Welcome back to the second part of our Beginner Saxophone Quickstart course.
In this lesson we will be learning about tonguing for alto sax.
So, in part one we covered putting your mouthpiece together, assembling your saxophone, putting your neck strap on, and getting your posture right, and even playing your first tone.
In this lesson
Now in this lesson, we’re going to learn how to start notes cleanly using our tongue. This is so important so we can get beautifully shaped melodies. And we’re also going to learn our very first song. So there’s lots to get stuck in with today.
This lesson is about tonguing for alto sax. If you are a tenor saxophone player, go check out that lesson specifically for you here.
What is Tonguing?
So let’s kick off right away and talk about tonguing for alto sax.
Now tonguing is just a fancy term that we saxophone players use to refer to the way we start notes. And that’s because we use our tongue.
And it’s very similar to the way we talk. If we think about saying, to, to, to, can you feel what your tongue is doing?
For me, it touches the roof of my mouth, ‘tu’. And then as I start the sound, ‘tu’, the tongue comes down, and the air flows out, and then you can hear my beautiful voice.
Well, guess what? When we’re playing saxophone, it’s kind of the same process. We’ve got our mouthpiece in our mouths. Then when we say, ‘tu,’ our tongue, instead of hitting the roof of our mouth, hits the tip of the reed.
When we release the ‘tu’, the tongue comes away from the reed and the reed is allowed to vibrate. And the sound starts.
Now there are a couple of things we need to think about here. First of all, when we’ve got our mouthpiece in our mouth, and we touch the end of that reed, we must make sure that we build up the air pressure behind our tongue.
And I like to think of it a bit like a garden hose pipe. The water is being held back by the tap. And although the tap might be turned off, the pressure is still behind the tap.
And it’s a bit the same as when we’re playing saxophone. The water pressure is our air. And when the tongue is on that reed, we’ve got all that air pressure that’s ready to go. But it’s being held back by our tongue because the tongue is holding the reed, or touching the reed, and stopping it from vibrating.
So, we’ve got our tongue on the reed, we’ve got the air pressure built up in our mouth, we release our tongue. And then the air can flow, just like the water out of the tap, and the reed will vibrate, and the sound starts.
Practice tonguing on alto sax
We’re going to try using our tongue to start a note cleanly, but we’re not going to make a sound yet.
In this first lesson we talked about getting the saxophone in the right position to play. I don’t want you to press down any keys on the saxophone. So I just want you to support it with your thumbs.
- Grab your saxophone
- get your neck strap the right height, so the saxophone goes easily into your mouth,
- Get your thumbs in the right position on your saxophone
- Put the mouthpiece into your mouth using the VOO shape
- Start with our tongue on the mouthpiece, on the reed.
Build up some pressure and then I just want you to release your tongue.
And just start breathing through the saxophone. So we’re not going to blow hard enough for the sound to start. I just want to hear the air flowing, and listen to your tongue touching the reed.
We’re going to say Tu Tu Tu.
Okay, how do you get on with that? So it’s just back from the tip of your tongue that touches the end of the reed. The most important thing is that we’re always blowing our air through, even though our tongue is going on and off the reed.
Making a sound
Let’s take it a step further and now blow hard enough that we can get a nice clear sound out of our saxophone.
So, here are all the steps.
- No fingers.
- Make a ‘Vu’ shape with your mouth
- Put the mouthpiece in
- Put your tongue on the reed,
- build up some air pressure and then release your tongue to get that sound.
- And we’re going to go ‘tu’, ‘tu’, ‘tu’.
Let’s start learning our very first song.
Learning with Sax School
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Let’s get back to the lesson.
Your First Song
So the very first song we’re going to learn together is a song I’ve written called ‘Too 2’. I wonder how I worked that name out!
Okay, the cool thing about this song is it only uses one note. And that is the one note that we’ve learned already.
Yes – You have learned a note on your saxophone, and that’s the note with no fingers at all.
So, if you’re curious, that note is called C#, and it’s written in the music, as you can see here, as the third space up on our musical staff.
So, we can get into how to read music later. But for now, I’ll show the music on the screen as we go through it.
Now the nice thing about this song as well is that it is just a 2-bar pattern and each bar is four counts. So we’ve got 2 lots of four counts or eight counts.
That is a pattern that we repeat a number of times as we play through the music.
Okay, let’s not overcomplicate things, and I’m going to explain to you how it sounds.
Watch as I show you.
Try saying it along with me. If you want some extra brownie points, you could also clap the beat here. But the most important thing is that you’re saying the ‘tu’ along with me.
So here we go.
Playing the tune
So with our saxophones in our hands, it’s the same process.
We’ve got our thumbs on the back, no fingers pressed down.
And we’re starting the note with our tongue on the reed.
Let’s have a go at playing through this together. Here we go.
So how about that? You already know how to tongue, and you’ve played your first cool song as well. Awesome!
And we got there so quickly, I can’t believe it.
Have some fun going over this lesson as many times as you need to, to get comfortable with the process of tonguing.
And then when you’re ready, I’ll catch you on the next lesson, where we’re going to learn a whole bunch of new notes on your saxophone, and I’ve got another fantastic, fun song for you to learn as well. I’ll catch you in the next lesson.