How to Improve Your Sound in One Practice Session

This article comes to us from renown professional saxophonist, recording artist, and author of the new book, A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist, Ben Britton.

I think it is safe to say that most of us who play saxophone are drawn to it because of its sound. It can be vocal and at the same time powerful and alive. Getting to that point is an arduous process that can involve hundreds of hours of practice. Most of the techniques that improve sound require serious dedication and a long-term vision.

However, there are also some techniques that can help improve one’s sound in a single practice session or less. Following are two excerpts from my brand new book, A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist, which deals with both long term practice concepts and quick fixes.

The two excerpts below outline a couple of those quick fixes that can make a huge difference in your sound.

Excerpt from Exercise “Roll In, Roll Out” in Chapter 3

The amount of lip rolled in over the bottom teeth often changes according to the style of music. Typically, jazz and pop saxophonists will play with the lower lip rolled out in while classical players will tend to roll the lip in further over the teeth. A common problem with beginners is their practice of having the bottom lip so far rolled in that it stops the reed from vibrating properly.

For this exercise, play the following example, or a familiar melody, first with a majority of the bottom lip rolled over the bottom teeth. With the lip rolled too far in, as described, the sound can become thin and sometimes even harsh or biting.

Next, roll the lip in only moderately so that a little less than half of it is pulled over the bottom teeth and play the melody again. The tone should have less highs and more depth than before. Now, roll out your bottom lip so that only a little of it remains between the bottom teeth and the reed and play the melody again. The sound will become brighter and lush.

Some players will find they need to either roll their bottom lip in or out to achieve their desired sound. Make note of any needed change and review your bottom lip position and resulting sound regularly during your daily practice sessions until you have formed a consistent habit.

Bottom Lip Rolled Out
[audio: 14-Rolled-Out.mp3]

Bottom Lip Rolled In
[audio: 15-Rolled-In.mp3]

Bottom Lip Rolled in Too Far
[audio: 16-Rolled-Too-Far-In.mp3]

Excerpt from “Introduction to Air Stream Focus” in Chapter 1

The tongue plays a primary role in the vocal tract, and getting in the habit of placing it in a supportive position is one of the first steps to focusing your airstream. The tongue should be relaxed and wide, but the sides should be high enough in the mouth that they touch the bottom and sides of the upper back molars. Keeping the center of the tongue relaxed and wide, while raising its sides in the back to touch the top molars, will focus the airstream, and promote good tone quality and intonation.

Exercise 1.6 – Low vs. High

This exercise contrasts incorrect and correct technique. First, play a medium fast slurred scale while keeping the sides of the tongue low so they are not touching the bottom back molars, and then contrast that with the correct technique described previously. Note how supported and in tune the sound is when using the correct technique and how dull and unsupported it is when the sides of the tongue are lowered.

Scale with Correct Tongue Position
[audio: Scale-with-Correct-Tongue-Position.mp3]

Scale with Incorrect Tongue Position
[audio: Scale-with-Incorrect-Tongue-Position.mp3]

Check out Ben’s book.

A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist has been immediately recognized as “a highly-concentrated, efficient approach to tone production” by (Bret Pimentel, and has been endorsed by world-renown saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. The book is designed to guide saxophonists of any genre towards achieving their ideal sound. Pursuing this aspiration will not only result in a more beautiful and powerful tone, but it will also promote virtuosity in other areas of technique such as the ability to execute technical passages, extending the range of the saxophone to four octaves, and widening the palette of available tone colors. The guiding principles for reaching these goals are taught in the text as are corresponding specific exercises to help effectively achieve them. Many of the concepts in the book are based on those taught by Joe Allard and Sigurd Rascher, but the text also develops these ideas in new ways that help further expand the players capabilities.

Learn more about the book here.