Hey there, In today’s Q+A, I’m answering YOUR questions from Instagram and beyond.
“Can I learn saxophone just from watching YouTube videos?” Or “How can I get better faster?” And the age old question of “Why are Mark VI saxophones so overpriced?”
What Keeps You Motivated to Practice Daily?
That’s easy. Listening to music. We all have to make time in our daily schedule for practicing, but just as important, is making time for listening to music. I listen to music while exercising everyday. This way, I am getting 2 very important things done at the same time.
Inevitably the music inspires me to practice and gives me inspiration for a lot of the videos and other content I create.
How to Stop Cutting My Lip When Playing too Long?
If you are cutting into your lip with your teeth, you are biting too much.
Too much pressure on the reed from the jaw is probably the number one most common problem with all saxophone players.
There is a natural tendency to want to bite down on that reed. But, we should all be constantly resisting that at every level.
The problem is, when your embouchure strength is not developed it becomes difficult to keep a fleshy bottom lip. As we get tired the corners of the mouth pull back stretching out our bottom lip.
Also, developing players feel like the sound is coming from the embouchure and end up forcing a lot. The sound is actually coming from the vibration of the reed as a result of the air stream. So let the air do the work of producing the sound, the embouchure needs to stay relaxed. Let that reed vibrate as freely as possible.
Another indicator that you are biting too much is cutting through your mouthpiece patch. If you have a nice relaxed embouchure, one of these things should last for many years.
Can I REALLY Learn Saxophone Just From Watching YouTube Videos?
Learning the saxophone or music is not like learning to make sourdough bread, for example. It’s more than just following a recipe or a set of instructions.
While I am learning things about music every single day on YouTube as well as teaching music on the internet, the most important elements of learning music happen on an individual level while making music or listening to music.
What I mean is, having the instructions is not enough. There is no amount of information that can make you good at music. It’s the practicing, performing, and listening that help you improve over time.
So while I think there are pros and cons to both online and face to face music lessons, what matters much more is how each individual applies the information they learn.
Music is also a form of communication. Yes, you can learn a lot about a new language from videos, books and apps, but you need other humans to communicate in that language. Music is the same.
I say, take advantage of all the wonderful resources available online for learning music, but understand certain essential pieces of the puzzle will be missing.
How Do You Practice Doubles?
Another great question. I play bari mainly, and I’m trying to get better at tenor.
While it’s reasonable to think that once you can play and sound good on one saxophone, you can then just pick up the others and do the same thing.
This is not the case. Even though the fingerings are the same and the mouthpiece appears to be the same, there are significant differences when it comes to sound production.
If you play one saxophone and want to get good on another one, I recommend you switch to practicing on the new horn. Do the same sound and tone development exercises on it.
I mainly play alto and tenor and the way I practice them is to stick with one at a time for weeks at a time.
If I want to improve my soprano playing, the best thing to do is to practice exclusively on the soprano for while. Lots of long tones, overtones and intonation work.
What Do You Find Helps You Improve the Most in the Shortest Amount of Time?
Great question. There are a ton of things we can do to improve the efficiency of our practice time, and I’ve made videos about a lot of those things already.
I know this is going to sound counter intuitive to a lot people, but in my experience having the patience to go slow is the thing that yields the fastest results.
The tortoise and the hare fable applies to music in a big way.
Being in a rush to get better is a major obstacle for so many people.
When we practice with the “in a rush” mindset, we not only make less progress more slowly, but we usually develop and reinforce bad habits that will then require even more time later on to correct.
So the 2 things that helps me improve quickly is practicing slowly while focusing on accuracy over speed as well as practicing with consistency. The difference between practicing 7 days a week vs 3 or 4 is really exponential.
Think long term with your musical goals. Each practice session is a mere drop in the ocean and if you manage even a tiny improvement each day, that’s a big deal.
What Does Raising the Back of Your Tongue Mean? How Do You Do it?
Great questions! A lot of people talk about raising the back of your tongue especially when playing in the altissimo range.
The concept I’ve heard is that raising the tongue somehow makes the air go faster which in turn helps the higher frequencies sound more easily.
While it sounds logical, the problem with this idea is that the air speed is fixed by the opening of the mouthpiece. No amount of changing the shape of your oral cavity can effectively change the speed of a given volume of air that’s being pushed through a mouthpiece.
That’s not to say that raising your tongue in the back doesn’t have an effect on anything.
For most of the normal range of the saxophone, the extremes don’t have a very big effect on the sound or even the intonation.
When I try this, once I get above high F# though, I find I can no longer sound the notes with my tongue on the roof of my mouth.
I don’t know exactly why that is, but it does prove that tongue position matters at least.
I learned to play my overtones and altissimo range without ever hearing about raising my tongue up in the back. So if I do it, I’m doing it unconsciously.
Not being able to see inside my mouth while I’m playing I can only give a best guess as to what my tongue is doing.
I do feel the throat position change slightly for just about every note on the saxophone. But these changes are very subtle. To me it feels like there is a sweet spot for each note where it sounds best and plays in tune.
the only way to find those spots though is from playing a lot, developing embouchure strength and flexibility, as well as a tonal concept on the instrument.
So by all means when practicing your long tones and overtones experiment with tongue and throat positions. Just keep in mind that we each have to find the sweet spots that work best for our individual bodies, mouthpieces and saxophones.
Do You Think BetterSax Will Hit 1 Million Subscribers?
I’m gonna go with yesm just so if sometime in the future there are 1 million subscribers, I can come back to this video and say, see I knew it.
How Can I Move from Pushing with My Lungs to Pushing Air with My Stomach?
Easy answer, you can’t. There is only one mechanism in the human body for pushing the air out and pulling it in for that matter, and that is the diaphragm.
Try to breath without using your diaphragm. Go ahead try it.
This is a big misconception in wind instrument teaching. It’s something that is probably very confusing to lots of people when they hear it.
What a teacher is trying to tell you I believe is take fuller, deeper breaths that fill up your entire air capacity and then use your diaphragm muscle to control the steady release of that air.
Start with an empty air tank. We want to fill up with fresh air full of oxygen and we don’t want any old already used air taking up space. So push it out.
Then the diaphragm contracts effectively pulling in new air to your lungs. Allow your lungs to expand inside your rib cage as far as they can. On exhale the diaphragm expands pushing the air out.
Practicing long tones is the best way I know to develop control over the steady release of that air into the saxophone.
Where Can I Buy One of Those Cool T-Shirts?
Check out bettersax.com/merch
What’s the Best Way to Get Used to a Bigger Tip Opening?
Softer reeds. The reed has to travel the distance of the tip opening when it’s vibrating so a softer reed is going to make it easier to get the notes out with less air.
For Someone Just Starting Jazz Sax, What’s Something They Can Do to Start Creating Their Own Sound?
I love these types of questions.
There is a very strange concept out there that musicians need to specifically work on creating their own sound.
I don’t see how it’s possible for any advanced player to not have their own individual sound.
Just like it’s not possible for any of us to not have our own individual voice or face.
We are all individuals and your sound and style will develop along its own unique path no matter what. Even if you were to devote all of your effort into sounding exactly like another player, you would not succeed. It’s impossible.
The best impersonators may be able to get very close to someone else’s voice but it’s never exactly the same.
In jazz improvisation your sound is not just the tone color, but your phrasing, articulation, rhythm, use of language and lots more.
In a system with infinite possibilities we never get the same thing twice.
So my advice to you is to listen to lots of great players, and spend a lot of time with those that you connect with the most. This is the best way to find your own true voice which is inevitably a mixture of multiple influences as interpreted by you.
Why Are Mark VIs So Overpriced?
Nostalgia, mythology, and good marketing from some of those who sell them.
What’s Your Favorite Way to Keep Focused by Practicing Boring Exercises like Long tTones?
I don’t find long tones particularly boring anymore but that’s probably because I deeply understand the benefit I get from them now. I know that the rest of my practice session is going to be much better if I start with a good tone warm up.
Having said that, I don’t spend a lot of time on them. I made a video about this not long ago. Check out “Improve Your Tone With This (Short) Long Tone Exercise for Saxophone.”
I spend 5-10 minutes on long tones, mouthpiece alone work and overtones at the beginning of every practice session.
It’s the consistency over long periods of time that gets results. Not spending a ton of time on it all at once.
Thanks for Your Questions!
Thanks to all of you for submitting your questions! It was such a pleasure to read through all of your questions, and it was hard to narrow it down! If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, and keep an eye out on the BetterSax social for more Q+A opportunities. I always enjoy hearing from you all, and I hope you all got a lot out of these questions!