Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound (introduction to book)


This book is the result of several decades of experience as a saxophonist and teacher. Much of the information reflects my experiences from studying with the master, Mr. Joseph Allard. As is the case with any great teacher, they should inspire you to do further research and hopefully develop original concepts of your own.

Since this book was first published I’ve been gratified to see the positive response it has received as well as several translations that have ensued. Also available has been a video/dvd, the “Complete Guide to Saxophone Sound Production” (Caris Music Services) which is in a sense the visualization of the text you have here. Obviously visual demonstrations of principles and exercises are helpful. But it is in this book that I have clearly outlined the physical and acoustical reasons why certain principles of tone production work. It is my contention that for a mature and serious student, understanding the reasoning behind a concept goes further than mere imitation and repetition for improving skills. If the mind can understand why and how something works there is a higher likelihood that real change and progress can occur.

My first experiences with Joe began as a teenager in New York City after I had studied locally with a fine teacher, Nat Shapiro, who taught me the basics of sound production, fingerings and technique. With Joe came principles and concepts, all eventually leading to the same conclusion which was to be physically and mentally relaxed on the instrument. He would say (in perfect French of course):  “To blow is to breathe, there is no difference.” The main idea was to train one’s imagination to hear the desired sound (timbre as well as pitch) in order to instigate those exact physical movements needed to obtain results, nothing more or less. For Joe, it didn’t matter what style of music you played, it just had to be musical.

In all honesty it took me years to comprehend Joe’s ideas. This was especially true for understanding the significance of the overtone exercises which are central to these concepts since they reinforce the principles through concrete examples. A real awakening occurred a few years after studying with Joe when I realized how the tone of the great artists all had in common certain characteristics: relaxation, evenness of sound, a rich and deep sonority, and most of all personal expressiveness

There is one main artistic premise underlying this book. It is apparent that tone on an instrument is the first level of communication perceived by the listener, preceding stylistic and musical elements such as rhythm, melody and harmony. An important objective for any instrumentalist should be to portray emotions and feeling through one’s tone. Similar to the way we use our voice when singing or in ordinary speech to express ourselves, one must recognize and isolate those parts of the body involved in the process. After awareness of what aspects of the anatomy are set in motion, the goal is to maximize one’s energy towards the most effective result. In truth, the saxophone is a relatively easy instrument to produce a sound. If bad habits lead to unnecessary tensions, there is less likelihood that the performer can discover his or her persona on the instrument, let alone perform at a high level, especially if you factor in all the normal considerations which go into playing music. Of course after the main principles are understood, each musician should and will naturally customize the concepts to fit their own personality, needs and technique.

This book (a new edition with minor additions) is meant to put any saxophonist, regardless of style on a firm footing without being at a disadvantage in the pursuit of a good tone and in the final result, enjoyment of the instrument.

– Dave Liebman

August 2004
Stroudsburg, PA