Full of Hot Air

Are you still looking to make your tone even better? You’re in luck, because we have more tips from our 18 Tips for a Better Tone series.  As you can tell from the title, we’re going to talk about air in this post.

Hot Air

What do I mean when I say “hot air”? In the past few posts I have mentioned playing with “low air”, and how that will improve tone, intonation, and response.  When playing a low note, you may notice that your throat opens up a little. This produces “low air” or “warm air”. Along with “low air” we need to play with different amounts of air. When we do this, our tone improves. It’s exciting to know that we can improve any part of our playing. I didn’t know this fact in high school, but I later learned that I could, and that included tone. Here’s the story.

My Story

One of my strengths on saxophone, from the beginning, was having a good tone. However, my tone could have been even better in high school if I had applied the following principal: using the full dynamic range of the saxophone.

I wasn’t using the full dynamic range the saxophone offered. I had been using a smaller dynamic range which is represented in red. The blue box represents the actual dynamic range of the saxophone.Untitled drawing

My loudest volume didn’t reach the full dynamic range the saxophone could produce. By not using the full dynamic range, I wasn’t receiving the full benefits that can be obtained by playing with a full range of dynamics. When we play with the full dynamic range on a regular  basis, especially at the ff level, our tone greatly improves. How?

The How

  1. You’re forced to learn to control the “bad” notes when playing ff
  2. It’s easier to hear your bad habits when playing at ff
  3. It fixes your tongue

1. & 2. Explained

As beginners, we tend to play softly because some notes can sound bad at the ff level. However, if we play loudly, the bad notes surface, and we are forced to fix the problem because we don’t want to sound bad. The key- don’t cover up your weaknesses by always playing softly.

3. The Tongue Explained

As a beginner, there’s no need to think too much about the tongue in regards to this topic. It’s an additional item to think about that is unnecessary as a beginner. Besides, the tongue learns to make the right changes on its own, but it’s interesting to know what’s happening as you do the following exercise.

The tongue is very smart when it comes to tone. If you play every note at every dynamic level, your tongue will figure out where it needs to be to produce the best tone for each note. So if you want a specific note to sound good at pp, play that note for one deep breath at pp. If you want a good tone at ff, play a note for a long time at ff. The more you play a singular note (for a long time) at different dynamic levels, the faster you’ll train your tongue to find the perfect location in your mouth for each note on the saxophone. This means you’ll begin to get a better tone on all your notes, even the lowest and highest notes.

No Need For Super Long Practice Sessions

Just think how long it would take to play every note, at a every dynamic level, everyday! In addition, you probably wouldn’t look forward to that part of your practice sessions. Instead, I suggest the following for the best results in a short amount of time. Spend 2-3 minutes on the lowest notes of the saxophone. Play them as loud as you can with a good tone. This will improve your tone on every note of the saxophone! Does this sound too good to be true? Then try our challenge!

The Challenge

This is a topic that produces results, and I’m more than happy to share it with you. Give it a try for 1 week and let me know how it goes. I’m confident that you’ll begin to see a difference within 7 days. Feel free to share your results in the comment section too. I look forward to your progress and success, but most of all, a better tone. Thanks for reading!

Comments 2

  1. Looking forward to tbis. My wife videoed me playing at a jam session last week and my tone was darker than I would like. I would like it too be brighter. Best wishes Howard.

    1. Post

      Hi Howard,

      There are many ways to brighten up the tone: listening to recordings of artists you want to sound like, reeds, mouthpieces, air, ligature, etc. Are you still using the Otto Link (HR or metal?) and Rico Jazz select reeds? If you are, that could be something we look into changing.

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