Common Difficulties with Low Notes on the Saxophone

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 53,678
    Expert Sax player Seth Kibel explains some common difficulties with playing low notes on a saxophone.

    Seth Kibel

    Seth Kibel is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's premier saxophonists. His latest release, on Azalea City Recordings, is "The Great Pretender." On his first solo album, The Great Pretender, tenor saxophonist Seth Kibel brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Adding their talents to two of Seth’s original tunes and eight of his creative arrangements are European blues star Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues diva Melanie Mason, D.C. guitar legend Dave Chappell, jazz pianist Sean Lane, rocker Billy Coulter, dobro-ist Dave Giegerich, bassist Sam Goodall, and drummers Mark Lucas and Joe Wells. The covers include dramatic re-interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Duke Ellington and The Kinks. '

    The album’s blues and roots rock sounds represent a new approach for the versatile performer and composer, known for his jazz and klezmer music and his leadership of the award-winning “alternative klezmer” band The Alexandria Kleztet. Seth has won 11 Washington Area Music Association Awards (Wammies) including Best Jazz Instrumentalist and Best World Music Instrumentalist.

    Seth began his career as a full-time professional musician in 1996, when he moved to the Washington/Baltimore area following his graduation from Cornell University with a double major in Music and American Studies. Since that time, he has been in demand as a sideman and as a bandleader performing in such diverse genres as jazz, rock, blues, swing, klezmer, dixieland, and classical music.

    Seth began his professional klezmer career in 1993 with Cayuga Klezmer Revival, upstate New York’s premier klezmer band. Their CD, Klezmology, is still sold nationally. Seth is currently the leader, clarinetist, and composer for The Alexandria Kleztet, an “alternative” klezmer band he founded in the Baltimore/Washington area. The band’s three albums, Y2Klezmer (1999), Delusions of Klezmer (2002), and Close Enough for Klezmer (2005) are all available internationally. All three albums received the Washington Area Music Association’s (WAMA) award for Best World Music Recording following their release. The Alexandria Kleztet was named "Best World Music Duo or Group" by WAMA for 2003, 2004, and 2006. Seth also received individual awards for "Best World Music Instrumentalist" in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, and was named "Best Jazz Instrumentalist" for 2005.

    In addition to his activities with the Kleztet, Seth has fronted a variety of swing and jazz groups, including Corner Pocket, Air Mail Special, The Bay Jazz Project, and Seth Kibel’s Dixieland All-Stars. In 2002, he was commissioned to write, perform, and record an original score for Dreams in the Golden Country, an original theatrical production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In January 2004, he released his first jazz CD, a joint album with violinist Susan Jones entitled Nuts and Bolts. And in late 2004, he produced A Chanukah Feast, an album for the DC-based charity Hungry for Music featuring both regional and national artists. In 2005, he was the recipient of an "ASCAPlus" grant, as well as a Silver Prize (2nd place) winner in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, in the "jazz/blues/instrumental" division. In summer 2007, he released The Great Pretender, his first solo record for Azalea City Recordings. On the album, Seth brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Seth has performed with such notables as Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), Percy Sledge, The Coasters, and Johnnie Johnson. Additionally, he has appeared with many notable groups in the Baltimore/Washington area, including The Daryl Davis Band, Project Natale, Christian Josi, The Tom Cunningham Orchestra, The VanDangos, and The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, just to name a few. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, the Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as on several European tours.

    Seth can be heard on recent CD releases by the Skyla Burrell Blues Band, the Swing States Road Show, folksinger John Simon, The Civil Air Patrol Band, American Song, The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, guitarist David Kitchen, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues guitarist Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, jazz vocalist Esther Haynes, and flamenco guitarist Gerard Moreno. Since 2002, he has been on the faculty of the ElderHostel program at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He has also lectured extensively on klezmer, jazz, swing, the big band era, and other related musical topics at Peabody, Goucher College, and elsewhere.

    Seth's primary instruments are the clarinet, saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone), and flute. He has, however, been known to make some noise on harmonica, recorder, guitar, piano, and accordion. In his eight years as a professional musician, Seth has performed for numerous private affairs, such as receptions, weddings, and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, all across the country. Whatever your affair, Seth will work with you to put together the right ensemble. References available upon request.

    Now, you might have been encountered some difficulties as you worked with those low notes we just went over. As you got lower and lower on the saxophone, some of them may have not sounded quite right. They may have gone high like that. They may have done some kind of awful squawking; those kind of sounds. They kind of manatee and a Haiti type of noise. Well, low notes are a real difficult thing on the saxophone. They are peculiar area of the instrument and they are very hard to get out, especially for a beginner but there are some things you can do to help you in this process. First of all, as I mentioned before, make sure, you push those keys down completely. If any of those pads, any of those key covers start to creep up even a little bit, the notes are not going to sound right, but there are three key things you can do to help low notes come out better. Number one- keep the reed nice and moist. For a reed to vibrate properly and make the sound; it needs to be wet. That is why we wet it up before we put it on the saxophone and that is why you will often see sax players slobbering up the horn. In fact, if you have not played in a while, if the reed is really dried out, you may have to take it off the mouthpiece to properly wet both sides of it again but when a reed starts to dry out, the low notes are going to be one of the first things to go. So, that is one thing you can do to help these low notes come out. Number two is loosen the embouchure, meaning this, try not to bite as hard with your lower teeth through your lower lip. Try to be a little gentler. The lower you go, the looser the embouchure should become. If you play a low note and start biting harder, start tightening your embouchure, you will see, it goes high. Also, it is ugly, sounds like that. Finally, the third thing you can do to help low notes come out better is use more air. The lower you go on the saxophone, the more keys you cover. You are basically making the effective instrument longer by covering more holes. Since, it is a longer, bigger instrument you need more air to fill it up. So, you are going to have to use a lot more air to play those low notes. So, remember those three things; keep the reed moist, loosen the embouchure, use more air. The lower you go on a saxophone, the more you are going to need to do all three of those things. Next, let us talk about breathing because I am willing to bet, by now, you are starting to feel a little out of breathe.