Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

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    Matty Bannond's Avatar
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    Question Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Hi,

    I'm looking for some help. I switched from alto to tenor about three years ago. I have about six years playing experience in total.

    To my great shame, I am still not able to get decent low notes out on tenor (couldn't really on alto either). I've tried everything, been through teachers and tutorials, practised, practised and practised. Somehow, I can't solve it. There is either about my physiological or psychological makeup that prohibits it. I think I bite a bit (I've tried to stop, I can't!) and have a fairly weak airflow (I've tried to improve, but it's not enough!). For this reason, I'm looking for a work-around solution.

    Could any of the more experienced players on the forum tell me if there are mouthpiece features that might support me in getting full / more reliable low notes on tenor sax? Facing, tip opening, table, baffle etc? Or recommend a manufacturer / brand / model that might help me with this? It's really frustrating, as I feel like I'm a solid mid-level hobby musician -- but this makes me sound like a total beginner!

    Thanks in advance!
    Matty

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    I feel your pain. No, really. There is no workaround or magic trick.
    Even with a leak free horn, the 3 lowest notes (C, B and Bb) are not easy.
    You have given the answer partially yourself. Biting and a not sufficient airstream is part of the problem.
    Find a setup (mouthpiece/reed combination) that feels comfortable in all ranges. Make sure the horn is leak free.
    Then start your daily practice on low Bb. Itís about finding the right balance between lip tension, lip position, tongue arching, thinking of the note/hearing it beforehand (in short embouchure) and airflow/pressure. These notes are difficult to start, especially soft. But they need lots of (controlled) air, and the right lip tension.
    I had not been playing for 3 years. Coming back to the sax I started solely on low Bb until I was able to control it somehow. Then moving up to B and C. it was tedious, but in the end it pays off. Itís the saxís fundamental note.

    At first, blow from your belly, hard enough so you can make that Bb come out. It may not sound pretty. Then try different approaches embouchure wise. The position and shape of your tongue. Itís all so personal. Nobody can give you an exact recipe. What helps me is focusing on lots of air, thinking of a full ďOĒ shaped sound and make sure my lips are sealing enough. I have the tendency if I play low notes to loosen my embouchure too much.

    I know itís a lot to think about. But if you persist, it will become easier and in the end, you wonít even have to think about it.

    Once you have that under control, start overtones on those notes to help out the full range. I can imagine not doing overtone exercises if you have poor control over your fundamentals.

    BTW, you didn't mention what your setup is. Could help us out...

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    SoulMate's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    extra question: are you able to go down to low Bb chromatically?

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Matty Bannond View Post
    I am still not able to get decent low notes out on tenor (couldn't really on alto either). I've tried everything, been through teachers and tutorials, practised, practised and practised. Somehow, I can't solve it. There is either about my physiological or psychological makeup that prohibits it. I think I bite a bit (I've tried to stop, I can't!) and have a fairly weak airflow (I've tried to improve, but it's not enough!). For this reason, I'm looking for a work-around solution.

    Could any of the more experienced players on the forum tell me if there are mouthpiece features that might support me in getting full / more reliable low notes on tenor sax? Facing, tip opening, table, baffle etc? Or recommend a manufacturer / brand / model that might help me with this? It's really frustrating, as I feel like I'm a solid mid-level hobby musician -- but this makes me sound like a total beginner!

    Thanks in advance!
    Matty
    What are you currently using (mouthpiece, reeds, horn)?
    Go for The Tone,

    g



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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    I played alto for nearly 40 years before picking up the tenor, and struggled for awhile on those same low notes. I did two things that have just about eliminated this problem for me (except when I get lazy).
    1. Take more mouthpiece in your mouth than you are used to doing on the alto. Take a look at where the reed first contacts the side rails, and target this area for embouchure placement.
    2. I never had to do this on alto, but on tenor, it also helped to go to the Larry Teal type recommended embouchure where you think of drawing the strings on a coin purse around the mouthpiece and reed. This seemed to let the reed vibrate more easily on the low notes.

    As for mouthpieces, you could look at a large chamber mouthpiece with a long lay. That can help the low notes, but it can make the highest notes more of a challenge, so I would try steps 1 and or 2 above before looking for a different mouthpiece.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2010 Canadiain's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Pardon the stupid/ obvious question, but have you had the horn checked for leaks? If its leaking then it wont make much difference what you attach to the "pointy end", you will struggle to consistently hit the lows.

    Have other players tried your horn with their mouthpieces and been able to get the bottom notes to speak easily?

    I may growl occasionally, but I never bite

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by SoulMate View Post
    extra question: are you able to go down to low Bb chromatically?
    This, to me, is an important exercise. Play a middle G without biting and with good air support, and go down to a Gb-F (slurred). Continue to the low Bb.
    I personally wouldn't concentrate on the lowest notes alone, until I could play, slurred and slowly, down to the Bb.
    It doesn't have to be from G to Bb, you can do it in, say, five note groupings, e.g. G-D, then Gb-Db, F-C, simile.
    Slow, good support, slurred. Concentrate on tone. Take your time and concentrate on each note.
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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    HI everyone,

    Wow, that was fast! Thanks, it's great to know there's such a strong community.

    I'll try to answer everything in one go...

    - I can get down to Bb chromatically (slurring, sometimes tonguing once reed is warmed up). I've also tried those exercises and keeping those pointers in mind. They've helped, but never quite got me all the way to where I should be. That's why I'm looking to improve my setup to help me get across the line. I think my mouthpiece setup might be working against my natural setup.
    - I currently have a Meyer 5M mouthpiece. I play a B&S Blue Label tenor saxophone from the mid-80s. I generally use Vandoren 2.5 reeds, mostly from the red series but sometimes ZZ.
    - I wasn't aware of the Larry Teal technique, and will look it up.
    - The horn was checked fairly recently and was leak-free. I can get it checked again or ask someone else to give it a go, but this problem has followed me throughout my saxophone-ing so I think it's fair to say the problem is me.

    Thanks again for your encouragement and advice. Like I said, I'm grateful for tips for practising but am really looking for a setup / mouthpiece change that might counteract my weakness and give me more value for my practice.

    Cheers,
    Matty

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Matty Bannond View Post
    Thanks again for your encouragement and advice. Like I said, I'm grateful for tips for practising but am really looking for a setup / mouthpiece change that might counteract my weakness and give me more value for my practice.
    Matty, you commented that you are aware of biting and weak air support. Why not work on those as well?

    One problem with finding a setup that enhances low end response is that it will compromise some other aspect.

    Gíluck with your quest.
    Go for The Tone,

    g



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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Hi Dr. G,

    I totally agree -- and have been working on those aspects for several years, I promise! But it has not yet got me to a point where the low notes sound good or are stable.

    Cheers,
    Matty

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    There's no reason the setup you have can't play the full range of the horn (though the reed would be on the soft side for that small of a tip opening *for me*). Especially down low, that is a pretty soft setup and should really be helping you play down low.

    I struggled with the lower range of my horn for years. It took a conscious effort, and endless patience with myself, to overcome it. It starts with being totally relaxed, especially in the mouth/jaw/throat, and with good air support/air stream. Think TAHHHHH when attacking those notes. Softly, cleanly. As others have said, make sure your horn is leak-free... you can confirm by having another player try your horn, if that's a possibility.
    "Can't never could."

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Yeah, those low notes are tough...

    My Bb and B are the culprits for me, C and C# not so much. B is yet easier than that Bb, which is the real stinker. They sound good once they're going but difficult to start at say p or pp. Must have a leak-less horn and the linkages properly adjusted. Also must be careful with the position of that left hand pinky finger playing those notes. Very easy for me to get lazy and hit a palm note, ie D, Eb, and or F when using that pinky finger. I chalk that up to my starting and playing alto sax solely up to about half-a-dozen years or so. Old habits die hard... didn't have to worry about that on the alto. Now I have to be concerned with breathing properly (meaning better), looser embouchure, reading the notes, and that blasted hand position when going for those low notes!

    Btw - I use those lowest 3 notes to test out a new-to-me horn for leaks and proper adjustment of that B-Bb linkage. Can tell you a lot about the shape the horn is in. If you can get those started at a relatively soft sound and attack, well, at least in my experience, the rest of the horn seems to check and sound out quite well. Of course, your mileage may vary...

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    If the horn is leak-free, then I agree with you that the issue is either down to your technique and/or possibly something going on with the mouthpiece. Did you buy your Meyer 5M new or used? Is it possible it was refaced to a more open tip before you bought it and is not actually a 5? If not, maybe there's an issue with the facing?

    You could travel to a music store that has a decent selection of mouthpieces (or find some friends that will let you play theirs) and then try several other pieces to see if that helps. As for which specific pieces to try, I don't know of any that are specifically designed to make playing low notes easier, as most makers strive to produce a balanced piece that is playable throughout the range of the instrument. I'd start by choosing a style that fits your sound concept (chamber size and baffle) and then try several of that basic type.

    However, the best solution would probably be to book a few lessons with a good teacher who could check your equipment and give you some tips on technique.
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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Presuming your horn is regulated properly and the pads aren't leaking, the quickest route to better playing with biting and low air support is by using a much softer reed and smaller tip opening mouthpiece. You're probably biting unconsciously to manually narrow the tip opening of the mouthpiece. The softer reed would vibrate more easily at lower levels of air flow.

    Just as an experiment, try out a Yamaha 4C or 4CM mouthpiece along with a Rico orange box 1.5 strength reed. I would be you'd find it easier to play the lower notes on the horn. You can get the Rico reeds individually at many stores or in a 3 pack from Amazon. The Yamaha 4C is the cheapest decent mouthpiece you can buy.

    At a minimum, you'll overcome any psychological obstacles to playing low notes. One last possibility is that the G# screw might not be adjusted properly. You can test for this by trying to play a low D and pressing the G# key. If the tone changes, then the screw isn't properly adjusted.

    Good luck!

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    All things being equal, a mouthpiece with a longer facing will produce the lowest notes more easily than a similar mouthpiece with a shorter facing, as was noted above. But it will have an impact on how the horn plays on the rest of the range as well -- there is no free lunch here. All setup choices entail compromise.

    Fwiw, the reed with the easiest low-register response that I've ever encountered, cane or synthetic, is the Legere Signature. Use the softest strength possible that still enables you to hit the palm key notes decently and play the entire horn in tune.

    I recommend a lot of overtone practice, focusing on just the first three harmonics (i.e., the fundamental and the first two overtones): Bb1-Bb2-F2; B1-B2-F#2; C1-C2-G2. In your case, the point of this exercise is not to improve tone quality or assist with altissimo (although those benefits may occur); the purpose is to get used to how the different notes feel in your embouchure. Once you are well-accustomed to the difference in mouth and throat position between low Bb and middle Bb and/or F, hopefully you'll be better to prevent the notes from jumping up accidentally.

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    I agree with MrBlue

    To me...despite the supposed size of your mpc it sound like a problem with a piece that is just too open. Or your piece may have a really bad facing...but it would have to be a really bad one to not play low notes.
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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by LostConn View Post
    Fwiw, the reed with the easiest low-register response that I've ever encountered, cane or synthetic, is the Legere Signature.
    +1. Absolutely true, in my experience also. However, much as I love that low note response with the Legere Sigs, I can't get the overall tonal flexibility that I can with a cane reed, so I stick with the cane. Again, it's too much of a trade off, at least in my case. But Matty, if you're looking for an equipment 'fix' then it might be worth giving the Legere Signature reed a try. I can practically guarantee you'll find it noticeably easier to hit those low notes.

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Given that you have had problems with this range on the alto too - I would say it's you! You need to work on your embouchure - (relaxed but firm, think of a rubber band that is just tight enough surrounding the mouthpiece and reed) - and your breath support. Make sure you are supporting - this means breathing with your belly, keeping your upper chest relaxed and filling it with air from the bottom, then expanding your lower torso when you play so that the entire air column is supported from the bottom.

    If you are able to play a note by going chromatically down to it, hold the lower note for a while and try adjusting your embouchure and air support structure to make the sound as big and round as you can. Then try to play the note directly. I would do this working down from, say, F and only going down one or two notes a day.

    You will have to work this area, it sounds like you have some bad habits that you need to overcome. Don't expect to fix it in a day; after all, you have had 6 years of doing it badly! Also, verify that your mouthpiece is OK - Meyers sometimes have bad tables, which can make this part of the horn difficult.
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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    If all your gear is in proper condition (mouthpiece too); addressing your admitted biting and poor air stream will fix your low end woes. Play it, sing it, play it. All above mentioned exercises are perfectly fine as long as youíre doing them correctly: step downs, slur downs, scales, long tones, overtones...
    Again, as long as your mouthpiece is true, maybe the ZZ isnít the right cut for you? Something that starts vibrating a bit easier but can still hold up to a hard attack. Donít ask me what that is, Iím just now climbing out of my own tenor reed quagmire.

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    Default Re: Help! Tenor Mouthpiece for Low Notes

    Quote Originally Posted by Matty Bannond View Post
    Hi,

    I'm looking for some help. I switched from alto to tenor about three years ago. I have about six years playing experience in total.

    To my great shame, I am still not able to get decent low notes out on tenor (couldn't really on alto either). I've tried everything, been through teachers and tutorials, practised, practised and practised. Somehow, I can't solve it. There is either about my physiological or psychological makeup that prohibits it. I think I bite a bit (I've tried to stop, I can't!) and have a fairly weak airflow (I've tried to improve, but it's not enough!). For this reason, I'm looking for a work-around solution.

    Could any of the more experienced players on the forum tell me if there are mouthpiece features that might support me in getting full / more reliable low notes on tenor sax? Facing, tip opening, table, baffle etc? Or recommend a manufacturer / brand / model that might help me with this? It's really frustrating, as I feel like I'm a solid mid-level hobby musician -- but this makes me sound like a total beginner!

    Thanks in advance!
    Matty
    Matty,

    Don't look at the mouthpieces, that's not your problem. You need to take more mouthpiece in your mouth and do the exercises on my blog. They're just for the embouchure and will help your tone right away. They're here: https://www.philbarone.com/blog/saxo...-the-saxophone

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