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Thread: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

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    Question do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    I've been spending hours today playing around with my embouchure as I tend to squeak and squeal and especially bite. As a test sound piece I've been playing the godfather love theme and a whole new world, changing my embouchure slightly every couple of lines to compare sounds and squeakability.

    The one that I like the most is where I basically just seal my lips around the mouthpiece. I don't roll my bottom lip over my bottom teeth but i end up with my lip right over top of my bottom teeth anyways. I pucker in the sides (very tiring...) and I don't rest the top teeth on the mouth piece (but they hover right above it). Is this wrong? I find I get a very similar sound with my teeth on the mpc BUT I instantly tense up and start biting. By just sticking the mpc in my mouth and tightening my lips around it helps me to keep my throat open and jaw down. Is this an acceptable way of playing or not? My teacher insists on the bottom lip curled over method (he's also primarily a clarinet player but teaches all wind/brass instruments) but it really, really doesn't work for me... I sound horrible and I chomp on my bleed until i break skin. Either way, using the above described preferred method I find I only squeak when A. the sides of my lips have relaxed out of tiredness or B. I forgot to breath when the piece told me to...lol

    Also I think part of the problem is my sax is really uncomfortable to hold and it has an effect on my embouchure (i think). I'm constantly struggling with my neckstrap. I find if I adjust it so the mpc is at the height of my mouth it's kind of uncomfortable and I tend to take in too much mpc bc the sax is so close but if I dont adjust it like that I have a lot of problems playing notes such as middle C (with not a lot of fingers) or low C, D#, etc (where I'm using my right pinky) as the thumb rest feels like it should be higher for me to comfortably support my saxophone . I play with an alto and I play it at my side a la band style bc that's how my teacher wants it.

  2. #2

    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    To be honest with you. There is a right way and there is a wrong way to form your embouchure. What your teacher is telling you is correct. Your upper teeth has to stay on the top of the mouthpiece. Your lip should not bleed. You seem to have other problems, like maybe the wrong mouthpiece, wrong reed, or a problem with the instrument. Sound's also like your octave key is opening before you get to high A, which will cause you to squeak. Have a repairman check the octave key.

  3. #3

    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    my teacher actually IS the repairmen... lol... and he has checked the octave key because of the squeaking... he does it every lesson pretty much. I keep saying to him "maybe it's me..." but he insists it's the saxophone and when he plays it and it doesn't squeak he says it's the reed being too dry but at home when i practise my reeds soak in water before i play and i still squeak.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2009 warp x's Avatar
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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    What sort of horn are you playing? Alto, tenor, new, vintage..?
    Your teeth should stay on top of the mouthpiece, and lower lip curled over your lower teeth to provide a cushion. It's not a clarinet, so you don't have to roll your lip in any further than necessary.
    You should be able to balance the horn between your teeth and your RH thumb, and the mouthpiece should fall right in your mouth without you having to adjust your neck position.
    And no biting!

  5. #5
    Distinguished SOTW Member Agent27's Avatar
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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    It can be a useful exercise, but it's not a very practical way to play all the time. You may be hearing a tone difference in part because when you put your top teeth on the mouthpiece, the vibrations from the mouthpiece go through your teeth and into your skull. This doesn't happen as much when you take your teeth off the mouthpiece. This is also the same you hear your voice differently than other people do. If you've ever recorded your voice and listened back, you'll notice it sound differently than the way you normally hear yourself.

    Anyway, the reason you shouldn't use just the lip is because it's much easier for the jaw to apply pressure than just the lips by themselves. Not only can they apply more force, but you have a greater degree of control over how much pressure they can apply. You don't want a lot of pressure but you don't want none either. It's going to be harder to find that in between with just the lips. Also, you jaw is stronger and isn't likely to fatigue. Depending on how long you play, your lips will fatigue and you'll have a harder time trying to use the right amount of pressure.

    In regards to the neckstrap, the mouthpiece should go straight into the mouth. If you hold your head upright and bring the horn up to you, often times, at least with alto, the neck and mouthpiece will go in at an angle, kind of how you would play clarinet. Go watch some video of David Sanborn on YouTube to see what I mean. For me, to get the mouthpiece to go in straight, I need to lower my neckstrap and dip my head just a little. And I mean just a little, you don't want to do it a lot because it will constrict the throat and air column. But a little is OK. This is more for standing up. When sitting, the horn is at a slightly different angle (because the bow of the horn isn't as close to the body) and can come directly into the mouth without needing to dip your head.

    Now about the embouchure. There are different schools of thought but I'll share my opinions. You shouldn't really "roll in" your lower lip. Yes, some lip covers the teeth but I think that thinking of it as rolling the lip in over the bottom teeth is the wrong way to think about it. Ideally, the lower lip point more or less straight up. When it come in contact with the reed, some if it will naturally turn out and some of it will turn in. Imagine that you're looking at your lips from the side that that the lower lip if forming the letter "T". Kind of like that.

    I also don't like the puckering of the lips. This is kind of what is call the "Teal" embouchure named after saxophonist Larry Teal. He advocates this method in the book "The Art of Saxophone Playing". He describes the embouchure as kind of being like a rubber band that applies pressure equally to all sides of the mouthpiece. There's an alternative called the "Allard" method named after Joe Allard. His embouchure applies mostly vertical pressure from the jaw. The sides of the mouth only apply as much pressure as needed to keep air from escaping. I'm not going to tell you do do one or the other, but that's something you might want to experiment with, the amount of pressure you apply from the corners.

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    Distinguished SOTW Coffee Guru milandro's Avatar
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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    very sound (pun intended) advise fro Warp X!

    Embouchure techniques vary a great deal (lip out for example as apposed to lip in) and the effect of any technique depends also on the variation among people and their physical differences.

    A few days ago I went to see Joshua Redman who appeared to have a firm embouchure somewhat towards the tip of the mouthpiece but when he was not playing I noticed that his underlip is very full and protruded forward so, when he closes the mouth around the mouthpiece as he does in the pictures, there has to be a very large " cushion" going directly under the reed which will probably be responsible for his extremely lush and extended subtones.

    Some educators will tell you that you need to put the teeth on top of the mouthpiece and other ones will prefer you build the muscles of both upper and lower lip. The result is that some people hardly ever mark the mouthpieces with their teeth while other dig deep grooves. There are many ways to get to Rome.


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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    evilfeline007,

    There are fewer hard-and-fast rules in saxophone playing than there are in clarinet playing. I have had problems with biting, and on sax, I learned over time to push my bottom lip out so I wouldn't destroy it. Eventually I adapted that embouchure to clarinet, and although I get a decent enough tone to not stink up the place in an orchestra (with fulltime clarinetists), the tradeoff is I don't have much range above high E. I know some guys, though--even cats who can play the *%&! out of clarinet--who have made it work.

    So... I think that on the sax especially, you have to go with what works. If you can play with your teeth off the mouthpiece and still play with good tone and articulation, maybe that's what works for you. You might ask your teacher, specifically, about breathing... in my experience, biting is usually a symptom of inadequate air support, and even if you THINK you're doing it right, you might find that you benefit from some attention to it.

    Good luck!

    Edit: Milandro's photos are a perfect illustration of the embouchure position I'm talking about. It's easiest on tenor, but you can adapt it to all the saxes.
    "Nothing is worse for a musician than getting an opportunity you aren't prepared for." - Quincy Jones

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    As the diva stated, there are a different approaches to embouchure for the sax, the primary schools being exemplified by Larry Teal and Joe Allard. Often they'll be some controversy over which is best, but in reality there are excellent players who use both. Really, it boils down to what's comfortable for you and still allows you to avoid the bad habits, like biting. I use a double lip embouchure from clarinet to bari, and, of course, my teeth never touch the top of the mouthpiece. For me, this approach seems to help me with doubling, avoids biting and it's comfortable. Wheteher it would work for you, I can't say. I suggest you do some reading, I like Larry Teal, others like Joe Allard, and there are more. Bottom line, in my opinion it is not necessary to have your teeth touching the top of the mouthpiece.

  9. #9

    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    it is possible you have your underteeth to close to the reed which is causing the squeeks!!!!

  10. #10

    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Warp x... it's a YAS 23 with its original mouthpiece.. it's a rental and I'm not really a fan of it. Even when my teacher plays it with his mouthpiece who sounds awesome on his selmer, my yas sounds squeaky and tinny in the upper range (not that he actually squeaks but just that high-pitched thin sound). i've adjusted the thumb rest and this has helped though i find my thumb gets sore.

    agent 27... thanks for that visual on the lower lip... that is- as it turns out- what i've been doing.. my bottom lip is kind of 'squished' between my teeth and reed rather than rolled 'over' my teeth. I actually don't hear much difference between top teeth on and off and even so my sound is sooooo far from being acceptable still that I don't put too much wager on that right now anyways. My primary concern was that when I play a piece (even a very short piece) with my top teeth touching the mouthpiece I almost instantly start biting and just can NOT drop my jaw and still play in tune or without leaking air whereas when I keep my teeth off the top (only hovering about 1mm or 2 above) it's like it engages my bottom lip muscles and the only time I squeak is when I've lost my 'form' because my lips got tired. Everytime I squeak I've been freezing and usually all it takes is either for me to a. take a breath or b. tighten my lips a little. It's almost by using my top lip muscles it automatically engages the rest of my muscles and I automatically drop my jaw and open my throat. My lips do fatigue but i can play for an hour which i think is pretty good considering the length of time i've have on the sax

    spike... see my above note to agent. I guess when it boils down to it... I can play for 3x longer with the teal type embouchure and my top teeth just slight off the mpc than with anything else i've tried (including teal with teeth on) and it's the only form of embouchure that keeps me from biting so maybe I just need to stick with that for now. Maybe once my lip gets stronger it'll be easier for me to use another form without biting.

    bari sax diva... i think you're totally right about my breathing. I have spoken to my teacher about it. Last week when i went to my lesson I had a congested nose and it made my biting and squeaking problems much, much worse and occasionally when my tone starts to go I realise I haven't taken a breath in a while. lol. In the end I think he's a lot less concerned about any problems I bring because he thinks the world of me. He's used to school children that never practise and I'm not sure he knows what to do with me as we go blazing through all the method books each class. I tell him i squeak too much and he feels I don't squeak enough for someone that's played as little as I have..lol


    either way... thanks to all of you for all your insight again... you've given me some names and things to google and youtube (which i will) and I'll talk to my teacher about some of those concepts as well. MUCHO GRACIAS!!!

  11. #11

    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    so i thought i'd share how my teacher ended up helping me resolve a lot of issues mentioned....

    first of all, he said that because i have a long upper body and keep a very straight posture, the reason the sax was uncomfortable and wobbling around when i play notes like middle C, C# or B was because I was using my left hand to steady (which i already knew)... he got me to lean forward more so the bell of the sax was resting against my leg and therefore sturdying it. That also miraculously solved my biting issue.

    as for the squeaking... it was the reed placement. He moved it up and I stopped squeaking. Next week he'll switch me to 2.5's.

    i'm still lacking some breath control.. i tend to overblow my notes a lot but teacher says i'm being to hard on myself.. lol

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Can we lose the term "biting" and replace it with "resting" instead? You shouldn't chomp down, simply rest your upper teeth on the horn so your embouchure always knows where the mouthpiece is. There shouldn't be any advantage to not resting your teeth on the piece. Any beneficial effect you get from "floating" can be achieved by not floating. I have yet to hear a player who floats have good intonation...plus usually you can see the piece moving around in the players mouth, looks like your fellating the sax.

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Here is a very interesting discussion of double lip playing by Jean Toussaint who played with Art Blakey.

    http://www.john-robert-brown.com/art-blakey.htm

    Excerpt: When I got to Berklee they made me change it. I had to play single. But I was using way too much pressure, so I was really hurting myself, biting way too much, with too much jaw pressure. I hadn't developed the lip muscles. Donald Harrison and Branford Marsalis both played double embouchure, because they'd studied with [clarinettist] Alvin Baptiste in New Orleans. I said, 'But that's how I used to play!'

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Jimmy Heath also discusses the double lip in this interview in a brief comment shown here.

    http://jazztimes.com/articles/27422-...elodies-please

    I have a young student, Antonio Hart, who practices, and he’s working on his vibrato. He can play in the Johnny Hodges field and he can play in the Cannonball Adderley field. He’s very flexible. Once in a while he’ll use the double-lip embouchure like Hodges. Branford Marsalis also used a double embouchure and gets a warm sound out of the instrument. I was talking to Sonny Rollins about that the night before last. See, once in a while he does that too. But it hurts, man, especially when you’ve got false teeth. It cuts through my lip. I can’t use no double embouchure, man. I’ll never be a Hodges.

  15. #15

    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    evilfeline007,

    In my experience a reed squeaks when it gets old. A reed that is too old also creates havoc with intonation.

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    Forum Contributor 2014 patmiller's Avatar
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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    I reckon you are doing the right thing to experiment and ask advice. No two mouths are the same and there is no such thing as the "right" embouchure (in my opinion). As others have warned though, it's not always the embouchure that causes problems of squeaks, fatigue and abrasion. Keep working on it until you find what is right for you.
    Pleasing everyone is impossible; pissing everyone off is a piece of cake.

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Quote Originally Posted by DXCamp View Post
    evilfeline007,

    In my experience a reed squeaks when it gets old. A reed that is too old also creates havoc with intonation.
    I see no correlation between a reed's old age and squeeking, I would go as far as to say the opposite, actually.
    But I agree with the second part of your statement. When the reed gets "wiggly" it gives me a case of the lazy larynx.

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kritavi View Post
    Here is a very interesting discussion of double lip playing by Jean Toussaint who played with Art Blakey.

    http://www.john-robert-brown.com/art-blakey.htm

    Excerpt: When I got to Berklee they made me change it. I had to play single. But I was using way too much pressure, so I was really hurting myself, biting way too much, with too much jaw pressure. I hadn't developed the lip muscles. Donald Harrison and Branford Marsalis both played double embouchure, because they'd studied with [clarinettist] Alvin Baptiste in New Orleans. I said, 'But that's how I used to play!'
    I know that former Lincon Center Jazz Orchestra lead alto Wess Anderson also studied with Batiste and played double lip. It's a different beast. I know Wess took in a lot less mouthpiece to get it to work. I tried it and had to give it up because my upper lip was just hurting too much.

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    Distinguished SOTW Coffee Guru milandro's Avatar
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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Quote Originally Posted by patmiller View Post
    I reckon you are doing the right thing to experiment and ask advice. No two mouths are the same and there is no such thing as the "right" embouchure (in my opinion). As others have warned though, it's not always the embouchure that causes problems of squeaks, fatigue and abrasion. Keep working on it until you find what is right for you.
    I think these are really wise words and anybody who thinks that there has to be a " standard " embouchure for every different person has never observed the difference in human features !

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    Default Re: do the top teeth have to touch the mouthpiece?

    Quote Originally Posted by Agent27 View Post
    I know that former Lincon Center Jazz Orchestra lead alto Wess Anderson also studied with Batiste and played double lip. It's a different beast. I know Wess took in a lot less mouthpiece to get it to work. I tried it and had to give it up because my upper lip was just hurting too much.
    The op is not talking about double embuchure, he's talking about floating his teeth (not touching anything) and playing.

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