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I've recently gotten back into the saxophone (I play alto now, but learned on the soprano) and was wondering how to master vibrato. Any time I make even a slight change in my embouchure, it sounds awful.

I want to be able to play the sax more expressively, so I wanted to give a crack at vibrato. How do I work on my vibrato technique?

  • Related question for bassoon (at least also in the reed family). – guidot Mar 2 '16 at 7:50
  • I just noticed, that you had the same question for flute. Did you change the instrument in the mean time or do you try parallel? – guidot Mar 2 '16 at 8:56
  • @guidot Reed family instruments use very different techniques and concepts for vibrato. Saxophone vibrato is actually a more similar technique to brass instrument vibrato than the other reeds (especially bassoon). – NReilingh Mar 2 '16 at 13:30
  • @guidot I'm playing them both but have found that the embouchure for this seems to be really different. – Melanie Shebel Mar 3 '16 at 2:28
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I'll second one of the answers in the link provided by guidot. In the reed family, you're better off with little to no change in embouchure, but varying the air pressure and to some extent changing the mouthpiece angle relative to your jaw. Practice a lot :-) , and keep in mind that vibrato is not the go-to method of increasing expressivity/emotion in your sound. Consider, for example, the different tonal qualities between Sid Bechet and Coltrane on soprano sax.

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Vibrato on the saxophone is typically produced via a slight change in embouchure, at the lower lip. Pulsating the air stream is relevant to many other woodwinds, but not to saxophone.

The objective is to have as good of a tone when playing with vibrato as you do when playing with straight tone. So if you are having trouble, it is a good idea to start with general tone exercises on sax so that you have a stable and well-developed embouchure and tone concept. Part of this involves intonation — you should be able to make small adjustments to any given pitch you are playing to bring it in tune using your embouchure.

Vibrato is just a different application of the same technique. Once you have control over minor pitch corrections for a single note, with a consistent tone, it should be relatively easy to develop your vibrato technique from there — simply practice with a metronome at a very slow tempo and work towards developing control over both speed and "bandwidth" of vibrato, paying attention to reference recordings from various styles including jazz and classical playing.

You can also try searching on YouTube for more information and more thorough walkthroughs — there are a number of results for "saxophone vibrato" that may be helpful to you.

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I tend to wobble the bottom lip up and down slightly, so it gives a change of tone rather than a change of pitch. It's probably allowing more/less air through, changing the pressure. It is easily variable both in speed and depth, but certainly not changing the pitch. I daresay that pitch is also variable, but it's going to be a more advanced technique, with a great reliance on ears. There's nothing worse than someone playing a note, and wandering off it with a wide pitch vibrato - unless they know what they're up to!

EDIT: and before anyone says it's not right, I checked it against a tuner, and the vibrato is there, with NO change of pitch. Maybe it's unconventional, but it works for me...

EDIT 2: As pointed out correctly by Carl, this is far more of a tremolo effect than vibrato, although it is still effective.

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    There's no such thing as "vibrato without pitch change." Yeah, I know some dictionaries allow amplitude or timbre changes, but that's just wrong. What you're describing is 'tremolo.' – Carl Witthoft Mar 2 '16 at 15:38
  • @CarlWitthoft - you're absolutely right. However, a heck of a lot of musos mix up the two, mainly down to Mr. Fender, although the effect can be easily confused. There was a question on that a few months ago that raised some debate on this site. Anyway, it's what works for me! – Tim Mar 2 '16 at 15:44
  • @CarlWitthoft - just Googled sax tremolo, got alternating notes - and - lots of 'vibrato'... – Tim Mar 2 '16 at 15:51
  • No doubt :-) . I remember asking a band director how to do tremolo, because the rest of my section had been doing a trill. He said that alternating fingerings was ideal, but us poor non-string players had to trill otherwise. – Carl Witthoft Mar 2 '16 at 16:57

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