Sax set ups, Tone and Altissimo Notes

There are three questions that I get all the time.

1. What is your saxophone set up?

2. How do you get your tone?

3. How do you hit those high notes?

My goal is to answer these questions as best as possible!

Set ups: I have played on all different kinds of set ups, but I don't consider myself an expert on the the "Set Up" subject. My current alto set up is what I always wanted, a Yamaha CustomZ Black with a no name gold #7 mouthpiece I picked up from e-bay (see attached for pictures). I use the stock ligature due to the mouthpiece's odd shape. I play #2.5 Plasticover Reeds. There aren't too many pro players that I know of aside from Dave Koz that play on these, but I love them! I also play Vandoren #2.5 reeds (the plain ones, not the Java). Most pro horn players (and music stores) would swear you have to play professional (expensive) horns to get the professional sound, but I would disagree. Below are some videos of me on different setups, and if you listen close you'll realize I sound the same in all of them:

In this video I am playing a beginner model Vito Leblanc (painted purple) with a Berg Larsen 100/0 metal mouthpiece.

In this video I am playing a Yamaha CustomZ Black with a Belmonte #7 Metal Mouthpiece a Rovner like rubber ligature and a #2.5 Plasticover reed.

In this video I am playing a Yamaha CustomZ Black with a Beechler Custom Bellite #7 Metal Mouthpiece with a Rovner Eddie Daniels series ligature and a #2.5 Plasticover Reed. In this video I am playing an old (1965ish) Yanagisawa with a Belmonte #7 Metal Mouthpiece, a Rovner like rubber ligature and a #2.5 Plasticover reed.

In this video I am playing my current set up: a Yamaha CustomZ Black with a no name #7 China made mouthpiece using the stock ligature and a Plasticover #2.5 reed. My Tenor set up is a Yamaha YTS-62 with a Dukoff #8 mouthpiece, #2 Plasticover Reeds and a Rovner like rubber ligature which is my current set up and the set up I am using in this video:

I don't consider myself much of a Soprano player, but my soprano set ups are as follows: An Antiqua Winds gold with the stock mouthpiece and ligature(Runyon #6) and Vandoren #2.5 Reeds (which the set up I am using in the video below). I also play Schiller black and gold with the same mouthpiece set up.

I have discovered at the end of the day it doesn't matter what set up I use I still sound like me! Yes there are some differences as far being able to achieve high notes easier and more in tune, but as far as tone goes I haven't heard much difference in myself when I'm playing on a Berg Larsen, Beechler, Belmonte or the no name brand I'm playing now!

Tone: Your tone is vital!!! Without a good tone the rest is a waste of time! For those of you trying to develop a good tone, my advice is this: Identify a player that has the sound you want to achieve. Listen to that player as often as possible. Play along with their cds or videos every chance you get. Don't just play the notes. Try to imitate the inflections, the loud, the soft, the vibrato etc. Tone development comes through doing it. There is what I like to call a "Meantime". The "Meantime is the time between where you are right now and where you want to be (in other word the time it takes to achieve your goal). It is the vehicle that takes a beginner from beginner level to pro level! The "Meantime" is when it won't sound right (because you are still developing). It is the time where you experiment with different equipment, different mouth positions etc. Don't be afraid of sounding bad in the "Meantime". That's what it's for (workin' out the kinks)!!!

High notes/Altissimo notes: The biggest trick to achieving altissimo notes is hearing them before attempting to play them! I have attached an altissimo fingering chart. Please note that the fingering chart is useless if you can't hear the notes you are attempting in your head first. Altissimo notes are easier to achieve if you have the right equipment such as: stronger reeds (typically 2.5/Med hard or harder). You also need a mouthpiece that offers resistance. There are a huge range of "Jazz" mouthpieces that offer this quality. You will have to experiment! Most mouthpieces use a numbering system to indicate the chamber size (typically #3 through #12). As a rule of thumb #7 and lower will make it easier to achieve the high notes, but the smaller the chamber the more difficult it becomes to achieve lower notes. If you don't have a lot of money to spend, Rico Royal makes an awesome mouthpiece (Graphonite series (the gray one)) for around $35. Just as another side note: the altissimo range can be achieved without a "Jazz" mouthpiece (it's more difficult, but it can be done). When I first started experimenting with altissimo notes I was using a stock mouthpiece and a beginner model horn! Ok let's get started: Here we go, look at this fingering chart to see the note you want to achieve (start with high "A", it's one of the easiest altissimo notes to achieve). Play the note down an octave first. Hear the note you want to achieve in your head (sing it or whistle it if you can). Now go for it! The air will need to be pushed faster and you will have to lip up the same way you do when you are playing the high notes you already know how to play. Once again this is where the "Meantime" comes into play. There will be a "Meantime" when it sounds like you are cutting a cat's tale off with a dull butter knife, but keep experimenting!!! Squeak and squawk until you get the note, but don't be afraid to squeak and squawk!!! Once you hear the note, remember what you did to achieve the note (mouth position, how much air etc.). Stop the note. Try to hit again. Once you hit it again, remember what you did to achieve the note. Put the horn down for a second. Pick it back up and try to hit the note again. This may not be the "Proper" way to teach altissimo notes, but this is how I learned and it's how I've taught it for the past 15 years! Anyway, I hope this helps you out!!!



Thank God for what didn't happen!!!

I am recovering after dropping a $3,500 horn on the concrete! The good news is the damage was minimal. In over 24 years of playing, this makes only my second time dropping a saxophone. This event got me to thinking. How many day to day routines do we do without incident? Why does it take tragedy or loss to make us appreciate what we have??? Here's a thought, why not take time to thank God for the things that didn't happen? I know all my internet friends are grateful. I know you all thank God daily for everything he's done (and yes, there is a touch of sarcasm in this last sentence). But what about the things that didn't happen? What about the accident that didn't happen? What about the sickness you didn't get? You see where I'm going with this! After everyone left church today, I found myself playing and worshipping God. Just me and my dropped horn(lol!). I began to thank God for the thousands of times I have taken my horns out and played them without dropping them rather than crying over the 2 times I did. In a time of so much loss and devastation in the world, it is vital to remember God is still in control, and still worthy of praise!!!

My saxophone set up

The most common question I get from YouTube viewers is "What's your sax set up"? I currently play a Yamaha 82 CustomZ Black alto. I have been switching between a Beechler custom bellite #7 and a no name mouthpiece I purchased from ebay. I play #2.5 Plasticover reeds. Here's what I have discovered. If you have played for more than 5 years, more than likely you have developed "your sound". That being said, you can changed set ups, but it won't change "your sound"! There will be some changes, but your overall sound won't change! If you don't believe me, go through my YouTube videos. There are videos of me playing my beginner model Vito with a Berg Larsen mouthpiece, me playing a 60's model Yanigasawa with a Belmonte metal mouthpiece, and of course the set up I mentioned earlier. There are more than 4 different set ups represented in my YouTube videos, yet what you will notice is there is not much difference in what you hear. So the next time you find yourself obsessing over trying to achieve sounding like someone else, remember changing your sound is not as easy as it sounds!!! Be blessed, Jermaine

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