While my first few posts were on completely different topics, I’m finally going to delve into the essence of this blog (and my life): Saxophone. As a warm-up, I’ll talk about some warm ups!
Before the audience hears the blistering runs or beautiful melody that you play, they hear your tone. Often this is what will stick in their minds the longest as well. Therefore, a huge part of my practicing is focused on developing my tone and embouchure strength and I’ve acquired an arsenal of exercises for doing this from different teachers. In this post I will walk you through six techniques to add to your warm up routine that will enrich and solidify your tone.
1. Long Tones
If done properly and daily, long tones are the holy grail of exercises. Whenever I take time off from doing long tones, I notice a huge difference when I start doing them again and wonder why I stopped in the first place!
Things to focus on:
- Tone/Tone Color
- Presence and strength of overtones
- Air support
Tip: Choosing one of these a week and rotating can be very helpful. For example if you’re focusing on air support, sustain each note for as long as possible with an even, controlled sound.
Ways to practice long tones:
- Mix up the order you play the notes. Use the entire chromatic range of the horn and play every note, but vary the order with different patterns (i.e. Circle of fourths/fifth, thirds, whole tone, chromatic, ect.)
- Dynamic Swells: Play both piano, up to forte, back to piano and vice versa.
- Terraced Dynamics: Attack and hold the note at a set dynamic. Start with pp and work incrementally to ff.
- With and without a tuner. With a tuner to confirm intonation accuracy and without to force reliance on your ear.
This is a category that requires more depth than this post would allow and to be completely honest is not an area of playing where I feel well versed enough to provide my own explanations and examples. Suffice it to say that overtones will add unparalleled strength and centering to your tone. I recommend Sigurd Rascher’s canonical Top Tones for Saxophones a starting point.
3. Wherefore art thou octave key?
A)Begin on a middle C# and slowly ascend chromatically without the octave key. Try to avoid pinching your jaw, but rather rely on manipulating your throat. (This is also a good way to begin learning overtones.)
B)Now, finger a C# with the octave key, but by opening your throat and dropping your jaw, sound the middle C# an octave below. Continue to depress the octave key and descend chromatically. (Note: This won’t sound pretty, but it is an excellent way to build flexibility and strength.)
Play a middle D. Now finger the D# a half step up, but continue to sound a D by dropping your jaw. Next finger E, but again sound D. Repeat this same exercise by fingering and sounding a D# and then fingering a semitone and a tone above but continuing to play an in tune D#. Continue this pattern as high as you can chromatically. Practice the changes in fingerings both tongued and slurred.
Tip: If you find starting the exercise on D too difficult at first, begin on F#.
5. Double Lip
While I have met a couple of saxophone players (including Walter Smith III) who use double lip embouchures, there is no benefit to switching to this style embouchure. However, it can be a handy way to practice adding warmth to your upper register. Curl your lips over your top and bottom teeth instead of just the bottom and play long tones from high B upward. You will be forced to control your sound and intonation incredibly carefully.
This last one is a bit silly, but it will help you to identify the effect your upper lip can play in minute adjustments of tone. Play a note in the middle range of your horn and, while playing, lift your upper lip to reveal your top teeth (like a beaver!). After doing this a few times, when playing normally you will instantly be aware of whether or not there is unnecessary tension in your upper lip.
There you have it. Six chop busting, tone enhancing workouts. Consider numbers 1 and 2 to be essentials in your daily routine if you don’t already. Try out the rest and let me know what you think! Each one only takes a few concentrated minutes to perform properly and can make a huge difference. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll discuss similar exercises that can be done without even assembling your entire horn!