More on Delivering Air on Soprano Saxophone

In a previous post, I wrote about delivering air on soprano saxophone. To sum up what I said : solid air support from deep in the body goes a very long way to solving lots of typical playing issues, like thin tone and erratic intonation. Take the time to read it again.

But I also want to get more specific about some things.

For instance, the subtle and not so subtle physical adjustments ( or lack of adjustments) we make to the air column/ oral cavity when we play.

While sitting down, pick up your soprano and play a middle G, but create the air flow primarily with your mouth. Puff your cheeks out, don’t puff your cheeks out. And listen to the tone you get with each. Make your oral cavity smaller,by pinching in your cheeks and raising the back of your tongue. Listen carefully. Then make your oral cavity bigger by dropping your tongue a lot. Listen to the quality of the sound each of these positions produces. Listen to the how the pitch changes, or doesn’t change. Do this all again a few times.

Now, blow that G again, but this time consciously trying to involve your throat. Try to expand your throat passageway a little. Be careful. Don’t hurt yourself. Be gentle and try to “feel” it. Listen to the sound quality.

Then, stand up. Add your chest and abdomen and lower back muscles. Stand with your knees slightly bent, not locked upright. That bend will help you “feel” the lower back muscles as they support the full length of a now LONG air column. Try making adjustments: try to make the column narrower; then, less narrow; then, wider, bigger.  Do it playing quietly. Then do it playing a bit louder. Then do it playing a bit more loud.

Go slowly. Listen to the quality of sound each produces. When you hear qualities you like, note the conditions that were in play.

Note the conditions which felt more comfortable for you. Not :”easier” necessarily, but “solid” and “natural”.

We’re not speaking about embouchure or “chops” here, just about the varieties of air column conditions that are possible. They are not all equal. Some create  or allow opportunities; others negate or prohibit opportunities.

They are specific to player, to mouthpiece, to horn….. at least in degree.

What kind of “opportunities” am I speaking about?

Performance opportunities: tonal complexity or purity, solid intonation and pitch control, infinite nuances of both, plus attack and phrasing.

Listen to Sarah Vaughan sing. Her instrument is not just her vocal chords, but her amazing air column, which she configures and reconfigures to create infinite variations of tone color and depth. She makes dizzying  intervallic leaps seem like they are done effortlessly, and with beauty and style. She doesn’t just “make the note”, if you know what I mean.

The really great alto and tenor players do this too, but only a very few soprano players. Why is that?

Well, soprano is a lot smaller, of course, and that smaller bore makes it easier to just “blow” and sound ok in the middle of the horn. Of course, that gives rise to the ” the soprano is a beast” myth because players can’t really get away with “just blowing” up high and down low.

This is just the tip of this topic. The first thing to do is to conduct the above sequence of sound investigations, and more than once. Don’t try to decide anything. Let the sound and feel “tell you”. And be prepared to have that change over a short period of time.

As you discover one thing, everything else changes too.  Bring a fresh mind and a fresh pair of ears each time.