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So You Can Play Your Saxophone Loud, Can You Play Soft?

You might think it’s the goal to play your saxophone loudly.

But a lot of people can do that.

Many musicians play too loud.  And just like if someone yells all the time, you kind of stop listening…..

What’s impressive is using dynamics effectively.

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Playing sax softly can be tough too.  It requires more skill to get a good sound with a very soft note.

So practice playing notes as softly as you can (part of the time).  I do that with part of my long tones.

Saxophone players who can play softly usually have the ability to play loudly too.

And when they play softly, they can still play with power.  The volume just comes down.

You want to keep the intensity in your sound, even when it’s not loud.

How to Get More Volume on Saxophone?

Sometimes you want your saxophone to really cut through.

Could be your solo or another part that you want to give some emphasis.

And if you’re playing with a loud group, you’ll need to bring up your volume.

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An equipment change may help facilitate your ability to get more volume.

Be careful though, some mouthpieces will make it easy to play louder but very very difficult to play softly and you don’t want to sacrifice your dynamic range.

For example, an old metal Otto Link might be great for a big band, but you’ll get funny looks left and right if you brought it to an orchestral setting.

A bigger factor in getting volume on saxophone is you.

Your lung capacity, your fitness level.

According to the biography by his daughter Nancy, Frank Sinatra used to think about lyrics while swimming underwater to increase his air capacity.

That might be a little extreme.

But exercising can help you out as a saxophone player.

Yoga also places some focus on breathing and it has been recommended to me by several musicians.

Haven’t gotten into it too much yet though.

Saxophone Dynamics & Volume and Mouthpieces

Hey Neal,
I need your help.
I play the bari and my jazz teacher wants me to play louder.
can you give me some advice. do I need to put in more of my mouth piece or what?
thanks,
Anabelle

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Hey Anabelle,
You could try more mouthpiece. Sometimes sax players don’t put enough in. See how it feels and if it affects the volume. You’ll have to experiment to see what is right for you.
Having good posture and breathing right is important for getting the air through too. When I breathe with the saxophone my stomach expands. And practicing long tones will give you more control and probably help you practice using more air.
In terms of equipment, a harder reed or a more open mouthpiece tip opening will give you more volume too.
Let me know how it goes
-Neal

Saxophone Dynamics – Shades of Tone – Beginning Saxophone

The words we use for dynamics  come from Italian.

Basically they are variations of ‘piano’ and ‘forte’.

Piano means soft, pianissimo means very soft, pianississimo means softer than that, etc.

Crescendos and decrescendos as well as sforzando and fp (forte-piano) describe changing dynamics.
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"You're fine for triple-forte on up…."

Coming off of Maynard Fergusson’s band, Denis Di Blasio could blast the volume on his horns.

However…..

He was told by John Krell, “You’re fine for triple-forte on up, but you can’t lay anything soft, you’ve been playing loud for so long.”

(pg 3 ‘Saxophone Masterclass’ from the Windplayer Editors)

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Different levels of volume use your muscles in different ways.  So to be able to play a range of dynamics, you need to work on these different muscular sets.

So use dynamics when you practice.  Play loud and soft.  Use crescendos and decrescendos.