Thursday, March 28, 2019

Basics of Voicing

In my last post I wrote about the a data-rich, super-awesome saxophone book, From the Inside Out. In that post, I explained the basic concept that adjusting your tongue and vocal cord position affects the sound and pitch of the saxophone. Many players, including my past self, have the misconception that air speed or air direction are the fundamental processes in voicing, but as the book shows, it's actually tuning the resonance of the vocal tract that is important. What everyone was right about all along is that you accomplish this through tongue and vocal cord position.

What is Voicing?
Voicing consists of adjustments done inside your mouth and body that affect saxophone playing. These adjustments include tongue positions, vocal cord position, and how open or closed your vocal cords are. Voicing is necessary to get a stable and good tone across the range of the saxophone, and it's important to developing a personal sound, virtuosity, and extended techniques.

For the low notes the tongue is high in the back of the mouth, similar to saying a long e vowel, but the front and middle of the tongue are lower than the back. Obviously, the front of the tongue needs to be below the reed. As you move higher the tongue pivots towards the reed. From the fluoroscopic images (basically x-ray) in From the Inside Out, it's clear that the back of the tongue also lowers for the middle register and then comes back up a bit for the palm keys.

The vocal cords are a bit more elusive, but there are some tendencies. For example, for low notes the voice box is generally lowered, like singing a low note. Then it is neutral for the middle register, like it's natural position for speaking. Then it is lowers again for the palm keys, which mirrors the tongue raising again for the high notes. Moving to how open or closed the vocal folds are, for low notes the vocal cords are more open, kind of like yawning. For the middle register, the vocal cords are somewhat open. For the palm keys they move very close together, like whispering an "h" sound.

Octave Jumps
These two basic premises allow us to begin practice voicing by changing the octave of a note without the octave key using either tongue position or vocal cord position. Try the following exercises:

Start with a low E or F, and then as you play move your vocal cords close together, like you are whispering an "h" sound. Don't use the octave key The higher octave pops out relatively easily with that motion.

This one is a bit harder but still doable. Again, start with a low E or F, and then as you play move your tongue closer to the reed independent of the vocal cords. As you do this to a bit of an extreme the upper octave will sound.

There you have it, two basic movements of voicing. Practicing these independently for just a few minutes today made me more aware of my voicing and allowed me to get up to 4th octave Bb (4 octaves above low Bb), using conventional alissimo fingerings, something I've never done comfortably before.

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