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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey everyone -

I'm trying in general to develop a better understanding of "voicing." In the context of saxophone playing, I understand this term to mean something like the manipulation or positioning of the oral cavity, tongue, throat (pharynx), and larynx (voice box) to shape the tone color and pitch of the sound. How does this all work?? I know it's a broad topic, but if anyone can point to resources or web sites that discuss it or offer some guidance, that would be helpful.

Specifically, I'm wondering what the role of the larynx or voice box is in saxophone playing. Should it move up and down for one reason or another? Does it modulate the airflow? Should it tilt?

I've also heard people talk about "voice box tuning," "throat tuning," and "playing as if you were going to sing the note." I'm trying to understand what people mean by these phrases in terms of specific physical changes. I know there is probably some guess work involved, since we can't see exactly what's going on in the way a piano player can analyze the movement of hands or arms for example. I'm just hoping to get some constructive advice and information.

thanks !
 

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Specifically, I'm wondering what the role of the larynx or voice box is. Should it move up and down for one reason or another? Does it modulate the airflow? Should it tilt?

I've also heard people talk about "voice box tuning," "throat tuning," and "playing as if you were going to sing the note." I'm trying to understand what people mean by these phrases in terms of specific physical changes. I know there is probably some guess work involved, since we can't see exactly what's going on in the way a piano player can analyze the movement of hands or arms for example. I'm just hoping to get some constructive advice and information.
Good questions. I find that few students (and beyond) have direct control of the larynx and pharynx. Instead, we tend to use techniques not so different from biofeedback. Listen to the sound you make, detect small differences in tone as you attempt to manipulate it, and focus on those changes until you achieve the desired state. It sometimes helps to "visualize" intermediate goals, ex. "Blow THROUGH the horn, rather than into it", while listening for changes in your tone. Another may be "Sense the position of your throat while playing bell tones (low notes) and maintain that sensation while playing the range of the horn, up to and through the palm keys".
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks saxoclese. The second link doesn't open for me. Looked at the first one - it's pretty technical! OK - I found the second one by googling the title.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Dr G - thanks for the feedback. Yeah, I guess one approach is to not worry so much about the specifics of the physical mechanism. This approach -- "Listen to the sound you make, detect small differences in tone as you attempt to manipulate it, and focus on those changes until you achieve the desired state" is something that I do for sure.
 

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I don't know about that last part. But voicing in itself is something that once you've got it down you don't really have to worry about it. It becomes second nature. The changes occur naturally after hours and hours of practice doing certain exercises. You're basically working out the relationship of the different octaves to how you have to arrange your oral cavity and tongue position in order to have the different notes in the full range of the horn sound properly/ as you hear them.

As a rule, generally when you go to play higher notes the tongue raises up and the sides of the tongue hit your back top teeth in sort of an EEEEE sound tongue position. As you go to play lower notes your tongue gets lower down in an OOOOOO position. But there's a little more to it than that.

Two exercises that I swear by and still do as a little warm up when I haven't been playing regularly are

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJN97w2lpoA

and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzkquTYKA4I

These both start you with a static pitch and get you to use your ear to shift to the next tone and back down. The goal is to play them as clean as possible without any blips or flubs. When you're starting out playing these wide intervals can cause tuning/ tone issues. As you work through these your intonation will improve as well as your overall tone.

Aside from this a lot of people talk about overtones when they bring up the topic of voicing. Practicing your overtones on all of the low notes for a couple minutes a day will greatly improve your concept of voicing and start making these subconscious adjustments to your mouth/ tongue as you continue to practice them.

I like to play my overtones as long tones. You hold each notes trying note to let any of the other partials (or related notes in the series) creep their way in. You play the note as long as you can and try and keep it consistent. If you hear one of those tones starting to invade you can figure out the small adjustment you need to make in order to get rid of it or even bring it back in.

You've got 3 things to work with there. All in all I would say don't sweat working on voicing for more than 10 15 minutes a day. But stay consistent with it. It's a great warm up that if you are still working through can give you a nice boost before you go to play anything else. Once you've practised this stuff for a few years you'll start to notice less and less improvement and it becomes more of a cerebral gut check kind of thing.
 

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Thanks saxoclese. The second link doesn't open for me. Looked at the first one - it's pretty technical! OK - I found the second one by googling the title.
Thanks. It should be fixed now. It had an extra https. :)
 

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Would anyone compare whistling to voicing, as both use tongue positioning?, just a thought.
 

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Specifically, I'm wondering what the role of the larynx or voice box is in saxophone playing. Should it move up and down for one reason or another? Does it modulate the airflow? Should it tilt?

...I've also heard people talk about "voice box tuning," "throat tuning," and "playing as if you were going to sing the note." I'm trying to understand what people mean by these phrases in terms of specific physical changes.
How do you tilt your larynx?

Honeslty, a lot of voodoo is out there on the internet.

All that matters is a good embouchure and air support via diaphragm and an open throat. The rest is pure hype. Unless I've been doing it wrong all these years and I will eat my hat and admit finally I'm not a very good saxophone player.

Sertously, it becomes so much easier once you don't worry about this stuff and just concentrate on what makes sense.
 

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There is a technique that is taught by Dr. Ray Smith at Brigham Young University who is one of the finest woodwind teachers and doublers in the U.S. He calls it "playing on the air stream". Very simply, you hum the pitch of the note or sing it on a "la". Then you blow that same pitch on your airstream like an airy sounding whistle. Last you play that note on your instrument with the same airstream and shape inside the mouth. It makes you hear the pitch first, helps to shape the oral cavity, and helps to focus and pressurize the airstream. I have watched him in clinics with high school students take an "immature" sounding ensemble to one with a roubust, and mature sound in a matter of minutes using this technique. And guess what else improves by leaps and bounds without him even mentioning it. Intonation---of course.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks little wailer,

I can definitely see the value in the exercises described in those 2 videos, as well as in practicing overtones.

As a rule, generally when you go to play higher notes the tongue raises up and the sides of the tongue hit your back top teeth in sort of an EEEEE sound tongue position. As you go to play lower notes your tongue gets lower down in an OOOOOO position. But there's a little more to it than that.
I've been working mostly with the "eeee" and "ooo" tongue positions lately. It seems like they both involve the back of the tongue near the wisdom teeth or a bit behind that being high, while moving the sort of middle part of the tongue up (for eee) and down (for ooo), while the "aaaah" tongue position moves the back part of the tongue down as well. It seems to me that I'm generally using more of an "oooo" or "ahhh" position for the lower notes and more of an "eeee" position for the higher notes, as well as moving more towards an "eeee" at lower volumes for the same note to keep the air speed higher. I'm not still experimenting though, to figure out what seems to work the best for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Would anyone compare whistling to voicing, as both use tongue positioning?, just a thought.
Yes, it seems to me that there are similarities in the physical mechanisms used for singing, whistling, and playing a woodwind instrument, as well as differences. I'm in the process of trying to understand these similarities and differences.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
you hum the pitch of the note or sing it on a "la". Then you blow that same pitch on your airstream like an airy sounding whistle. Last you play that note on your instrument with the same airstream and shape inside the mouth.
Thanks. Yes, this makes sense.

It seems to me that the singing part is more of an "inner ear" or metal exercise to get the pitch in your head, then the second part with the "airy whistle" helps to shape the tongue into the approximate position needed to voice the note when playing in on the instrument. Is that the basic idea?

I guess what confuses me about the singing part is that the voice box actually engages to vibrate the vocal folds with singing, whereas with playing the saxophone it doesn't, it just lets the air through (and possibly manages the air flow in some way). Also, I think the pharynx may be used differently in vocalizing and in playing a woodwind for resonance purposes, but I'm not really clear on this.
 

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Thanks. Yes, this makes sense.

It seems to me that the singing part is more of an "inner ear" or metal exercise to get the pitch in your head, then the second part with the "airy whistle" helps to shape the tongue into the approximate position needed to voice the note when playing in on the instrument. Is that the basic idea?

I guess what confuses me about the singing part is that the voice box actually engages to vibrate the vocal folds with singing, whereas with playing the saxophone it doesn't, it just lets the air through (and possibly manages the air flow in some way). Also, I think the pharynx may be used differently in vocalizing and in playing a woodwind for resonance purposes, but I'm not really clear on this.
Exactly. It is amazing what positive effect "tuning the airstream" can have on the tone production---especially on flute!
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
What's interesting is that you can move your tongue around and keep the same pitch while whistling, so I wonder if the pharynx (throat) compensates somehow, like if the tongue fills most of the oral cavity, the pharynx opens up to keep the pitch the same, and vise versa, if the oral cavity is opened up by lowering the tongue, the pharynx closes to compensate.
 

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Why not try it for yourself and gauge the results? It is not easy visualize is going on inside, but if you play on the mouthpiece alone you can at least get a feel of what has an effect on pitch, and what does not.
 

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there is a technique that is taught by dr. Ray smith at brigham young university who is one of the finest woodwind teachers and doublers in the u.s. He calls it "playing on the air stream". Very simply, you hum the pitch of the note or sing it on a "la". Then you blow that same pitch on your airstream like an airy sounding whistle. Last you play that note on your instrument with the same airstream and shape inside the mouth. It makes you hear the pitch first, helps to shape the oral cavity, and helps to focus and pressurize the airstream. I have watched him in clinics with high school students take an "immature" sounding ensemble to one with a roubust, and mature sound in a matter of minutes using this technique. And guess what else improves by leaps and bounds without him even mentioning it. Intonation---of course.
wholey sheet!.........talk about handing a piece of gold, hats off to you for this!
 

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I'm still wading through them, but so far these articles kindly posted by author Mark Watkins seem to be a remarkable collection of much of the relevant information in one place, and explained in a way that is not too technical. I've been searching for something like them for months. If wishes were horses, an updated version accounting for more recent research would be forthcoming. ;)

http://emp.byui.edu/WatkinsM/publications.htm
 

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All that matters is a good embouchure and air support via diaphragm and an open throat. The rest is pure hype. Unless I've been doing it wrong all these years and I will eat my hat and admit finally I'm not a very good saxophone player.
Another alternative is that you don't know that you're doing what everyone else is doing (assuming we're talking altissimo), which condition was discovered in several players in one of the studies floating around. Think of the service you would be doing to the sax world if you connected with a scientist with access to the right equipment, and proved that everyone else is just going through unnecessary motions! A revolution!
 
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