The Secret to a Jazz Tone

OK, here it is…how to change our foundational embouchure into a jazz embouchure. You’ll be able to get that open, rich, velvety (or aggressive) tone. Of course in order to do that, apply last week’s post to this weeks embouchure adjustments. Let’s get going!

The Foundation

Before we start discussing the jazz embouchure, understand that all the adjustments provided are based off our foundational embouchure. Having the ability to produce both embouchures will help you have the correct embouchure to play in many styles. You can find our foundational embouchure in the free lessons.

The Secret

There are 2 adjustments to make to produce our jazz embouchure:

  1. Apply less pressure to the reed
  2. Move the jaw

Let’s talk about #1 first.

Less Pressure

Not only do we apply less pressure to the reed, but if possible, the teeth (through the bottom lip) won’t even add pressure to the reed at all.  This is key for producing a sub-tone. Here’s a low D sub-tone on tenor:

Did you notice the tone had an “airy” quality? That’s what we call sub-tone.

Listen to the Difference

There are 3 audio clips below that provide examples of different embouchures and setups (mouthpiece and reeds). I’ll play a low D on tenor for each.

Jazz embouchure with jazz setup:

Our foundational embouchure with jazz setup:

Foundational embouchure with classical setup:

Did You Notice?

If you go back and listen between the 1st audio example and the later two, you’ll notice that the “sub-tone” audio example is lower in pitch- or in other words, it’s flat compared to the other two. When we apply less pressure to the reed, the pitch, as a result, goes down.

How do we fix this? Simply push your mouthpiece in a little farther than you would when your using our foundational embouchure. So, if you’re going to play jazz, tune with your jazz embouchure. If you’re going to play with our foundational embouchure, tune with the foundational embouchure. You’ll notice that the two embouchures will require you to set the mouthpiece in separate locations on the cork in order to be in tune. Need help on tuning? Learn how to tune here!

Moving the Jaw

When playing with our foundational embouchure, we keep the jaw steady- no movement at all. When we play with a jazz embouchure we are required to move the jaw in order to produce a pleasing sound.

For example, if we play a low D (making the adjustment to produce our sub-tone) the embouchure will be set for that one note only. You’ll know what I mean if you attempt to play up the D major scale without moving your jaw. The pitch will become increasingly flat- even becoming ugly!

How Do We Fix This?

Simply move your jaw as you go up the scale, adding more pressure to the reed as you ascend. This may sound difficult to coordinate, but it comes quite naturally. Try the following:

  • Play up a D major scale without moving your jaw
  • Play up a D major scale adding pressure to the reed

When following the instruction in the first bullet point, did you notice how bad the sound became? You probably found yourself wanting to move you jaw, in order to fix the problem.

As you follow the instruction in the second bullet point, you will notice that you’ll continue to have a sub-tone (although to a lesser extent the higher you go). The intonation becomes much easier to control as a result.

An Experiment!

Go ahead and give the 2 bullet points a try. Share your results in the comment section below and I’ll provide tips if you’re having any issues. If you’re successful, let us know what helped the most. I’m looking forward to hearing the results of your experiment!

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Some Improvisation

Here’s a recording I made (off the cuff) for this post. I’m using the jazz embouchure discussed in this post and I’m moving my jaw like crazy! Enjoy!

Comments 2

  1. Thanks Jeff, this is another interesting article containing unique information not easily found elsewhere.
    I play the saxophone for a year now, I study the premium lessons material. I’m experimenting lately with pushing the mouthpiece in further and loosen up my embouchure.
    When I play the chromatic scale up without moving my embouchure I’m about 10% flat from middle B to middle c# and 15-20% flat from high B to high Eb. Middle D is 10% sharp and the other notes are more or less in tune. So what I found is that the increasing of flatness is not linear through all the octaves. My setup is: Yamaha YTS280 tenor saxophone, Selmer Soloist E mouthpiece, Vandoren Java green 3 and La Voz medium reeds.

    1. Post

      HI Minas. Thanks for your question. The saxophone does have the following tuning tendencies. Low Bb-sharp, Low B & C- in tune, Low C# through middle C#- flat, D is sharp and slowly becomes more in tune as you play D#-F, F# & G in tune, all other notes ascending to high F# are sharp. So, some of your issues are normal for the saxophone- except for high B to Eb. Go ahead and send me a recording, let me know what style you’re wanting to play, and then I’ll provide feedback. I look forward to hearing you!

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