Evan Tate's SaxTips eZine

Friday, February 25, 2005

Choosing a mouthpiece, reed and ligature setup

As Featured on ArticleCity.com

In the musical life of every saxophonist comes a time when a few very important decisions have to be made. Decisions that cannot be put off, nor should if be ignored. These decisions are: "Which mouthpiece should I use?”,” What reed should I play on?" And although it is often ignored but just as important, "What ligature should I use?”
These three objects make up the major portion of our sound and because of that, if things are not going our way these object can cause us some major grief. No only do we find ourselves on the edge of insanity, but we can nearly find ourselves bankrupt! (Well, almost.) Mind you, all of these questions have subjective nuances to their answers but there is some "hard science" to apply to answering these questions.

Let's start out with "What mouthpiece should I use?"

To answer this question we need to ask ourselves a couple of more questions such as,

- "What musical style do I wish to play?"

- Do I want a jazz mouthpiece?

- a classical mouthpiece?

- something for pop music?

- a good "all-rounder"?

Mind you, pre-requisite here is to have an idea of the sound you are looking for! Do you have a favorite artist who has that favorite sound of yours? Do you know what mouthpiece he/she plays? Go for it! Try it!

The basic "mouthpiece science" is this:

Jazz: A mouthpiece with a Medium to Medium-Large chamber, a medium to large opening (5* to 7* in some mouthpiece series).

Classical: A mouthpiece with a Small to Medium chamber, a small to medium opening (4 to 5 in some mouthpiece series).

All-rounder: A mouthpiece with a medium chamber and a medium opening (5, 5* in some mouthpiece series).

There are tons of mouthpieces out there and there are (thank god!) a few "standard solutions". I would not suggest relying blindly on one of these "standard solutions" i.e. "Meyer or Otto Link for jazz", "Selmer S-80 for classical", etc.

They all are good suggestions and your teeth, jaw size, bite, mouth cavity, etc are all unique to YOU, and a "standard solution" may not necessarily be the best solution for you. You should feel free to experiment, even with some "crazy" options. In my personal experience, I had the opportunity to perform as a soloist for a "classical" work for saxophone and orchestra. I first tried a "standard solution" of a Selmer S-80 Alto saxophone mouthpiece. I really didn't like playing this mouthpiece and I had a lot of intonation problems with it. I then tried a Hard-rubber Otto Link 5 ( a so-called "jazz" mouthpiece) and it worked GREAT! I really got a "classical" tone out of it and it felt great to play. So, please in any case keep your options open.

Next, "What reed should I play?"

The choice of reed is a sensible and or course, important issue. The physical feel of a reed has an effect on how we also emotionally feel when we’re playing. Everybody nows that feeling when we have a reed that absolutely “sucks”. We can go crazy over it! Well, luckily (or unfortunately) there is a large choice of reed manufacturers out here. To go with a certain strength of reed, say a “3” or “Medium” will serve you well most of the time. This strength varies slightly between the various brands of reed. But this difference can still make a lot of difference when playing.

The most popular brands are: Rico (including Rico Royal), Vandoren (including Vandoren Java and Vandoren V16), La Voz and Hemke. Of course there are more brands that I didn’t list but you know them. While you’re still experimenting with reeds, it only makes sense to buy about 3 reeds at first. Important is, is to inspect the reeds exactly. Some reeds (especially Ricos) are cut unevenly and can impede the response of the reed while playing. Inspect the color of the reed. Sometimes discolorations in the reed can produce another timbre than those that have almost no discoloration. They can sound even better(!), but leave that to your own discretion.

The basic “science” says: Open or wide mouthpiece opening = softer reed, close of narrower mouthpiece opening = harder reed. The same applies here as I mentioned with the mouthpieces above, don’t take this “science” for granted, and experiment.

I personally suggest that you avoid plastic or synthetic reeds. There is a danger to playing these reeds. Although you have a reed that plays “every time”, the fact that the reed doesn’t “breathe” can affect your ability to play overtones and ultimately destroy your embouchure. So please, STAY AWAY FROM THEM!! I personally have had a BAD experience with them.

Next, "What ligature should I use?"

The ligature is the most neglected piece of the saxophone setup. Why? I believe mostly because many have the feeling that is only something that holds the reed onto the mouthpiece and nothing other than that. Nothing could be farther than the truth! The ligature has a LOT to do with the sound! Just imagine, you’re trying to talk and you have a clamp around your throat. Depending how tight it is, where pressure is being applied and such, will affect the way you talk (if you can at all!). So, don’t ignore this important piece of apparatus.

Here we also have a large pallet of manufacturers and models to choose from. Should we play the ligature that came with the mouthpiece (if any!), meaning, a ligature of the same brand of the mouthpiece? For example; Selmer mouthpiece = Selmer ligature? Vandoren mouthpiece = Vandoren ligature? Nope, it doesn’t have to be that way.

We have models with:

  • Two screws under the mouthpiece

  • Two screws on top of the mouthpiece

  • One screw, either above or below

  • A metal band

  • A leather band

  • An open frame with small rubber balls as contact points

  • Etc…

The list can go on…

Well, we have to realize that the above scenario (trying to talk with a clamp around your throat) is the best example of what role the ligature has. Don’t run out an buy the “newest, latest”, experiment, ask your teacher(s), ask professionals, talk to your repairman, … research!

Above all, before you go on your search for the ULTIMATE SETUP, set a budget for yourself with exactly HOW MUCH MONEY you want to spend at all. You can surely find something satisfactory regardless of your budget.

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.

http://www.evantate.de/ or mailto:evan@evantate.de

Thursday, February 24, 2005

5 Tips to improve your technique

This week we're going to look into some tips on how to improve your technical agility. One of the main abilities a musician must have is to have command of the technical aspects of his/her instrument.

Tip #1: Play everything slowly - "Slow is the same as fast". Maybe you've heard of that phrase. I'd like to interpret it as understanding that all movements that you make while playing rapid passages must have the same relaxed feeling as though you were playing slowly. What better way to do that than practicing slowly? You'll have to practice slowly and do NOT increase the tempo at any time! Breathe relaxed, concentrate but don't let your muscles stressed or tight in any way. Practicing slowly give you a chance to hear the music exactly, listen intensively and therefore make your brain learn it "inside-out".

Tip #2: Concentrate on problem areas - Learn to isolate difficult passages. Listen into them. Figure them out harmonically, mechanically and rhythmically. After your practiced the difficult passage, connect it back to the music a few measure before and after. This way you are "de-isolating" the passage back into the music.

Tip #3: Remember, it's about making music - Once a new student came to me for lessons and played a few things for me that he'd been practicing up to that point. He commenced to play an exercise in a very technical, non-emotional fashion. I stopped him and asked why he has played like that. He answered, "Well, it's just a technical exercise. It has nothing to do with music." So, I said, "OK, so throw it in the trash!" The point here is that we have to understand something. We play a musical instrument. We do it to play/perform music with it. In order to get the best performances out of ourselves on a consistent basis, we have to "practice performing". So it is imperative that every time we practice, we should make music. If something has NOTHING to do with music, we shouldn't practice it. Think about it. When you practice your major scales, why do you do it? Possible answer are "To better my technique", "To gain mastery of my instrument", "to learn to hear the major key", "to improve my intonation" , etc. Such answer as "because it's my homework" or "because my teacher said so" are weak answers and they are NOT going to inspire us to make good music. We need better answers. If an exercise is boring you, ask yourself "Why am I practicing this?" Look for an answer that is going to motivate you! If you don't come up with one, LOOK for one! Call a friend, ask your teacher, send ME an email! Do something! Give yourself good reasons and the HOW will take care of itself.

Tip #4: Practice with rhythmic variations - If you're practicing even scale material, instead of repeating an exercise over and over again the same way (and possibly boring yourself), try playing it with different rhythms.

For example, I'm playing:

* C - D - E - F - G - F - E - D - C. All eights. Play it 3 times.

* Then play it as a dotted eighth and sixteenth rhythm. (Or swing eighths) 3 times

* Then play it as a sixteenth and a dotted eight rhythm (reverse swing) 3 times

* Then play one group of eight note triplets and a quarter note. 3 times

* Then the opposite - a quarter note then a group of eighth-note triplets. 3 times

* Then mix this set - 1 group eighth-note triplet, quarter, quarter, eighth-note triplets. 3 times

* Then the opposite mix - quarter, eighth-note triplets, eighth-note triplets, quarter. 3 times

* Then play the original rhythm from the beginning. 3 times.

What does this do? You've played the same exercise 24 times without it getting boring. You've learned to hear this combination of notes in different rhythms, which aids you to hear deeper into the notes. The speed of the fingers between the notes has varied, eventually strengthening your technique. <name>, I guarantee that if you practice your technical exercises with this method, you'll reach desired results faster than you have had in the past. You'll accomplish a lot more in less time.

Tip #5: Learn how to take a break - Practicing 6 hours a day, 7 days a week can be great if you have time to afford yourself this luxury. If you do, my advice is DON'T DO IT! After spending so much time to learn new techniques, new repertoire, new whatever, you can destroy it all by practicing too much! The brain can only take in some much information at a time and it does it best "piece by piece", in small relaxed dosages. Even then, the brain needs a rest. Saxophonist Phil Woods has been said the he always plans a day NOT to practice. This day for him is Sunday. He goes fishing. He even stays away from music on this day. It's good advice to follow. Plan a day right now that you will NOT practice. Learn to relax. Do something else on that day.

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.

http://www.evantate.de/ or mailto:evan@evantate.de

Practicing Overtones

The practice of overtones on any wind instrument is an important practice not only for the improvement of one's tone and intonation on the instrument but also serves as the foundation for extending the playing range of the instrument (i.e. altissimo).

To start out, let's ask the first obvious question: What are overtones? In music, with every tone there are additional tones produced that sound above the fundamental tone. These follow a certain mathematical sequence. This can be easily demonstrated when one plays a low tone on the piano while holding down the sustain pedal with your foot.

Example: C - C' (an octave higher) - G' ( a perfect fifth above C') - C''(two octaves above the fundamental tone) - E''(two octaves and a major third above the fundamental tone) - G''(two octaves and a perfect fifth above the fundamental tone) - Bb'''(two octaves and a dominant seventh above the fundamental tone) - C'''(three octaves above the fundamental tone) - D'''(three octaves and a major second above the fundamental tone) - F#'''(three octaves and an augmented fourth above) - G''''(three octaves and a perfect fifth above).

Each tone above the fundamental tone is referred to as a partial. According to the "Well-tempered scale"(a system of tuning established by the mathematician Pythagoras of Samos in the middle ages and a system still in use today) the 5th Partial (Bb''') and tones above that are slightly flat, so for our purposes we will not really use these tones for now.

[More on Pythagoras of Samos at: http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Pythagoras.html]

So, on the saxophone we first use low Bb as the fundamental tone and produce the following partials by slightly applying pressure from the lower jaw and constricting the airflow.

Bb - Bb’ (one octave above) - F’ (one octave and a perfect fifth above) - Bb'' (two octaves above) - D''(two octaves and a major third above) - F'' (two octaves and a perfect fifth above: High F).

One major pitfall we saxophonists face is that often we are taught to first practice overtones by starting on the low Bb and tightening our embouchure to produce the above mentioned partials. This unfortunately causes the unpleasant side effect of developing a too tight embouchure over a short period time which will affect our playing in a negative way. Our high notes become too thin and too high(intonation-wise) and we often have trouble producing our low tones softly. I'd like to suggest a method that will give us the same desired benefits of the overtones without the negative side effects.

We'll start with the 'middle' F and let the tone 'fall down' to the low F.

[Note: All tones are to be played without the octave key!] If the tone takes more than a few seconds to fall, it may well be an indication that your embouchure is too tight. Repeat this exercise with the tones 'middle' E to low E, 'middle' Eb to low Eb, 'middle' D to low D. Now, we'll continue by fingering low Db(C#) and producing it's upper octave first and letting the tone 'fall' down to the fundamental tone low Db. Do the same with low C, low B and low Bb. Practice only this exercise until it feels comfortable.

The next exercise has us start on the low Bb and first producing the 'middle' F (2nd partial on low Bb), letting it 'fall' down to the octave Bb (1st partial on low Bb) and then finally 'falling' down to the fundamental low Bb tone. Repeat this exercise with Low B, low C and low C#.

The final exercise here will start like the last one, fingering low Bb and producing the ‘middle’ F (2nd partial on low Bb) and then ‘falling’ down to the Bb fundamental tone skipping’ the Bb octave (1st partial on low Bb). Repeat this exercise on low B, low C and low C#.

So, what are we doing? We're applying the overtone technique in the opposite direction in order to attain the benefits of the overtone practice without developing a tighter embouchure. What are the benefits? Among them are; playing in tune better within the instrument and with others. Improving your tone and your ear. I’ll have more exercises in the next issues that will concentrate more on ear training.

You can download this exercise for FREE here at: http://www.evantatede/media/Overtones.pdf. Remember, you'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader (at least version 4) in order to read and print out this exercise. – The Abode Acrobat Reader is FREE!

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.

http://www.evantate.de/ or mailto:evan@evantate.de

Thursday, February 17, 2005


The ability to properly intonate (play in tune) is essential skills
that all wind players have to learn. Whether you're an amateur or an aspiring
professional, the ability to intonate is a major pillar to your
development as a saxophonist.

In this week's Sax Tip I'd like to suggest a method and some helpful
tools toward your development.

Overtones - Much has been discussed about the practice and importance
of practicing overtones. It is an essential tool for intonation and tone
development. Practicing overtones, although essential, carry one small
downside with it. Practiced incorrectly, it can wind up tightening your
embouchure and making it inflexible rather than relaxing it. The
greater disadvantage by tightening of the embouchure is the lack
of good intonation. In such a case, your high notes may be too sharp,
and too thin in tone quality. Many students practice overtones by starting
the fundament tone (i.e. Low Bb) and over-blowing to reach the other
partials of the note (i.e. middle Bb, middle F, high Bb, high D, high F, etc.).
When one follows the partials of the overtone series, after a certain partial they are
no longer in tune (after high F - flageolets Ab, Bb, C, D etc.). Many
saxophonists who want to learn flageolet (harmonics, altissimo) have
fallen into this trap and learned to play these notes out of tune.

My suggestion:
* Finger low Bb and first try to produce the middle Bb, and let the
"fall" down to low Bb without dropping your jaw.
* Finger low Bb and first try to produce the middle F, and let the tone
fall down to middle Bb, and then to low Bb. Again, without dropping your
* Finger low Bb and first try to produce the high Bb, and let the tone
fall down to middle F, then middle Bb, and finally low Bb. Again, without
dropping your jaw.
* Repeat the same process with Low B, Low C and Low Db.

This is the exact opposite practice of how many students learn this.
Instead of tightening the embouchure, the embouchure learns to loosen. I
suggest practicing this the first 5-10 minutes of your practice session.
Remember to listen carefully!
Compare and try to match your overtone note with the
regularly played notes.

Download this exercise here or go to:

Useful tools:
* A digital tuner to visually check your intonation.
* A tape recorder to record your session and listen to it afterwards.
Since we always stand "in back" of the horn, we must realize that the horn
does sound different "in front". Or play against a wall (an old veteran's
* A well-tuned piano.

"The EAR Rules!" - Everything in our playing stands and falls according
to how we hear everything.

Have fun!

Evan Tate

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to
Mastery: Saxophone"
. He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School
of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of
professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at
various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for
Julius Keilwerth saxophones.
http://www.evantate.de/, or evan@evantate.de

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Extreme Ranges

More on the importance of practicing the extreme ranges saxophone.

Last week I communicated the importance in playing the extreme ranges
of the saxophone. This week, I want to add a basic exercise. I call them Low
End exercises and High End exercises respectively. (Pretty ingenious, huh?)

Keeping the type of embouchure that I mentioned last week in mind
(Remember? "e"?),let's try this now:

Starting on low F, play downwards to low B in a pace of even
eighth-notes (medium slow tempo please), and back like this:

F - E - D - C - B - C - D - E - F

Be sure not to change your jaw position (don't drop it) but do not
cause yourself any tension or any pain. Repeat that about 3 times.

Now do it like this:

F - E - D - C - Bb - C - D - E - F

And then,

(The "Flat" keys)
F - Eb - D - C - Bb - C - D - Eb - F
F - Eb - Db - C - Bb - C - Db - Eb - F
F - Eb - Db - Cb - Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - F
Fb - Eb - Db - Cb - Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - F

(The "Sharp" keys)
F# - E - D - C - B - C - D - E - F#
F# - E - D - C# - B - C# - D -E - F#
F# - E - D# - C# - B - C# - D# - E - F#
F# - E# - D# - C# - B - C# - D# - E# - F#
F# - E# - D# - C# - B# - C# - D# - E# - F#

And now, for the High Notes:

Start on high B and play upwards toward high F and then back down, like

b - c - d - e - f - e - d - c - b (3x)

And then,

(The "Flat" keys)
Bb - C - D - E - F - E - D - C - Bb
Bb - C - D - Eb - F - Eb - D - C - Bb
Bb - C - Db - Eb - F - Eb - Db - C - Bb
Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - F - Eb - Db - Cb - Bb
Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - Fb - Eb - Db - Cb - Bb

(The "Sharp" keys)
b - c - d - e - f# - e - d - c - b
b - c# - d - e - f# - e - d - c# - b
b - c# - d# - e - f# - e - d# - c# - b
b - c# - d# - e# - f# - e# - d# - c# - b
b# - c# - d# - e# - f# - e# - d# - c# - b#

What does this do? This helps you keep flexibility and improve your
tone and intonation in these ranges.
Be mindful to LISTEN to what your playing and really test yourself for
intonation. Try using any of the tools I suggested from last week's Sax
Tip (tape recorder, digital tuning device, piano, etc.)

This exercise is available for FREE download as an Adobe Acrobat file.
You'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader version 4.0. If you don't have it,
you can download it FREE at www.adobe.com

Click here or go to

Have fun!

Evan Tate

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Extreme Ranges Part II

The importance of practicing the extreme ranges of the saxophone.

The reasons are twofold:
Most saxophonists play the low tones as "subtone" which is merely an
effect, but not the "kernel" tone, real saxophone tone. Once one can play the
clean tone, one has more control over the instrument. Most saxophonists drop
their lower jaw while playing low tones, which takes away the support that's
need for the reed in order to have a steady embouchure. "Subtone" is an
effect that is created by spreading more lip over the surface of the
mouthpiece and just a little less teeth underneath.

Many saxophonists are displeased with their high notes in ways that
they are too sharp, too thin or a combination of both. This is often due to
biting, having a too tight embouchure, thus restricting the movement of the reed.
This also causes tension in the neck,throat and eventually the shoulders making full,
relaxed breathing difficult.

My suggestion is this:

Say the letter "e" in an exaggerated way and notice the position of
your tongue, jaw, teeth, etc. You'll notice that the tongue touches your
teeth on each side slightly. When you blow, you'll notice that the air stream
glides over the tongue, in the middle and out. This causes a type of "jet
engine" effect where an amount of air enters into the larger end of the engine
(from your lungs through your throat) and is pushed out through a smaller
opening (over your tongue, out through you teeth/lips/mouthpiece). This focuses
the air stream. Keep this position (without stress) and try to play from
middle "C" down the scale toward the low note while keeping this position.
While doing this - look up! - yes, set your eyes toward the ceiling and even
raise the horn "rock'n'roll" style. Do the same playing from middle "c"
upward to high "c" and look at the floor. Bend over if you have to!

What does this do? It's a simple law of physics. Through the "axle
effect", when you position your eyes, head and arms (horn) upward, your lower
jaw follows and give continual support to the reed while you are playing
the low tones. At the same effect, when you lower your eyes, head and body,
your lower jaw follows and looses up! Thus no longer pinching the reed to
play high notes! Try it, you'll be amazed how easily and quickly that works.
After a couple of sessions practicing this you should be able to play
the notes better without the bodily motions.

With the above-mentioned "e" position, it will tricky at first but
you'll get it and the benefits will come. Practice while playing scales or
long tones - when playing high tones, bend forward looking at the floor.
When playing low notes, bend back looking at the ceiling. This will give you
crispness in your low notes and robustness in your high notes.

Have fun!

Evan Tate