The Right Embouchure for You- Part II

Part II

Two weeks ago we discussed the embouchure and why we teach the version we do. It will help you sound better sooner, and it requires just a slight adjustment to play in popular styles. However, we won’t discuss in great detail every step of the embouchure; at least not here. That information is in our free lesson series. Today, I want to talk about one particular error that I find most often in beginners.

Pressure- More or Less?

We started this topic in our post two weeks ago. We talked about all the information that is available online. There are many who warn the student about placing too much pressure on the reed. Unfortunately, many people have taken this advice too far, resulting in a tone that is honky, off pitch, and a saxophone that is unnecessarily too difficult to play. How do we know this?

Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced Students

Adding the correct amount of pressure to the reed is one of the top issues online students have when they come to me (in regards to improving their tone). But, the online student is not alone. When I visit high schools and provide clinics, it’s common to find multiple high school saxophone players that are not adding the right amount of pressure to the reed. I find the same characteristics in many of my Freshman music major college students.  Fortunately, this issue only takes a slight adjustment to fix, and it can improve tone and response, many times immediately! Here’s how to test if you’re adding the right amount of pressure to the reed.

The Test

  1. Play a middle B, at full volume
  2. Keep on getting softer until you reach your quietest tone
  3. Does the tone drop out (like example #1)
  4. Does the tone continue and allow you to play softly (like example #2)?

Example #1

Saxophone embouchure

Example #2

Saxophone Embouchure

 

Explanation

This explanation is under the assumption that you have the right reed/mouthpiece and that your saxophone is functioning properly. (These have been topics discussed in the past. If you would like to review this information you can can check out our archives by clicking here and here)

If you are unable to play softly because the tone drops out (example #1), you may not be adding enough pressure to the reed. Experiment with adding a little more pressure to the reed. Try the experiment again and you should be able to play softer. Continue to experiment.

Warning!

If you add too much pressure, your tone will get worse. Here are some signs of that:

  • Thin or minuscule sound*
  • Higher notes are more difficult to play
  • Can’t push air through the mouthpiece

* If you’re not adding enough pressure, your tone could be loud and honky. With the correct amount of pressure the tone won’t seem as loud. It will become more focused- like a piano tone. Can you imagine a piano sounding honky?

The smaller tone is normal, but if the tone becomes minuscule, then you’ve added too much pressure.

Experiment

Continue to experiment with the amount of pressure on the reed and be sure to use your ears to determine the best sound.

Not sure if you’ve got it right? Send me a 15 second recording and I can let you know if you’re adding enough pressure. Send recordings to jeff@learnsaxophoneonline.com (this is a free service).

Question?

What are your results? Did you find that adding pressure helped with the tone and response, or did it do the opposite? Please feel free to share in the comment section below.

In addition, if you found this post helpful, we invite you to share this article (by clicking on the social media buttons on the left) so others may benefit from this information. We appreciate your help!

Comments 4

    1. Post
      Author
  1. Hi, Jefff.. I did the LowB diminuendo test. And muy sound shape is like picture #1 when I start the note at full volume.
    However I’m capable to achieving figure #2 if I start playing softer… well, pretty much softer, i.e. almost pianissimo.
    Thanks for the tips… they’re quite useful.
    Best.
    Marc.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Marc,

      I’m glad the tips are working for you. It’s amazing how many students will struggle with playing softly and it only takes a few adjustments to fix it. I’m glad you were able to improve your playing. And just to clarify- when you say low B, I assume you mean middle B (play with the first finer, left hand). If you’re playing the low B (using all your fingers), then you’re doing an amazing job with your diminuendo. Either way, great job and keep it up!

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