You can make your sax speak! To use your saxophone as a voice you need a flexible embouchure: it is the key to making these sorts of colors and effects. What you do with your throat, tongue, lips, cheeks and chin also have a great influence on your sound. Anyone can learn how, and it is up to you how you this in your playing!
You can find an almost infinite list of exercises and effects in saxophone literature. These exercises can take you a long way.
Sound a tone, and feel what you’re doing with your embouchure. Do you feel your lower lip and the trilling of the reed against it? What about your upper lip? Do you feel anything in your cheeks and where? What are you doing with your chin? Is your jaw relaxed? Do you feel the “back” of your cheeks as if something is moving, for example, near (in) your ears?
Do you feel your oral cavitity and tongue?; find out where your tongue is, high or low, curled or not, whether it’s moving or not. Do you feel the trilling, the resonating of the tone inside of your nose, for instance.
There is no right or wrong in these exercises! Just pay attention!
Sound another tone and move your mouth corners forward and backward. What feels better? What sounds better? How would you describe the difference in the sound?
From time to time vary the position of your tongue as you blow. Move your tongue and feel and hear what happens. You can think about the form of various vowels in your mouth. What sort of differences do you hear?
Sound a tone and make big and then small movements with your jaw down and back again. The tone goes up and down again in correspondence to the movements. Don’t move your jaw forward and keep a good air stream. Can you make the tone drop a half step without making any use of your keys? (for example can you make a B go to a Bb?)
Make the same movement with your jaw downwards in the same manner as in the former exercise, but smaller and faster, as if you were saying “wahwahwah”. Be careful to get a regular pulse. This is what a vibrato is. Change the vibrato faster and louder.
During the time when you are blowing, keep your throat open, as if you are yawning. The tone will be lower; try to make it sound as low as possible and then try slowly to make it go as high as possible. In this way you can make “glides” between different tones.
*You can vary between high and low tones and between blowing hard or soft!
What sort of effects can you make if you have mastered these exercises?
These are the well known “glides” (official name bend/glissando/) which you hear saxophonists doing where the tone is made into a sort of glide for example in the well known solo from Baker Street. Get to the point where you can drag the tone lower with your throat and/or lower lip and chin. You can combine bending with fast runs and make a ‘smear’ but this is another story.
The vibrato is another effect: this consists of vertical movements of your lower lip and chin (as if you were saying “wahwahwah”), naturally very lightly.
You can influence the sound of your tone by where you put your tongue, throat and lower lip. The saxophone by its nature is not completely in tune and in addition you adjust your tuning when playing together. Therefore you are always adjusting your tuning when playing!
Also the color of your tone you want make will affect where you place your tongue, throat and lower lip; after that you need to be aware of your breathing. The atmosphere of the music may ask of you a fierce, soft, hazy or warm tone. All these colors and nuances can be brought into your tone.
Do you have any questions or remarks after reading this article or do you have suggestions for new topics? Let me know and leave your comment!