In this lesson we will look at Saxophone embouchure for beginners. The foundation of a great saxophone sound and fundamental to your continued saxophone studies.
How to get the Correct Saxophone Embouchure
The embouchure basically means how you position the mouthpiece in your mouth and what you do with your lips and teeth in order to play the saxophone with a solid tone.
What is considered the correct Saxophone Embouchure can differ slightly between saxophone players. However, the core fundamentals apply at all times making this very important for you as a saxophone beginner.
Get your saxophone embouchure right and you are golden.
Without a solid saxophone embouchure you will not be able to play your saxophone. You'll get frustrated and possible quit playing sax. We do not want that!
Basically, if you want to become a better saxophone player you need to develop a strong saxophone embouchure. Let's get you started!
The basic Embouchure setup on Sax
The quick overview is that the mouthpiece goes into your mouth with the reed on the bottom. You want to form your mouth into a circle to enclose the mouthpiece without pressing too hard. If you say the word “Okay” a few times you get the mouth shape you should be aiming for.
A common problem with the embouchure for saxophone beginners is that they either put too much or too little of the mouthpiece into their mouth. You need to find the sweet spot and that's why I've put together this step-by-step lesson for you.
Step 1: Practice Saxophone Embouchure using the neck and mouthpiece
As a saxophone beginner there's a lot to take in, I know. I've been playing sax for over 35 years and taught 1000's of students play the saxophone and it's common to feel a bit overwhelmed with all the fingerings, tonguing notes, rhythms and so on. That is totally normal!
That is also the reason why it's a good idea to just use the saxophone neck and mouthpiece when you start practicing your saxophone embouchure. It will require all your focus to develop your saxophone tone, so that you can apply it when playin saxophone songs in the future.
Getting your Saxophone Embouchure right from the beginning is one of the most important cornerstones of your future success playing your saxophone.
Step 2: Finding the right mouthpiece position on the saxophone
To begin with you need to find out how much of the mouthpiece you should put into your mouth. And there's an easy way to do that by using just the saxophone neck and mouthpiece together with a sheet of paper and a pencil. (Presuming you've learned how to put a reed on a saxophone mouthpiece already.)
- Start by holding the neck and mouthpiece in your left hand with the reed facing up
- Take the piece of paper and slide it between the reed and mouthpiece rails until it stops
- Take the pencil and make a line where the paper gets stuck between the reed and mouthpiece
Now you have a line across your sax reed which marks the ideal position for your lower lip when placing the mouthpiece in your mouth.
Step 3: Placing the saxophone mouthpiece in your mouth
Hold your left hand round the saxophone mouthpiece to maintain control of the neck and mouthpiece.
- Start by placing your left thumb on the pencil line that you drew to mark the ideal position for your lower lip in step two.
- Next, open your mouth and place the mouthpiece so that the thumb connects with your lower lip outside your mouth. This is going to be your startposition for getting the right saxophone embouchure.
Step 4: Position the upper teeth on the saxophone mouthpiece
On top of your saxophone mouthpiece you would normally have a rubber patch which function as an extra cushion between the teeth and mouthpiece. However, even if you do not have a rubber patch you need to place your top teeth on top of the mouthpiece at approximately the same distance from the tip of the mouthpiece as you've already positioned the lower lip and jaw.
Step 5: Adjusting the embouchure to avoid overbite and underbite
When putting placing the saxophone mouthpiece and positioning it with the lower lip and top teeth (steps 3 and 4) it is easy to add an overbite or underbite to the mix.
Maybe you have one or the other naturally but for playing the saxophone you need to find a more neutral position with your jaw and mouth, so that you get a balanced embouchure on your saxophone.
Note from the saxophone teacher: If you stand infront of a mirror with just the saxophone neck and mouthpiece you'll be able to look at how you are positioning your mouthpiece in your mouth. That visual confirmation makes it easy to spot any adjustments you need to make to your saxophone embouchure.
Step 6: Embouchure corners and leaking air around the mouthpiece
If you find yourself having trouble getting a tight seal around the mouthpiece you can fix the leaking air around the saxophone mouthpiece by making a few adjustments to what you've already learned in this lesson so far.
The key is not to squeeze too hard around the mouthpiece as it will make for a poor tone as the reed cannot vibrate freely. At the same time you can start to experience jaw pain from pressing down too hard around the mouthpiece.
The solution to achieve a solid and firm saxophone embouchure is rather the shape of your mouth than how much you squeeze. So to close those Embouchure corners and stop the air from leaking around the mouthpiece you can troubleshoot like this:
- Start without the mouthpiece and say the words “Okay” and “On” a few times. Notice how the mouth shapes when articulating that O in “Okay” and O in “On”. That's the shape you are going for.
- Next, get in front of a mirror so that you can see what it looks like around your mouth when you say those words.
- Repeat the words as you put the mouthpiece in your mouth with the correct embouchure and lock on to that “O” shape that you get with those words.
- Finally, Blow into the mouthpiece maintaining a good embouchure, not squeezing the mouthpiece but rather enclosing it with the help of the “O-shaped” mouth.
Step 7: Build your saxophone embouchure to develop a beautiful sax sound
It's no surprise that progress requires effort. If you want to develop a beautiful saxophone sound you need to put in the time and practice. Being consistent with your practice routine on the saxophone is key to make this happen.
Simply by dedicating 5-10 minutes of every practice session to a few saxophone embouchure exercises you'll notice great progress in a matter of days, weeks and months ahead.
Building that solid saxophone sound is the foundation and cornerstone for both your voice as a saxophone player as well as your ability to advance and become a better sax player.
Common Mistakes to Avoid with Saxophone Embouchure
Finding the right Saxophone embouchure can be challenging for beginners. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
- Placing the mouthpiece too far in: This is a common mistake that can make it difficult to play quietly. It can also produce a quacky sound and make it challenging to play softly. Make sure to place the mouthpiece at the correct position for the best sound quality.
- Not using enough air: Not using enough air can make it difficult to produce a clear and full sound. Make sure to use enough air when playing to produce a good sound.
- Using too much pressure: Using too much pressure when playing the mouthpiece can cause discomfort and even pain. It can also make it difficult to play quietly. Make sure to use the correct amount of pressure when playing.
- Not wetting the reed: Not wetting the reed before playing can cause a harsh sound and make it difficult to play. Make sure to wet the reed before playing to produce the best sound quality.
- Not cleaning the mouthpiece: Not cleaning the mouthpiece can cause a buildup of bacteria and affect the sound quality. Make sure to clean the mouthpiece regularly to maintain the best sound quality.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can improve your overall saxophone sound and develop a solid saxophone embouchure.
Remember to take deep breaths and use your diaphragm muscle to control your breath when blowing air into the saxophone mouthpiece. If you practice regularly your breathing techniques will improve and you will get a better sax sound.