Saxophone Tone Production
Dr. Lori Ardovino
University of Montevallo
The most important part of saxophone playing is producing a
characteristic sound. From here we can begin to tailor and modify the tone to
fit a particular style of music.
-The combination of embouchure, mouthpiece placement, reed condition, instrument position and airstream all contribute to the
-The reed, mouthpiece and ligature must be assembled correctly for a good beginning.
- First start by soaking the reed for 2-3 minutes in water, making sure all
surfaces of the reed are moist. The reed must be placed so
that the tip of the reed is in line with the tip of the mouthpiece. Tighten the
- Once the mouthpiece assembly is complete, see where the curve of the mouthpiece separates from the reed. An easy
way to do this is to take an index card or piece of heavy paper and
place it between the mouthpiece and reed until it stops. This will give you a
visual idea where the lower teeth and lip should be placed. Drawing a line with a
pen on the reed at this intersection will be helpful as well.
- say “oooohhh.” This will push the corners of the mouth forward
and create a “funnel” shape for the air column. Thinking of
whistling may also be helpful to produce the “drawstring” or circular shape.
Flatten your chin against the lower jaw in a downward motion. The lower
lip should just slightly cover the bottom teeth. Place the
mouthpiece in the flex past the line drawn on the reed and| anchor the top
teeth on top of the mouthpiece. A bit of experimenting with the amount of reed and mouthpiece will be helpful.
- Top teeth on the mouthpiece. This is a very common error with
beginners and must be emphasized constantly.
- No more than half of the bottom lip over the teeth. This
varies slightly from student to student but is a good rule of thumb.
- Corners of the mouth held firm. This is key on every
- Chin held flat. Keeping your upper lip pulled firmly down will
ensure your chin to remain flat.
- The mouthpiece and reed should produce A=880Hz. If the pitch
is too low, firming up the flex or increasing the speed of the air
column should help. If the sound is uncontrolled, use less mouthpiece,
if it is muffled, try more mouthpiece. The volume should be fairly high,
so that when the saxophone is added, there is a resonant tone
produced. The flex should remain constant throughout the entire register.
- The tongue position should be low in the mouth with only the
tip of the tongue contacting the tip of the reed. Using some variation of a
“d”syllable will prove to be most effective. “Touch” the airstream without stopping it.Voicing for upper register notes can be addressed once proper articulation is established. This can be difficult at first, but attention here will head off many
technique issues down the road.
- Good posture is crucial in maintaining a proper tone. Slumping
in your chair will not able your body to use your air properly
There are a number of exercises that you can do to help improve
- Long tones. As a beginner, one of the most problematic aspects
of tone production is embouchure instability. Practicing long tones is a
terrific way to help; build up the muscles that control your tone. Make
the muscles bigger and stronger, and the tone will become more
- Use the mouthpiece and neckpipe alone. Blow long tones with
the minimum amount of equipment. If you listen carefully, you can
hear if your tone wavers or changes at all. By experimenting with your embouchure you can learn to get a solid basic sound.
- Use a reference pitch. Find a note somewhere in the middle
register which gives you a relatively good sound. (I recommend starting with a
fourth-space E.) Now, move up one semitone (To an F), and try and match the
sound quality. Then, move back to the starting note (E). Now go down
one semitone (Eb), and do the same. Return to the starting note (E),
then go up atone (F#). Go back to the starting note (E). Go down a tone (D).
Keep doing this until you have reached the point where you are covering the
full range of the horn. This is a great exercises to help maintain your
tone across all registers of the instrument (see Exercise I and II.)
- Practice Overtones. Remember the first time that you ever
tried to play a low Bb on your saxophone? Probably you got just about every note except for the Bb. Each fingering on the saxophone actually has
a whole series of pitches which ca be produced, even though normally you
only ever play one. As strange as it may seem, these overtones are
crucial to tone production. For now, try to play as many notes as possible
on the low Bb. The more notes that you can train yourself to play, the
better control over your tone you will develop. (See Exercise page)
- Practice with a mirror: You are your best judge, this will
help you see what you are doing!
- Your instrument itself should be in good working order. A poor instrument can frustrate even the best player. The instrument
should be checked for leaks as well as proper pad height and should
respond easily in all registers. Checking the octave key assembly on the
neck is a good idea. The key is often bent through improper handling
and often needs attention.
- Good general
maintenance and frequent check ups will assure a good playing experience. Once the basics of tone are firmly
established, one can experiment to achieve the sound qualities of any style of
- Selmer Paris S80 C*
- E. Rousseau Classic 4R
- Bonade regualar or inverted
- Rovner mark III or L6 Light
- Vandoren #2