#3 How To Blow Your Sax (Embouchure)

beginner technique Jan 27, 2019

In this free video lesson, for absolute beginners on saxophone, I cover how to blow your sax and get a great sound. You'll learn how to have your mouth, known as your embouchure, on the mouthpiece and we're only going to be using the neck and mouthpiece so there's no fingerings etc to worry about!
You can learn how to assemble your instrument correctly here (part 1) and here (part 2) and you can find my Complete Beginner's Series here for ALL the lessons.
Here are the Q&A topics covered in this lesson, with video time stamps (min:sec). Clicking on the time stamp will take you straight to that portion of the video on youtube (in a separate tab). Full Time stamps for the video and a complete transcript are at the bottom of the blog.
What does sax embouchure mean? (1:50)
  • your saxophone embouchure simply refers to how you arrange your jaw, teeth and lips on the mouthpiece
Are there different types of embouchure? (2:04)
  • there are as many different embouchures as there are players! But, that said...
  • the two main types of embouchure are a traditional type (bottom lip over bottom teeth) and a more unusual "double embouchure" (lower AND upper lips over teeth)
  • the most common embouchure is the traditional type
  • embouchure is a very personal thing and there are no hard and fast rules for success!
What strength reed should I use? (2:51)
  • beginner saxophonists should use a strength 1.5-2 reed
  • harder reeds (higher number) can be used once you have built up your embouchure strength
What is a mouthpiece patch and should I use one? (3:02)
  • a mouthpiece patch is a self adhesive cushioned patch that sticks to the top of the mouthpiece where the top teeth rest
  • I recommend using a mouthpiece patch on your mouthpiece as it dampens the vibrations through your teeth making it more comfortable to play
What do I do with my mouth to play sax? (How do I form a good sax embouchure?) (3:20)
  • first, lightly rest your top teeth on the mouthpiece, about one centimetre from the tip
  • next, form a soft cushion with your bottom lip to support the reed
  • experiment how much your bottom lip needs to stick out to get a good sound
  • DON'T let your bottom teeth touch the reed. If you do, you won't do it twice, it's uncomfortable!
  • finally, forming a loose "ooh" shape with your lips, seal your lips around the mouthpiece
  • the seal should be airtight but not tense and tight
How do I breathe and blow to get a good sax sound? (4:36)
  • think about blowing "warm" air, like you're trying to steam up a window. This will give you an open throat
  • DON'T puff your cheeks out. You're not a chipmunk! lol
  • when you take a breath in, fill your tummy with air first. This will stop your chest and shoulders getting tight
  • drive the airflow out from your diaphragm - the muscle just under your ribs - your "coughing" muscle!
  • keep your throat open by using a yawning type shape
What pitch should I be blowing on my sax neck and mouthpiece? (5:34)
  • the exact pitch will vary between players (I use quite a loose embouchure), but as a basic rule...
  • for alto, aim for a concert pitch F# (below middle C)
  • for tenor, aim for a concert pitch C# (below middle C)
  • almost everybody's pitch will be higher than this to begin with, often much higher! This is because your embouchure and throat are too tight. Let the reed sing freely!
  • remember these guide pitches are for blowing the neck and mouthpiece ONLY!
In the next lesson you'll learn how to hold the full sax properly and you'll play your first three notes. Jamie :-)
Video Time Stamps

0:01 - intro and theme music

1:52 - what does embouchure mean

2:05 - different types of embouchure

2:09 - John Coltrane's embouchure

2:29 - Michael Brecker's embouchure

2:51 - what strength reed to use

3:02 - mouthpiece patches

3:21 - 1-2-3 method for saxophone embouchure

3:24 - (1) where to put your top teeth

3:40 - (2) your bottom lip

3:54 - (3) the rest of your mouth

4:11 - recap

4:32 - demo

4:40 - how to blow

4:42 - puffing your cheeks - DON'T!

4:55 - secret pro tip (open throat)

5:34 - recommended pitches for blowing the neck

7:08 - next week's lesson

7:28 - sign off

Video Transcript

Do you want to sound LESS like this...[terrible sax playing]...and more like THIS?[plays "Baker Street”] then stay tuned because in this video I'm going to show you all the basics you need to know about forming a great saxophone embouchure and later in the video my special secret pro tip that's going to have you sounding fantastic in no time, so, Tank - is this gonna be an exciting time? [Tank] "Very exciting time”

Greetings! I'm pro saxophonist Jamie Anderson and you're watching Get Your Sax Together, a fun and informative channel bringing you high quality free saxophone lessons. If you are a complete beginner, a novice, or even an intermediate player, my aim is to bring you the highest quality content each and every Sunday.

So this free sax lesson is part three of my beginner series and you'll find a link to the other parts up there on that card. Also, if you find this content valuable please please do subscribe - you can click the subscribe button down there. That will enable me to keep bringing you some fantastic content every Sunday. If you want to post a comment or ask me a question please do it and I'll get right back to you down there in the comments.

And finally, if you're interested in a bit more about me as a professional saxophonist have a look at my Welcome To My World vlogs. You'll find a card up there. Every Wednesday that comes out and it's behind the scenes footage, all shot in super cool black and white. So, without further ado let's get to the lesson!

First of all, what does the word "embouchure" even mean? Well that is the way that you have your lips, your teeth, your tongue and your throat and the way they go round the mouthpiece to produce the sound on the saxophone. What we end up discovering is that there are as many approaches to embouchure as there are saxophonists. For example, if you look at John Coltrane's embouchure he's got what's called a double embouchure, which is both lips curled over you teeth. That's not something I recommend on Get Your Sax Together but he still got an iconic, fantastic tone.

And you can contrast that with somebody like Michael Brecker whose bottom lip sticks out quite a lot, but both players have fantastic sounds. But what I'm gonna bring to you is my approach which, in my experience, brings the most people the biggest result. And we're gonna start with only the mouthpiece and the crook so that we're not distracted by all the buttons on the rest of the instrument.

So, just before we start, a quick word on reeds. If you're a complete beginner you should have a number 1.5 or possibly number 2 reed which will enable you to get the sound going quite easily.

So the first thing I recommend is to get a mouthpiece patch for the top of your mouthpiece. That will stop the vibrations of the mouthpiece giving your teeth some bother and it will also protect the top of your mouthpiece if you've got particularly sharp teeth…

Okay forming a saxophone embouchure is as easy as 1-2-3...step 1 - we put our teeth lightly on the top of the mouthpiece about a centimetre or an inch or 3/4 of an inch back from the tip of the mouthpiece, like this. Step two is to form a soft baggy cushion with your bottom lip sticking out a little bit. The most important thing is not to curl your bottom lip over your teeth because that will give you a thin pinched sound and step three is to support the sound from the side of your mouth - don't bite down from the top and the bottom but try and support the sound from the side of your mouth as if you're forming an elastic band seal around the whole mouthpiece.

So - teeth lightly on the top of the mouthpiece, soft cushioned bottom lip, possibly sticking out a little bit but not curled over, and gently support the sound from the side of your mouth. You're going to take a nice big breath, keep all this very loose and relaxed, and just blow!!

So, when you blow it might be useful to imagine that you're blowing out a birthday candle, however, remember not to puff out your cheeks. Very important we don't want cheeks like a hamster...or maybe a squirrel…

Now do you remember earlier at the start of the video I mentioned I had a special secret pro tip for getting a fantastic sound on sax? Well, that is to have this part of your throat as open as you can make it almost like you’re yawning. It's called having an open throat. Now this is going to open up your airway and as long as you keep this nice and relaxed this open throat is the key to having a fantastic sax sound so just imagine you're yawning and try and keep that part of your throat nice and open. You’ll probably see when I blow that my whole throat opens up to the side to let all the air come out.

So I've got one more really important tip for you which will guide you towards getting a fantastic sound and that is, if you blow your mouthpiece and crook - if you're blowing it with a nice relaxed embouchure these are approximately the notes that you should be blowing.

So for Alto it'sgoing to be the f-sharp below middle C. Now, if you're blowing and your embouchure is too tight your pitch is going to be higher than that like this...So keep everything nice and relaxed so the pitch comes down. Open the throat and try and bring the pitch down to that F sharp. It's only a guide but it'll point you in the right direction.

And for tenor the note should be E-flat on the piano, beneath middle C. Again, if your embouchure is too tight your pitch is going to be much higher than that, so relax the throat, open up that throat and let's bring that pitch right down. Keep nice and relaxed and loose on your bottom lip and let's try and get that E-flat. Here we go...Or, how about both at once?!

Next time on part 4 of my complete beginner series we're going to cover how to hold your instrument and we're gonna play our actual first notes. Woo Hoo!!

So, Tank, one more time mate, what kind of a time are we gonna have?

[Tank] "Very exciting time”

So, if you enjoyed the content please do subscribe you can click on my circular face and you'll find other fantastic content and lessons and vlogs on the cards. Until next time, I'll see you later!

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