Chapter 5: Saxophone embouchure"The Definite guide for beginner saxophone"
Saxophone Embouchure: Developing good habits
"What is saxophone embouchure?"
"I just want to play, why should I focus on developing my embouchure?"
These questions and more will be answered in this chapter of Beginners Saxophone: the Definitive Guide.
Maybe you've heard someone talk about "The Saxophone Embouchure" before. It's basically just a fancy expression for the way you place the mouthpiece in your mouth. It relates to the french word "bouche", which means mouth.
This is also the spot that links the saxophone player together with the saxophone.
Everything that happens before and after this spot will not matter if you don't have a good solid embouchure that can channel the air into your saxophone.
So, you definitely need to keep a good posture to get the air flowing through the saxophone, which was covered in the previous chapter.
Without a proper saxophone embouchure you will not be able to achieve control over your tone. This will greatly affect your ability to progress on the saxophone as well as developing your saxophone sound.
The Saxophone Embouchure in 3 steps
Follow these 3 steps to gain control over your embouchure. It will require some work and patience to get it right, but when you do you’ll be enjoying the saxophone on a whole other level.
The basic idea is to use your lower lip as a “soft cushion” that will be in contact with the reed as you close of the sides by closing your mouth. Your upper front teeth should be in contact with the upper side of the mouthpiece at all times.
Step 1 - Anchor your upper teeth
You will use your upper teeth to anchor the MPC in the right position or the "sweet spot" as I like to call it.
Too much MPC
If you use too much mouthpiece inside your mouth, you get a harsh and squeaky sound. This is a type of overblowing, which will push the air through the mouthpiece without control.
Too little MPC
If you use too little mouthpiece inside your mouth, you get a mellow and narrow sound which is the result of a less vibrating reed in combination of you closing of the tip of the mouthpiece where the air needs to flow through freely.
Step 2 - Use your lower lip as a cushion
It's really common to see beginner students tightening up their entire face like they are in pain.
You need to stay relaxed in your jaw and simply open your mouth as if you were going to take a bite of food or something similar.
You should then start by anchoring your MPC against your upper teeth, as explained above, and then push up your jaw to meet with the reed from underneath.
Your lower teeth should not be in contact with the reed. Instead, you use your lower lip as a "soft cushion". That way your reed is only in contact with your lower lip, which makes for a good saxophone embouchure.
There is a tradition playing classical saxophone of folding the lower lip over the bottom teeth, which is an adopted clarinet embouchure that classically trained saxophonists use.
I strongly advise against this technique for the following reasons:
- You'll get a sore lower lip from the pressure against the lower teeth, which may result in a lot of pain and you stop playing the sax all together.
- The sound comes from the vibration of the reed. With a folded lower lip there's more contact with the reed which dampens its ability to vibrate. The result is a pretty poor and fragile sound, even if a classicaly trained saxophonist would disagree. However, unless you are planning on focusing on just classical music, then you should take my advice!
Step 3 - Make a tight seal around the MPC
Make sure to keep an even pressure around the MPC as you blow into it. The seal should keep any air from leaking out on the sides of the mouthpiece. Make adjustments if needed.
Finding the right upper teeth position
Here’s a way to identify and make corrections to your saxophone embouchure.
Try adjusting the amount of mouthpiece that you have inside your mouth slightly by either putting more in or pushing it further out.
You will hear your sound improving a lot when you find that “sweet spot”. The key point to take away here is to make small adjustments as you narrow in on the right position. This position is roughly about 2-3 cm (1-inch) onto the MPC.
Sound example: Adjusting to find the best MPC position
Troubleshoot Saxophone Embouchure
Q: "I cannot get any sound out of my saxophone, what am I doing wrong?"
A: You are probably biting down too hard on the mouthpiece, so that the air cannot flow through. Relax your jaw a bit and try again.
Q: "Why is my saxophone squeaking when I play?"
A: It could be that you have a bad reed, but it could also be that you have too much of the mouthpiece inside your mouth. Make a small adjustment and try again.
Q: "Why am I getting an "airy" and hollow tone on the saxophone?"
A: Check for leaking air on around the mouthpiece as you play. It will greatly affect your saxophone sound
Q: "How can I hold and play longer notes on saxophone?"
A: With a combination of good air support (see the previous chapter) and the correct saxophone embouchure (see above)