Welcome to the second part of our Beginner Saxophone Quickstart course.
In this lesson we’re learning about tonguing for tenor sax.
In lesson one, we covered loads of stuff. We looked at how to set up your mouthpiece and your reed, how to assemble your saxophone, your neck strap, and your posture, and we even played our first sound.
In this lesson
In this lesson though, we’re going to dig into how we start notes using our tongue. And we’re going to learn our very first song.
Now this lesson is on tonguing for tenor sax.
If you’re an alto saxophone player, there’s a lesson specifically for you here.
What is tonguing?
So why do we use our tongue when we’re playing saxophone?
Well, we need to find a way to start notes very, very cleanly, and your tongue is the best way to do that. Very much like when we’re talking, we’re constantly using our tongue to start the sounds of our words very clearly, too.
And it stops the reed vibrating. And that’s why we can control when the notes start and stop.
Now there’s an important thing about tonguing on tenor sax though. Because our tongue does touch the tip of the reed, but at the same time we need to think about what’s happening with our air.
And I like to think of this a bit like the way a garden hose works. So, if you think about your garden hose, you turn the tap on or off to make the water flow. But even if the tap is turned off, the water is still built up behind that tap. So the pressure is there, waiting to get out as soon as you open the tap.
And when we’re tonguing, it’s the same. Our tongue stops the reed vibrating and it stops the sound, but our air pressure is built up behind. So, as soon as we release our tongue, the air can go straight into our saxophone, the reed can start to vibrate, and beautiful music can flow from your instrument.
Practice tonguing on tenor sax
Let’s put all that into practice. So, we’re not going to make any sound on our saxophone yet.
- Grab your saxophone
- hook on your neck strap
- Think about where your thumbs go
- Make that ‘voo’ shape we spoke about in lesson one and put the mouthpiece in your mouth
- Put the tongue against the reed
- start building some pressure up.
So we’re pushing our air out from our abdomen and then we release the tongue and just let the air flow through the saxophone. Have a listen.
So could you hear that? Could you hear the air flowing through when I release my tongue?
Now, for my tongue movement, I’m thinking about the letters T U. So, ‘Tu’.
So, let’s try that together.
Grab your saxophone, pop it in your mouth, and then think about making that movement Tu, Tu, Tu with your tongue. See if we can get the same sound. Here we go.
How did that feel?
Sometimes it feels a little bit unnatural when we’re not used to it. But just stick with it, because the more we do this, the easier it will become.
The important thing is to remember that you want to use just the tip of your tongue against the tip of the reed.
Making a sound
So let’s push things a bit further now. Let’s try using more air so that we can get a sound coming out of our saxophone. It’s the same principle, just more air.
How does that feel?
You need to push the air out and think about blowing your air from the bottom of your lungs. So we’re building up lots of pressure as we push the air through our saxophone.
Okay, I think it’s time to start looking at our first song.
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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 very cleverly titled ‘Too 2’. Any ideas about how I came up with that title?
Okay, you’re going to have fun with this though. And the nice thing about it is we only need to know a single note, and that’s a note you’ve already learned.
That’s right, you’ve already learned a note on the saxophone!
And if you remember in the last lesson, that’s the sound we made when we had just our thumbs holding the saxophone, and no fingers pressed down at all.
So, grab your saxophone now. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth.
Our left thumb is on the back, and our right thumb is under the hook.
So the note you play with no fingers pressed down is the note C# (sharp), and it looks like this on the music.
In this lesson, we’re not going to dig into how to read music. But I’m going to show it up on the screen, just so you can start to get familiar with it.
But you’ll notice that note C sharp is the middle space on the musical staff.
Now there are a couple of other cool things I want to show you about this piece of music. First of all, the whole melody that we play is just one phrase that keeps getting repeated over and over. If you look at the music here, you can see that the music is divided by these lines.
They’re called bar lines, and each segment is called a bar.
And within each bar, we’ve got four beats. Stick with me here. And we are going to use two of those four beat sections, or two bars for our pattern.
So let me show you how our two-bar pattern for this song sounds. Listen as I play it.
Pretty easy, right? Let’s try doing that together.
What I’d like you to do, first of all, is just to say that ‘tu’, ‘tu’, ‘tu’, ‘tu’. ‘tu’, ‘tu’, ‘tu’. Can you do it along with me? I’ll give you 1, 2, 3, 4 to get ready.
Playing your first tune
Awesome. Right, let’s try playing this piece of music now.
So grab your saxophone. Remember we’ve just got our thumbs on the back, our left thumb at the top, and our right thumb underneath the hook at the bottom.
Make that ‘voo’ shape with your mouth.
Think about putting your tongue on the reed to start building up lots of pressure. And then let’s see if we can play through this and get it in time. 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.
Keep practicing tonguing on tenor sax
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 PLUS I’ve got another fantastic fun song for you to learn as well. I’ll catch you in the next lesson.