Choose Your Own Saxophone Adventure

The Story Begins…

You’re playing your saxophone in a dark alley (because that’s what saxophone players do- right?) and a large, dark figure emerges from the inky shadows. This person can’t stand the saxophone played poorly. You try to run away, but he won’t let you pass. He asks you to play a C major scale, 2 octaves. If you do anything wrong…well, you don’t want to know what would happen next. You know your C major scale, but you can’t remember what your jaw needs to do as you go up the scale. You take a deep breath, make your choice and you play. As you go up you…(choose wisely!)

  1. …add more pressure to the reed (click here to see the results of this choice)
  2. …release pressure from the reed (click here to see the results of this choice)
  3. …keep the jaw the same (click here to see the results of this choice)
  4. …pull the harmonica out of your pocket and start jammin’ (click here to see the results of this choice)

Did you choose wisely?

I hope so! Were you surprised by the answer? If not, then good job! If you were surprised then that’s a good thing too, because now you can fix the problem and you’ll soon sound better than you do now! So let’s go over the details.

Let’s Fix It!

As beginner and intermediate saxophone players, we have a tendency to “tighten up” or place more pressure on the reed as we go higher up the horn. You must fight this desire! It may feel wrong to keep the jaw still, but you need to trust me on this. Here is a process to help you deal with this seemingly contradictory method.

  1. Get a nice tone on a low D
  2. Before you start moving up the horn tell yourself this:
    • It doesn’t matter if the note comes out or not. This is not my goal.
    • My goal is to keep my jaw still and not add more pressure to the reed.
  3. Proceed to play a D major scale (slowly) up and down the saxophone.
  4. Any guesses what the result will be?

The Results

It may feel weird at first, but after a few tries the high notes will:

  1. Have a fuller tone
  2. Respond better
  3. Will be easier to play

Believe It or Not

If you are ready to try this out, go for it. If you don’t believe me, you’re not alone. Sometimes my students think I’m crazy and reluctantly try this exercise. It doesn’t take long for them to recognize the benefits and they fully embrace this approach.

Remember, we are working on a traditional saxophone tone and not any specific pop style. In other styles, such as jazz, we do move our jaw, but we’ll get to that later.

Try It Out

Try this out and tell me about your results. Use the comment section to share. In fact, if you send me a “before and after” recording, I may post your example on this page (with your permission of course 🙂 ). Give it a try and I look forward to your improved tone. You’re going to sound great!


If you found the information in this post helpful, please spread the word with the social media buttons below. I appreciate it!

Your teacher,


If you would like more help on developing a solid embouchure, check out our free lessons. Get them at

Comments 1

  1. Pingback: Favorite blog posts, December 2013 | Bret Pimentel, woodwinds

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