/// put your money where your mouth is ////////////////////
One of the most challenging things about teaching and playing the saxophone, is establishing a tone concept. The tone is defined in great part due to the shape of the saxophonist’s oral cavity. This challenge is also a positive, of course, because it allows the amazing “chameleon” quality that masters of the instrument can harness.
Teaching saxophone tone in the beginning phases is difficult. Each student, in order to create a pleasing sound, must create a slightly different tongue and throat position in accordance with the shape of his or her oral cavity, which means that we can't tell students to all do the same thing. We have to really take an individual approach. The best thing that you can do to ensure a student’s early success is to be able to clearly define the embouchure. The rest can come later.
The Shape of the Lips: A Round Embouchure Makes a Round Tone!
The saxophone embouchure is round above all. The strength of the embouchure comes from the corners of the lips pressing in from the sides, which allows the lower lip to bunch up to make a supple platform for the reed to vibrate.
Here are some ways that I describe the embouchure to beginners:
· “Like you are holding a drinking straw in your mouth without using your teeth”
· “Like you are going to whistle”
· “Like a kiss—a peck on the cheek”
· “Like you ate a sour lemon”
· or, my students’ favorite, “Like a cat’s butthole.” Sixth graders love that one…
How to Tell If It's Working
Have students play a concert B-flat (on alto sax, a written G with octave key) and then release the octave key without rearticulating. If the note quickly slurs down to the low B-flat, the embouchure is well-structured. If the note doesn’t change, the student is using too much pressure, and should relax the lower lip and jaw, putting the energy back into the corners of the lips. ♫