It is easier if you take off the key, but it can be tricky to put the octave mechanism back on if you do this. The opening on the neck can be checked by closing the end of the neck with the palm of your hand, opening the key and blowing hard.

John
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
443 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
BTW I also have a Bb Clarinet and actually attempted to start learning on both devices simultaneously before meating my sax/clarinet teacher who told me that it would be better to start on the sax and then add the clarinet later.
From reading I know that sax uses what they call a 'more relaxed' embouchure than the clarinet so I expect that generally the clarinet would require a more 'tense' and controlled embouchure to produce the whole range of notes correctly.
What I found through my first experiences with the clarinet before I left it for awhile was that I could hit the higher register notes using octave key with no problems by just pressing the octave key and not adjusting my embouchure at all.
The problem on the clarinet was however frequent squeaking.
Two different beasts, two different problems. I can't even think now what I would like to have from the start: no squeaking on the clarinet but no high notes or some squeaking on the sax and easy high notes.
I checked the 'pip' on the neck and it's working fine. I couldn't check the one on the body but since I have problems in all upper notes range I assume the problem is not with the 'pip'.
I have to tighten up my embouchure considerably to produce the high notes but when I step back to the lower register I still hear the high notes and I have to loosen my embouchure to drop the pitch to low values.
I tried to adjust my embouchure by experimenting with moving the mouthpiece back and forth in the mouth and that didn't help me. I only produced different colours of the low notes which I think would be expected.
I only noticed that producing high notes was easier when placing the upper teeth abouth 1/4 of an inch from the edge of the mouthpiece. But I don't think that's a normal playing position since it was very easy to squeeze the mouthpiece to the point when the sound stopped as the reed was too constrained to move at all.
What else can I try? Would changing my current stock mouthpiece to a good one with a properly matching reed help me?

Crazydaisydoo: I just noticed you are from Leicestershire (had to copy that from your profile, I always had problems with spelling that :)). Greetings! Nice place, I studied in Loughborough (this one is engraved in my memory somehow:)) University 10 years ago .
 

·
Forum Contributor 2011, SOTW's pedantic pet rodent
Joined
·
8,322 Posts
Try these: play your low D, then HEAR the D an octave above in your head, then depress the octave key and see if the D above comes out. I totally agree with the advice of others that you shouldn't be making any kind of drastic embouchure adjustment to move from middle C to D. Another factor may be that as you move from middle C to D the sax itself is moving around a lot because of the hand/finger movement. You can steady the sax by keeping the right hand down as you play C/Csharp and then just depress the left hand + octave to move "across the break". Be reassured that the little diffculties you're having here are had by everyone - crossing the break is one of the inherent tricky things to do on a saxophone and the instrument itself favours ease of playing with some series of notes more than others.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
145 Posts
Hi WinnSie

I too am a beginner and therefore have no great secrets which will help you out, but one thing I have noticed I do when I play and start to get tired is to close my throat up a little and this stops me from hitting some of the higher notes, I also notice that the sound becomes a little deadened and bottom C resonates, like I am playing inside a 44 gallon drum.

I find that when this happens there is no difference between my notes when I press the octave key, example, when playing G and upper G there is no difference between sounds, it just comes out as a G, I find that the problem is worse when I play legato, I hit the higher notes more often when I tongue the note and I think this is because your throat opens as the tongue moves.

I am listening to crazydaisydoo's youtube song while writing this, I love the soft smooth sound, it is what I am after in my own playing, it really makes you want to keep going with lessons and practice so that one day you can play like this, I am so loud and harsh at the moment. (well done crazy, I am off to search for some more of your youtube clips :) )

There is plenty of fine players and teachers on here I am sure you will find the help you need, good luck and tell us when you fix the problem and how you did it, as a beginner I am always reading past posts looking for answers.

Tony
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
443 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
Thanks comrades, I'll keep trying.
One other thing that bothers me and I don't know if it might be connected with the main subject of this thread is that I cannot produce notes at a low volume. I need to blow really hard to get the notes started. And when they get started the longest I can hold my 'best' note is 6 seconds. I am absolutely sure I have good breath support but it feels like I run out of air quickly.
If I try to hold a note longer and slow down the air streem the sax stops speaking almost at once. Yesterday I again watched the Walter Beasley's Sound Production DVD and could not believe it was possible to paly at such a low volume, almost like whispering. No way!

I breathe from the diaphragm and I have been doing breathing exercises without saxophone for several months now.

I only could hold the notes longer with a Vandoren #1.5 reed that came with my sax. I accidently broke it and now I am left with a pack of #3 reeds that I used form the very beginning. Am I using very hard reeds for a beginner? I am also not sure what reeds are supposed to be used with my stock TJJ mouthpiece. Since this is a stock no name mouthpiece it has no indication whether it's open or closed.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,207 Posts
Winnsie #3 reeds are way too hard for the majority of beginners. It will put you off for life!! Try and buy a whole box of rico 2's (the orange box ones are fine to beigin with) and make sure your wet them well before playing.

I cannot play 3's, only 2.5's. My store was out of 2.5s yesterday so I got a box of 2's, albeit hemke's. Softer is better to begin with!!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
928 Posts
As a beginner you might consider not even touching the very high octave or those bell notes. I would encourage you to stay in the range :line0: to the C with octave key. This is 2 octaves and enough to "play" with. Get good in these 2 octaves, first. With a close tip mouthpiece and a softer reed you can then make quicker, and more effective, progress.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
599 Posts
My beginning combination was a Selmer C* and a Rico orange box of 2.5 reeds, though I had problems at the beginning because the reed was still a bit too hard for me.

I basically struggled for a year, until I finally came to grips with the saxophone, and the whole idea of playing broke in. Like the others have said, it's best to start soft, and when you feel really comfortable playing them, move up a half-step until you like where you are.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
443 Posts
Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
I finally made my mind to make some changes to my setup just to see how it would affect my sound production hoping for better results and obtained a new Vandoren A27 mouthpiece to replace the sax manufacturer's mouthpiece.
There were two Vandoren mouthpieces (no other brand was there) in stock in the local store: A27 and A35. I decided to go for A27 as it appears to have smaller tip opening although it has shorter facing length.
Was my choice wise?

I didn't notice much improvements in my abilities to get overall better sax sound although several things I noticed were (please help me with some of them!):

- The pitch of all notes went down! Why could it happen? My sax was perfectly in tune with the stock mouthpiece when I matched it to the sound of the samples from the 'Absolute Beginners Alto Sax' book's accompanying CD. Initially the sax was tuned by my instructor (I won't see him until September).
The Vandoren A27 mp is 1/2" longer than the stock mp. I understand A27 could send the pitch down because of the overall lenght increase. If I push it further down on the neck to match with the lenght of the stock mouthpiece it will take all the cork in. I don't think this is correct position of the mp because the stock mp took all but only 1/2" of the cork in.
This may be cocerned with the problem I describe below as well.

- I somehow started to produce the octave key notes easier but only some of them: I now can nearly perfectly alternate between A1 and A2 without even tongueing the two of them. It's still much harder to alternate between D1 and D2. I get D2 occasionally.
Interestingly enough I didn't notice much difference between #2 and #3 reeds on this mouthpiece. Well, nearly no difference.

- Last, probably the most important of the frustrating things. I could not raise the pitch of this mouthpiece alone up to A = 880Hz on the piano. My ear tells me that I produce the pitch close to Ab. I tried to adjust my embouchure in many ways but it didn't help. Maybe #2 reeds are still hard for me? This is surprising because the specifications of this mouthpiece suggest to use harder reeds and I assumed that it would be easier to blow it with the harder reeds than the open tip mouthpieces.
It was quite easy to get A = 880 Hz with the stock mouthpiece. Besides, the stock mp allowed for more adjustments of the pitch then the A27.

- I visually compared the A27 mp to the stock mp and found that the stock mp is little more open at the tip and has longer facing. A27 has more steep curvature of the facing than the stock mp. Should I take less of the mp into the mouth with A27?

-The least important thing for me at this time was that the tone with the new mp has changed to more narrow, edgy and bright as I perceive it comparing to the stock mp. This doesn't really matter much but I actually like more mellow sound.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2009
Joined
·
3,204 Posts
jbtsax said:
The body octave "pip" (small hole) can sometimes get clogged. Very carefully bend a soft pipe cleaner and push it through the opening.
First thing to check, this might make a huge difference.

My idea : embouchure problems to some extent, but especially breath support. You say your breath support is good, but that's quite hard to believe if you have to blow that hard to get a note started.

Remember that breath support is about thightening the diaphragm to put more pressure on the air so it moves at a higher speed. Blowing hard doesn't increase the speed, it increases the volume.

An exercise : tense up your stomach-muscles as if you're ready to get a punch. take your mouthpiece and blow on it. Keep the tension in your stomach muscles, but decrease the volume of air until the tone almost goes away. The air speed stays the same, the volume of air gets less : you should get a full but softer tone.

For your notes : high D is a hard one. high E, F or G might be easier. Try to go from A to high E for example, and then to high D. When trying this, keep thinking about your breath support.

For your embouchure : you should tighten up the corners of your lips and pull these corners up a bit like a grimas, but pull your chin down. This prevents biting. The muscles you need for that are the ones on your cheeks, right under your eyes. Watch a trained clarinetist, you see immediately which muscles he uses most.

My 2 cents.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,207 Posts
Stick with it Winnsie, I must say though that the A27 (I have one) has a more open tip than a Yamaha 4c (the typical beginners mpc) It also has strange tuning characteristics, fine on my Yamaha, intonation poor on my old Martin.

Keep the A27 for later, but you really should start off with the combination of no 2 reeds and a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece or similar. I think you have leapt maybe from a poor stock mouthpiece to a intermediate one. Beg steal or borrow a 4c, its an easy blow!! I have to work a bit at my A27
 
1 - 17 of 17 Posts
Top