Whichever type of sax your play, it’s essential to develop a proper saxophone embouchure that feels comfortable and allows you to produce the sound quality that you’re aiming to achieve.
Read on as we explain the key concepts of embouchure formation and how you can practice to find the right technique for you.
So, firstly, what exactly is embouchure on saxophone?
Basically, we’re talking about everything related to your mouth when blowing the instrument:
- the muscles
- the lips
- the teeth
- the tongue
When you start playing the saxophone, you will find many players advising you to use a certain embouchure. You may be told by your teacher how to position your upper teeth, how to use your facial muscles and what to do with your lower jaw.
Some players choose to use a single lip embouchure which involves placing the upper teeth on the beak of the saxophone mouthpiece and the lower lip on the reed. This produces a clear tone, whereas a double lip embouchure produces a more resonant sound favoured by most jazz saxophonists, including John Coltrane.
It’s totally normal for beginners to get confused about how to achieve the correct embouchure, especially as the method you choose and practice with will probably be the one you use for the rest of your life.
So how can you choose and master the correct placement for you?
The ‘Correct’ Saxophone Embouchure
Some players suggest that placing the mouthpiece with your lower lip covering your teeth is the best way to play the saxophone. Others will recommend avoiding covering your lower teeth with your lips, and some suggest that creating a cushion with your lips to cover the saxophone reed is the correct way.
The truth is, there’s no one correct way. One method can be easier than the other, but not better.
It mainly depends on what each saxophone player finds more comfortable and easy to control. However, there are a few tips that you need to pay attention to:
- You should find a placement that allows for enough support to generate the right amount of vibration needed for the reed.
- The embouchure should be placed inwards and not pulled back.
- If you feel the sound is blocked, it means the corners are too tight, and there isn’t enough airflow.
- Keep trying different placements until the note that you want is achieved.
Each embouchure can be hard to master at first.
Some need strong lower lip muscles, while others depend on your lower jaw alignment. The best way is to try different methods and choose the right one for you.
Check this tutorial from Jay Metcalf at Better Sax:
Regardless of how you place the mouthpiece, you should keep practising and strengthening the muscles.
However, before trying out a different embouchure, you should know how far the mouthpiece should go into your mouth to ensure that you create the right sound.
Muscle Building Exercises
As you work on figuring out how to place the mouthpiece in a way that suits your playing style best, you’re bound to create unpleasant sounds that are likely to disturb the people you live with or even your neighbours.
To avoid doing this and still work on mastering the saxophone embouchure, you can practice without using the sax.
There best exercise to help strengthen the all-important muscles on the sides of your mouth) so you have better control over your embouchure) is called the ‘Q-T’ exercise.
- say the letter Q and push your mouth forward till the sides are in front of your teeth
- Keep pushing for a couple of seconds
- Count to 10 while slowly stretching back your mouth as if you’re saying the letter T
- Switch back to Q in another 10 seconds
Keep changing between these two movements, and you’ll find that your face is more flexible while playing and you’ll never overbite the mouthpiece while playing.
When you start playing the saxophone on a regular basis, this exercise will be a great warm-up.
Another way to practice without making noise is by taking the mouthpiece out of the saxophone and practising playing without it. By doing this, you’ll be able to practice anywhere you go, at any time, without bothering anyone.
One of the main factors that affect your embouchure is how you position your tongue.
Along with the face muscles exercise, you need to work on perfecting the right tongue position. When blowing on the mouthpiece, your tongue should be arched to allow a smooth airflow.
Practice your tongue position by saying the word “ew” It will force your tongue to form the required shape.
The Right Mouthpiece Placement
As a beginner, you’ll probably notice that some players take the saxophone mouthpiece inside their mouth, while other saxophonists only use the tip. So which technique is correct?
Each placement allows you to produce a different sound, and ideally, it’s best to learn both ways so you have options to work with.
Many players all over the world prefer using the tip of their lips to control the sound coming out of the saxophone. That’s mainly because it’s easier to gain control over how loud the sound is.
When the mouthpiece is inside your mouth, you lose control over your jaw and lip movements, which automatically affects the quality and volume.
In addition, you’ll end up losing control of your tongue and limiting your tones.
When you’re still in the early stages of learning sax and don’t have the jaw strength to control the mouthpiece, it’s preferable only to use the tip until you’re comfortable and then start changing its placement.
Pay Attention to Your Jaw
Your jaw alignment plays an important role when it comes to the saxophone embouchure.
The natural and most accurate alignment is the one without an overbite or an underbite. The way your jaw is aligned with the lips and mouthpiece has an effect on the sounds coming out of the saxophone.
If you have braces that alter how your jaw is aligned, or you’re born naturally with an underbite, you’ll need to start practising to find the perfect position.
There are some exercises that focus on jaw alignment that you should look into. Follow these exercises until your lower and upper teeth are aligned.
Embouchure: Round Up
The saxophone might be relatively easy to get going with, but it needs years of practice to master.
It all starts with how you place the mouthpiece on your lips. This simple step has a huge impact on the tone and volume of your sax.
Take your time to figure out which embouchure is the right one for you; try and practice different techniques until you find the one you’re most comfortable with.
Long tones are a great way to play around with different embouchure types until you find the one best suited to you.
Meanwhile, exercise your face muscles to have better control over your jaw movement and lower lip. Practice using the mouthpiece alone to have more practice time without making too much noise if you need to be mindful of other people in the vicinity.
Just getting started with the saxophone?