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How to Build a Better Tone on the Saxophone

Updated on August 1, 2012

What is an Instrumentalist's "tone?"

In the musical world, tone is what is the sound that is produced through your instrument or voice. It can be affected by a countless number of things, but it's usually because people don't train themselves to build a good/steady tone.

What is needed for a good tone?

First off, you have to have the discipline and will to produce a good sound on an instrument or voice. In this case, it's the saxophone. Building tone is not the most exciting thing in the world, but it is absolutely essential to becoming a better musician and feeling better with how you sound.

You need to have the proper equipment/setup. Having a better type of saxophone or the accessories that come along with it are important as well. If you own a "cheaper" model, obviously you won't get the same product as the more expensive model. But you will still learn the same basic concepts that will naturally transfer over.

A good tone also requires a good, strong embouchure. The embouchure is comprised of the mouth muscles that form around the mouthpiece of the saxophone. When playing, it should be shaped like an "O." There should be no tension in it caused by biting on the mouthpiece or by squeezing too hard from the lips. Here are some tips on how to build a strong embouchure.

  • Like any other muscle in the body, you need to "work it out." To build the muscles around the embouchure, make an exaggerated smile, then form your lips as if you're trying to make the sound "ooooooooo." Obviously, don't say the sound, just make your lips form. You should feel the corners of your mouth trying to press together during the "oooooo." Now do this process at a steady tempo in order to build these muscles. Do this everyday for as long as you possibly can and you will definitely notice a difference. The mouth muscles recover the fastest after being torn apart, so you can do them a little more often than most workouts.
  • LONG TONES!!! For those who don't know what these are, they are pretty self-explanatory. You play a single note for a long time!! It builds endurance and strength in your embouchure. If you're a beginner you may have noticed that if you play for a long time, your mouth starts to become tired. This is natural. In order for you to withstand this "fatigue", you should work long tones in to your daily practice regimen.

Look at my Adam's Apple. The one on the left is an example of a closed throat. You do NOT want this. On the right is an example of an open throat with my Adam's Apple DOWN! This is what you want to work towards.
Look at my Adam's Apple. The one on the left is an example of a closed throat. You do NOT want this. On the right is an example of an open throat with my Adam's Apple DOWN! This is what you want to work towards.
  • Practice keeping your tone "open." If you aren't sure what I mean, think about it this way: have you ever heard a singer who sounds like they're singing from their nose? Well this is exactly what you don't want. You want to sound open and resonant. In order to do so, try opening your throat. Gentleman, this might be a little easier for you because you have an Adam's apple. Try to drop it. Once you do, you'll feel your throat have this open feeling. It does feel unnatural at first, but it will become second nature. Ladies, it's not as easy since you don't have Adam's apples that protrude, but you can still do this. Try to open your throat to where you can feel a whole bunch of air flow down your wind pipe when you suck in. Don't worry if you can't get it quite yet. It does take practice.

Hot Air vs. Cold Air

If you were playing the flute, you would want to blow cold air through the instrument. Every other instrument, including the saxophone uses a hot airstream. Try this: Hold your hand in front of your mouth and blow onto your hand as if you're trying to blow out a candle. Cold air, right? Now try this: Hold your hand out again and blow out air as if you're trying to fog up a window. The air became warmer, right? Also, if you didn't notice, you used more of your throat to produce the air. What a concept!!

Put it All Together!

Now that I've given you some things to try to work on, put them all together! This will begin your journey to a better tone on the saxophone. Remember, practice EVERY day!!

Selmer Larry Teal Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece
Selmer Larry Teal Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Great quality Saxophone mouthpiece!



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