Smooth Saxophone Lines

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The saxophone has many strengths, and one of these strengths is playing smooth melodic lines. Check out this example:

However, there are two issues that students sometimes face when trying to play smooth melodic lines. In this post we will go over these 2 bad habits.

Avoid a Bad Habit

When we play a melodic line on the saxophone (and try to make it smooth and connected) we sometimes focus on the wrong solution to make the line smooth. Instead, we make adjustments to something we shouldn’t, and we create a bad habit without accomplishing our goal. If this doesn’t make sense, let me provide a specific example.

Bad Habit #1

To help a slow melodic line become smooth and song like, sometimes the beginner will resort to slow moving fingers. You may think, “Of course! If you’re playing slowly, you must move your fingers slowly.” This is true to some extent, but when you actually decide to push a key down, the motion needs to be a snapping motion, even when you’re playing slowly. Here are some videos to demonstrate.

Video #1

This video provides an example of moving the fingers slowly.

If this approach is applied, your tone will not be crisp when changing notes. Instead, one note will bend into another. This produces a sliding characteristic; something we want to avoid.

Video #2

When changing from one note to another, there should be a quick snapping motion. This should occur even when playing a slow melodic line. This is demonstrated in the video below.

You might think that snapping the fingers may produce a percussive sound, or provide the opposite of a smooth melodic line. Snapping fingers will not have a negative effect on the smoothness of the line. In fact, the reason for a rough, percussive line can be blamed on something completely different.

The Air

That’s right. A smooth melodic line is accomplished by snapping fingers and using the correct approach to air. The air needs to remain constant. The key is this: don’t pulse your air every time you change notes. That’s where the real problem lies. It can be difficult to see in your own playing. It’s one of those things that you might say, “That’s not a problem that I have. I always keep my air constant.” When in fact the air is pulsing (or accenting) at the beginning of each note.

Bad Habit #2

Another issue that can mess up your smooth melodic line is counting. Well, not counting in general (we know we all need to count), but counting with your air. I can hear some students pulsing their air through the saxophone as they play. They are counting physically with their air rather than in their mind or with their foot. This is a bad habit, and can be difficult to fix if not dealt with as soon as possible.

Do You Pulse?

Next week we’ll provide exercises to help solve the issue of pulsing the air while playing. This will get you on track for playing smooth melodic lines on the saxophone.

Do you pulse as you play the saxophone? How do you solve your issue? Let us know in the comment section. Thanks!


Comments 2

  1. Excellent, Jeff… you’ve hit the nail.
    I precisely tend to “count” not only pulsing but even tonguing the reed some times… Fortunately that’s an error I’m not making since too long, so I’m sure I’ll be able to fix it soon.

    This post really reached me just in time… gladly appreciate!


    1. Post

      Hi Marc, I’m happy to hear that the post helped out. When you think you’ve fixed the issue, feel free to send in a recording. I’ll confirm what you’re doing well and provide any tips that might help. Keep it up!

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