“What is it that got you into playing the sax?” is a question that I’ve been asked countless times. My answer may be the same as many of you or not; it really doesn’t matter. The fact is we’re all here playing the BEST musical instrument in existence! For me, it’s the sound that sold me to my life of saxitute (yeah it’s not a real word but run with me on it!). I can even pinpoint it to a specific track; “Your Latest Trick” by Dire Straits released in 1986. The tone from Michael Brecker’s tenor owned my ears, the fuse was lit and I just had to know why I liked it so much.
I have been playing the glorious horn for 32 years and overall quite happy with my sound which for my critical ear (sometimes hyper critical) is a good place to be. So what is it that gives us a sound that we like? Oh where to start! There are multiple takes on this. This is just from my experience of playing, teaching and working at a woodwind specialist shop. I’ve picked up a few things along the way, so let’s start by talking about saxophone mouthpieces!
There is no silver bullet. Slapping an expensive mouthpiece on your sax isn’t going to cut it.
The mouthpiece is a crucial part in developing your sound. This is a fact so it’s vital to find the right one for you. Before choosing a mouthpiece ask yourself what type of sound do you like/want? Different mouthpieces will deliver different results. If you like jazz and want to play lead alto in a big band a Selmer ‘S80’ C* ebonite mouthpiece just simply won’t cut it. If you’re into playing in a concert band, wind ensemble or classical sax quartet then the Selmer is perfect. For a bright contemporary sound you would want to try a selection of high baffle mouthpieces such as the Jody Jazz ‘DV’ and ‘Jet’ series, Theo Wanne ‘Durga’ and ‘Shiva’ models. For jazz a great place to start is with the classic Meyer and Otto Link ebonite mouthpieces.
We are spoilt for choice these days so given the opportunity try as many mouthpieces as you can. However, before you do this (and I say this to my students) stick with your student Yamaha ‘4C’ mouthpiece for a couple of years before you go down this rabbit hole. You really need to have your chops (embouchure) in good shape before moving on to professional mouthpieces. The wider tips and chambers will be a struggle for you if you don’t.
Once you’ve chosen a mouthpiece the real working begins. There are no shortcuts!!