The Sound of the Saxophone

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Saxophone By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Saxophone
Last updated: 03/09/2017
Tags: breathing techniques, developing a personal sound, effective performance, embouchure, tone quality

What's the first thing you hear when someone speaks? It will always be their voice. Then after that, you (subconsciously) focus on their choice of words, pronunciation, language, phrasing etc.

I believe that the exact same thing applies to any musical instrument, which means that the sound and tone you produce will always be the first thing that the audience hears. This could be the difference between someone liking and loving a musician's playing, and hence, why I feel it is important to make sure that your sound is something that is constantly being worked on and refined.

If you listen to all the great players, the one thing that they always have in common is a notable, distinguished and accomplished sound. Some of my personal favourite saxophonists' sounds are:

  • John Coltrane
  • Cannonball Adderley
  • Paul Desmond
  • Lee Konitz
  • Dexter Gordon
  • Joe Lovano
  • Ben Van Gelder
  • Miguel Zenon
  • Chris Cheek
  • Joel Frahm
  • Seamus Blake

A way to achieve a good quality sound on the saxophone is by listening to players whose sound you admire, and to try and mimic it as much as it is possible on your instrument during your practice. However, no matter what, you will always sound like 'yourself' and the main goal is to sound like the best version of you (who will be influenced by a variety of other musicians).

The main physical things that will affect your sound are:

  • Embouchure
  • Breathing and air control/support
  • Mouthpiece set-up (mouthpiece type/ material/ sizings, reed type/ strength/ material & ligature)
  • Saxophone

There are plenty of technical exercises to do to work on your sound and tone such as:

  • Long tones (various ways that you can do this, I advise asking musical peers and/or your teacher)
  • Overtones/harmonics/altissimo
  • Breathing exercises
  • Practising vibrato

Seamus Blake says in an interview, 'sound is very important to me and I feel that I can't play if I don't have the right sound.'

Alice Leggett Saxophone Teacher (North West London)

About The Author

I am a passionate and experienced saxophone teacher who has honed a highly efficient and patient approach to music instruction. I am motivated and pro-active and enjoy working with people to reach their goals.

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