Tag Archives: embouchure

Chops of Steel and a Tone of Gold, Part 2

In Part 1, I outlined six awesome chop busters to play with a fully assembled horn.  Check it out here.  Part 2 offers even more embouchure boosting fun by using no instrument at all, just the mouthpiece, and finally the mouthpiece and neck joint.

No horn:

Even when you’re away from the horn, you can still be strengthening, or at least attempting to maintain, your embouchure.  These can be done anytime, anywhere!

1. The Pen of Doom

Place the back end of a pencil or pen between your lips.  Now, using just your lips, hold the writing utensil straight out.  Keep holding.  You’ll quickly begin to feel lactic acid build up in all the places it would during an extended playing session.

Tip: For added challenge place as little of the pen in your lips as possible and pull the corners of your mouth back

2. Lion Face(RAWR!)/Lemon Face(Ooh!)

This one shares a name with an old theater warm up.  However, instead of preparing you to make weird faces on stage, the idea again is to build up lactic acid, and in turn better embouchure endurance.

Start by making a wide, toothy smile (Lion Face).  Then tightly pucker your lips together (Lemon Face).  Now alternate quickly, going for a full range of motion.

Mouthpiece only:

Using just the mouthpiece, aim for a full, clear tone.

1. Sirens

Slur from the highest pitch to the lowest pitch you can play on your mouthpiece by tightening and loosening your jaw.  This should be done both slowly for control and quickly for dexterity.

2. Long Tones

Using a tuner, play and hold individual pitches working your way down and then up chromatically.  Aim to extend both how low and high you can play on your mouthpiece.  Joe Allard could play two octaves on his mouthpiece alone!

Mouthpiece + Neck Joint:

1. Around the World

Play a well-supported long tone and listen for a full, round sound.  Adjust your embouchure and throat until you achieve the best sound you can.  Now, place the mouthpiece in one corner of your mouth and try and recreate that tone quality.  Repeat in the other corner.  Now flip the entire mouthpiece and neck joint upside down and repeat the exercise again in the center, left, and right.

Tip: You will need to uses a double lip embouchure when the mouthpiece is upside down to avoid your teeth being on the reed!

2. Long Tones

Similar to with just the mouthpiece, the idea is to relax your jaw to produce pitches descending as far as you can chromatically.

Try these at the start of each practice session.  They don’t take much time and are great for building your chops!

If you have your own exercises for working on tone and embouchure I’d love to hear about them in the comment section.

Chops of Steel and a Tone of Gold, Part 1

While my first few posts were on completely different topics, I’m finally going to delve into the essence of this blog (and my life): Saxophone.  As a warm-up, I’ll talk about some warm ups!

Before the audience hears the blistering runs or beautiful melody that you play, they hear your tone.  Often this is what will stick in their minds the longest as well.  Therefore, a huge part of my practicing is focused on developing my tone and embouchure strength and I’ve acquired an arsenal of exercises for doing this from different teachers.  In this post I will walk you through six techniques to add to your warm up routine that will enrich and solidify your tone.

1. Long Tones

If done properly and daily, long tones are the holy grail of exercises. Whenever I take time off from doing long tones, I notice a huge difference when I start doing them again and wonder why I stopped in the first place!

Things to focus on:

  • Tone/Tone Color
  • Presence and strength of overtones
  • Intonation
  • Dynamics
  • Air support

Tip: Choosing one of these a week and rotating can be very helpful.  For example if you’re focusing on air support, sustain each note for as long as possible with an even, controlled sound.

Ways to practice long tones:

  • Mix up the order you play the notes.  Use the entire chromatic range of the horn and play every note, but vary the order with different patterns (i.e. Circle of fourths/fifth, thirds, whole tone, chromatic, ect.)
  • Dynamic Swells: Play both piano, up to forte, back to piano and vice versa.
  • Terraced Dynamics: Attack and hold the note at a set dynamic. Start with pp and work incrementally to ff.
  • With and without a tuner.  With a tuner to confirm intonation accuracy and without to force reliance on your ear.

2. Overtones

This is a category that requires more depth than this post would allow and to be completely honest is not an area of playing where I feel well versed enough to provide my own explanations and examples.  Suffice it to say that overtones will add unparalleled strength and centering to your tone.  I recommend Sigurd Rascher’s canonical Top Tones for Saxophones a starting point.

3. Wherefore art thou octave key?

A)Begin on a middle C# and slowly ascend chromatically without the octave key.  Try to avoid pinching your jaw, but rather rely on manipulating your throat. (This is also a good way to begin learning overtones.)

B)Now, finger a C# with the octave key, but by opening your throat and dropping your jaw, sound the middle C# an octave below.  Continue to depress the octave key and descend chromatically.  (Note: This won’t sound pretty, but it is an excellent way to build flexibility and strength.)

4.Iron Jaw

Play a middle D.  Now finger the D# a half step up, but continue to sound a D by dropping your jaw.  Next finger E, but again sound D.  Repeat this same exercise by fingering and sounding a D# and then fingering a semitone and a tone above but continuing to play an in tune D#.  Continue this pattern as high as you can chromatically.  Practice the changes in fingerings both tongued and slurred.

Tip: If you find starting the exercise on D too difficult at first, begin on F#.

5. Double Lip

While I have met a couple of saxophone players (including Walter Smith III) who use double lip embouchures, there is no benefit to switching to this style embouchure.  However, it can be a handy way to practice adding warmth to your upper register.  Curl your lips over your top and bottom teeth instead of just the bottom and play long tones from high B upward.  You will be forced to control your sound and intonation incredibly carefully.

6. Beaver

This last one is a bit silly, but it will help you to identify the effect your upper lip can play in minute adjustments of tone.  Play a note in the middle range of your horn and, while playing, lift your upper lip to reveal your top teeth (like a beaver!).  After doing this a few times, when playing normally you will instantly be aware of whether or not there is unnecessary tension in your upper lip.

There you have it.  Six chop busting, tone enhancing workouts.  Consider numbers 1 and 2 to be essentials in your daily routine if you don’t already.  Try out the rest and let me know what you think!  Each one only takes a few concentrated minutes to perform properly and can make a huge difference.  Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll discuss similar exercises that can be done without even assembling your entire horn!