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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been getting back into playing tenor and bari after decades of not playing anything. Well, started two years ago but lost my practice space when COVID came along, and have just now figured out a new one.

Anyways, one of the things that blew my mind when I started reading about playing the sax again was the importance of using your throat and tongue to control the airstream. When I learned the sax in middle and high school, no one ever talked about this (to be fair, my teachers only played piano). I was taught to try to control the pitch using bite pressure on the reed, and I have to say I've never, ever been very successful with that.

I've been making good progress at losing the bite pressure instinct, and one thing I've noticed is that, for the first time ever, I'm starting to like enjoy tone on the tenor. Far less stuffy, particularly in the upper octave. But my intonation still feels like it's all over the map.

When I play, I really have to pay attention even to know what's happening with my throat and tongue, to the point where I can't really follow sheet music properly. So I think what I need is lots of practice.

So I guess my question is, is there a good reference or set of references (books, web pages, youtube videos, etc) that you know of that would be good for a kind of remedial, beginner-level self-instruction on how to do this? And any other basic, crucial piece of information that every sax player on the earth knows, except for me...
 

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If there were such a book, I don't think reading descriptions of something so hard to describe would do you much good. It will come naturally with practice and eventually be automatic. Try to forget about your mouth and embouchure and just use your ears. Your body will eventually learn what to do to make a good sound. I've personally never thought about what my throat and tongue do. I just concentrate on the sound, and the body follows.

My 2 cents.
 

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I've been getting back into playing tenor and bari after decades of not playing anything. Well, started two years ago but lost my practice space when COVID came along, and have just now figured out a new one.

Anyways, one of the things that blew my mind when I started reading about playing the sax again was the importance of using your throat and tongue to control the airstream. When I learned the sax in middle and high school, no one ever talked about this (to be fair, my teachers only played piano). I was taught to try to control the pitch using bite pressure on the reed, and I have to say I've never, ever been very successful with that.

I've been making good progress at losing the bite pressure instinct, and one thing I've noticed is that, for the first time ever, I'm starting to like enjoy tone on the tenor. Far less stuffy, particularly in the upper octave. But my intonation still feels like it's all over the map.

When I play, I really have to pay attention even to know what's happening with my throat and tongue, to the point where I can't really follow sheet music properly. So I think what I need is lots of practice.

So I guess my question is, is there a good reference or set of references (books, web pages, youtube videos, etc) that you know of that would be good for a kind of remedial, beginner-level self-instruction on how to do this? And any other basic, crucial piece of information that every sax player on the earth knows, except for me...
My guess is that you might be overthinking all of this like a lot of people tend to do that get information off the internet. The most important advice is to try to play with your tongue in an "EEEE" position so it is arched and the sides of the tongue are touching the top teeth on either side just like when you say "EEEE". Once that tongue position is in place, then you can find tune the fine details of its position as you play and practice the saxophone in the coming months and years.

One book that helped me incredibly with this was "Top Tones" by Sigurd Rascher. There is a seemingly simple part in that book before you get to trying altissimo and overtones where he writes about imagining a note before you play it and then playing it almost like you were going to sing it. That one page part of the book bored me to tears when I was in college but it was huge in retrospect. When I play a high D on the saxophone my tongue will go to the best position to play that high D clearly and in tune. Playing the different notes of the sax like this is called "Voicing". Just focus on getting that "EEEE" position tongue at first.

I will suggest getting a teacher because I have taught quite a few "self taught by the internet" adults who just plain learned the basics wrong because their impressions of the basics from what they read on the internet steered them in the totally wrong direction about embouchure, tonguing and everything else. I have many people come to me who have read that you want your embouchure to be as loose as possible and they are totally messed up. My opinion, is that as a beginner you want to start with a firm embouchure that is consistent. Figure out how to play and be reasonably in-tune which a firm consistent embouchure will help you do and then later, you can mess around with loosening things up and seeing if the effects are positive for you. Good Luck!
 

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A: king zephyr martin HC 1 T: 1970 Mark VI, 1985 Buffet S1, 1935 Martin HC 1 B: 1973 Buffet SDA lowA
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I started on clarinet and started playing sax a few years later. Like the OP I stopped playing for a while. When I was younger I struggled with the lower notes and constantly got the advice to relax/open the the throat.

In my older age I realized that this is how the saxophone is meant to be played.

The other things that I realized is that I did not take in enough mouthpiece. Ie should take in until the break. . Also, the embouchure should not change from the bottom of the horn to the top.

This focus on consistency let’s the horn do the work as it is designed. If you are changing everything all over the place then the horn is not going to work as designed. Eg. If your throat is closed off you will play sharper and if yiu open flatter.

Below is the intonation map from my Buffet S1 using and early babbit stm. This is was playing through chromatic up and down through a chromatic at a fairly good pace. My focus was playing with a consistent throat mouth position only. Everything is +/- 5 cents except for 5 notes.

Sky Atmosphere Water Rectangle Azure
 

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I started on clarinet and started playing sax a few years later. Like the OP I stopped playing for a while. When I was younger I struggled with the lower notes and constantly got the advice to relax/open the the throat.

In my older age I realized that this is how the saxophone is meant to be played.

The other things that I realized is that I did not take in enough mouthpiece. Ie should take in until the break. . Also, the embouchure should not change from the bottom of the horn to the top.

This focus on consistency let’s the horn do the work as it is designed. If you are changing everything all over the place then the horn is not going to work as designed. Eg. If your throat is closed off you will play sharper and if yiu open flatter.

Below is the intonation map from my Buffet S1 using and early babbit stm. This is was playing through chromatic up and down through a chromatic at a fairly good pace. My focus was playing with a consistent throat mouth position only. Everything is +/- 5 cents except for 5 notes.

View attachment 123186
What did you use to make that intonation chart?
 

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I started on clarinet and started playing sax a few years later. Like the OP I stopped playing for a while. When I was younger I struggled with the lower notes and constantly got the advice to relax/open the the throat.
This is another aspect of "internet learning" that many get wrong. Relax and open can be thought of as two contrary things if you think about those words wrongly. If you try to open your throat manually there is a ton of tension created. It is not healthy. I tried doing this for a while when I was younger and the tension while playing was incredible bad for me. Some people think this is how you are supposed to play the sax and they create a whole bunch of issues for themselves. In my mind the key word is "relax". This implies no tension. When your throat is in this state the air column itself will do the job of opening things up and you don't have to manually try to open your throat up.......
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks everyone, this is all very helpful. I'll play around with these ideas, but I think perhaps the most important take-away is to go back to taking lessons with a good teacher.

Also, ROARII, I'll second the request for more information about what you used to make that intonation chart! Very cool...
 

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Despite the good warnings about learning from the internet and books (not only can one misunderstand what one finds, but there is a lot of misinformation too), if you are the type to dive deep into a subject, and if you have a head for wading through masses of information for nuggets of gold, I'd cautiously recommend Mark Watkins' book "From the Inside Out", which is a massive info. dump based on scientific documentation of what players who can play actually do with vocal tract and embouchure. The x-ray movies are on Youtube. At the end of each chapter Watkins typically has a set of recommended exercises for teaching the things discussed in that chapter.

For all that teaching yourself is fraught with the risk of being misled, it is also the case that much of saxophone teaching today is based on false descriptions and questionable metaphors. In other words really good teachers are rare, for all that many people seem to survive the process and learn to play.
 
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If there were such a book, I don't think reading descriptions of something so hard to describe would do you much good. It will come naturally with practice and eventually be automatic. Try to forget about your mouth and embouchure and just use your ears. Your body will eventually learn what to do to make a good sound. I've personally never thought about what my throat and tongue do. I just concentrate on the sound, and the body follows.

My 2 cents.
^^^^^ This! One of the things that happens (at least to ME, it seems) whenever I try to exercise tight control over the various physical aspects of playing the sax, "analysis paralysis" sets in pretty quickly, and every aspect of what I'm trying to do nosedives. I'm far better off trying to have a strong image of the END result with regards to things like tone and intonation and let the "means whereby" kind of take care of themselves. That's one reason why advice like, "play long tones with a tuner" always frustrates me, because it ends up feeling like I'm trying to play a video game, ie, letting my EYES doe the job my EARS should be doing.....
 

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I'm certainly no expert on how somebody else should learn how to play sax. Different people have varying abilities, physiologies, learning styles; what works for one may not work for another. I will, however, share with you one piece of advice I give myself every day: Shut up & play.

The 10,000-Hour Principle may be valid -- the idea that if we do something a lot for a long time, we eventually get really good at it. Done wrong, such an approach could reinforce bad habits. So maybe the way to do it right is to become aware of how you sound & how you feel when making that sound. Try different things. Don't expect everything to fall into place quickly.

Above all, don't over-intellectualize. Don't torment yourself. Turn off your brain, turn on your ears, & just blow. If you have the capacity to get better at it, perhaps you will.

10,000 hours may be only the first step of such a journey.
 

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Also, ROARII, I'll second the request for more information about what you used to make that intonation chart! Very cool...
The app is called intonation station was a couple of dollars.

 

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Dave Liebman’s books do a good job of describing how to use your larynx and other physiology to affect intonation and sound. “Saxophone Basics” has the most succinct introduction to a lot of this, and “Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound” goes into great depth. Having been in the same boat as the OP with my early sax lessons in a public school, I found his descriptions eye-opening and helpful.
 

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i am putting 2+2 together here since you started another thread on improving your Bari.

You may want to look at the article below. One problem that you could be having is your voicing on the Bari is too high. If you see the section “ playing the mouthpiece alone” it says a bari mouthpiece should be at concert D. When I started playing again my pitch on my mouthpiece was around a F. My mouthpiece was nearly falling off the end of the Bari and the sharpest notes. Chromatic f#2 was 40 cents sharp. F2 was 20 cents sharp.

my mouthpiece pitch is now at around concert C and the F and F# are both about 10 cents sharp. Try playing the mouth piece alone and look at you me pitch in concert if you are hitting higher then concert D then this could be impacting your intonation.


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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
One problem that you could be having is your voicing on the Bari is too high.
Oh, that's interesting! I know that my mouthpiece typically covers most of the cork when I play, but I'm not sure what pitch I'm hitting with the mouthpiece alone. I'll check that when I play this evening.

Also, thanks for linking that article! Very concise with lots of points of interest. There are a couple of ideas in there I can try to apply right away.
 

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It is really important to work on your overall sound rather than focus on certain aspects such as intonation IMHO. Recently I took Jamie Anderson’s ‘Total Tone Mastery’ course and my verdict upon completion was that I wish I’d taken it many years earlier! Anderson explains all of the concepts behind tone production in great detail as well as outlining practice drills to develop control over your diaphram, larynx, tongue etc. It has already made a big difference to my sound.

The course is not free and as Jamie Anderson has previously studied with Dave Liebman, who he credits for many of the concepts he explains, the Liebman books previously mentioned by Bottle Opener and bmisf might be an excellent alternative resource for you.

I think that the sooner that you could start incorporating some of Liebman/Anderson’s drills into your daily practice the better, as far as improving your overall tone is concerned. Improved intonation will be just one of the benefits.

Bill
 

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Intonation is important, but I think intonation apps should be used only to check things like a new horn or mouthpiece, and not as part of daily practice. Use a keyboard or recorded drone to check your intonation. In other words, use your ears not your eyes when adjusting intonation.
 

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Intonation is important, but I think intonation apps should be used only to check things like a new horn or mouthpiece, and not as part of daily practice. Use a keyboard or recorded drone to check your intonation. In other words, use your ears not your eyes when adjusting intonation.
I think having a conceptual sense of intonationy is important. If you have this sense then you will be a certain range in tune.

Example. I do not sing!

(Backstory. I had this awful music teacher in elementary school that would swear and scream in Swedish at us. Totally psychologically scarred me for life. Never have sung. Leave it to the professionals.).

As such I am as untrained a voice as you can have. As an experiment, I took my timing app and did a blind test of humming a chromatic and was able to hum a chromatic for seven steps between 0 cents and 20 cents sharp.

As such, I must have some degree of pitch concept that transcends the saxophone that would allow me to do this. This sense of pitch must exist at a subconscious level and aid us in playing our horns in tune to a certain degree.
 

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(Backstory. I had this awful music teacher in elementary school that would swear and scream in Swedish at us. Totally psychologically scarred me for life. Never have sung. Leave it to the professionals.)
As a longtime voice teacher I have seen this too many times, adult and even senior students coming in still scarred from childhood choir teachers. I had an 85-year-old student tell me he hadn’t sung a note since a choir teacher chastised him at age 14. “Not one note,” he said. Not “Happy Birthday”, not in the car, not in the privacy of his own shower: a literal 70-year clam-up. I don’t know if this type of thing is still going on in schools, but it makes me really really mad.

As singers, we don’t have keys or frets or the ability to see the mechanical goings-on of our instruments. So much of it is visualization: if you think you can do it you can, if you think you can’t, you can’t. Very sorry this happened to you! 😠
 
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