saxophone playing tips
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  • Common Mistakes Made By Young Saxophonists

    Hi everyone, this is Rheuben. I’m going to talk to you about some of the common mistakes made by young saxophonists. And the first thing that happens with most young saxophonists and the most important part of this is that they do not put the mouthpiece far enough on the neck.

    On every mouthpiece, saxophone, reed, or player combination, there’s a thing we call the “sweet spot.” That means the placement of the mouthpiece where everything responds the best, intonation is the best and everything works. That “sweet spot” can be a fraction of an inch out or a fraction of an inch in.

    Now often times you’ll see people who play real tight [their embouchure] and they’ll have their mouthpiece out at the end of the neck. If you’re only on this far [shows], that’s all that you’re covering with the mouthpiece, the instrument will not respond very well. [The mouthpiece should] be on at least 3/4 of the cork, in that general area and then move it in and out that [fraction of an inch] to find the “sweet spot.” [The “sweet spot” changes slightly for each mouthpiece and/or player.]

    One of the other things that we tend to do as young musicians, or as all musicians actually, on the alto saxophone, for example, we tune to the middle F#. That note on the alto sax is an average of 30 cents sharp. So, when you tune to that, that means that you’re going to pull the mouthpiece out too far and then you’re going to have a flat low register. So what you want to do on the alto, the strongest tone, and I learned it from my friend Dan Higgins is the middle B. Right in the middle of the staff. Tune that B and then go up to the F# and you’ll hear the interval better. Then you won’t have the tendency to be sharp.

    If you just pull the F# straight out of the air, it’s going to be sharp. So on any instrument, you want to find the best note to tune and you want to make sure the mouthpiece is on the instrument far enough to respond. And I will be covering things in other videos shortly. Thanks so much.

    July 20, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 871

  • Check Out: Jazz Lessons with Tim Price

    If you are a saxophonist or a jazz musician looking to expand or improve your playing, I cannot express the importance of jazz lessons enough. Even though there are an infinite number of materials available – including pre-recorded digital lessons – and they can do a lot to help you improve if you’re trying to work on your own, private lessons can make an immense difference in your playing.

    Having a great teacher can go a long way – but that doesn’t mean that you can get away with not putting in the work. If you want to see a huge (and fast) improvement, working on the material between you lessons is essential. Still, having a teacher that knows what they’re doing and how to explain things in a way you understand is irreplaceable.

    That’s why I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Tim Price.

    Tim has worked with Teen Jazz in the past, offering a discount on his services during a few of our past 12 Deals of Christmas programs, and the feedback we’ve received from Teen Jazz readers on the lessons they received from him have been nothing but positive. I, myself, have studied with Tim and I have not walked away from a single conversation with him without something new to work on.

    If you’d like a peek at what Tim Price has to offer as an educator, check out his resources page on Sax on the Web. He’s taken the time to publish quite a bit of free material that you can check out to get a feel for his teaching style.

    Schedule a lesson with Tim Price or find out more about his teaching here.

    About Tim Price

    Tim Price holds a degree from Berklee School of Music. He is a Selmer jazz educator and clinician and he has studied with Charlie Mariano, Andy McGhee, Joe Viola, and Nick Ciazza. He teaches jazz saxophone at the New School University in New York City and has several published books including Great Tenor Sax Solos, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley Collection, and Hot Rock Sax – Techniques, Licks And Effects.

    Learn more about Tim’s teaching.

    *Please note that this is not a sponsored post. This is my own personal opinion. I’ve had several discussions from Tim and have studied under him. He did not ask me to write this post, I have written it of my own volition.

    March 4, 2015 • Lessons • Views: 1328

  • Advice for Saxophonists: Article Roundup

    As a saxophone player I tend to write quite a few articles for sax players here on Teen Jazz. Here’s a roundup of all the saxophone advice you can find on the site so far.

    General Saxophone Advice

    College Audition Preparation for Saxophonists – guest post by sax player and Cal State Long Beach professor James Barrera

    Sax Mouthpiece Buying Tips – looking to buy a new mouthpiece? here’s a great place to start

    Sax Playing Tips – just a few general tips

    Tips for the Advanced Saxophonist – a bit of advice for the high school aged sax player

    Tips for the Beginning Saxophonist – a bit of advice for someone just starting to play sax

    Words of Wisdom from Phil Sobel – tips taken from an interview with saxophonist and educator Phil Sobel

    The Difference Between Tenor Saxophones With and Without the High F# Key – advice from Rheuben Allen on making a saxophone purchase

    My Tenor Sax Setup – what’s yours? share in the comments

    Repair Tips

    Emergency Saxophone Repair – written by repairman Rheuben Allen

    Basic Saxophone Repair – written by repairman Rheuben Allen

    How to Adjust the G-Sharp Spring Tension on a Saxophone

    Lessons

    Video Sax Lessons – from saxophonist Bob Reynolds

    Up and Coming Sax Players on Teen Jazz

    Interviews with Established Sax Players

    November 3, 2014 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1145

  • Leo Potts: The Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance

    Part I

    My name is Leo Potts and I’d like to share with you some concepts of the Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance.

    The first concept we’ll deal with is “how do you play the first note of a musical phrase?”

    Now prior to playing the first note of a musical phrase, most musicians will already have the keys depressed. Let’s say it’s “b”. If I already have the key down… Now the sound is going to be produced at the mouth, at the mouthpiece, so the reed is not going to vibrate the way that it should and the sound is going to be tight. It’s going to sound like this. [demonstrates]

    The concept that I’m dealing with is that I never have my fingers down before I play. It’s all about airstream, articulating with the tongue, and fingers meeting at the same time, creating that first note.

    You know what, we can use this analogy, it’s kind of interesting. If I’m playing baseball, let’s say. The idea is that I have my bat and the pitcher throws the ball and I swing, and the bat and the ball meet to create that home run. That energy. That’s what happens when I don’t have the finger down. It’s right there.

    Now the other way, if I already have my finger down, it’s more to me like it’s like I stick the bat out there [places hands together in front of body] the pitcher throws [the ball] and I hope, that maybe, he might hit the bat.

    This is my concept of producing the perfect note. I’m not going to have a finger down before I play, so I’m feeling the pearl on my finger. Ready to put that finger down. Feeling that energy. Now I’m going to breathe from the diaphragm. In one continuous motion, the articulation, air meeting the finger as it closes. No [pause], [the air is] through into [the finger].

    Here we go. [demonstrates]

    Now just say I’m going to start the note without the tongue at all so that it’s going to be quite. It’s going to be sort of like it’s sneaking in but you’re going to hear the beginning of the note. It’s just not percussive in any way, shape, or form. [demonstrates]

    I’d like to, one more time, just let you hear what it sounds like when the key is down as far as sound is concerned, articulation, and the beginning of the note. And then when I’m doing the concept of air and fingers meeting to create that sound. So he we are [with the finger down] and it’s more a matter of thinking up here [points to mouthpiece] than here [points to hand].[demonstrates both]

    It’s a much richer sound. The fundamental of the sound is there and it doesn’t sound tight. It’s open and singing. And that’s really what I’m trying to do all the time. Air and fingers meet to create that.

    So that’s a concept that I’m dealing with. Try it. Work on it and see how you like it. And enjoy.

    For more information, visit leopotts.com

    Part II

    My name is Leo Potts and I’d like to share with you some concepts of the Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance.

    This is session two, a continuation of session one. I would like to introduce you to the concept of finger technique. The tendency is to slap a key down and upon the release, let the finger fly. This is going to affect the quality of sound and pitch relationship. Let me just demonstrate that really quickly for you. I’m going to put [my fingers] down not very nicely and release them the same way. [demonstrates]

    As you can hear, the tone quality on the release, the pitch relationship is sharp and I’ve lost all the bottom int he sound. Now I’m going to do it conceptually the way that I think. [demonstrates]

    Now I’ve a balance of tone quality. Nothing is sticking out, nothing is popping out. The upper note is not exploding on me. Something I find very helpful is to practice in front of a mirror. This way, you can see your fingers. You can see if you’re really keeping your fingers on the pearls. And now you’ll be able to hear the difference. Your tone quality will be the same. The line will flow and actually, it will be easier to play.

    So the next time I’ll be in your area, I hope you’ll come and join me for my master clinic and hope to see you then. Thank you.

    October 13, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 1039

  • The Difference Between Tenor Saxophones With and Without the High F# Key

    The following is a guest post by Rheuben Allen.

    Hi everyone, this is Rheuben. I’d like to talk to you very briefly about the difference between a tenor saxophone that has a F# and one that does not have a high F#.

    Many people believe that the tenor without the high F# key responds better. It’s hard to prove this because you can’t take a tenor with no F# key, have somebody play it and then in 15 minutes put on a high F# key so that they can try it with the same reed, the same mouthpiece, the same player and do everything at the same time.

    So the main thing about the high F# tenors that makes them not respond quite as well as one might think they should is that up here is the pad cup and down here is the spring [shows]. The spring is actually on a different key. It’s not on the key that it has to play, it’s on the lever, the part that works it. So, if you have a high F# tenor, and you think it’s not responding as well as you think it should, then you could possibly add a spring here at the top [shows] to hold the high F# key down. And that’s right at the top of the horn and that generally improves the saxophone quite a bit.

    So that’s the difference between the high F# tenor and the F tenor. Everyone is entitled to believe what they believe, but I believe that if you put a spring up here [shows], you’re high F# tenor will respond much better. Thanks so much.

    June 11, 2014 • Repair Tips • Views: 1480

  • Video Sax Lessons with Bob Reynolds

    Looking for a really great resource for practicing and learning to play your instrument? Saxophonist Bob Reynolds has a series of videos with lessons for musicians at any stage. The videos provide really great and insightful advice.

    There are currently five videos and they each cover a different aspect of practice. I don’t want to give away what the videos are, but I can tell you that they are definitely worth signing up for.

    Check out Video Sax Lessons with Bob Reynolds.

    January 15, 2013 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1506

  • Saxophone Mouthpiece Buying Tips

    So you’re looking for a new mouthpiece and you’ve found the process to be overwhelming. The selection is enormous and you just don’t know where to start. If this sounds like you, then you are in the right place. This article is here to help you simplify and de-stress (as opposed to distress) the mouthpiece purchasing experience.

    There are a lot of things to consider when looking at a new mouthpiece – the tip opening, the tone chamber, the types of materials used to make the mouthpiece, the length of the lay, etc. – these are all important things to think about when choosing a mouthpiece.

    To start, the material the mouthpiece is made of changes the personality and response of the mouthpiece greatly. Mouthpieces are generally made out of plastic, hard rubber or metal, but you can sometimes find wood mouthpieces. Here are a few examples of how the material changes the sound:

    • Plastic mouthpieces tend to be the easiest to play or begin on because they are not very resistant.
    • Hard rubber mouthpieces tend to promote the fundamental sound of the saxophone, with a little bit more resistance than the plastic mouthpiece.
    • Metal mouthpieces create a kind of “laser tone” – the can enhance the power and volume of the instrument and also help achieve the overtone series.

    The bore size of the mouthpiece also changes the response of your mouthpiece. Bore sizes are usually defined as small, medium and large. Small bore mouthpieces enhance the higher frequencies of the sax, giving the player a brighter sound. Small bore mouthpieces are best used playing lead over other saxophones or soloing over a large group. Medium bore mouthpieces creates a sound that more easily blends with an ensemble than a small bore, but still allows the player the volume to solo with a group. A large bore mouthpiece gives the saxophone a darker sound which is best for classical saxophone ensembles.

    Although the design of the mouthpiece gives it its own characteristics, the most important part of mouthpiece selection is the player. No two saxophone players are exactly the same, so what works for one person might not work for you. Therefore, use what you are comfortable and happy with – don’t go get something because it is what someone else uses.

    It also helps to bring someone along with you when you’re trying out mouthpieces. Another musician and/or your teacher can offer their thoughts on your sound and the quality of the mouthpiece and their input can be invaluable when making that kind of investment.

    Some Popular Mouthpiece Companies:

    • Beechler Mouthpieces
    • Vandoren Mouthpieces
    • Yanagisawa Mouthpieces
    • Rousseau Mouthpieces
    • Jody Jazz Mouthpieces
    • Brancher Mouthpieces
    • Guardala Mouthpieces

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1347

  • Saxophone Playing Tips and Practice Suggestions

    Articulation and Style

    • When playing jazz, think of swung 8th notes as a triplet subdivision.
    • Accent downbeats (not heavily, but enough to help with the time and feel). With difficult passages, this will help you maintain a steady pulse.
    • Tongue with the middle of your tongue, not the very tip.

    Technique

    • Always touch the pearls on your keys with your fingertips; don’t let your fingers “fly” around.
    • Sit with proper posture (no slouching, crossed legs, or leaning back).
    • Take full breaths and control your air from your diaphragm not your chest.
    • Practice everyday (even if it is only for 15 minutes).

    Air

    • Blow Strong, constant, fast, full air.

    Embouchure and Mouth

    • Keep a firm embouchure and open your throat when you play (for jazz).
    • Think in terms of voicing the notes. Sing a high note and pay attention to the shape of your throat and mouth.
    • Sing a low note and do the same. Try to recreate those positions when you play low and high notes on your instrument.

    Saxophone Care

    • At least clean the inside of your saxophone after use if you don’t feel like cleaning the entire instrument.
    • Don’t leave reeds on your mouthpiece (it ruins your reeds and your mouthpiece).
    • Dry your neck and mouthpiece out after use. Wipe down the outside of your instrument, that is, unless you want the lacquer to wear.
    • Take your horn in to be checked by a professional repair person every six months.

    Reeds

    • Get too soft if used for too long.
    • You can soak your reeds in mouthwash to clean them after use.
    • Try rotating two or three reeds at a time to give them a longer life. It also ensures you always have a backup reed that’s already been broken in just in case.

    Music Listening

    • Listen to music as often as possible and to as many different performers as possible.
    • Steal ideas from everyone – it is how you build your music vocabulary (I am not endorsing copyright infringement).
    • Transcribe solos – technology now allows you to slow down songs so they are easier to learn. Take advantage of it!

    Time

    • Practice with a metronome. Time is a continuum – you can’t change it, stop it, or catch up to it – so don’t try. Just keep it.

    Practice Habits

    • Practice as often as possible.
    • Practice things you can’t do, not things you can do.
    • Practice scales – major, minor, pentatonic, blues, and chromatic (for beginners), whole tone, diminished, and augmented (for high school and college). Learn them one octave first, then play them full range and all 12 keys.
    • Practice with a metronome.
    • Practice arpeggios.
    • Learn etudes – they help your sight reading, technique, and musicality.

    Improving Your Sound

    • Mouthpiece exercises – try to create a consistent tone with just your mouthpiece. Soprano pitch is C for classical, Bb for jazz, alto pitch is A for classical and F# for jazz, tenor pitch is G for classical and E for jazz, bari pitch is D for classical and Bb for jazz.
    • Long tones – always play with a tuner and practice all ranges (low, high, middle).
    • Vibrato – done by moving your tongue as if saying “ya-ya”. Be careful not to overuse vibrato.
    • Overtones – are good for developing flexibility, voicing, intonation, and altissimo.

    For the More Advanced Player

    • Altissimo – initially practice this with long tones, then work it into scales, melodies and your soloing.
    • Scooping – this can be done with your jaw or fingers.
    • Ghosting Notes – this is when you put your tongue on the reed, but the note still speaks.
    • Learn music theory. Take a class or read a book.
    • Experiment with composition.

    Suggested Repertoire

    Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons, Music and Career Advice • Views: 2333

  • “Must Knows” for the Advanced Saxophonist

    We’ve compiled a short collection of tips for the advanced saxophonist (someone with two years or more of experience). If you feel anything is missing from this article, please feel free to let us know in the comments! You can also read our tips for the beginning saxophonist here.

    What should you keep in your saxophone case?

    The same goes for you as the beginning student, you need the same things in your case, and so you don’t have to go back and read that article again, I listed them here as well. Your saxophone (I know this sounds obvious, but I have known kids that forget parts of their saxophone at home or brought the wrong saxophone case and the sax was in the other case back at their house), your saxophone neck, a mouthpiece, a ligature, your ligature/mouthpiece cap, a neck strap, and 2.5 or size 3 reeds (aka medium or medium soft). But sometimes, by this stage, you have found that a harder reed has worked for you and you might want a 3 or 3.5 (medium hard). Make sure that you keep several GOOD reeds in your case. It is extremely frustrating for a band director when you break a reed and it was your only one.

    I also recommend that you keep a cleaning cloth in your case, something to store your reeds in, powder paper or a dollar bill to fix sticking pads, and something to dry out the inside of your neck and mouthpiece after you are done using them. I also keep electric tape in my sax case for quick fixes and to put on the top of my mouthpiece to make it more comfortable for my teeth instead of buying the little plastic stickers. Lastly, I recommend that you keep a small screwdriver in your case. At this stage, you should be able to start doing small repairs on your sax when screws and things begin coming loose. It might help to keep screwdrivers of a couple different sizes – and they should be flathead screwdrivers.

    Playing:

    When you play, you should sit up straight and play with your sax between your legs unless you play tenor or bari, then you should play with your sax off to right of your legs for support. You should know the circle of fourths or fifths. You should know your major, minor, blues, dominant or mixolydian, and dorian scales on the full range of your instrument at the least. As far as soloing, you should have a basic idea of what to play. You should know how to read chord changes, and know your scales. You should recognize blues in Concert F, Bb, and C (that is D, G, and A for Eb instruments and G, C, and D for Bb instruments). You should recognize rhythm changes. Also, you should be able to recognize several jazz standards and have a few standard melodies memorized. It also would help to own a Fake Book or Real Book.

    You should be able to read music, know basic and some more complex, syncopated rhythms, and how to tongue. Tonguing is a real issue with young players because they either do not know how to tongue and attack using just air, or tongue way too hard.

    You should be able to recognize that your saxophone is in Eb if you play alto or bari, and Bb if you play tenor or soprano. You should also begin being able to transpose from concert pitch to the key of your instrument and vice versa.

    As far as listening, you should listen to more jazz (if that’s the genre you’re interested in), and be able to recognize several musicians’ names, especially those who play your instrument. You should know names like Michael Brecker, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Wayne Shorter, Cannonball Adderley. As far as non sax players, you should know names like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. You should own a few if not several jazz CDs, and have a jazz radio station that you listen to regularly. In addition, you should have begun to start to try and play along with your recordings, and to transcribe some of your favorite solos.

    Practice:

    You should have a regular practice routine that includes scales, long tones and tuning, and working with a metronome. It also helps to have both classical and jazz etudes to help you with phrasing and technical ability. Books that I recommend are “Patterns for Jazz”, the Charlie Parker Omnibook, and the Neihaus etude books.

    I also think that you should study privately on a weekly basis and also follow the instructions that your teacher gives you for practice.

    Other:

    The last, but most important thing I recommend is to go out and see live musicians play jazz. It helps you to see what it is like playing as a professional musician, and you also get to hear great music. Usually, there are local venues and restaurants that have live jazz groups perform that you can go see as opposed to spending a fortune to go to a jazz concert at a theater. Both are great, but very different, so it is up to you to choose which you want to attend. I recommend both, and would go to both if you can.

    Want more tips on what it takes to be a great musician? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1112

  • “Must Knows” for the Beginning Saxophonist

    We’ve compiled a short collection of tips for the beginning saxophonist (someone with two years or less of experience). If you feel anything is missing from this article, please feel free to let us know in the comments! You can also read our tips for the advanced saxophonist here.

    What should you have in your case?

    Your saxophone (I know this sounds obvious, but I have known kids that forget parts of their saxophone at home or brought the wrong saxophone case and the sax was in the other case back at their house), your saxophone neck, a mouthpiece, a ligature, your ligature/mouthpiece cap, a neck strap, and 2.5 or size 3 reeds. Make sure that you keep several GOOD reeds in your case. It is extremely frustrating for a band director when you break your only reed.

    I also recommend that you keep a cleaning cloth in your case, something to store your reeds in (the plastic protectors they come in should be sufficient, just remember to put them back in after you play), powder paper or a dollar bill to fix sticky pads, and something to dry out the inside of your neck and mouthpiece after you are done using them. I also keep electric tape in my sax case for quick fixes and to put on the top of my mouthpiece to make it more comfortable for my teeth instead of buying the little plastic stickers.

    Playing:

    When you play, you should sit up straight and play with your sax between your legs unless you play tenor or bari, then you should play with your sax off to right of your legs for support.

    This also can depend on your height – if the alto is between your legs and your right wrist touches or is below your leg, you need to play off to the side until you grow a bit more!

    Some things you should research and start to learn:

    Learn your major and minor scales at least one octave, two if you’re ambitious. You should learn what the circle of fourths or fifths is (especially if you want to play jazz). It will help you learn key signatures as well.

    You should be able to read music, understand basic rhythms, and know the proper way to tongue (or at least be on the way to doing so). Tonguing is a real issue with young players because they either do not know how to tongue and attack using just air, or they tongue too hard.

    You should be able to recognize that your saxophone is in Eb if you play alto or bari, and Bb if you play tenor or soprano. Once you’ve been playing a year or two, you should also begin to learn how to transpose from concert pitch to the key of your instrument and vice versa.

    Research Adolf Sax, the man who invented the saxophone. Learn about and recognize names of famous sax players such as Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane. You should explore different types of music that feature the saxophone (jazz, blues, fusion, and even some pop). Listen to at least one jazz station or classical station occasionally if not regularly. You should also begin listening to professional saxophone players so that you can eventually try to emulate what they play and sound like. In addition, you should be able to recognize names of other important musicians such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1062