Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tonguing Your Way to a Great Sound!

One of my least favorite things to practice on the saxophone is tonguing. I'm note sure why, but I think it might have to do with the fact that it feels so physical, and the fact that I never been good at it.

Tonguing is, however, great for sound development and tightening the corners of your embouchure. The reason for this (and this is just my theory, not a scientific fact) is that every time the tonque touches the reed, it slightly pushes the mouthpiece forward, causing your embouchure to slightly tighten its grip.

To see it in another way, try this experiment: Take your left hand and grip your right. Next, try to pull your right hand out of the left hand's grip, but never letting your hands separate, and repeat this motion several times. You'll notice that your grip in the left hand gets slightly firmer as this yanking motion occurs. This is sort how tonguing works.

One exercise I like to do on soprano is to play a lot repetitive notes in the lower register. For example, as sixteenth notes play: DDDD,DDDD,DDDD,DDDD,DbDbDbDb,DbDbDbDb,DbDbDbDb,DbDbDbDb,BBBB,BBBB,BBBB,BBBB,

I'll repeat this exercise several times without taking a break, until I physically can't play it anymore, which I usually count as one set. In general, I like to do around four or five sets of this exercise. Buy the end you'll really notice you upper facial muscles and corners starting to burn, which is always a good sign.

As they say,"No pain, no gain."


  1. Sam...I definitely agree that articulation studies are truly important in regards to developing sound and embochure. A long time ago, I came a across a rare book called "The Norman Bates Method for Saxophone" which focused specifically on 'D' articulations. Da for accent, dit for stacatto and do for legato. After completeing the book, I found I had much more strength and flexibility as well as the ability to incorporate a variety of articulations. I use this book with many students and have had excellent results. It seems to be the most under-studied of techniques along w/ vibrato.

    Mel Martin

  2. How about getting down to the very basics before any articulation: ie: try forming and shaping your sound by pronouncing the letter O. As opposed to Tu or Ta on the first beginning of opening the vocal cavity when blowing and then add articulation. You'll find a more robust full tone to work with and shape with greater aural sonics and nuance. Also embouchere placement of the reed on inner flesh part of your lower lip adds wonders to upper register intonation control; and clarity . Another aid is to actually play a tune with just the mouthpiece itself to produce low end and high end pitch range sound. Example: start out with and low pitch O sound and slowly compress to a high pitch O sound with the mouthpiece only. It will dramaticaly will enhance all articulation and sound productions. Good Luck!

    Tony Waka

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  5. Thanks, some nice tips. I'm busy this week preparing for a Balkan festival where the music calls for lots of very fast tonguing and articulation. I normally play this repertoire on clarinet, but this week have been moved over to soprano to make way for a few 'stars', which should be fun.

    I find that although one works on tonguing and articulation etc, it's often in these more extreme situations that one discovers your weaker points ....... ouch!

  6. hey sam,

    i've found this exercise helpful for accuracy and control, which has been especially important for me, since the right half of my tongue has been numb since having a wisdom tooth extracted two years ago (no more classical playing for me):

    set the metronome any tempo between 60-84 or so. against that tempo, play legato quarters for one bar, quarter-triplets for one bar, eighths for one bar, eighth-triplets for one bar, etc until you cant go any faster. do the exercise again on staccato notes. in addition to repeated notes, you can play scales, thirds, arpeggios, etc. i'm hyper anal-rententive about the rhythmic accuracy in this exercise. it certainly isn't any fun, but pays huge dividends.

  7. Hi Chad,
    Thanks for the tip. I've practiced things similar to that. And it definitely works.

    Sorry to hear about your tongue. It's hard to imagine what that's like.

  8. Mel,

    That book sounds fascinating. I'm going to a search on it. Very curious to check it out.


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