Playing Your First Saxophone Notes
One of the most important aspects learned in your first saxophone lessons is the ability to produce a strong, even tone. This largely depends on the position of the mouth and lips, the amount of pressure used, and the way the air is directed through the instrument. The mouth and lip position is known as the embouchure, and is demonstrated in the photos below.
To form the basic embouchure for playing saxophone, place the tip of the mouthpiece about half an inch into your mouth. Rest your top teeth against the top of the mouthpiece and bring your bottom lip up against the mouthpiece. You are now ready to play saxophone notes. Let’s practice by playing a G note.
The G Note
- Left Thumb: The ball of your left thumb should be on this thumb rest when you play. Don’t press too hard with your thumb, as you will need it later to play the octave key.
- Left Hand Fingers: In the diagram below, a white number on a red key tells you to press down the key with the finger indicated. Press down the three red keys indicated on the diagram to play the note G.
- Right Hand Fingers: The right hand does not press down any keys when playing a G note. Always keep the tips of your fingers hovering near the keys, ready to play the next note.
Playing the G Note
Place your fingers in position for a G note as shown in the diagram above and blow a steady stream of air into the mouthpiece until the saxophone notes sounds. Be patient if you cannot make the saxophone notes sound clearly and evenly at first.
Experiment with the pressure from your jaw until you find the right amount to make the saxophone notes sound correctly. Do not use excessive pressure, and try to let your breath out evenly. As your lips and facial muscles develop, making good sounding saxophone notes will become easier and easier.
To control the beginning and end of your saxophone notes, the technique of tonguing is used. To prepare for this technique whisper the sound “taa.” The sound begins with your tongue sitting behind your top teeth, blocking the passage of air, and you make the “taa” sound by quickly withdrawing it, and letting a stream of air begin from your outgoing breath.
The next step is to do this with the embouchure in position to play a saxophone note, but with your tongue lightly on the reed. As you withdraw your tongue, the saxophone note will have a well articulated beginning. To end the note, you put your tongue back on the reed rather than stopping your breath. This will end the sax note as crisply as it started. It is worth practicing the tonguing technique many times on a single note until you are comfortable with it.
– Continue learning with Learn To Play Music at LearnToPlayMusic.com
– This post is a modified exert from the book Progressive Beginner Saxophone by Peter Gelling
– Also check out our Rock Saxophone Lessons
– Instructional photography by Sarah Petrusma.