Back on the Sax Part 1: Longtones


Sure, I’ve played professionally quite a bit in the past. But these days, I’m more of a technology and blogging guy. I don’t pretend to be a full-time professional sax player touring the world and sharing stages with the greats.

So then why would I run a website packed with info that’s supposed to help sax players?

The answer: I’m not the always the expert. It’s the website as a whole that serves as up the saxophone expertise.

I like to think of this as more of a saxophone magazine where I collect contributions from some of the greatest players and teachers in the world. I use and refer to the best saxophone books out there.  I keep up on great up and coming sax players,, check out online forums, visit saxophone-related websites, check out great online videos, and basically do anything and everything I can to collect the best information and present it to you in the best manner possible.

So although I’m not nearly as masterful these days as the folks who appear on my podcasts or write guest posts for the site, I do have my own personal saxophone adventures that I think could benefit my fellow saxfolk.

The other day, my good friend and amazing saxophonist Ricky Sweum reminded me that since they’re so far removed from the things that students need to do, it’s often a challenge for extremely advanced musicians to teach the basics to students. Basically, It becomes hard for these heavyweights to verbalize what it is that needs to be done at the earlier stages of musical development.

I, on the other hand, brushing the cobwebs off of my horn after a few years of not too much playing (to say the least), can certainly relate to the challenges of a newbie, since this is the “newest” I’ve been on the sax in years.

Recent Saxophone Adventures

The cool thing about starting this website is that all of this talk about saxophones and saxophone players makes me wanna dust off the old Mark VI and get back to work.

Long tones

Of course, first order of business is long tones. Trouble is, long tones can be pretty boring. Lately though, I’ve gotten some great direction on how to practice long tones from sax maestro Tim Wilcox. Taking Tim’s direction, here’s how I practice these things:

  • Start the note out at pianissimo, as though the sound was coming out of nowhere.
  • Build in volume all the way up to fortissimo, and then fade back down into pianissimo and then make the note disappear into thin air.
  • I play each note over 4 bars at a medium tempo while making sure to pay close attention to my pitch as I increase and decrease in volume.
  • To make things more interesting, I make sure to only breathe in through my nose through my entire long tone exercise. Sure, this may burn in my nasal cavity a bit at first, but the cool thing is that this really exercises my lower lip since I don’t get to rest the chops like I do when inhaling through the mouth. This is a real chops builder that helps me keep my embouchure from jumping all over the place from note to note.

Other stuff

Well, this happened to be a pretty long post with all of my ‘splaining at the beginning, so I’ll just stick to my long tone adventures and share some other stuff that’s been helping me in upcoming posts.

I’d love to know how you guys practice overtones, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts.