Quick Tip: How to Blow into the Saxophone
It’s really quite simple. In the words of legendary saxophone teacher Joe Allard:
“To blow is to breathe, there is no difference.”
How often we overcomplicate things. We should never twist, contort, and strain ourselves while playing. We (hopefully) don’t struggle and strain when we speak, so why all the painful effort while playing our instrument?
Let it sing.
(OK, I think you get the picture now before I get all poetic and stuff).
photo courtesy of Krabiman
March 9, 2011 @ 7:36 am
Of course I agree that tone production shouldn’t involve pain or extraneous effort, and have the greatest respect for Mr. Allard, but I can’t help but think that this advice could be a little dangerous for beginning and intermediate players.
MOST of the tone production problems I hear in young/developing saxophonists are due to their blowing being too much like their normal breathing–passive and thoughtless. The kind of airstream that produces good tone, pitch, and response is fast, focused, and energized, and that requires a certain amount of muscular effort.
The problem of working too hard, while genuine, is one I would expect to find only rarely, and only among fairly advanced students.
March 9, 2011 @ 8:06 am
Hmm, never really thought about this from the standpoint of beginner vs. advanced player. I still think that thge ideal situation is for playing the horn to feel as natural as not playing the horn, but I see how this principle can be misapplied when put in the hands of folks unfamiliar with proper playing habits.
OK, so you hear that beginners and intermediates? Put in the work to train those muscles and that ear towards a good sound, and THEN simply breathe!
Thanks for the great insight Bret,
April 29, 2015 @ 8:44 am
New saxophone player here: I liked the comments below, and I would LOVE it if you had an entire post dedicated to breathing advice for the absolute beginners such as myself. Thanks!
April 29, 2015 @ 1:01 pm
Unfortunately I don’t have an entire post about breathing, but I have another suggestion. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to sell one of my products in a comment here, but since I think it could really help you, I’d like to suggest you check out my program, Bulletproof Saxophone Playing (http://www.bulletproofsaxophoneplaying.com). In this program, Bill Plake delivers the most detailed and effective lesson on proper breathing that I’ve ever seen, and his approach is different from anything else I’ve seen to date. Otherwise, I’m sure that there are some good YouTube videos you could find on the topic.
I hope that helps!
February 25, 2017 @ 1:52 am
Help me! I have just started playing and my bottom lip hurts SO much , is there any other way of blowing that does not include biting my bottom lip? Also my saxophone keeps squeaking and I don’t know why ! Please help!
March 19, 2018 @ 7:51 pm
Maddy, You need not bite so hard. Perhaps your mouthpiece is too big for you.Check out the newest posts on breathing and breath support. Investigate long tone exersizes. I personally have my lower lip curled outward and thus cannot be bitten. One needs to develop the embouchure muscles to do this. Above all get a mouthpiece that is easier to blow. Picking the right mouthpiece is one of the most difficult things about the saxophone thing. Keep blowin!
March 10, 2017 @ 8:36 am
Those unfamiliar with the teachings of Joe Allard might search the Internet, where there are notes from his students and a series of videos on YouTube available. While his quote to breathe is dead-on, he also had instructions and exercises to re-learn to breathe correctly and in a relaxing way, which most of us, after about the age of 6, have forgotten how to do.
March 10, 2018 @ 4:24 am
Just thought I’d leave my 2 cents…
Yes the breath is critical, but your first step is to actually pick the horn up in such a way that you don’t contort yourself. Nearly every player I see suffers some kind of ‘saxophonitis’ (over 50% weight on the right leg, left shoulder raised, right shoulder compressed, neck tense). Preventing that pattern will give you a chance to breathe. (Disclaimer: I study a lot of Alexander technique)