Debunking the Biggest Myth About Playing with an “Open Throat”

Saxophone Open ThroatOK, I admit it, I’m not perfect. Yes, I know that it comes as a major shock to those of you who have come to know me through this utterly flawless website, but lo and behold…I kinda  messed up.

A Rude Awakening

A few months back, I put out an article titled 8 Tips for an Open Throat and Bigger Sound. A short while later, while corresponding with killer New York saxman Adam Kolker regarding his interview article, Adam was honest enough to let me know that he completely disagreed with what it was that I was suggesting one do to achieve that open throat and resulting bigger sound.

Adam shared that he was a student of the legendary saxophone teacher, Joe Allard, and Joe’s approach was quite different. So I did a bit of digging to see what Mr. Allard had to say on the subject of the throat. First and foremost, Joe never really believed in the whole concept of the open throat in the first place, since the throat cannot move, nor can it close. Instead, the only thing we can do to affect the flow of air coming through the throat is to properly position the tongue.

Don’t Believe Everything you Hear

Now, one of the most common thing that students are told to do while playing is to blow through the instrument using imagining that they’re singing the “AH” sound. That’s what I heard time and time again when I was coming up, so of course that tip found its way into my article. But thanks to my reading up a bit on Joe Allard’s teachings, I’ve come to find out, that the “AH” sound is actually a detriment to getting the maximum amount of air through the throat. Instead, we should be moving our tongue into an “EE” position, and it actually makes sense to me when I put it into practice.

Gagging your Way to Greatness

To illustrate, go ahead and make a gagging sound (make sure to do it nice and loud, preferably somewhere where lots of people can hear you). Now, gradually move your tongue up and out of the gagging position, and you’ll notice that an “AH” sound begins to emerge.

Next, try to gag while pronouncing the vowel sound, “EE.” I suppose it’s possible, but it’s a lot harder than making those lovely gagging sounds while your tongue is in the “AH” position. It’s almost like there’s a throat tension spectrum that starts at gagging, and goes all the way to the top of the spectrum with powerfully free-flowing air. And the “AH” sound is far closer to the gagging end of the spectrum than the “EE” sound.

When you make the “AH” sound, your tongue sits down low in your mouth, which might seem like a more relaxed position, but you’re actually cutting off the flow of air when you do this. Using the “EE” sound moves your tongue higher in the mouth to where it’s touching the upper molars thereby making your sound bigger and more focused.

So from now on, if you wanna get that noticeably bigger and more focused sound you’ve been going for, simply open up and say… “EEEEE!”

To see where I lifted most of this info from, jump on over to Jack Snavely’s Interview on JoeAllard.org.

Photo by Ateo Fiel [Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this article]