UPDATE: Since writing this article, my views on the topic of an “open throat” have actually changed quite drastically. So forget about this silly article and hop over here to get the real skinny on this super-important concept.
With any wind instrument, the rule is more air you have access to, the more “fuel” you have to create a big sound that hits listeners right where it hurts so good. (That might have sounded a little creepy, but I think you get the point.)
In recording technology, we have what’s known as a “signal chain” in which engineers strive to push the maximum amount of non-distorted sound through the chain of cables, outboard gear (effects boxes, compressors, mixers, etc) and finally into the digital or analog recording device such as a computer or analog tape recorder.
In our sax playing, it’s the same principle. The the sound starts that the diaphragm, continues up the throat, passes through the inner mouth, then the reed, mouthpiece, and finally the horn itself. The throat is a crucial part of the chain of air, and the more we can open this conduit, the better we’re going to sound.
I was recently poking around the wonderful and ever-popular forum at SaxOnTheWeb.com as well as a few other sites and came across some great tips on the topic of keeping an open throat.
1. Just Relax
It’s sometimes amazing to see how much tension is unconsciously happening throughout the body when we’re playing, especially in parts of the body that we’re not yet used to being aware of. Thinking in terms of being as relaxed as possible while still providing proper pressure from the diaphragm and embouchure will automatically work wonders.
2. Practice singing the “AHH” or “HAR” sound while you’re playing.
These vowel sounds naturally open up your throat. The opposite would be to pronounce the “EEEEEE” sound which closes the throat.
3. Raise the soft palate.
For those of you unfamiliar with the soft palate, WikiPedia defines it as “the soft tissue constituting the back of the roof of the mouth. The soft palate is distinguished from the hard palate at the front of the mouth in that it does not contain bone.” As awkward as it may seem, doing whatever you can to raise this part of your inner mouth will indeed open up your throat.
4. Learn to growl.
Growling on the saxophone is simply creating that raucous sound heard in rock and roll saxophone. This effect involves singing through the horn, and chances are that growling will force you to sing one of the “AAAAH” sounds mentioned in step two. If you’re new to growling, here’s a quick video to get you started.
5. Blow warm air.
Make sure that the air you’re blowing through the horn is sufficient to fog up a pair of eye glasses. One quick way to get a sense of the difference that this makes is to put one hand in front of your mouth, and the other on your neck over the throat area. Blow cold air into your hand, and notice what the throat feels like. Then practice blowing warm air into the hand, as see how that feels. Pretty big difference, right?
6. Learn what it feels like to play with a closed throat.
When we cough or gag, the throat is almost completely closed off. Make sure that the feeling in your throat while playing is diametrically opposed to the feeling of coughing or gagging.
7. Say “HOP” as you inhale.
This will prepare your throat to be open, and as long as you follow up that open inhale with warm air, then you’re golden!
8. Imagine blowing downwards.
Pointing the air in a downwards direction will force you to open the throat as you strive to make that additional space in the throat for the air to move towards the floor.