Overshooting notes on saxophone (especially Concert F) is really common for beginner Alto and Tenor Saxophone players.
You think you are doing everything right: the fingering is perfect, your embouchure looks okay, you took a deep enough breath, but out pops a higher partial and you are stumped.
You look into changing your reed, buying a new mouthpiece, practicing hours more, yet you still get the higher partial.
Why Overshooting Notes on Saxophone is So Common
Beginner saxophonists tend to “bite” to get the note to respond when it doesn't initially come out.
Biting means that you are bunching your chin muscles (which loses their support), and applying too much pressure with your bottom teeth into the heart or the middle of the reed.
The most problematic notes are D (4th line) for alto saxophone, and G (above the staff) for tenor saxophone (both are Concert F).
This biting habit will not only prevent you from getting the Concert F pitch to come out cleanly, but will also affect your ability to consistently play in the extreme high and low registers of the saxophone.
Another reason the Concert F pitch does not speak is because the actual pitch is NOT heard in the ears (and mind) first, before attempting to play it.
Really important point – the saxophone does not play by itself. You also can't just press down the keys and expect it to play. You need to hear the pitch first, be able to replicate it by singing it, then attempt to play it on the instrument. Skipping this step of hearing the pitch first will set you up for future problems playing in tune as well as expanding your range both low and high.
How to avoid overshooting D and G
In the following video, I go over a couple of quick solutions to help you play Concert F cleanly and more consistently on the saxophone.
First and foremost, make sure your instrument is in good working condition: no leaks in the pads (especially the D pad); the octave key lever on the neck is not bent **, etc.
Here's what you need to do:
- Check your lip position – think “F” or “V” to form your bottom lip. Don't over-curl or under-curl your lip. You will also notice your natural chin position.
- Make sure your chin is not bunching up. (I tried to show this in the video, but it did not seem to be clear enough) Say the word, “pew” or “Eeewww”. Notice how your chin goes up and your corners feel weak. (This is what you don't want your saxophone embouchure to feel like!)
- Play a Concert F on the piano, or a tuner that produces pitches, and really hear it in your head.
- Sing the note and make sure you are matching pitch. (Notice what the inside of your mouth is doing.)
- Play it on the saxophone, imitating what the inside of your mouth was like when singing.
- Practice the note through long tones and interval exercises to build muscle memory for how your oral cavity should form.
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**When the octave key lever is bent, it tends to keep the main octave key open all the time, instead of only opening up for notes higher than G# above the staff. This is an easy fix that your repair person can do quickly.
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