the Saxophone Embouchure
by Bruce Pearson
doubt you have heard those old saxophone jokes, like Whats
the difference between the sound of a saxophone and a lawn mower engine?
Answer: You can tune the lawn mower. Pretty bad, eh!
There must be a reason, however, for all
those jokes about the poor tone quality and poor intonation of saxophone
playing. In the Spring 2000 issue of Kjos Band News, I wrote an
article entitled A + E = T. In other words, A (Air) + E (Embouchure)
= T (Tone). But why have saxophones, in particular, taken the brunt of
all those jokes regarding poor tone quality and poor intonation? I believe
it is because many saxophone players are not playing with saxophone
embouchures. Specifically, I believe that many saxophone players are playing
with clarinet embouchures. This can be easily determined by discovering
which pitch they are playing with their mouthpiece only. The pitch that
is played on the mouthpiece of single reed instruments will determine
the tone quality.
Assist students in forming and developing
their embouchure by having each be responsible for providing a small mirror
that can be placed on the music stand. This will allow students to see
that their embouchure is being formed properly.
Ensure a good formation of the saxophone
embouchure by having each saxophone student do the following:
- Slip a piece of paper between
the reed and the mouthpiece and slide the paper down, away from the
tip, until it stops.
(Click here for photo 1)
- With a pencil, draw a light
line on the reed connecting the two sides of the paper. This line will
indicate where the lower lip should be placed. Remove the paper.
- Hold the mouthpiece with
one hand and place the tip of the thumb just under the line that was
drawn on the reed.
(Click here for photo 2)
- Shape the mouth as if saying
whee-too. Hold the mouth in the whee position
while saying too.
(Click here for photo 3)
- Cover the bottom teeth with
a small amount of the lower lip.
- Place the mouthpiece in
the mouth so that the lower lip touches the thumb that was placed just
below the line that was drawn on the reed. The thumb should serve as
a stop allowing just the right amount of mouthpiece in the
mouth. Too much mouthpiece in the mouth will cause a harsh, raucous
tone. Too little mouthpiece in the mouth will cause a constricted or
(Click here for photo 4)
- Rest the top teeth directly
on the mouthpiece. Close the mouth in a drawstring fashion with equal
support on all sides of the reed. The chin should be flat and pointed.
Using the mirror, check to see that the embouchure is formed properly.
- Take a deep breath of air
(filling the back of the throat) and play a long, steady tone.
the embouchure is formed properly, the following concert pitches should
young saxophonists play with a higher pitch resulting in a strident tone.
To lower the pitch, have the student relax the embouchure as if saying
O. To raise the pitch have the student pull the corners of
their mouth as if saying oo.
To ensure a well-established saxophone embouchure,
have the student play long tones daily.
By following these simple steps, students
will learn to form a good saxophone embouchure that will be important
to the development of a beautiful saxophone tone. It may even put an end
to those terrible saxophone jokes.
Copyright © 2001
Neil A. Kjos Music Company. All rights reserved.