Tweaking the Embouchure

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When I was in high school I had a pretty good saxophone tone. Parents and band directors provided compliments, which helped increase my confidence. When I began college I had a nice tone, just like everyone else. But, it was about to improve even more.

There were a handful of changes I made to improve my tone, but one thing made a difference immediately: making a circular seal (with my embouchure) around the mouthpiece. The key, is to bring in the corners of the mouth. The corners don’t naturally do this when playing, but once they are in place, good things happen.

For example, when I would play my low Bb, it was loud and uncontrolled. Simply by bringing the corners in, the tone became more refined and stable; it was almost like magic. From that point on, I brought in the corners because I knew it made a difference.

The Embouchure

In our Free Lessons I provide multiple steps for an effective embouchure. My intent in this post is not to repeat what I’ve already shared in the free lessons, but to provide an additional approach in regards to bringing in the corners of the mouth. For some students, this can be very difficult to apply.

Another Explanation

There’s more than one way to teach an effective embouchure, and I’ve found that stating, “bring the corners in” works for some people and not for others. I’ve seen students struggle with applying this concept. They’ll bring in the corners, but it won’t be quite right. Let’s see if we can set things right.

Slight Adjustment

Here’s the adjustment:

As you bring the corners of your mouth in, you should also move the muscles forward, just a little.

A Common Issue

Some students miss this small adjustment (of allowing their embouchure muscles to move forward a little) as they bring the corners in. How can you know if you’re doing your embouchure correctly? Here’s a little test.

Testing Your Embouchure

Play your saxophone as you look into the mirror. Get a good visual of what your embouchure muscles look like while playing.
Now, put the saxophone down and imagine that your finger is your mouthpiece. If you form an embouchure around your finger and try to “play”, does your embouchure look similar to what you do on the saxophone? If it does, does air leak out the sides?
If your embouchure looks like it normally does, and air leaks out the sides, then move your muscles forward while you bring the corners in.
Once you have formed a circular seal around the finger by bringing the corners in, observe what the corner muscles feel like. Do they feel different or the same, compared to your normal embouchure? They should feel different if an adjustment was made.
Memorize what the muscles feel like after adjustments are made. Now try playing the saxophone with these new adjustments and see how your tone changes. Is it better? Is it worse?

Getting the Feel

Obviously the finger is much different than a saxophone mouthpiece. With this in mind, you may think it’s difficult to judge or compare. Keep in mind that we are not trying to produce a perfect embouchure on the finger, but to get a feel of the muscles moving inward and forward.

Automatic Adjustment

With the finger being very different than a mouthpiece, your embouchure may feel completely different. In fact, pretending that your finger is your mouthpiece may allow the corners to adjust in the right direction automatically. So if your embouchure feels a lot different with the finger, the corners are in, and you’re forming a circular seal, you can apply some of these adjustments to your embouchure while playing the saxophone.

Experiment

Obviously this is not an exact science; it’s just a way to feel the muscles move in the right direction so you can apply that feeling on the saxophone. Just like any other adjustments, this will require experimentation and you’ll need to listen to what works and what doesn’t.

Go ahead and give this a try. Let me know if you have success bringing the corners in and how it changes your sound. If you have any questions, please feel free to write in the comment section and I’ll be happy to help!

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