How to Improve Your Tonguing on a Saxophone

Composers don't need to be able to play every instrument, but it does help to understand the basic mechanics of what is involved with playing musical instruments. Tonguing on the saxophone allows the player to perform more advanced music while allowing for fast and cleanly separated articulations. Composers that understand the limitations and the process involved in articulating fast passages can write more effective music. Saxophonists use a methodical practice routine that builds tonguing technique over time. Saxophone players that practice good form and continually strive to increase their speed have an easier time in practical performances when playing music. Keep in mind that the current ability of the player affects how well the saxophone player can perform your piece. When writing for high school level students, avoid creating passages with articulations faster than you can say "tu-tu-tu" in rapid succession. For advanced players, consult with the player before writing the piece.

Saxophone players should breathe using the diaphragm muscles. This helps to expand the lungs and take in enough air to play with proper support. When performers play, it's important to keep the airflow steady and consistent. The player must also ensure that the tip of the tongue always hits the reed lightly and briefly cuts off the airflow when tonguing. Performers can create a hard tonguing effect by forming the sound "tah" with the tongue. Playing a softer, legato tonguing is created by forming the sound "dee" with the tongue. Proficiency can be developed by playing each articulation on major scales each day. A practice session might start by playing four sixteenth notes of the scale per beat at the metronome marking of 52 beats per minute. As ability increases, the performer can increase speed by two beats per day until they can play scales at 120 beats per minute.

As a general rule, composers should avoid writing music that requires a single tonguing technique that exceeds the pace of four sixteenth notes per beat at a metronome marking of about 100 beats per minute. Many performers can play faster than this, and there is also a special technique that can effectively double the tonguing speed. This technique, known as double tonguing requires additional practice but most players at the college level and higher should have sufficient clarity to use a double-tonguing technique. When possible, it's best for a composer to work with a saxophone player to learn how to write effectively. One of the most effective ways to learn how to write for an instrument involves working with performers. A single practice session can be more beneficial than reading an entire text on saxophone technique.


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