Developing a great tone is an important component in learning to play the saxophone. In addition to a properly formed embouchure, proper breathing technique and optimal tongue position, playing with an open, flexible throat and the ability to play overtones are skills that are essential in producing an excellent saxophone sound. By becoming aware of these factors and practicing exercises that improve their mastery, saxophonists should be able to greatly improve their tone quality.
Playing With an Open Throat
The term open throat means that the throat is relaxed and unrestricted allowing the air stream to flow easily from the lungs into the oral cavity. Playing with an open throat will greatly assist the saxophonist in producing good tone, intonation and response. It is sometimes difficult for saxophonists to know if they are playing with an open throat because the inside of the throat cannot be observed when performing. However, there is an exercise that when completed, will allow the saxophonist to know if the throat is open when playing.
Open Throat Exercise
To simulate the feeling of playing with an open throat, saxophonists should practice speaking in the lowest voice possible. Speaking in a low voice places the throat in the optimum open position, allowing air to flow freely from the lungs. Saxophonists should remember the feeling of the throat position when speaking in a low voice and reproduce that feeling when performing. If this exercise is performed every time the saxophonist practices, in a short time playing with an open throat will become a natural part of the performer’s routine.
Developing Throat Flexibility
An open, flexible throat is a great asset since it gives saxophonists the ability to adjust the intonation of a pitch without moving the embouchure, to play smoothly between registers and also to bend notes which is often required in certain performance styles.
A flexible throat can be developed through the correct, consistent practice of appropriate exercises and patience.
Throat Flexibility Exercises
An exercise that will develop throat flexibility is to take only the mouthpiece and play a Concert C#. Next, practice bending this note down chromatically one-half step to a Concert C and then back up to the Concert C# using only the throat muscles. Saxophonists should make sure not to bend notes by lowering and raising the jaw. Now start on the Concert C# and bend it down a whole step to a Concert B then back up to the Concert C#. Continue bending the Concert C# down increasing the interval one half step each time and then back up until the largest interval possible can be produced. This exercise can also be practiced on the saxophone with a starting note of high Forked F following the same procedure described when using the mouthpiece alone. Remember to slur both exercises bending the notes with only the throat muscles.
Throat Flexibility Exercise 1
Throat Flexibility Exercise 2
Overtone Exercises for Improving Tone
Overtones are often performed as preparatory exercises for playing the altissimo register since the air direction and tongue position necessary to produce these overtones are essentially the same as those needed to produce notes in the altissimo register. However, practicing overtones can also be very beneficial in developing a more resonant tone quality. By their nature, overtones are the purest, most resonant tones as they are produced not by different fingerings, but through the use of the natural harmonic series. Because overtones are very resonant, an ideal way to improve the overall tone quality of conventional notes is to compare the two and try to increase the resonance of conventional notes to the same level as their matching overtones.
Overtone Tone Exercise 1
An exercise that will accomplish this is to first play a low Bb. Next play several overtones using the Bb as the fundamental pitch. These tones are played using the same fingering as low Bb and are produced by adjusting only the air stream and tongue position. The next seven overtone notes that will be produced above the low Bb are Bb on the middle line of the staff, F on the top line of the staff, high Bb above the staff, palm key D, palm key F, altissimo Ab and altissimo Bb.
Overtone Tone Exercise 1
Overtone Tone Exercise 2
When these notes can be produced individually using the Low Bb overtone fingering, the saxophonist should play each note twice, first using the regular fingering and then with the overtone fingering (Low Bb fingering). The note produced with the overtone fingering will be much more resonant than its counterpart played with the conventional fingering. The saxophonist should listen carefully to each note and then try to increase the resonance of the conventionally fingered note to match the resonance of overtone note by adjusting the embouchure, tongue position and throat position. By doing this, the resonance and tone quality of the conventionally fingered note will be improved.
Overtone Tone Exercise 2
Practice this exercise up through the overtone notes using the fundamental note low Bb. In addition, low B and low C can also be used as fundamental notes, which will cover almost every pitch of the middle and upper register. If saxophonists regularly practice this exercise, their tone quality will be greatly improved.
Overtone Tone Exercise 3
Overtone Tone Exercise 4
Proper tone production, which is an essential part of saxophone performance, not only requires a correctly formed embouchure, proper breathing technique and optimal tongue position, but also an open, flexible throat and the ability to play overtones. By practicing exercises that develop mastery of these skills, saxophonists will notice a marked improvement in their tone quality in their quest for developing an ideal tone.