Gift From the Embouchure Gods

saxophone embouchureEmbouchure: ämbo͞oˈSHo͝or noun

The way in which a player applies the mouth to the mouthpiece of a brass or wind instrument.

  1. Would you like to improve your intonation on your saxophone or clarinet?
  2. Would you like to increase your dynamic range for more musical expression?
  3. Would you like to tongue more quickly?
  4. Would you like your reed instrument to respond better?
  5. Would you like your reed to blow more freely?
  6. Would you like a clearer more flexible tone?

One technique can solve 95% of all of the above mentioned problems. (The other 5% includes quality of instrument, mouthpiece, reed and ligature!)

Let’s back up for a minute to the very beginning. Most students start out putting too much pressure on the reed and choking the air flow. Through trial and error they most commonly discover that taking more mouthpiece in their mouth creates success. Well yes, but this also nurtures future problems. After three or four years of reinforcement (practicing, that is) breaking this major habit then becomes a monumental task! If you look at many famous performers you will see different embouchures, subject to varied physical variations i.e. jaw and teeth. They may be great musicians, but not necessarily models to copy.

That being said, if you are a young student (since you’ve probably heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks), try this:

Push your mouthpiece in as far as it will go on your sax. Play low F downward to low B flat. Next play high C upward to high F. The response of your instrument is probably fairly clear. However, you will be tuned too high for band settings.

Now pull your mouthpiece out as far as it will go and not fall off and try the same exercise. How did you do? If you didn’t have a poor response… Great! I haven’t hooked you yet.

Please read on!

Repeat the previous paragraph but this time drop your chin and take less reed and mouthpiece in your mouth. This may feel and sound foreign to you at first. Stay with me. In spite of the wishy-washy sound, the reed probably buzzed more freely and louder! See where I’m going yet? Your dynamic range just increased, your horn responds better with a lower pitch, and reed played easier, all because you dropped your chin. Play low F slowly as who notes about five times. If done correctly, your lower lip will tingle a little. THIS IS GOOD!

After you have practiced low whole notes religiously for a few days, try tonguing quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes. Remember; less reed is in your mouth and your chin is down. If you have the option of playing with good intonation… you will!

Did you ever wonder why modern clarinet cases come with two spaces for barrels? Well, all clarinets (even high end clarinets), come with long barrels to compensate for biting and playing sharp. Middle G through throat B flat usually sound sharp and thin. Buy a shorter barrel and drop your chin. You’ll see the difference… oh yes, there’s a place to put the new barrel too.

It will take time to develop the muscles around your mouth which is called the “embouchure” but with persistence you will have a clearer tone. You’ll also let the reed respond rather than forcing the response.

Consider this one final thought. When playing, the air should travel unobstructed from your diaphragm to your mouth, past the reed and down the horn. If you feel a reservoir of air in your mouth like water before a dam in a river, guess what… DROP YOUR CHIN!