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Mastering Articulation on the Saxophone: The Key to Making Good Notes Sound Great

The art of articulating a note on any instrument is s special technique that is perfected over time. There are many different styles of articulation and a few different ways to do it. When comparing articulation to talking, you can think of it on an instrument as the sentence phrasing: the enunciation of words and space between phrases in a conversation. Articulation also creates the rhythm within the musical phrase you are playing as well.

So what exactly is articulation and how do you do it right?


Articulation: The act of using a persons tongue to stop the airflow through their mouthpiece to create separation in the tone, resulting in a note. (That is a non-dictionary definition)


I have heard some musicians talk about articulation with the saxophone using the back of their tongue or the middle of their tongue, and then there are those who use a portion on the tip of their tongue. There isn't a right or wrong way to do this, as long as your articulation is in line with the music and what you are trying to accomplish. The preferred method that the Saxophone Workshop teaches will utilize the front part of your tongue. tongue vs the back of my tongue.


The Basics of Reed Articulation

To understand the basics of articulating a note, you will want to first learn how to 'Say' the articulation without a mouthpiece in your mouth. That's right, before blowing air through your mouthpiece or making a sound on the horn, there is an easy method to practice and perfect your articulation.


The four phrases below is a basic reed articulation verbal practice. If you use the front part of your tongue to emphasize the letter "T", you will create separation in the notes when you play your instrument because by pronouncing the letter "T" you cut the airflow to the mouthpiece. Perhaps the most popular word of the articulation phrases is Ta. This can be interpreted as a quarter note if you cut the 'a' short. However, if you make a long 'a' sound you can turn that into a half note or whole note. Next is the word Tee, which can be interpreted an eighth note or staccato quarter note. The Ti can be interpreted as a sixteenth note and staccato eighth note. The fourth verbal articulation phrase is Too.  This can be interpreted as a quarter note, half note or whole note. The below four phrases can be used to learn articulation; increase the speed at which you say each phrase to challenge yourself with articulating at different tempos.

Beginning Verbal Articulation Phrases:

  1. Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta

  2. Te, Te, Te, Te

  3. Ti, Ti, Ti, Ti

  4. To, To, To, To

Getting Fancy with Reed Articulation

Now that you have the basics of articulation under your tongue, we are going to shake things up. To create musical phrases with articulation, you are going to intermix the different articulations above as you play the instrument. As you intermix the articulations, you will develop a rhythm or cadence. The three phrases below can be used to enhance your understanding of articulation; Say them out loud and increase the speed at which you say each phrase to challenge yourself with articulating at different tempos.


Intermediate Verbal Articulation Phrases:

  1. Ta, Ta, To, Ti, Ti, Ti, Ta, Ta, To, Ti

  2. Te, Te, To, Ta, Ta, Te, Te, To, Ta, Ta

  3. Ti, To, Ta, Te, Te, Te, Ti, To, Ta, Te, Te


The next step is associating the notes that you see on a sheet music, or hear in your ear - with the articulation phrase pronounced on your reed instrument. For example - if there is a musical phrase that includes two quarter notes, an eight note and a whole note, the articulation would be: Ta Ta Ti, To


Slurred Articulation

Once you have the hang of the basic articulation mentioned above, the next step would be learn how to connect slurs. What is a slur you ask? A Slur is a "slide" from one note to the next WITHOUT using your tongue or the articulation methods mentioned above.

This can make the phrase sound very melodic and flowing. To practice Slurs in a verbal articulation method, a slur would sound be Ya. When verbally practicing slurs and articulation, replace the "T" with a "Y" when there is a line connecting the notes.


Intermediate Slurred Articulation Phrases:

  1. Ta,Ta, Ti Ya, Ta, Ta

  2. Te Te Ya To, Te Te Ya To

  3. Te Ya, Te, Ya, Te, Ya To, To


Learning how to articulate your note phrases is important to progressing as a saxophone player. From romantic and melodic to fast and jazzy, it is the articulation that creates rhythm and it is the articulated phrases that puts melodies together.


Do you articulate your music using Da or do you use Ta?

Leave your answer in the comment section below!


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