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I recently decided that I wanted to learn the saxophone and purchased one online. I've been working my way through the basics (embouchure, starting notes, etc) and I've noticed that the notes are not quite what I would expect. The notes, especially ones played with the octave key in place, sound wet. I've looked around online and the only suggestions I've found say that I should try switching the reed for a different one. I tried that today and it seemed like it might have worked initially, but within a couple of notes it sounded off again. I've cleaned out the instrument to make sure that there's not a lot of spit in it, but that didn't seem to have any effect.

I'm curious. Is this something common for a newer player and instrument and I'm personally doing something wrong, or is this a sign of something wrong with the instrument and I should have it looked at by someone more skilled?

Update

I've recorded myself playing a couple of notes. You should be able to listen to it here. (Apologies for the terrible quality. It's the best I could manage.) https://1drv.ms/u/s!AtQShntvuQPwg5Es_zx-PCyiAtlHmw

To be completely honest, it doesn't sound quite as bad in the recording as it sounds for me when I play. Also, after reading the answers below, I did notice that after playing for half an hour, there was a lot of spit in the mouthpiece, so I'm starting to think that might be the problem.

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    "sound wet" -- please describe by analogy to other sounds. – Carl Witthoft Jan 18 '17 at 12:36
  • @CarlWitthoft I honestly can't think of a better analogy. endorph suggested bubbly which is probably the closest I can come up with. Once I'm finished with work for the day, I'll try to get an audio sample. – TailsFox88 Jan 18 '17 at 17:22
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There's a number of possible reasons, but it does depend on what you mean by sounding wet.

If you know another sax player, ask them to play it (using their mouthpiece/reed combo). If it's fine, then you know it's you. Depending on the sax you bought, it may be the saxophone.

The specific reed might be the problem, or you might be playing on reeds that are too soft. A hard reed will make it sound breathy and hard to play, so that's probably not the issue right now.

If there's spit/condensation in the thing, it will sound bubbly or gurgly (if that's a word). Generally sucking back on the mouthpiece will clear that up.

It could also be an embouchure thing. Tone can take a while to develop, and there aren't really any shortcuts.

If you post a recording, we might be able to narrow things down. Otherwise, see if you can find another sax player who can help you out. You'll probably also get told to find a teacher, which isn't the worst idea in the world.


Here's an example of reeds that are too hard and too soft. It's taken from a video from the US Army Field Band called The Saxophone Standard. The whole thing is two hours long, but might be worth a look.

  • Sounding bubbly is a good way of describing it. I'll see what I can do about getting a recording tomorrow. Also, I unfortunately don't know any other sax players, but I do have a music store nearby I might be able to take it to. – TailsFox88 Jan 18 '17 at 7:55
  • Music stores don't necessarily have people on the staff who are experts in everything they sell, but they do usually know who the music teachers are - for the obvious reason that music teachers create their next generation of customers! – user19146 Jan 18 '17 at 8:20
  • I have uploaded a recording. – TailsFox88 Jan 19 '17 at 4:22
  • The Saxophone Standard is a great resource, and I recommend it to everyone that is interested in the saxophone, or plays it already, even advanced students – Mafii Dec 14 '17 at 14:17
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That doesn't sound too bad for a beginner. But it does sound like you need some lessons. A teacher will also be able to check your instrument over of course. But mainly they'll advise on embouchure and breathing.

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It appears that your embouchure is not yet well developed, which is perfectly normal for a new player. To improve, you need to slowly work on it.
Scrap all that online stuff which asks you to roll over your entire lip and bite. If you only use part of the lip and make it firm, you will have a much more free-blowing sound. Also, with notes such as D(your first note with octave key) are very hard to sound bright on. To obtain a brighter sound, raise the tongue in the back of the mouth(touch your molars with your tongue) to speed up the airstream, hence improving dynamic range and tome.
Reeds and mouthpieces are there to enhance your sound, not there to provide the foundation.

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I've been playing for 11 years. This sounds like embescoure problem. You really have to bite (with your mouth and firm cheeks) especially on the high notes to achieve the right tone.

The velocity comes from your diaprahgm, not the cheeks or mouth. Not enough air will result in a foggy or flat tone.

Also reeds, I try many while I practice because not everyone one is good, but some reeds let me achieve a certain quality over others. Start with a 2.5, below that is real bland.

Also sometimes the instrument is cold, it can be literally unplayable.

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    You've been playing for 11 years and you think you should achieve high notes by clamping down on the reed? That's just plain wrong. Advice as to reed strenght also wrong. The proper strength depends on the choice of mouthpiece as well as the ability of the person playing to handle a given reed. – Carl Witthoft Jan 18 '17 at 12:38
  • How long have you been playing Carl, what's your advice. How is this a even a question that could be right or wrong? It's a measure of quality. I do this every day. – user34315 Jan 18 '17 at 12:52
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    I've got 20 yrs of single-reed experience in my back pocket. I've worked with many highly qualified teachers. "Bite down" on the reed or mouthpiece is never a correct way to play. – Carl Witthoft Jan 18 '17 at 14:04
  • We can split hairs Carl, but here's the thing. You use your jaw and your mouth. You have a firm mouth in the high notes and a loose, open, wide mouth for low notes. These are just words, it's not as simple as "bite down" but that's what I would describe it as. As the OP gets better and develops a stronger mouth the sax won't sound as shitty and he will understand what user 34315 meant. He does not need to pay for anything, lessons repair or gear, like you would reccomend. – user34315 Jan 18 '17 at 23:03
  • This is precisely why he needs a teacher. YOU know what you mean by 'bite down'. ... – Laurence Payne Dec 13 '17 at 12:21

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