You don’t see it, but you really hear it: an attack is a very important part of playing the saxophone.
Do you struggle with a cracking sound or peep when you tongue an attack?
Do you find it difficult to make a very soft attack?
Does your tone not sound immediately?
These tips will help you to improve your attack and allow you to add many more colors to your playing!
By withdrawing your tongue at the attack you begin the tone: it’s as if you say “tuu”. Without an attack you would need to blow over and over to make each tone. With an attack you blow and use your tongue to differentiate between tones, in a way similar to the way you talk.
At the attack the tongue comes forward until it touches the reed and then quickly retracts. The taking away of the tongue is in fact the actual attack!
NB: If your lingual frenulum is too short it will make attacking with the point of your tongue more difficult. You can check this for yourself: if you can’t stick your tongue out, this is the case.
Tip 1: the place of the attack on the tongue
You attack just behind the point of your tongue. Your tongue is a little rounded, with the point a little downwards close behind the bottom teeth.
Trick: Feel the gentle trills of the reed with your tongue while you are blowing. You should do this as softly as possible so that the tone remains sounding and you feel the reed tickling. This is the right place for the attack! Repeat this a couple times and see if you can learn the right movement.
Tip 2: the place of the attack on the reed
You attack the reed like this: you feel the edge of the reed against your tongue (not perpendicularly, but obliquely on the underside of the reed).
Trick: Try to attack on different places on the reed. Then you can hear and feel the difference.
Tip 3: blowing and attacking
Do you have the trouble that while you blow your tongue moves back and forth at the attack?
Trick: Say out loud “tuutuu” and continue then without using your voice. A following step is to do the same, but with the mouthpiece in your mouth. You don’t make any tone and you feel your tongue against the reed at the attack. Now it’s a question of building up the air pressure until a tone is sounded.
Tip 4: “Plops”
Be careful that you draw your tongue back when you attack and not downwards. If you draw your tongue downwards there will often be a sound like “plop” or “slap”.
Tip 5: a good beginning
The withdrawing of the tongue is the actual attack: this means that you must first build up the air pressure while you have your tongue against the reed! When you subsequently withdraw your tongue, you begin to play. Often people blow and attack at the same time which results in an uncontrolled attack. Or there is the sound of air (a hissing) and an accompanying sound first, and then finally the tone. Be careful then to have the correct sequence.
Tip 6: the attack
You can make as many differences in your attack as you can make in your speech: from hard to soft and from “thick” to “thin”.
Trick: Play a long tone and interrupt the tone so softly that the sound doesn’t stop. (Think again about the point of the reed and your tongue.) In fact you say “duuduuduu”. Your tongue barely and very quickly touches the reed. Then you can try all the variations from “duuduuduu” to “tuutuutuu”.
Tip 7: blow in a rest
When there is a rest in the music you don’t always need to stop blowing, in many instances you can use your tongue. In fact you say “dat” or “tat”: you continue to blow, but you stop the sound with your tongue. You can keep the tension and allow the stopping of the tone to sound more energetic.
This video of the Devil’s Rag by saxophonist Arno Bornkamp is a very good example of a virtuoso playing with a quick and light attack!