The 10+ Awesome Sound Hacks That Will Improve Your Saxophone Tone Instantly (2023)

Perhaps more than any other instrument, beginner saxophonists get a badrap for playing out of tune, playing with poor sound, playing veryloudly.

Now, you might be wondering — what do great saxophones sounds have,that the beginner saxophone sounds don't?

Apart from the surety of years and an advanced sense of musicexpression, I would say the chief factor between a great saxophone andan okay or poor saxophone sound is resonance.

But if you can follow the 10, or so, sound hacks for 5 minutes everyday, your sound will go through the roof, dramatically.

Just 17 minutes and you're set.

The 10+ Awesome Sound Hacks That'll Dramatically Improve Your Saxophone Tone in Under 20 Minutes

To improve our saxophone tone, resonance—this idea of a very rich fullsound, a sound that can fill a room up—is what we are after here.

There are several different ways of achieving this quality sound, as youmight have suspected.

Your tone is primarily made up of three different variables, yourgear, your air, and your embouchure.

Hack #1 — Know What Good Saxophone Playing Sound Like

First of all, a beginner saxophonist should know how a good saxophonesounds like.

Again, perhaps more than any other instrument, the student saxophonistis constantly assaulted with very poor versions of saxophone playingin say everyday pop music.

Every beginner needs quality examples from very early on.

In the jazz realm, we are very familiar with a few good examples such asJohn Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Chris Potter for tenor players,Phil Woods for alto players, Gary Smulyan for baritone players, thelist goes on and on.

In the world of classical saxophone, perhaps the answers aren't so clearbut a few that I would suggest are Donald Sinta, Timothy McAllister,Joseph Lulloff, Otis Murphy, Tamer Sullivan, Clifford Layman andso on and so forth.

All these players have lovely beautiful sounds that can serve as amodel for the beginner players.

Hack #2 — Voice Your Saxophone to Achieve Resonance

So how can you achieve resonance on a saxophone?

Perhaps the best known and most useful is the idea of voicing yoursaxophone.

Voicing is an idea that has been posited by saxophonists Larry Teeland Donald Sinta. It's a fairly complicated process or concept,but, it can be introduced fairly easily and straightforwardly tobeginner students.

Sax Voicing to Produce/Achieve Resonance (Step-by-step)

The first step to producing resonance on the saxophone, to improveyour saxophone sound, is playing just on the off piece alone.

The reason for this is because the saxophone embouchure can be rathercomplicated to learn.

One of the easiest ways of setting the proper tension and achievingthe proper sound on the saxophone is to match the pitch of just themouthpiece alone to a tone source (often a piano).

So take the mouthpiece out of your saxophone.

The pitch that I normally do this with concert pitch on the piano. PlayB5 on the piano and match it to the mouthpiece.

Doing this makes sure that your embouchure and all of the other thingsthat go into a proper saxophone sound are in the right place. This wayyou don't have to think about this verbiage that can very often confuseyou early on.

The second step is pitch bending on the mouthpiece alone. A verysimple way to start talking about voicing is, again, to use themouthpiece only.

Ideally, you want to start mouthpiece pitch bending exercises fromvery early on.

Again, start with the B5 note that we want to have as our referencepitch on the piano, and match that to our mouthpiece sound first, andthen see how far you can bend down that note on your mouthpiece.

I have about an octave, but, of course, a beginner won't have that atthe beginning. In fact, if you're a beginner, you're probably notgoing to be able to bend pitch much at all.

However, practice pitch bending regularly with ee vs. oh sounds.Learn how ee feels and how oh feels. To lower the pitch we want tothink about the o feel, and very gradually over time bend thehalf-step, then the whole-step and on and on very slowly.

We don't want to strain the muscles.

Sax voicing will help you to start achieving a bit of flexibility withthe mouthpiece.

The third step is uniting the mouthpiece with the horn. Once you dothis we can do more flexibility bending exercises. Start with thewritten B with the octave key on any of the saxophones and try to bendthat down.

It's a fairly easy pitch to bend down and manipulate.

Start with the very in tune B and then see how far you can bend thatdown that rather free pitch before it breaks.

Using these exercises will give you the ability to adjust the pitch andtherefore to adjust resonance.

Hack #3 — Use Saxophone Overtones to Achieve Resonance

Using overtones is one of the other exercises that many saxophonistsuse to gain resonance. You need to manipulate the overtone series tohave a certain sound pop out.

The saxophone, just like the trumpet, has an overtone series.

If you've never done overtones before, what we're talking about hereis fingering one note, such as a low C, B flat or B natural, butthen producing a different note, so we end up with, for instance, theoctave above or the fifth above that note.

Overtones are really, really, important because they are kind of astepping stone towards getting your altissimo notes on your saxophone(that is, extremely high notes).

If you get it right, you're really going to strengthen your throat,which will make a dramatic improvement to your sound.

This isn't strictly important for beginner sax players but usingovertones to adjust your oral blowing mechanism gives you flexibility.

It's probably the hardest exercise but also the one you're going tosee the most improvement in your saxophone tone if you do itconsistently.

To use the overtone series to achieve resonance on the saxophone, do thefollowing:

Using the Saxophone Overtones Series to Produce/Achieve Resonance (Step-by-step)

Overtones are a great thing to work on and the best way to start themis just by starting with a single note.

What you need to do here is, for instance, play low B flat and try toget the octave above. If you get that one, then try the same with the Bnatural and then the C.

And if you are feeling more adventurous, you can try getting the fifthabove that and then the octave above that.

Alternately, play middle B flat on the saxophone, and then keeping thatpitch in your head, play the same tone—the same middle B flat—with a lowB flat fingering.

You should, finally, try to bring that middle B flat to all the way downto a low B flat. That's from middle B natural to low B natural.

You can do this exercise across the range of the saxophone.

This exercise will help you achieve flexibility in your voicings. Thiswill enable you to "move pitch around" to provide a little bit moreresonance to your voicing.

Overtones are hands-down the best exercises you can do to improve yoursaxophone sound.

Hack #4 — Tongue Your Notes Properly

No matter how good you play, if you don't tongue the notes properly yournot going to get a good attack—a nice clean start—to the note.

To tongue the notes properly, make sure you are not breath-starting,make sure you are actually putting your tongue against the bottom of thereed.

If you want to get a big attack to the tone, close the reed offcompletely to build up air pressure behind the release. That producesa big, loud attack kind of sound.

If you want to get a slightly less aggressive attack don't shut offthe reed completely, you just rest your tongue where it just abouttouches the tip of your reed, to stop it from vibrating.

Figure out the tonguing and you'll improve your saxophone tonedramatically in virtually no time.

Hack #5 — Stop Playing Out of Tune

This one might sound really basic, but it is something that is sofundamentally important to your playing.

Stop playing out of tune!

All players on all levels need to think about this throughout theentirety of their career really. It's not just about tuning yourinstrument up in the first place.

If you pull your mouthpiece further out, you make your instrumentlonger, so it gives a lower pitch—because bigger instruments willlower pitches.

A lower pitch makes a good flatter and a higher pitch makes a goodsharper.

I fully recommend getting on your phone a tuning app or buying a littletuner but also practicing tuning with your ears. A tuner is going to bea handy solid reference.

Trying to tune to other instruments all works quite well if you've gotany around.

If you notice that every single note is registering sharp then,obviously, you need to pull your mouthpiece out or relax yourembouchure.

On the other hand, if every single note is flat on the tuner, thenpush your mouthpiece in a bit to make the instrument more highpitched.

I don't really recommend people try to squeeze their embouchure toimprove their tuning. I would say it's better to get your mouthpiecein the right place in the first place rather than add tension to yourembouchure.

Once you've found that your notes are someone in the aggregate of beingin tune, you want to consider the intonation of the instrument.

You might find that the top half of it is a bit sharp, and the bottomhalf a bit flat or vice versal.

And at that point, everything's down to you getting to know yourinstrument, if there are any particular notes are one way or the other,for instance.

And make sure you are not squeezing the top notes too much. Somethingthat a lot of players do is squeeze the embouchure too much on the topnotes, sending them sharp. So don't do that.

A good way to practice with the tuner would be to play a note away, notlooking at the tuner, then look at the tuner and see if you were right.If you get it wrong, get in tune with the tuner, look away, play itagain and look back to see if you did get it right.

Because there is no point always playing looking at the tuner—you'llget used to being told whether you're in tune or not.

So you need to be told whether you're in tune or not, take thatinformation away, see if you can pitch it properly, then come back tosee if you got it right.

Hack #6 — Stop Bending Notes All the Fuckin' Time

The other thing I see a lot is bending notes to cover up a lack ofconfidence of what pitch or note you're going to play.

Say you've sorted out your tuning, say you've sorted out your tonguing,bent notes on every note is going to sound bad.

The reason why it sounds so bad is that it's amateurish—it's done bybeginner players a lot when they are not actually sure what note to jumpinto.

Often, they're not even entirely sure what pitch is going to come outthe other end, or whether the tuning is right or not.

So they just bend the note into tuning into the note they are expecting.

Most listeners and musicians will almost immediately recognize ifyou're doing that too much.

They'll recognize the fact that you are not bending the notes to addfear or expression or depth of feel or some other music aspect to it,but that you are doing it to cover the fact that you are not stronglyconfident.

The way to deal with that is to develop confidence in moving at biggerintervals. That means practicing scales and patterns in a way thatincludes bigger intervals—bigger jumps.

And also, working with the tuner, to keep tuning properly in check.

Pick your note, play it in tune, look away, jump up to a higher note,play it, then come back at the tuner to see that you got it right.

If you are used to bending notes, doing this exercise will set you onthe right path. You could be miles off, you could be really near it, youjust don't know.

But when you come back and find out, you start learning yourinstrument and start building your confidence.

It's really important to understand that as saxophonists, the biggestpart of our instrument is our embouchure, our tone, and even down ourthroats.

You don't squeeze your throat when you are playing, for instance, youkeep it nice relaxed and open.

The shape of the mouth, how much space we have there, and what we dowith it has a huge impact on how the saxophone sounds.

It's all part of the instrument.

This is one of the reasons why saxophonists are so unique. And these alldoes mean we've got a lot of responsibility for the sound we make.

So, stop bending notes, habitually, to cover up the fact you're notexactly sure how that note is supposed to sound.

Practice jumping bigger intervals so you know where you're going (soyour ears know where you're going, and you can hear it spot on).

Hack #7 — Stop Using Vibrato to Cover Up Bad Tone (Practice Long Notes Instead)

The first thing you hear a teacher talk about with regards to tone islong notes—and for good reason.

The next thing you can do to improve your saxophone tone is to stopusing vibrato, habitually, again, to cover up bad tone.

If you are comfortable with the tone that you are making on yoursaxophone, let that sing out, let the listener hear it.

Putting vibrato over everything is yet another thing beginners tend todo because they are trying to cover up bad tone, or if they are notcomfortable with the tone that's playing, or if they don't have the lipstrength to maintain a nice even tone.

This is where practicing long tones really comes into handy.

For long tone practice, pick any note, play a couple of bars worth,then restart it and play it. This should form the basis of a long toneexercise.

Again, doing long tone exercises it a really important thing.

Long notes are extremely important in saxophone.

This is because the whole idea of a long tone is to get your airstream flowing really steady and stable so you have to disruptions.

It's basically a workout for your lip. But not only are you workingout your lip, but you're also getting to know, the feeling of playingstraight long tones.

This way you'll know each of those notes, and know that you can playthem smoothly and in tune.

And then you can put a bit of vibrato if you want, but you'll beadding the vibrato to a clean slate, rather than starting with a messyslate and trying to clean it up with vibrato.

You should be able to listen to yourself, and gauge how you sound.

Practice the Easiest Long Notes Exercise (The F Major Scale in All Notes)

Perhaps the easiest the long tone exercise for any beginnersaxophonist is simply playing the F major scale in all notes.

While you play the F major scale, listen very carefully forarticulation, provide a vibrato.

This exercise surprisingly highlights a lot of deficiencies ininexperienced playing. It is very valuable as the first step in longtones and the concept of working in sound production.

Another useful exercise is chromatic descent exercise.

Practice the Chromatic Descent Exercise

This is also pretty simple.

It a half-note B, followed by a half note B, then followed by a wholenote A.

Again when playing these exercise, listen for resonance. Make sure youare filling the room up with sound and listen for all the good qualitiesdesired in a rich sound.

As you repeat the same exercise, try and clean up any inadequacies thatyou noticed the first time.

After the first set of notes, you continue all the way down the horndescending a half step each time.

The next step here, for instance, would be B flat, A, A flat and then A,A flat, G and so on and so forth until you reach the very bottom of thehorn.

You can use a metronome to get the timings correct in some of the aboveexercises.

A distorted long note just means that the air flow is not steady andconsistent.

That's what you need to develop first before adding some dynamics,such as the vibratos or soft ends, to your long tones.

Practice with Slow Melodies

I love slow melodies because they are the best way to develop yoursound, and you can incorporate them in your regular warm-up routine.

Slow melodies give you a lot of time to think about your embouchure,your throat, your breathing, to practice your long notes and to put allthe elements together to make it really sound magnificent.

Now, it could be any slow melody really, it could be something that youlove such as pop tune or a jazz standard. It could even be just playinga scale slowly as we talked about earlier.

The key is to think about every element of your sound while you areplaying that long note.

There is also one more important thing when playing a slow melody youreally need to think about blowing right through the long notes so yourair is joining all the long notes together.

Joining the long notes together is super important so that you create alovely warm long sound.

This will also help you think and hear the continuity between the notes.

Hack #8 — Move the Air Really Fast to Get a Big Fat Sound

After this, the next step in getting a really big fat in your facesaxophone sound is moving the air really fast. The more your reed willvibrate and the bigger your sound will be.

It's pretty much that simple.

So how do you get a faster-moving air stream?

It's actually pretty easy if you think about it. You want to focus,the air, moving really fast into the dead center of your mouthpiece.

You don't just want to blow like you are blowing towards the whole frontof your mouthpiece, instead, you want to blow like there is a straw atthe dead center of your mouthpiece, and you are trying to get as muchair as you can into this straw.

Obviously, you don't want to put a straw in your mouthpiece, I am justusing that as an example.

The more you do this, the bigger your sound will get. Once you getthat air moving really steady and really fast, your tone blows up almostimmediately.

Hack #9 — Place Your Embouchure Correctly—Experiment with Less Lip Over Your Teeth

The thing we have properly looked until now is proper embouchureplacement. Let's talk about that so we know exactly how our mouth issupposed to be set on our mouthpiece.

First of all, close one eye, and look across the side of themouthpiece so that you can see exactly where the reed hits themouthpiece. That is where you want your bottom lip.

That gives you a clear idea of how much mouthpiece we should take in.

And then obviously your top lip goes on top.

When you do that, you have just about the perfect size of reedvibrating.

Again, the tone and sound of your saxophone are all about how fast andhow much of your reed is vibrating.

Okay, now that we know how much mouthpiece we should take in, the nextthing you need to do is make sure that the corners of your lips arepushing into the mouthpiece. You don't want the pushing up, you wantthe pushing in from the sides.

The other thing is that your lower lip should be rolled out a littlebit.

When you are first learning the saxophone, you learn that you should putyour lower lip over the top of your teeth. And that's exactly what youshould be doing.

But once you get to a point where you are trying to get a bigger, fullertone, and you're getting more advanced on the saxophone, you need to alittle more with your bottom lip to maximize your projection and thevibration of the bottom reed.

Roll that bottom lip a little bit, as opposed to your lip just beingover your teeth.

What that does is it puts more of the muscle of your lip on the reedgiving you way more control while letting the reed vibrate more.

This is what gives you a way bigger and better sound.

And just that one little thing will give you so much control over yourmouthpiece as well.

Rolling the bottom lip can be a little strange at the beginning,especially if you've just had your lip over your teeth ever since youstarted playing the saxophone.

If it gets too comfortable, you can start to move it gradually at first.

You'll probably get some squeaks and it's going to feel reallyuncomfortable, to be sure, but after a week or two of practice, itstarts to feel natural and your sound will explode.

Hack #10 — You Need to Keep your Throat Open

This tip might sound obvious but loads of people miss out of this.

What I am talking about here is that you really have to think aboutthe air flowing up from your lungs, through your throat, and into thesaxophone.

If air is getting constricted in your throat as it flows, it's goingto really close off your sound, and that's how you end up with areally thin sound.

You need to keep a very open throat when you are playing.

You need to keep an open throat, like when you are singing oryawning to let air flow so it really makes a big difference.

Experiment with that and see how it works for you.

Hack #11 — Practice Your Intervals, Thoroughly

Another awesome hack for sound on saxophone is intervals.

I love practicing intervals.

In the article about whether a saxophone is hard to learn, I talkedabout not knowing you intervals as being one of the 10 things thathold back saxophone self-leaners (have alook and see if some of the other things I mentioned in that list mightalso be holding you back from improving your saxophone tone, besidesintervals).

Why are intervals so good for you?

It's simple.

If you are working on things like fifths or octaves, and you'rethinking about keeping a consistent sound between the two things,practicing intervals massively strengthens your embouchure, and alsosort out any little irregularities that you might be having.

Intervals are one very effective way of sorting out irregularities inyour lip position, your jaw position, or your breathing.

The thing to do when you are practicing intervals is to start reallysimple, something like an octave. where you are starting on a low note,such as a G or an F, and then jumping to the octave above, and thenjumping back down.

This will give you the opportunity to find out what's happening withyour embouchure, especially if you've got your tuner there with you,so you can check whether your intonation is correct while you jumpbetween intervals.

When jumping through intervals, try not to move your jaw. This is sothat you can keep your air and embouchure consistent and mostimportantly keep the sound consistent.

If you want to push that a little bit further, and make things moreexciting and fun, try working on intervals like a fifth or a seventhor an augmented fifth or ninth.

There are all sorts of combinations you can do here using the sameprinciple—start in the middle of your range, and get the intervalssounding great, then move all the way down, and then all the way up.

Trust me, if you can do 5 minutes of that every day, your sound willgo through the roof, dramatically.

In Conclusion

Once you strip bad tonguing and all the above off, you might find thatthere's a couple of parts you're playing that you're not too happywith...

...something you can only discover after getting the tone exactly right,and only after taking all these bad things away.

That then means that you've discovered what it is that you really needto work on your saxophone, to take your playing to the next saxophone.

And that's the proper way to move from sounding amateurish and startimproving your saxophone tone towards a more mature sound.

Learning to play the saxophone, the sound it makes, it's so manydifferent aspects to tackle, what I've covered here is what keepscropping for almost every beginner. What gets in the way a lot.

Hopefully, this will be quite helpful to you.

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