Home Forums General Sax Questions Long tone insight

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    Carl Robinson

    As a new student of the Saxophone my teacher gave me a series of excersises using long tones to develop breath control. After practising these everyday for three weeks alongside my other techniques I’ve noticed that although initially as beginners we are taught to blow consistently, high notes and low notes require subtle changes in breath velocity, that’s how it seems to me. Or maybe I’m just noticing more through practise, is this the case?



    there’s lots of physics involved when you blow.
    The main idea is to fill your lungs with a lot of air, then use your diaphragm to control a constant steady flow of air to your throat all the time.

    Then blow through the sax without playing a sound and if your embouchure is correct (muscles round your lips) you should hear a loud constant flow of air going through the sax. If you don’t hear an even flow of air going through the body of your sax – see your sax teacher, to check your embouchure.

    Assuming you are breathing out properly from your lungs, and your embouchure is correct, there is two ways to alter the speed of air hitting the reed.
    The most common one is to raise and lower your tongue (either the tip or the whole of your tongue). The second way is to increase or decrease the size of chamber in your mouth, this is done by lowering or raising your jaw bone, this is harder to do, as it can change the pressure in your embouchure (muscles around your lips).

    A lot of sax players practice saying and playing different words, what happens is certain words have the tongue in different positions. If you say the phrase ‘eee’ what you will find is your tongue will be flat in your mouth and this is the resting position for the tongue that doesn’t affect air speed.

    Long tones are great for getting control of embouchure and diaphragm.

    Ideally you need to be playing any scale, starting on the root note.
    play a long tone on the root note, then move up the scale to the next note and long tone that note, and make it sound in tune with the previous note.
    If you play a scale on a keyboard, every note sounds smooth and in sync, however on a sax this doesn’t happen, so you have to make adjustments so that whole scale sounds even like on a piano.



    Along the same lines ie practing long tones to sound better.

    I used to play guitar a lot. Everytime i got my guitar out i used to check that each of the six strings were in tune with a tuner. Now the interesting thing is the tuner told me all the six strings were in tune.
    However when i played a scale accross the six strings, some of the strings still sounded out of tune with each other when you listen to the scale (do re me fa ..). To get the scale sounding in tune i then had to fine tune each string to sound in tune with the same identical note on the previous string (using my ears and not the tuner). This time when i played the scales across all six strings the scale sounded in tune like in ‘the sound of music”.

    The same thing applies to the sax.
    If you play a scale on the sax and check each note in the scale is in tune with a tuner, it doesn’t mean that when you play the scale, the scale will sound in tune – the only way to get the scale sounding in tune is to listen to the previous note and get it sounding in tune with the previous note. I didn’t fully understand this concept on the sax until i had been playing a couple of years, and asked my teacher why when i went up the scale, groups of notes were starting to get sharper and sharper more noticeable when going up octaves. I could have saved a couple of years practice if i new that.

    This is where if you have a better guitar or sax, its a lot easier to play the scales in tune as they should be designed/tested to save you all this hassle.

    I have a cheap yamaha guitar, the strings are too high off the keyboard so its a constant battle to play in tune and puts a lot of stress on my hands. I’ve played more expensive guitars, where the strings lie closer to the neck, sound more in tune, and the difference in hand stress is massive, and this allows me to play longer without getting cramp in my hands.

    I did get the chance to play a selmar alto recently, and what i noticed was the difference in weight, it didn’t feel as bulky, yes the position of the pinky keys were a bit different positioned, the sound was noticeably a lot different to my yamaha sound – it had a more deeper, fuller bodied sound which made the notes sound more clearly articulated (if you compared it to people talking, the difference would be in one person having had elocution lessons).

    Well maybe i’m talking a load of old gobbly gook – but thats my two pence, imho


    Carl Robinson

    Tuners are the bane of a guitarists life, too many rely on them without ever learning the ability to tune up by ear, and it’s always the bloody G string that goes wonky isn’t it? Starting on Monday I’m going to practice with a tuner going up some scales SLOWLY checking my tuning as I go. To my ear I sound a tad flat as I move up the register, but it’s early days yet and solid practice will no doubt cure this. At my stage as beginner I’m still coming to terms with those little things that seem to have a big effect on my practice. The position of the neck: I find myself adjusting this a few times to get it perfect so that mouthpiece just falls into place.
    Strap: I have to get myself a better one mine does not feel “right” to me, even though it is perfectly ok I am conscious of it.



    If you play the sax standing up, you can either play with the sax in front of the belly button (sax neck straight ahead, mouthpiece horizontal) or assuming you are right handed, play with the sax resting against your right leg (sax neck bent to the left, mouthpiece banking to the left).

    If you want to perform gymnastics (swinging the sax up and down like a yo yo) then make sure your mouth moves with mouthpiece, otherwise you could end up with the tip of mouthpiece scratching your tongue or the top of your mouth.

    Careful with a strap, last year my clothes caught the hook release mechanism and my sax fell to the floor, it happened again this year – so i changed my strap. Two wasted visits to the repair shop (thank god for sax insurance).
    Also started getting neck pains, so switched to a strap that puts the weight on the shoulders and not the neck.

    The position of the mouthpiece on the neck is vital. Beginners normally start with the mouthpiece in the middle of the cork. Which is fine.

    Problem is, the sax is designed to play more in tune across all two and ahalf octaves when the mouthpiece is shoved most of the way in. With the mouthpiece halfway on the neck, notes on the upper octaves will sound more out of tune, than notes lower down the octaves. To get round this problem my teacher got me to shove the mouthpiece in until it was about 1cm from the end of the cork. Then taught me to bend the notes more in tune. So now i play more in tune across all two and ahalf octaves. This meant embouchure changing and no overtone practice while i was doing it


    Sxpoet – Good sound advice. Hope you are getting to play your sax now and things are going well for you. 🙂



    Thanks Mel, Hope to start again this week, looks like it’l take a lot of weeks to get back (embouchure wise) to where i was mid February. Hope the sax keys haven’t rusted up! lol


    @Carl, sounding flat going up the register was usually my experience as well and I think a common one.
    what you do is tighten up with your bottom lip to sharpen the note. while the air support must remain full and even
    for the entire range, our bottom lip will relax slightly for the lower notes while tightening the higher we go.

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