Welcome to lesson 2 of the BetterSax Beginners course.
In lesson 1 we learned how to set up our reed and mouthpiece properly to get the best results.
In this lesson I’m going to show you how to get a sound out with a good saxophone embouchure.
Watch the video version of this lesson below or continue with the text version. Be sure to download the PDF Guide and fingering chart as well.
Just Mouthpiece and Neck
We will start where we left off in Lesson 1, with mouthpiece on the neck ready to play.
Now for anyone who doesn’t know, the word embouchure refers to everything that is going on with our mouth when playing the saxophone.
We are not going to put the neck on the saxophone yet since we just want to focus on one thing at a time.
I want you to work with just the mouthpiece and neck for a while.
Sax Science Lesson
First, it’s important to understand what is happening physically when we blow into the instrument. Our air is going to cause the reed to vibrate against the mouthpiece opening and closing the gap very fast. If we play the note A which has a frequency of 440hz, this reed is going to open and close 440 times per second while we play.
Mind blown? Yeah mine too.
Now you can see why we need such a perfect seal between the reed and the mouthpiece right?
The length of the tube at the other end of the mouthpiece determines which note comes out. The longer the tube, the lower the note.
Okay enough science…
Sax Embouchure Setup
The mouthpiece is going to go into our mouth with the reed on the bottom.
Your top teeth are going to be in contact with the top of the mouthpiece and your bottom lip is going to sit between your bottom teeth and the reed.
Your bottom lip is going to act as a cushion for the reed to vibrate on. It needs to be very fleshy yet firm.
The best way to achieve this is to bring the corners of your mouth in.
Your bottom teeth and jaw act as the support for this cushion.
We need to put some pressure on the reed in order to control the sound.
However, we don’t want to bite down too hard.
In the beginning we need to find the level of jaw pressure that works best.
Playing the First Notes
Let’s play a note.
Take a deep breath
Set your embouchure putting a little pressure on the reed and blow the longest note you can…
If your reed is setup like I showed you in the last lesson, you should get a sound out pretty easily here.
Embouchure Variables to Experiment With
Now I want you to experiment with some variables.
Amount of Mouthpiece in Mouth
First we need to find how much of the mouthpiece we should put in our mouths.
If you look from the side you’ll see the point at which the reed comes in contact with the mouthpiece. This is roughly the spot where we apply the slight pressure from the bottom lip.
A common mistake for beginners is not putting enough of the mouthpiece in their mouth and just playing on the tip.
You’ll get a better sound and have more control with the right amount in your mouth.
So try blowing a few more notes experimenting with this.
Bottom Lip Cushion
Next variable is going to be our bottom lip.
As I said earlier, we want it to sit between the reed and our bottom teeth acting as a fleshy cushion for the reed to vibrate on.
If you roll your lip completely over your teeth, you lose all the cushion which results in a thin sound.
We all have different shaped lips but try to find the best placement for your lower lip over the teeth that allows you to have as much cushion as possible while maintaining support from the jaw.
Remember, bring the corners of your mouth in to create this shape.
Blow a few more notes experimenting with your lip cushion.
A good embouchure is firm but relaxed.
Last variable is how much pressure we apply from the jaw.
There are a lot of factors at play here.
The strength of your reed determines how much resistance there is to that vibration.
The opening of your mouthpiece determines how far the reed needs to travel while it’s vibrating. So more open means more resistance.
When we have less resistance we will be putting less pressure on the reed.
That’s why we start out with really soft reeds and a small tip opening.
Building Embouchure Strength
In the beginning we haven’t developed the muscles in our face that form our embouchure. So we are not able to maintain the right amount of pressure that a more resistant reed strength and mouthpiece opening requires.
You may already feel tired from blowing these first notes. That is normal and means that you are doing it right.
I want you to blow some more long notes and experiment with the pressure from your jaw and bottom lip. Notice how it affects the sound.
As you develop as a saxophone player, your embouchure will strengthen and you will gain more control which results in a better sound.
Just be aware that this takes time. Think of a sax player with a fully developed embouchure as someone who can do 50 pushups in one go. they had to do pushups everyday for a long time to get to that level and they have to continue doing pushups daily to maintain their strength.
Best Practices for Developing a Beautiful Sax Sound
Here are the best practices for developing a strong embouchure and a beautiful sound.
- Play your saxophone everyday.
- When you get tired, take breaks. Once your embouchure is fully developed, you’ll be able to play for hours without getting tired, this can take years though.
- Don’t bite. Biting down on the reed is what we do to compensate for a tired embouchure. When we can’t maintain steady pressure with our face muscles, we bite down with the reed on a thin, spread out lip.
- If you find that you are always biting, try using softer reeds and/or a more closed mouthpiece.
Individual Embouchure for Each Individual
The embouchure technique that I’ve outlined here will work for any style of music and the vast majority of saxophonists.
However, we are all different so keep in mind there is room for variations.
At the end of the day the best embouchure is the one that gets you the best results on your saxophone. Part of the process in becoming a good sax player is finding what works best for you.
So I’d like for you to take some time getting used to playing with just the mouthpiece and neck while thinking about your embouchure and what I’ve just explained. Feel free to watch this lesson’s video and any of the others in this course as many times as you need to.
In the next lesson we are going to learn the best practices for putting the saxophone together and taking it apart to put away in the case.
Please comment below with your thoughts.