Tricks for Practicing Initial Attacks

As you progress as a saxophonist, you should be able to continuously identify aspects of your playing that you would like to improve. When you find something that needs improving, go ahead and make up an exercise to work on your problem area. One day, (assuming you practice your exercise consistently) you will find that your problem is gone and in its place you have a new strong point! At one point, I decided that initial attacks were a problem for me. It was pretty easy to improve them in the mid and high registers of the saxophone by making sure I was using sufficient air support and concentrating to coordinate this with the moment I released my tongue from the reed. I practiced starting tones with air attacks and concentrated on the amount of pressure necessary to produce a good sound, and then I concentrated on coordinating the tongue and air pressure. You can just do your usual long tone exercise, but rather than just think about the tone quality, think also about the attack quality. The low register is really just the same, but many of us have taught ourselves bad habits in an effort to get these low notes. The low notes are just not as forgiving! It's the same idea, but you must execute correctly or you (and your listeners!) are punished with a sloppy attack. So, do even more practice of initial attacks in the low register. I made up a very simple exercise, which I did every day for, say, a year or so. I still spend some time every day with it when I hear myself getting sloppy with my attacks. Just play a beautiful long tone on a low F, paying particular attention that you start it with a good attack, not an accent, but just a good, clear beginning for the tone. (Your first job with this exercise is to decide for yourself what a good attack sounds like.) Play a few tones on F, until you feel like you know how to make a good attack, then hold a beautiful long tone, slur down to E and play E for a few seconds. Then start on E, with a good attack. If your first attack is bad, stop and try again a few times, until you have made some good attacks and have the feel of it. Slur to Eb. Hold that for a few seconds. Continue down to low Bb. If at any point, you feel yourself doing other "strange" things to get the tones to speak, take a rest for a minute, play a few good attacks in the middle register, where it is relatively easy to make beautiful, clean attacks, and continue with the low notes. Don't practice this when your embouchure is tired. If you don't make it to Bb one day, you can do it the next day. Learn to make good initial attacks! —Susan Fancher