I have recently received a series of questions about the saxophone and saxophone practise; I thought it would be useful to share the answers here for everyone in a series of blog posts.

Here's the third one...

3 - Tonguing up notes on a scale; can you help please?

If there is a problem, I always recommend breaking it down into it’s constituent parts. From there you can work out what is actually going wrong and then address it.

Part 1

Play the scale without tonguing - this is called “slurring”.

Note - when I slur I always start a phrase, or scale, by tonguing the very first note.

It is useful to practise your scales slurred as you then only need to focus on your finger movements and keeping a constant air flow.

If you discover any problems with your finger movements, you can then address those.

If you find that you can play the scale well whilst slurring it, without squeaks or other issues, then you know that your finger movements are not a problem.


Part 2

It is quite common for people to “squeak” on saxophone when they tongue a note. When you move your tongue in your mouth that effects how the air flows as it changes the shape and size of the chamber that the air flows through.

First of all, forget the scale and practise playing a long low G (all 3 fingers on the left hand). Whilst holding the note, practise repeatedly tonguing. Start slowly, then gradually build up the speed.

If you find that you are getting “squeaks” during this exercise then you know that this is something to work on more.

Developing this skill is a much bigger subject, but here’s two quick tips to try out:

  1. focus on making your tongue movement as fast as possible.
  2. When you touch the reed with your tongue, make the contact time as short as possible - imagine that the reed is red hot, that helps some people.

If you get no squeaks in the above exercise, practise it anyway! Working at tonguing speed is an incredibly useful exercise.


Part 3

It is possible to practise the exercises in Parts 1 and 2 without a problem but still have problems when you try to play a scale tonguing every note.

If this happens it is probably because you are not accurately co-ordinating your finger movements and the action of your tongue.

As with most saxophone practise you need to go slowly to resolve this. This seems counter intuitive, but to play fast you have to practise slowly!

Try this:

  • Play the scale you are working on VERY slowly - try 60 beats per minute (bpm), or slower.
  • Tongue every note.
  • Concentrate on hitting the reed with your tongue at the exact point of changing finger position for the next note in the scale.
  • Even though you are playing slowly, you need to make your finger movements at the point of changing notes as fast as possible.

When you can do the above accurately at a very slow speed, then repeat the exercise a bit faster.

Over time gradually increase the speed, but remember that with every rise in tempo you need to make sure that you’re executing the finger movements and tongue action with precision.