Saxophone Tone Development – Long Tones

The first goal when developing a good tone on the saxophone is to be able to play each note on the sax with 3 different volumes (soft, regular and loud) as nice, steady long tones. The regular range of the saxophone is from the low Bb to high F, notes above high F are known as altissimos. Development of altissimo playing usually begins with overtone exercises, but before attempting to play overtones, one must first gain a solid foundation playing in just the regular range. Attempting to play altissimos and overtones too soon may give rise to bad habits that are difficult to correct later on.

The middle range of the saxophone is the easiest range to play (consider the open C# as the center point). Lower notes tend to require a slightly looser embouchure to allow a bigger vibration amplitude for the reed, and higher notes tend to require a firmer embouchure to maintain a faster but smaller amplitude vibration. It is therefore best to start at the middle with the open C#. Another advantage of starting with the open C# is the elimination of fingering issues since no keys need to be depressed, thus allowing the student to focus solely on the control of embouchure and air stream.

Try following the procedures below when practicing long tones:

  1. Start from the open C#, first try to get a clean and steady sound using normal volume.
  2. Play the same note using a loud volume. A loud volume requires a faster airstream, and creates a higher pressure inside the mouth. The embouchure will need to work harder to maintain the higher pressure.
  3. Pay the same note using a soft volume. In order to maintain a steady airflow even with a soft volume, study the use of abdominal breathing.
  4. After practicing open C#, the student can choose to go higher (D) or go lower (C). Following the chromatic scale, play long tones with the 3 volumes as described above for the whole normal saxophone range.

It is not necessary to play all the notes from low Bb to high F in one practicing session. Spend as long as you need even on just one note before moving on to the next. It is important to understand that if the student cannot play satisfactory long tones in the middle range, he will only face bigger issues trying to play the more difficult high and low notes.

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