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Loose chops

Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
My own personal opinion, so let the criticism fly:

After playing saxophone for almost 50 years, there is one thing I can recommend:

PLAY LOOSE!

I started on clarinet (a good idea) but the transition to sax was very slow for me. I tried stiff reeds like on clarinet, and got nowhere as far as sound. Technique, OK, but no dynamic range and I couldn't sound like Ben Webster, Gene Ammons, and Sal Nistico (Who can?)

It took me more than 10 years to back off on reed strength and use air pressure, not lip pressure, to create the "stuff" from which saxophone sound is shaped.

I didn't take many sax lessons, but later I talked to great players who studied with the best teachers. Here's what I heard:

1. Take a big bite and let the reed fly, or else take a shorter bite and play with incredibly loose chops and tons of air.
A. The first approach produces a huge, edgy sound, and very few problems with low notes. However, control requires enormous powerful chops.
B. The second approach allows the player to exert more influence on the thin part of the reed near the tip while still letting the reed vibrate. A lot of air is necessary.

2. Many of the great New York teachers recommended softer reeds with the second "loose" approach. I've heard a lot of stories and forgotten the source. Either Bill Scheiner (Stan Getz' teacher) or Merle Johnston (Of Johnston-Selmer mouthpiece fame) would hit his students with a hammer if they played with a tight embouchre. I met Bill Scheiner and repaired his tenor once. I can't imagine him doing this, but I know he was a tough teacher.
One day a guy called my repair shop looking for a sax teacher for his son. He told me he was accustomed to the best, as he had studied with Bill Scheiner. I told him to contact Mr. Scheiner, because he had recently moved to our area.
He replied, "Oh, I couldn't do that to my son!"

Neither approach is easy. Muscle development takes time, like lifting weights, and endurance requires a completely different training schedule, like trying to win the Tour de France. a combination of both is best.

I think most sax players use a reed that is too hard, and not enough air. Long tones, however boring, achieve the best results. Another approach, not often used, is to play as loud as possible, with a big bite and an almost uncontrolled "blatty" sound, and then tone it down with a little more lip pressure. Playing into a closet while developing tone with this approach will endear you to your family.

Try turning your lower lip out the wrong way, so that the jaw muscles have absolutely no pressure on the lower lip because the lower lip is not touching the teeth. Don't PLAY that way, but see if you can get control of the reed. If you can't, your reed might be too hard. You should be using the sophisticated muscles in the lips to control the reed, not the massive muscles in the jaw.

More than anything else, take the biggest breath possible. It will make you use more air to play, whether you think about it or not. If you forget anything in this post remember the big breath part.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Randy, this has to be perhaps the best post I've ever read on this subject. It sounds exactly as if it came from the lips (or keyboard), of my first saxophone teacher. He was an American, who came of age at a time when Getz was the man.

What I find fascinating is how so much information that used to be passed down through the oral tradition, can know be transmitted around the globe via these new mediums. E-communication allows players such as yourself, who have such a wealth of information gained through the actual lived experience, to pass on tidbits like this--which might almost seem inconsequential since they're so ingrained in one's playing, or have happened over the course of one's lifetime--to the next generation of players.

Thank you Randy, for taking the time to write such an important piece of saxophone embouchure/breath control literature.
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
+ 10 on this post.

How I wish someone had told me this when I was 15 instead of 45. I had all the bad habits - classical clarinet chops, playing on 3.5 to 4.5 reeds, dodgy intonation. I could articulate the crap out of an Étude, but with no tone, and I was always flat in the lower register and sharp in the upper. I would play a gig thinking I had played well, and then listen to a recording of it and want to barf. I kept thinking that a new horn or another new mouthpiece would fix it.

After eight years of my "new" technique, I'm a much happier player, and have completely (well almost) stifled the GAS. I played a gig last year with some old bandmates that I hadn't played with in 15 years, and they were making comments like: "Who is that guy? He never played like that before." The most interesting thing about it is that I feel like a beginner again. There is so much more room to grow as a player.
 
If it consistently sounds right, you're doing it right. However you're doing it.
 

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
I'm convinced that the key on all woodwinds is to produce the correct "input pitch". Once that happens using a well focused and supported air stream the tone and intonation take care of themselves.

I personally wouldn't choose the words "loose" or "bite" when describing the saxophone embouchure because both words suggest an extreme that can actually be detrimental to good playing habits.

John
 
Well, whatever floats your boat. But it's worth saying that a majority of classical players use a firm Teal-like embouchure and don't have any trouble.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Well, whatever floats your boat. But it's worth saying that a majority of classical players use a firm Teal-like embouchure and don't have any trouble.

I think we're talking about 2 different things here. Classical (or "legit" to quote a colloquialism) embouchure versus "other".

When I studied classical saxophone in university and through private instructors, my embouchure was very much the firm Teal-like variety you speak of. That, together with my setup allowed me to get the tone that was required for the style of music. However, I can tell you, that that embouchure and that set up will not cut it in say a rock, blues, Latin, or even a jazz band. That's where the "loose" comes in.

If I were to take my Mark VI alto, together with my scroll shank C* (I think that's what I still have) and slap one of my new, old-stock purple box Vandorens (they were hard, I just don't remember how hard) on it, and used my classical embouchure, I wouldn't have the right sound for playing opposite the lead guitar in the electric blues band I work in. Take the same horn, change my setup and embouchure, and suddenly "poof" I'm an electric-blues sax player.

Two very different setups and embouchures for two very different genres of music. Both are correct; each for their own style.
 
I think we're talking about 2 different things here. Classical (or "legit" to quote a colloquialism) embouchure versus "other".

Yeah, I know. I'm just playing devil's advocate here. As a classical player, I felt that distinction needed to be made in this discussion. The assumption that all discussion is jazz-related is a reason that I don't visit SOTW anymore. I'd hate to see it happen to this site too (although it's probably inevitable).
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Yeah, I know. I'm just playing devil's advocate here. As a classical player, I felt that distinction needed to be made in this discussion. The assumption that all discussion is jazz-related is a reason that I don't visit SOTW anymore. I'd hate to see it happen to this site too (although it's probably inevitable).

Point taken.

Do you have any suggestions how to be inclusive of classical, without necessarily segregating it, like SOTW did. I don't really think that that's the answer either.

I'm thinking that I'll break this off into another thread afterwards as not to hijack this one.
 
Great OP - thanks!

Muscle development takes time, like lifting weights, and endurance requires a completely different training schedule, like trying to win the Tour de France.
What do you recommend for doping?

I think most sax players use a reed that is too hard, and not enough air.
This is what my teacher says.

If it consistently sounds right, you're doing it right. However you're doing it.
This is what my teacher says.
 
My own personal opinion, so let the criticism fly:
I think most sax players use a reed that is too hard, and not enough air.
.......
Try turning your lower lip out the wrong way, so that the jaw muscles have absolutely no pressure on the lower lip because the lower lip is not touching the teeth. Don't PLAY that way, but see if you can get control of the reed.

I agree with a lot of this post.

Without getting into the whole story ...

Then ... V16 8 ... Rigottis 4 1/2 (soft?) .... no matter how much time I put in, my tuning in the upper register sucked, my sound was alright (I spent HOURS AND HOURS working on it) but I couldn't get it to where I wanted it.

NOW ... metal otto link 7 ... Java 3s ... I am really loving my sound and always get comments about it in adjudications and lessons. My upper register notes are "very in tune". Playing is EASY. My tension that I often have while playing was reduced by 80%.

....

Also, I think, as others have said, lip placement is often more to do with if you are of "legit" background or not. Personally, I always play with my lip "turned out the wrong way" (sometimes too much so haha) If I played with my lip turned in, my profs and peers would wonder what the "heck" I was doing.
 
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