3 saxophone embouchure mistakes
Today, I want to talk about the most common saxophone embouchure mistakes that students often do.
Knowing where the sweet spot is on the mouthpiece can be a challenging thing, especially for those of you who are just starting out. You will find that varying your embouchure, even ever so slightly, will result in very different sounds.
Saxophone Embouchure Mistakes #1
AMOUNT OF MOUTHPIECE
In order to find the sweet spot without wasting precious time you need to know what happens at the extremes of the mouthpiece so you have the whole sonic spectrum.
A) Play at the Tip of the Mouthpiece
First, let’s try playing at the very tip of the mouthpiece.
Exaggerate as much as possible and do your best to play at the very tip of the mouthpiece.
What is the result?
You should either get no sound or a very weak note.
This is because by playing at the tip we are closing the gap between the reed and the mouthpiece so no or little air can go through.
What can we learn from this?
By having little amounts of mouthpiece in your mouth the sound will be weak and will tend to close giving you troubles in playing great melodies.
B) Play with the whole mouthpiece in your mouth
Now, let’s try the complete opposite.
Let’s play with the whole mouthpiece in your mouth.
You will find that controlling the sound is close to impossible and the results are not so pleasant.
What is the result?
You will probably get a nice big squeak when playing with the whole mouthpiece in your mouth.
This is completely normal and any player will have the same result when doing this. Yes, even masters as Sonny Rollins, George Garzone or Branford Marsalis will have the same result.
What can we learn from this?
When our mouth is placed too forward, as in this extreme case, the sound will be very hard to control and the risk of squeaking will be much higher.
C) FINDING THE SWEET SPOT
Now that you know what happens at the extremes of the mouthpiece let’s find the sweet spot.
Go in half way or think of it as one third in as well.
Knowing what type of sound you get at the extremes is extremely important as it will give you the tools to fine-tune your sweet spot.
If you start sounding weak you know that you need to take more mouthpiece in your mouth.
If you start squeaking you know you have too much mouthpiece and need to back off.
Saxophone Embouchure Mistakes #2
AMOUNT OF PRESSURE
Here we are referring to the pressure from your embouchure to the mouthpiece/reed.
Finding the correct amount of pressure is paramount in order to produce a great sound on the saxophone.
These are are the two possible scenarios:
- You have too much pressure
- You have too little pressure
Let’s look at both in detail.
A) TOO MUCH PRESSURE
When you over-tense your embouchure you reduce the amount of space between the mouthpiece and the reed.
Doing this results in less space for air to travel into the saxophone causing all sorts of problems.
These are just some of the issues that can happen:
- weak sound across the full range
- low notes jumping up the octave
- strangled or inexistent high notes
- issues with tonguing
It’s the same principle of reducing the amount of air going up in our throat when we speak.
If you slightly press with your hand on your throat while you speak your voice is going to change because of the reduced amount of air which causes the vocal cords to vibrate less.
B) TOO LITTLE PRESSURE
The reed needs to vibrate in order to produce a sound.
If your embouchure is too loose and does not activates the reed into vibration your sound will suffer from some or all of the following issues:
- very flat intonation across the full range
- instability of the sound across the full range
- your tunes won’t be recognisable as each note will be out of tune and unstable
- problems with tonguing
- problems with dynamics
Saxophone Embouchure Mistakes #3
CHIN PRESSURE & POSITION
The position of the chin can alter the sound quite a lot and make you produce all sorts of annoying sounds/squeaks.
A very common problem among beginner and intermediate students is that they press up with their chin against the reed, resulting in further pressure which (as we have already seen above) reduces the amount of air going through the horn.
If you find yourself doing this, the aim here is to try to flatten the chin and bring it to a natural position so it does not interfere with the vibration of the reed.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT LETTING THE REED VIBRATE”
Can you move your chin up and down?
You need to work on this without the saxophone before trying to bring the chin down when you play.
This is not hard to do but you might find it challenging at the beginning just because it’s a part of your body you are not used to controlling.
- Bite your lip
- Bring chin up and down
- If it’s you can’t move your chin up and down, bite your lip, squeeze and with your finger pull down the chin.
- Try to keep the resistance with your chin while pulling down with your finger.
This is done to increase awareness of the chin and get your chin muscles working.
“The Embouchure is just a pure point of contact between you and the saxophone”
Experimentation is key
Spend the time experimenting as much as you can.
I believe, experimenting is everything when it comes to building good foundations of a great embouchure.