Friday, July 13, 2012
Low Bb Staccato Test
Try this - play a repeated staccato tongue on low Bb making sure your tonguing isn't too heavy. When playing staccato on a low note it's common to put a lot of tongue on the reed to force it to vibrate immediately. For this exercise you don't want to use a lot of tongue so the articulation should not sound like an accent or a slap-tongue sound, just a staccato.
If you can do this without a problem it likely means you have sufficient air support and your embouchure is effective (it's not putting too much pressure on the reed). If this is difficult for you and it very well might be then here are a couple of things that can help fix the underlying problem.
One of the possible problems is that you have insufficient air support. A simple way to both test your air support and work on it is to do repeated air attacks on low notes. I'd suggest starting up someplace like low F and work your way down to the bottom. You want to try and repeatedly start each note with just your air, so do not articulate in any way whatsoever. Just let the air start the note, and with sufficient air support you can get a clean clear entrance to each note. Once you can get multiple clean and clear entrances on low Bb you can feel confident you have sufficient air support.
The second possible problem is that your embouchure is putting too much pressure on the reed as you tongue not allowing the note to sound. The fix for this can be different according to the individual problem, but one thing to try would be slightly lowering your bottom lip as if you were going to bend a note downward. When doing this don't actually lower the lip far enough to audibly lower the pitch, and make sure you lower the entire lip including the corners of the mouth. Just lowering the middle of the lip will result in increased lip pressure from the sides and result in other problems. Too much embouchure pressure can also hamper your ability to start low notes with an air attack, so if you are having trouble with them try the air attacks with a very slight drop in the entire bottom lip.
Here is a sound clip demonstrating the exercise:
I would suggest making this a regular part of your warm up or daily practice routine, at least until you've mastered it. The increased air support will make the rest of the horn feel easier to play and the increased embouchure control can result in a fatter more vibrant sound. And, of course, you will also have a greater mastery of the bottom end of the horn.