Friday, March 11, 2011

Saxophonist's Check List

Today's post is a list of important items that we saxophonists should keep in mind, probably on the daily basis, to avoid getting into bad habits.  With saxophone, at least for me, it seems easy for bad habits to creep in unnoticed, so the following is check list I created to keep myself focused and playing my best.

Note to last week's readers: I put my horn in the shop for the weekend (who knows a horn in such bad repair could feel so good?), so I don't have the promised explorations during improvisations article and exercise for you today.  However, it will be here next weekend.


  • Embouchure and Aural Cavity - Each day I need to check to make sure the corners of my mouth are more or less frowning and getting the tension off my reed.  I need to check to make sure my bottom lip is in the right untucked position (like when you say the letter V) that gives me the expressive tone I'm shooting for.   I also need to make sure that my lower jaw and embouchure aren't to tight putting undue pressure on my reed allowing me to get a clear crisp sound.  I battle that last one by doing various overtone exercises at the beginning of each practice session.  Finally, I need to check that I've taken in enough mouthpiece.  If I'm not vigilant I tend to backup on the mouthpiece, which again puts more pressure on the reed and doesn't allow me to be as expressive as I could otherwise.
  • Articulation - This is another technical aspect I have to check each day or can easily go out of whack.  I make sure that I'm not letting too much of my tongue come into contact with too much of the reed.  If my tonguing is too heavy it tends to add extra resistance to the feel of playing and it distorts the overall sound of my playing.  Tip of the tongue to tip of the reed works great in my case. It also helps me to specifically practice articulating while constructing improvised line to really lock it in for the day.
  • Sense of Time - To keep my rhythmic feel accurate I have to daily practice with a rhythm section of some sort (live or play along).  Metronomes have their place too, but in order to really make it happen your best shot is play with the real thing (drums, bass, and chords).  I try to hit various feels, straight eighths, odd time signatures, and modern swing, as each feel requires its own rhythmic conception to be played with forward propelling motion.
  • Sound Conception - I've recently noticed that if I take a few minutes and specifically practice the inflections and sound textures that I feel our part of my personal approach I more quickly arrive to the sound concept I want that day (as opposed to just practicing long tones, etc.)


  1. Great checklist! It sounds like you may be coming out of the "Allard/Lieb" school (V-position for lower lip)? I have a similar routine that involves work on the mouthpiece, overtones/matching etc...

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Thanks. I've checked out a lot of Allard's stuff , and I had a few classes with Dave Liebman, which were pretty good. I've also got some good tone exercises from Walt Weiskopf, George Garzone, Chris Potter, and Rich Perry, and I've been inventing some myself which seem to be helpful.

    For some reason I haven't found working on the mouthpiece quite as helpful as just working on the horn. I know lots of people love it including Allard/Lieb. I just feel like if I can't hear the true tone quality I'm just spinning my wheels. I'll probably try it again soon.

  3. I got a lot of Allard's stuff piecemeal. Studied with Lieb in 97 and that brought it all together. Been a follower of the "religion" since then. I'd be curious to hear what some of the others you list had to say specifically about tone production exercises.

    Thanks again for the great blog!