You’re pretty new to the saxophone, and your sound is…….a bit rubbish! You want a better saxophone sound.
Here’s how to fix your saxophone’s sound
It can be frustrating when you’re struggling to get the sort of saxophone sound that you want. You’re looking for a pro sound – a sound that you can be proud of.
but I’ve got good news for you because you know what? There are five main things that I see people getting wrong with playing saxophone, and I can help you to fix them, to get a better saxophone sound.
In Sax School, I’ve helped over 10,000 people learn saxophone in the last seven years. So I’ve seen these patterns occur a lot with new players that are coming in, who want a better saxophone sound and are struggling.
And in this lesson, I will show you the following:
- Five main things that I see happening over and over and over again, and how to fix them
- Tips to get a better saxophone sound
- Great resources to help you play your sax better.
Tip#1: The Right Reed
The first mistake that I see people make all the time is with their reeds, in particular, the strength of the reed. Now, if you’re brand new to the saxophone, reeds are kind of confusing. How do you know what size reed you need?
Cane saxophone reeds generally come in half sizes. The softest that you would start with is probably a 1½, and they go up in half sizes. Most players would use a 2 or 2½. Some people go up to 3 or 3½ or even a 4 if you’ve got a strong embouchure. But for most players, a 2 or 2½ is the optimum reed strength.
Now there are lots of things to think about with regard to the reed and how it matches your mouthpiece. But we’ll go into that in another video.
A thin sound
But if you have a sound that is thin and weak, and you’re struggling to get any of the high notes, and your mouthpiece feels like it’s closing up all the time. – that’s because your reed is too soft. Also, if you’ve been playing for longer than a few months and you’re still on a 1 ½ size reed, go up to a size 2 because it’s time to move up. Your embouchure has got stronger.
An Airy Sound
On the other end of the scale, if you’re getting an airy sound, and it’s hard to get a clear tone; if you’re mouth aches when you’re playing, and it’s hard work, then your reed is too hard, and it’s time to move down a half step.
Don’t be tempted with a harder reed. It’s not a macho thing to go onto a higher reed! If you want to get a clear, lovely sound, that’s flexible, stick to around a 2 ½. That’s going to be perfect.
Tip #2: Mouthpiece Placement
Now the second thing that I see people get wrong when they start at Sax School is their mouthpiece placement. And what I’m talking about here is how much mouthpiece you’ve got in your mouth.
When you look across your mouthpiece, there’s a point where the reed comes away from the mouthpiece. And that’s the point where you should have the mouthpiece in your mouth.
A Raucous Honky Sound
So if you’ve got too much mouthpiece in your mouth, then you’re going to get a raucous honky sound. It’s going to sound pretty awful because your reed is not being supported, and it’s vibrating too much.
A Narrow, Closed Sound
However, if you have got too little mouthpiece in your mouth, then you will get a very closed-off narrow sound. It’s not going to sound very expressive or big.
So the very first thing I would suggest you should do if you’re getting lots of squeaks or honks is to experiment with the mouthpiece. Try a little bit more mouthpiece in your mouth or a little bit less. And that’s probably going to solve most of the problems.
Tip #3: Breathing
Now, we all know how to breathe. We do it all the time. But breathing is super-important with saxophone. And if you get the breathing part wrong, then you’re not going to have a very full sound.
So, make sure that you breathe very deeply to the bottom of your lungs. You’ve got to use a lot of air when you’re playing saxophone. I like to picture my saxophone being filled with air. I’m trying to push the air out from the bottom of my abdomen, and I’m really breathing deeply. And I’m blowing as much air as I can into the saxophone, even if I’m playing quietly, to try and fill the saxophone with air all the time. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is making sure that I’m blowing my phrases all the way through, so we’re not playing a note, note, note, then a little breath in between. We want to be playing long flowing lines when we’re playing saxophone, and we do that by pushing the air out and keeping the saxophone full of air.
So, if you want to get a fuller, more flowing, more professional sound, then have a go at that. Think about breathing deeply, pushing lots of air into the saxophone, and filling out that sound.
Tip #4: Mouthpiece Selection
It’s so tempting when you get yourself a new, shiny new saxophone to go out and spend a load of money on a fancy mouthpiece as well. The problem is, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to get tempted to buy something that’s probably inappropriate.
I have had quite a few students that have come to me with different mouthpieces that are just not right for the sort of music that they are playing. That can lead to a shrill, harsh sound that’s very difficult for you to control.
This is a Selmer D tenor saxophone mouthpiece. It’s made from hard rubber or plastic, and it’s going to be lovely. We’re not going to go into the shape of the mouthpiece and why it works better. I’ve got some other blogs about mouthpieces. You should check those out if you’re curious to find out more.
But something like this Selmer D is a great, solid, easy-to-control mouthpiece that lets you focus on your sound without having to battle against the mouthpiece. And then later on, when you’re ready to upgrade, it will be an easier process for you.
If you want a metal mouthpiece, an Otto Link Super ToneMaster is a good choice for a beginner because it’s easy to control.
So there are plenty of metal mouthpieces and plastic or hard rubber mouthpieces that are great for beginners. But make sure you take some advice and get something that’s appropriate.
Tip #5: Embouchure Development
You really cannot overlook your embouchure development. Now it’s tempting when you’re starting on saxophone to skip over those parts of practicing where you have to play long tones or slow melodies. Because, frankly, it’s quite hard work at the start.
You want to be playing those fantastic solos, or pop, or jazz, and playing long tones is a little bit boring.
However, it’s a bit like going to the gym and sitting on the exercise bike. It’s necessary, and you can’t skip this part of the process.
I’m talking about building up your embouchure muscles. We do this by playing slow melodies and by playing nice long tones.
Inside Sax School, I’ve got a ton of great resources to help you with this, from Five-Minute Warm-up Workouts to beautiful, slow melodies, to Monthly Challenges.
There’s tons of stuff that we focus on that’s fun to do, but will also build your muscles. If you build your embouchure strength, then you will have a better saxophone sound. You will be able to play more on your soprano saxophone, with more expression too. You’ll be able to play the higher ranges of the saxophone. All of these things come from building your embouchure.
So you cannot overlook that step. And if you’ve been playing for a while and you’re at a roadblock with your tone, and you’ve tried all the other four things that we’ve talked about today, then focus a little bit more on your embouchure development.
Even if it’s just in the warmup process every time you pick up your tenor or bass saxophone, you’ll get a better saxophone sound. I guarantee within a couple of weeks, you’re going to be sounding so much better on your woodwind instruments. It’s all down to muscles. Check out my 5 Long Tone Exercises (that don’t suck) lesson for something more fun that you will actually want to do each day!
I hope you’ll try these tips to enhance the sound of a saxophone. And if you do, you’ll be streets ahead of loads of beginner players that struggle with getting better saxophone sound.
Now, if you want to take things a little bit further, I’ve got a free collection of lessons for you – my Ultimate Saxophone Toolkit. These are my favorite lessons that have been used by thousands and thousands of players. Whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate player, or you just want to learn some great tunes, or even if you’re an advanced player and you want to learn about improvising, there’s stuff in there for you. And it’s free.