How do I get a good sound?
Many of you are asking this question and expressing frustration with the process. I have a short answer for you that I guarantee will work. I asked for questions, and you guys delivered a ton of really great ones. Many of the questions I’m going to answer in this video are things that were asked by multiple people and things I get asked constantly, so chances are you are going to get a lot of value from watching this video.
1. Play every day
Are you playing every day? Are you putting the time in? Ask yourself and be honest. Practice every day for a month and you will see your sound improve. Practice every day for a year and your sound is definitely going to improve. Practice every day for 10 years and you can have a beautiful sound. There has never been a saxophone player who picked up the horn and got a beautiful sound without putting in a lot of time. It won’t be different for you. Playing every day will build up the muscles in your embouchure which will help tremendously.
2. Stop Biting
Just about everybody at every level is putting too much pressure on the reed from time to time. Most of the time you have to build up the strength so that you can have a nice relaxed embouchure and stop biting. This is going to solve the majority of the problems you’re having.
3. Use softer reeds
People ask me questions about playing in tune, sound quality, getting into the altissimo range, playing the overtones, playing the low notes. The answer is use softer reeds. There’s a myth that you need to somehow keep getting harder and harder reeds as you get better on the saxophone. Using softer reeds makes things easier.
4. Let the air do the work
Your embouchure shouldn’t be working so hard biting. Let the air do the work of producing the sound. Not your mouth.
5. Listen to great sax players
Listen to Great saxophone players in whatever style you like and play along with them to try to match their sound.
6. Practice long tones
Long tones allow us to really just focus on the sound, playing one note at a time.
7. Be Patient
When it comes to sound, you have to be patient and think long term.
8. Upgrade your mouthpiece
The last thing on the list, and this is the least important, is you might need to upgrade your mouthpiece (if it’s necessary). You might have the student mouthpiece that came with the saxophone, and it’s all busted. If that’s the case, you could upgrade and that’s going to help a lot. I’m not saying someone who already has a 200 mouthpiece needs to upgrade to a 800 mouthpiece. You might have a mouthpiece that’s designed to get you a sound that’s not the sound you’re looking for, but upgrading can really help.
I find a lot of people starting out on the saxophone have unrealistic expectations. It’s not like skiing or tennis or golf, where you take a lesson and an hour later you are having fun doing that thing. This is a discipline that requires a lot more input to get an output you will enjoy. Hard things are more rewarding when you get good at them than easy things.
Where can I practice?
If you’re wondering why I’m in the woods today, it’s because my studio is undergoing some renovations. To the many people who asked where to practice when you can’t practice at home, you can go into the woods, or the beach, or any other nature that you have nearby. There was a period where I practiced at a big park daily. Sonny Rollins practiced on the Williamsburg bridge.
There is always a place you can go practice. It may not be the most comfortable, but it’s more a question of commitment than convenience.
Lots of people who submitted questions also mentioned how helpful the BetterSax courses have been for them. This kinda goes without saying, but the absolute best way I can help you get better is through those courses which are painstakingly designed to help you get the optimum results. They just work and that’s why we offer money back guarantee on all of them. Head over to bettersax.com for more info.
In person teacher versus learning online
Everyone needs a teacher. If you can find a local one-on-one saxophone teacher, do it. Everyone needs multiple perspectives, so over the course of your journey you’re going to want to study with multiple teachers, as well as taking advantage of all the great online learning resources you’ve got available. Seek out different perspectives.
There are multiple ways to solve the same problem. You’re going to get different solutions from different sources, and you want to get all of that information and put it together to find out what works best for you.
Transitioning from classical to jazz
First, you need to start listening to jazz. You have to get that sound in your ear. It’s very important to find some good saxophone players in the jazz genre that you like and listen to them non-stop. The jazz embouchure is more relaxed and less strict than the classical embouchure, so you can go ahead and loosen up.
Also think about getting some softer reeds. Classical saxophonists generally use a lot of vibrato, so first thing you could do is to stop playing with vibrato entirely. just to get out of the habit. Later on you can start reintroducing the vibrato. In jazz we use vibrato, but sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not there. The way you use it is gonna be based on the saxophonists you’re listening to and want to emulate.
Last thing is, you may want to get a jazz mouthpiece that’s more suited towards the sound you’re looking for. You can sound jazzy on a classical mouthpiece, but there are going to be some limitations.
Playing jazz & improvising over chord changes
First, you have to learn your music theory, your scales, your major and minor Triads, and your seventh chords. You’ve got to be able to play all that stuff in all 12 keys. You need to know that stuff instantly, and it takes a certain amount of study. I’ve got a free resource in the BetterSax Shed, which is a cheat sheet for jazz music theory. Download that for free, and it will get you started.
Take a course like the Harmonic Foundation course that we have at BetterSax.com. It’s all the jazz theory that you need to know. It’s basically what you would learn if you went to University, but you could just learn it at home.
Once you have all your music theory down, you want to start transcribing so you can connect the music theory and the notes with the music. Don’t do whole solos at first, just do one chorus of a solo you really like at a time. You can do four or eight bars of a solo you really like and try to understand what is happening musically. Try understanding why the musician is playing these different notes, the different lines, and how it all fits together. This process is long, it takes years, you just need to start and chip away at it week after week, month after month, year after year.
Keep in mind that we cannot learn jazz and improvisation using the same approach we use for classical music, which is mainly reading sheet music in books. Listening and transcribing are integral parts of the process. If you don’t do both of those things a lot, you’re not going to progress.
We also get a ton of gear questions. You can watch this video next where I debunk all of the persistent myths about saxophone gear.