Bottom Lip In or Out?

Have you ever asked any of the following questions when you’re trying to learn a new skill online? Especially when there are so many professionals out there with conflicting views? You may ask:

  • Who should I believe?
  • Who is right for me?
  • Who can I trust?
  • Who can help me succeed and answer all my questions?

I’m sure we have all asked these questions at one time or another, especially when we have a burning desire to learn a specific skill. This leads us to the upside and the downside of the internet:

  • Upside: You can learn anything you want with the click of a button
  • Downside: You’re not always going to find a qualified teacher- you may learn incorrectly

Even among qualified instructors, there can be different opinions (which can be good) but confusing to the student. Here’s one item that can be really confusing when it comes to the saxophone…

The Bottom Lip

Should the lip be:

  1. …rolled out of the mouth?
  2. …rolled in the mouth?
  3. …somewhere in the middle?

Some may suggest that there’s only one way to do things, but the approach to the lip depends on what works for the student and what style of music they are attempting to play. I want to suggest the best option for a beginner so you can sound great, as soon as possible.

The Beginner

Keep in mind that the bottom lip approach provided here is to help the beginner sound good, as soon as possible. After you have a solid foundation, you can make adjustments.

Lip In

Yes, that’s our approach- no. 2! Professional musicians use all 3 approaches mentioned above, but I’ve found that the best and fastest approach for the beginner is to play with the lip in. For step by step directions, you can sign up for the free lessons, or check out our embouchure video.

Why No. 2?

It’s:

  1. Easier to get a stable sound
  2. Easier to play in tune
  3. Easier to get all the notes to play

These are 3 reasons that support this approach, but more importantly you’ll be more successful on the saxophone, sooner. Anytime we can remove some of the frustration, the student will be more likely to succeed

Down The Road

Once you have a solid tone with the lip in, you can experiment with different approaches. However, changing your embouchure or adjusting the lip is not required to play in popular styles. Check out a couple of my recordings that represent 2 different styles of music. The bottom lip is going in, over the bottom teeth, in both recordings. I must note, there are differences between the two embouchures that I am using, but the bottom lip remains the same.

Classical (Excerpts from a live recording)

Jazz

Question

What style of music do you want to play on the saxophone? Post your answer in the comment section and I’ll provide some tips on lip placement. Have a great day playing!

Comments 6

  1. Hi!

    I have just stared playing the saxophone. I am doing rellay well and could play several songs after a few hours. With a terrible tone. I also play trumpet.

    I the store where I got my tenonsax they told med to NOT roll my lip in because otherwise it gets jammed between the terths and the mouthpiece and will get hurt. Since, I also play trumpet I am quite concerned with my lips and I know what a jammed lip can feel like. So, what is your answer to this. Can it hurt the lips and make them swell? What is you experience? I also know that the easies techinque as a beginner might not be the best in the long run.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience concerning conflicting instruction in regards to the bottom lip. Saxophonists don’t usually have this concern (in relation to injury) when deciding on “lip in” or “lip out”. The choice of lip placement usually has to do with the tone, response and intonation. I have not had any injury occur because of the lip in, and I have not heard of any of my colleagues or students experience injury because of this approach. In fact, the only time I’ve injured my lip (or had it swell up) was by accidentally hitting my lip with the mouthpiece. Other than that, no swelling or injury. The only thing that does occur at times is a soar bottom lip where the teeth make contact with the lip. This is normal, and you’ll either build up a callus (resulting in little or no pain), or you can solve the issue by placing some sort of lip guard over your bottom teeth (paper, denture cushions, dental guard, etc).

  2. Thanks for the great article. Could you please reveal the differences between the two embouchures, since the bottom lip remains the same.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for asking Minas. This topic is a whole blog post on its own, and since many people have asked me the same question, maybe it’s time to cover that topic. Look for this information in a blog post soon. But to give you a quick answer, there’s much less pressure on the reed, and the jaw moves as you play. The nice thing is that the jaw movement comes naturally.

  3. Hi Jeff,
    I’d like to play jazz.
    Still have sore bottom lip after training. Haven’t found a good mouth guard yet.
    Going to order one soon with my dentist.
    Carole

    1. Post
      Author

      Great Carole. Let me know how the guard from your dentist works out. You can also try EZO denture cushions- many saxophone players use this product over their bottom teeth.

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