Practice in the standing position in front of a hard, solid surface like glass, a mirror, or a cement wall. This will allow you to hear more of the tone as it reflects back at you. By standing, you will be able to breathe deeper to support the tone. When seated, try to hold the sax as much in front of you as possible rather than to the side. Sit at the front edge of the chair with the sax suspended between your knees. This will promote better breathing as well as muscular balance between the two hands as you try to hold the sax as stationary as possible. When the sax itself moves while you’re playing, the pressure on the reed becomes uneven.
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Your embouchure is comprised of the many muscles around your mouth. While playing, adjust your mouthpiece so the reed is perfectly level with the floor. You absolutely must apply even pressure to both sides of the mouthpiece and across the surface of the reed. Don’t overdo it when it comes to tightening around the mouthpiece but work on building the muscular control that produces a clear tone.
#3 Technique--Apply With Precision!
Practice scales and various exercises slowly at first while focusing on perfect precision of timing. The fingers need to move quickly and precisely even when the notes are long and sustained. The tongue must be perfectly coordinated with the finger movement. When you can play an exercise or scale precisely at a slower tempo, playing it fast will become less of a hurdle. Don’t make speed your most important goal--build precision first and the speed will come.
#4 Sight Reading--It Matters!
Don’t practice the same music or exercise “all the time.” You need to spend time every day reading music you haven’t seen before. Sight reading is one of the most important skills and is, unfortunately, too often neglected. Sight reading skills allow you to perform in an ensemble without struggling to just find the correct notes and rhythm. It also instills intricate rhythmic concepts in the subconscious that can be called upon to enhance anything and everything you do as a saxophone player. Sight read every day.
#5 Listen--As Often As You Can!
Find time to listen to the saxophone players who’ve come before you. Listen to the great players from bygone eras even if you don’t really want to sound like them. They’re legends for a reason: creativity and originality. When it comes to developing your own playing style or your own “sound”, start by listening to the masters and absorbing what they’re doing. You can then be a conduit for expressing those ideas anew in the combination that results in your own identifiable sound.
Subscribe to our blog! Watch for future articles from The ZOEN about specific recommendations for the areas discussed above. We’ll be looking at alternate fingerings, learning the altissimo register (the super high notes), improvisation skills and much, much more. As a sax player with 45 years of experience, as well as providing online saxophone lessons, I’m excited to share my expertise and be a contributing part of this music education community.
-- Wayne Land, ZOEN Saxophone Instructor
See also: 3 Elements of Sax Success