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[article] Breathing

One of the most important, even the most important aspect of saxophone playing technique is producing sound. Well, that’s obvious: after all, music is the sequence of sounds, and if some musician can’t produce full, nice, let’s say “high-quality” sound, then it’s not worth practising anything else - both the performer and the listener won’t like any music such musician could ever play. But the good news are: with “right” breathing and embouchure (position of lips and everything that is in and around your mouth) anyone can produce the sound he or she really happy with. So let’s deal with the first part of it in this overview: breathing. I’ve been playing saxophone for 17 years and would like to share the information on the topic I find extremely useful.

Actually there are three breathing methods that we use during our day-to-day life. Those are: clavicular (colar bone), chest (throatic) and diaphragmatic. In order to get a full-supported sound on saxophone we need to combine all three methods, but the accent should be put on the diaphragmatic breathing, as this one is the most efficient for our goal: wind instrument playing.

So, what is diaphragm? I don’t feel like inventing something new here, but just referring to wikipedia article instead: it is ” a sheet of internal skeletal muscle that … separates the thoracic cavity, containing the heart and lungs, from the abdominal cavity and performs an important function in respiration: as the diaphragm contracts, the volume of the thoracic cavity increases and air is drawn into the lungs.”

The idea is simple: the air flows naturally to the place with less resistance. So all we need is: 1) Exhale as much air as we can, thus making our lungs a low resistance area 2) Inhale expanding our chest cavity as much as we can to get more air (for our future use in playing instrument) - that is done by lowering of the diaphragm. When playing saxophone during exhaling we “support” the air column contracting the stomach muscles, meanwhile preventing the diaphragm to get quickly to the initial “upper” position, That enables us to play long musical phrases with steady tone/sound.
Here are some exercises on the topic.

To feel the diaphragmatic breathing

  • Ex.1 While lying on the floor (or on the bed or couch if your floor is too dirty:) place an average sized book on your abdomen area. Just breath in a regular way and you will notice the rise of the book when you breath in and the fall of it when you breath out. So the whole breathing process consists of expansion during inhaling and contracting on exhaling

  • Ex.2 To feel the diaphragmatic floor extending: bend over, place your hands on the back of the abdomen area and inhale.Then slowly straighten up and try to get the feeling in the abdomen. For more extreme example try panting like you are out of breath while you are bent over.

To practise the diaphragmatic breathing

  • Ex.3
    1. Place your hands on the abdomen or on the back of the abdominal area
    2. Breath in.with your mouth. I visualise it like being a balloon filling with air (under high pressure) by some pump. So the idea is the quick and powerful air flow to your lungs; quick sip of air, kind of “sucking” it through some imaginary straw.
    3. Breath out with a loud whispered sound, something like “ah”. Try to do that as loud as you can and don’t interrupt the sound. In several days you should be able to reach at least 10-15 seconds of sounding this way.

In this exercise feel the muscles in the abdomen squeezing more and more until you run out of breath. Try to exhale all the air you have, think of it as of squeezing out a sponge. At first squeezing is gentle, but when the sponge runs out of water it becomes more tight. And then - back to step 2. Do it several times, from 10 to 20.

Remember: when inhaling don’t raise your shoulders. Of course they will rise( but just a little !) as the chest cavity expands filling with air, but our goal is diaphragmatic breathing, so focus primarily on the expansion in your abdomen area.

Very thorough study of breathing process and its connection with saxophone player I found in David Liebman’s “Developing A Personal Sound” book, also John O’Neil’s “Jazz Method For Saxophone” contains some useful information on the topic. I’ve mentioned only some pieces of information from the books in this article.

Share more thoughts, breathing exercises in comments. I am eager to know your experience on the topic as well.

Lower lip position moving?

It is not discussed too often, but in fact each note fingered on the horn has an “optimal” spot (for lower lip) on the reed. It’s worth covering the edge of the reed with your lower lip for lower notes, whilst uncovering the read is done for higher notes - this allows more of the higher overtones to come out. That is accomplished by lower lip forward and backward movement (not up and down, which results in “biting”): less of the lip’s fleshier area and lip rolling away from the edge of the reed for higher tones (let’s say beginning with higher B - above the staff) and more of the fleshier area and rolling in the direction of the edge of the reed in case of lower tones. You can read more about the lip movement and embouchure in Chapter 6 of David Liebman’s “Developing a personal saxophone sound”

What do you think about this suggestions and what is your experience? I am eager to know how the stuff with lower lip works for you.

[article] The Embouchure

Embouchure is one of the main things affecting the quality and timbre of our sax sound. It includes lips,teeth,jaw tongue as well as almost all the muscles contained in our mouth and face. Embouchure affects both the air stream (finally) coming to your mouth and the characteristics of reed’s vibration. If one has some embouchure faults, it immediately results in unsteady, week and muffled sound and lack of control. Who wants to listen to and to produce that kind of sound ? I bet no one does. So here are a few words about embouchure appropriate for sax playing,

In other words, saxophonists’ embouchure is basically just “how do we hold the mouthpiece in our mouth”. Here is a simple algorithm:

  1. Place the top front teeth on the mouthpiece making sure they are centralized. You can figure the distance between the tip of the mouthpiece and your teeth only by trial and error, as it varies from player to player. Perhaps a good point to start with is about 10 millimeters and then to “find your own place” on the mouthpiece you are comfortable with.

  2. Slightly turn in the lower lip as if you are saying the syllable “v”.

  3. I prefer to obtain the right position of my tongue and lips by imagining that I am pronouncing ö (german o umlaut), as it combines approved and advised by saxophone pedagogues “o” position of lips with “ee” (like in english word “eat”) position of tongue, which makes the air stream (and, consequently, the sound) more focused.

  4. Finger the middle C or B note and blow your horn pronouncing “four” (according to Sonny Rollins) or “vo” (according to Eugene Rousseau) or “vö” (according to me)

But the main thing to keep in mind is that the embouchure should be “natural”. That means firm but relaxed, feeling maybe like putting a popsicle in your mouth; and let’s remember to avoid putting pressure on the reed with your bottom lip.

Playing long tones every day in the beginning of your sax practise session is an indispensable exercise for both our embouchure and breathing.

[article] Tonguing

Most of the sounds played by saxophonists start and end with tonguing, so I want to share with you some exercises which helped me (and, I hope, will help you) to achieve good tonguing technique. Feel free to add your exercises and suggestions as well.

  • Ex.1 Sing the “doo” syllable (pitch is not of importance for the exercise, but don’t change it during the process) repeating it but not interrupting, think of it as singing one long note. But don’t move your lips or jaw. Imagining that you are a ventriloquist really helps to get the right feeling. Notice that your tongue moves straight up and down. That is exactly the way notes are to be tongued on sax

  • Ex.2 Blow some note from the middle range of your horn for 3-5 seconds and then move your tongue up and touch the edge of the read still maintaining air pressure. Then pull the mouthpiece quickly out of your mouth. You should get a rush of air that quickly “escapes” your mouth cavity. If the air stream is weak, then you didn’t manage to keep the pressure behind your tongue. Practise this exercise till you succeed in it, as keeping the pressure even when you don’t play a sound is of much importance for right tonguing

  • Ex.3 Blow again some note from the middle range for 3-5 seconds and then move the tongue up to the read touching it (remember touching somewhere near the edge but not the middle part or the end of the reed) and then immediately down. Keep the speed of tonguing (it’s worth starting from “note tonguing” every 4 seconds). Strive for continuous sound, tonguing should not affect the quality of it.

That exercises I found in John O’Neil’s book long time ago and I felt I benefited from practising them even though I had been already playing saxophone for many years.

When actually playing some music, remember thinking of tonguing like separating long tone into parts (but not making separate sounds, so not splitting in any case) rather than ending every note and beginning another one. The air pressure should be constant and the sound stops immediately when you put your tongue on the read but it continues again immediately when you put it off.

As a warm-up I practise finishing notes both with tongue or without it (maybe adding a small vibrato on the end of the tone for jazz music).

I’ve described the basics of tonguing, but, of course, “in real life” sometimes you need to tongue something stronger and not only “touching the very tip of the read”. In fact different areas of tongue when touching different areas of reed (not only the tip) provide wide range of articulations. See Chapter 5 of “Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound” by David Liebman.

For those of you who wanted to do the Competition (ANNOUNCEMENT)

Sorry all, not enough people entered, and it's the day before February, so I regret that I will now end this because not enough entries wee given. :(

But... I am thinking I will do another competition for the summer. and it will be nature themed, so stay tuned for that!! :D

(and that competition will be for any type of ensemble. I might do a prize, but we will see :D)

Wait What?!

I can't believe it! I'm about to hit 50 followers (only need 7 more)! I know that it isn't mush, but it is something right? Tell if you would like to see an original composition, or an arrangement of a song you like. I'm going to take probably 3-5 ideas so choose wisely as I'm putting this discussion in all the groups I'm in.

Does anyone want to do a Christmas competition? :D

If any of you do, here is what you will be doing!

Write an 'Arrangement' or an 'Original' Christmas song using one of these instrumentations!
INSTRUMENTATION 1:
- French Horn
- 1 of any untuned percussion
- 1 of any tuned percussion OR Piano
- Violins 1&2
- Violas
- Cellos
- Contrabasses

INSTRUMENTATION 2:
- Flute
- Oboe
- 1 of any tuned percussion OR Piano
- Violins 1&2
- Violas
- Cellos
- Contrabasses

INSTRUMENTATION 3:
- Any type of 1 Saxophone
- 1 of any untuned percussion
- 1 of any tuned percussion OR Piano
- Violins 1&2
- Violas
- Cellos
- Contrabasses

***NOTE: you do not need to use ALL the instruments given. Like you could do just Horn and Strings for example. but you cannot mix different Instrumentation Groups***

No time limits, the only limits are your imagination and the instrumentation (and that it has to be Christmas music)! :D

This comp. will not happen if we get less than 5 people, so comment below if you want to, and then post your score's link down below once you have finished it.
*DOES NOT HAVE TO BE POSTED TO MUSESCORE* you can upload to Drive and put that link here too :D
For those who upload to musescore, make sure to put *CMC* in the Title, Thanks!

The winner will receive an UltraHQ Audio!! :DDD
*Conditions for Audio: Must be an original work or a public domain work for Audio. If not, Audio will go to the runner up*

I will decide the deadline once enough people have commented! :D

Really need advice!

Okay, so there's an open evening for an exhibition coming up and I said that I would play piano during the event as sort of background music. I thought I had plenty of music, but after looking through my many folders I realised I didn't have as much as I thought I did. I want to find some easy ish pieces in a classical/elegant style, possibly similar to the music of einaudi and composers alike. If you have found any really good piano solos on musescore then please post the links below! They can be original compositions also if they are in that sort of style. If you can imagine someone playing it in the background them it will be great! Thank you! And I really really hope there are some! They don't have to be yours, just if you find some then please tell me.

Easy? Piano?

I was exited to see that there was a group for sharing easy piano scores as that is what I am looking for at Musescore - easy scores that still sound great as I am not an experienced player.
I was a bit disappointed to find that several of the scores added here dont seem that easy at all - at least not to me.... and not all were for solo piano.....

There are so many groups where you can add your scores so why not keep this group for what it says .... easy piano songs.

Odd Time Signature Advice

I don't know about you, but I used to have trouble with odd time signatures. Here's how I remedied that.

Adam Neely's bass lessons on youtube are amazing sources of knowledge about time signatures and theory in general, and that's where I learned how to experiment with odd signatures. However, just knowledge isn't exactly enough. You have to listen to some and feel the strange signature. A great band to listen to is TOOL (the one with Maynard James Keenan, etc. etc.), as MUCH of their music is in obscure time signatures. Once you get used to those songs, listen to math rock (a good band is Totorro, spelled exactly like the adorable fluff ball of the character from the movie/anime). Try playing a song on your instrument in odd time signatures, and build a new mental metronome to count that timing.

When you're writing in odd time signatures, avoid what Adam Neely calls the "clave" of the time signature. For instance, in 5/4, the "clave" is two dotted quarter notes, then two quarter notes. This is a common 5/4 rhythm, but it's a bit bland when used over and over again (it's used in the mission impossible theme song). There are thousands of rhythmic combination with even just eight notes, so you can pretty much subdivide it however you want to.

That's all the advice I have, if anyone else has some, the you can put it down in the comments, I guess.