You have the saxophone; you have the drive to learn; now you need to actually put that instrument to your mouth and make some music. When you get to this point it may suddenly occur to you that you don’t really know how to blow a saxophone!
Here are a few details to keep in mind when you’re learning to blow into a saxophone:
- Position your top teeth over the mouthpiece (approx. ½ inch from the tip)—the reed should be resting on your lower lip
- Breathe in from your diaphragm
- Breathe out fully
- Stand or sit up straight
- Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth
- Maintain a steady flow of air on the exhale
You likely won’t be fantastic at these intricacies at first, but practice makes perfect.
Called embouchure by those in the know, the way you hold your mouth to play the saxophone is an important detail in learning to blow into the instrument. There are several variations on the embouchure technique. Players need to find the option that works best for them. Some choose to curl their lower lip in over the bottom teeth. Others opt to pull in both the top and bottom lips. Still others don’t pull in their lips at all. Different music teachers may have varying takes on which embouchure variation to use. As you learn you’ll come to find what works best for you. In fact, you may discover that you use one embouchure in certain instances and a different one in others.
Keep in mind that everyone’s mouth is different too. If you have an overbite your top teeth will obviously be positioned further ahead on the mouthpiece than someone with an underbite. The size of people’s tongues also varies. It’s good to be aware of these details so you don’t get frustrated trying to emulate the exact positioning of another player’s mouth on the saxophone.
You’ve been breathing your whole life, so you may not think you need any lessons in this area. The truth is that many people don’t breathe deeply as they go about their day-to-day lives. Playing the saxophone requires proper deep breathing from the diaphragm. When breathing this way your stomach should expand and your shoulders should not rise. Also important is to keep your bottom lip on the reed of your instrument when drawing in air.
As you might imagine, how you blow the air out is going to make a big difference to the sound you make with the instrument. Pushing a large amount of air quickly past the reed results in a loud, often squeaky, note. Playing quieter notes requires less air to be blown past the reed. A player can control the amount of air coming out and the speed at which it comes by constricting the throat, arching the tongue, or contracting muscles to slow down the rush of air from the lungs. Constricting the muscles is the best option, but usually takes some practice.
Posture, Posture, Posture
There’s no way around it; having proper posture is incredibly important when playing the saxophone. Maintaining good posture while playing not only prevents discomfort, it also greatly affects the sound quality. To get into the correct position there are a few things to keep in mind. Keep your shoulders level and relaxed. Do not move your head to find the mouthpiece; instead, pull the neck strap to bring the mouthpiece to you. Elbows should be relaxed and close to your sides. If you’re sitting to play, your feet should be flat on the floor. Eyes should be focussed straight ahead. Staying in the proper posture makes a big difference to the sound you produce when you blow your saxophone.
Steady Air Flow
If you tend to be a shallow breather, spend some time practicing deep breathing. Shallow breathing expands your chest. If you take a deep breath you should feel the expansion down in your abdomen, as your diaphragm is located below your lungs. The tendency on the exhale is to allow the air to come rushing back out. While this may work fine for everyday breathing, playing the saxophone well requires a more controlled, steady flow of air. Practice letting the air back out without constricting the mouth or the throat. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right away. This is an aspect of blowing the saxophone that players usually have to work on for quite some time before really figuring it out.
As with all aspects of learning to play a new instrument, learning to blow into a saxophone the right way takes time and practice. If you’re in the market for your first saxophone or are looking to upgrade your instrument, we have a large selection to choose from. Stop in and talk to one of our knowledgeable associates. We’re happy to help.