Most new saxophonists experience this problem. Even many experienced saxophonists get this too. Too much spit when playing the saxophone and the rough, raspy sound it makes from the horn. Almost all saxophone players wonder how to stop spitting as much when playing the saxophone. But why does this happen?
Excess saliva is a normal by-product of putting anything in your mouth, and a saxophone mouthpiece produces the same reaction. Most professional saxophone players cope with this problem in the simplest way possible. They swallow. Some rinse their mouth frequently with water, but swallowing is the recommended solution.
While a nuisance to the saxophone player, the excess saliva has a much more detrimental effect on the sound of the horn. Excess saliva makes the horn sound bad. Saliva in the horn can also affect the function and eventually damage the mechanisms. We’ll explain how to cope with and eliminate excess saliva when playing the sax.
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Dealing With the Spit Issue – A Common Problem
Most saxophone players understand the problem associated with what many term “a wet player.” It isn’t uncommon to see some saxophone players with towels strategically located to wipe their hands. Dampness from the horn seems to be a part of playing the saxophone , like squeaking..
Each saxophonist has their methods to deal with this problem. What works for one may not work for another. Trial and error to find the solution is probably the rule rather than the exception. However, here are some of the most common suggested ways to deal with excess spit when playing the saxophone.
Swallow Before Playing – Keep the Saliva Out of the Horn
Swallowing is the most suggested way to keep excess saliva out of the saxophone. Among those that advocate swallowing, most have other suggestions to aid in the process.
- Brush your teeth before playing
- Rinse your mouth with water and swallow
- Keep water nearby to aid in swallowing excess saliva
- Avoid eating just before playing
How to Avoid the Spit Sound When Playing
One problem of excess saliva getting into the saxophone is the raspy or bubbly sound it can produce. The sound produced by excess moisture in the saxophone has many causes, not just excess saliva. Your exhaled breath naturally is moist. This moisture can condense and collect in the saxophone as you play. Professional saxophone players suggest several ways to avoid the sound of a “wet sax.”
Keep the Mouthpiece and Reed Dry – Suck Instead of Blow
Excess moisture in the mouthpiece and reed can cause the “spitty” sound that plagues many saxophonists. The warm moist air coming out of your lungs can fill the reed and mouthpiece with condensation.
Many long-time sax players often just suck the excess moisture from the mouthpiece. Forming a tight seal around the mouthpiece with the lips and sucking the excess moisture away relieves the mouthpiece and clears up the horn's sound.
This method of eliminating a raspy-sounding sax is done quickly during a performance. In time, most professionals do this without thinking as part of their normal playing habits.
Breaking the Neck – Getting Rid of the Moisture Build-up
We don’t mean literally breaking the neck of your saxophone. Some saxophone players experience a buildup of moisture in the neck bend of the saxophone. Quickly removing the sax's neck and jostling against your leg can knock most of the moisture out. A quick blow under the base can also help force out any collected moisture.
Taking your horn apart during a performance may not be an option. However, during breaks, it is often possible to do a little preventive maintenance to remove the excess moisture and keep your horn sounding great.
Keep the Reed Happy for a Better Sounding Sax
Without a reed, a saxophone isn’t a musical instrument. It is the reed that produces the sound. Keeping the red on your saxophone in good condition goes a long way to eliminating spitty sound from your horn. Key factors in producing a quality sound from your reed include:
- Keep the reed in the proper position. The reed should be dead center on the mouthpiece and not too low. You should only see a small portion of the mouthpiece behind the reed.
- Not too dry and not too wet is the goal. Your reed needs to be moist o vibrate properly. However, if the reed becomes saturated, it will develop a bubbly or raspy sound.
- Choose the right reed hardness. Most saxophone players find a reed hardness between 1.5 and 4.0 to be the best.
- If all else fails, change the reed. Sometimes reeds don’t work right. Reeds also wear out. If the sound isn’t right, try a new reed.
Drink Plenty of Water – Hydration is a Factor
If you become dehydrated while playing, you may be exacerbating the problem with saliva. As you become dehydrated, your saliva tends to thicken. This condition can cause spit clogs in your mouthpiece and saxophone that greatly diminishes the quality of the sound
Drink plenty of water when playing. Staying hydrated will help you take care of excess saliva and keep your sax from becoming clogged.
Avoid Cold Venues – A Recipe for Condensation
Your breath leaves your lungs warm and laden with moisture. Blow that air through as saxophone that is cold, and the horn becomes a condensation creating machine. A cold horn is much more susceptible to trapping moisture than a warm sax.
If a cold venue is unavoidable, expect to deal with an excess of moisture. Frequent pauses to eliminate the excess moisture in your sax can help.
Posture is Important – Keep Your Head Up
Adjust your neck strap so that you can play with better posture. Keep your chin up and look more forward as you play. A chin-up attitude will help you eliminate excess spit by swallowing. An upright posture also helps keep the moisture in your mouth from getting into your horn.
Protect your Saxophone – Keep it Clean and Dry
Imagine the inside of your sax. When you blow into the horn, your warm moist breath warms the inside of the horn as well. A warm, dark, wet space is a perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria. If you don’t clean your horn regularly, these growths can make the problem worse and affect your sax's sound.
A good cleaning kit and a little time can keep your saxophone in tip-top shape and sounding great. Cleaning doesn’t involve anything complicated or involved. To give your sax a good cleaning only takes a few steps.
Give the Body a Good Scrub
Most cleaning kits come with a swab or brush. Many of these swabs are attached to a string with a non-marring weight to pass through the horn safely. Put the weight into the bell of the sax and let it slide through to the other end. Pull the swab through the sax body and pull it back and forth a few times.
Don’t Forget the Neck
Clean the swab and pass it through the neck of your saxophone as well. Work the swab back and forth a few times to clean the inside of the neck thoroughly.
Use a Pad Saver to Remove Excess Moisture
Pad Savers help eliminate moisture after cleaning your saxophone. The pad saver is inserted into the horn's narrow end and left there to absorb any remaining moisture. After the specified time, the pad saver is removed and discarded.
How to Stop Spitting When Playing Saxophone – Final Thoughts
Professional musicians know and understand the benefits of practice. Not only does practice improve your playing, but it also helps you learn the techniques of preventing that spitty sound in your sax. Learning the small techniques is important, and the only way to master them is to practice.