How to play and care for your Bamboo Sax

On this page you will find the basics how to play and take care of your instrument. You'll get these hints printed with your order. A professional player may already know most of these things, but I'll write down some basics, so even newbies can understand and get along easily.

 Bamboo Sax

 

Notes and scale of the instrument

Every instrument comes tuned in the major scale of its key note, and has 9 holes. Let's suppose we have an instrument in the Key of C. The lowest note will be the C. You get this note by covering all the holes with your fingers. When you uncover one hole at a time, starting from the far end of the instrument, you'll get the notes of the C major scale: C D E F G A B C D E. Be sure to cover the holes entirely with your fingers, otherwise you won't get a good sound. When you uncover all the holes, you will make the high E sound.

The instruments that I make are usually tuned in the Key of G, which I've found optimal both for playing and for getting a good sound. The notes of the G major scale are the following: G A B C D E F# G A B. You'll find every important scale on the included fingering chart.

 

How to blow

You'll get your instrument with a small plastic hose around the mouthpiece. This little cap will protect your reed and will allow good ventilation. Remove this cap (only the longer piece) before playing and place it gently back after every use. Be very careful not to harm the reed. Now, let's see how to blow your bamboo sax! (It will be easier to get a good sound if you drink a glass of water before playing.)

How to blowAt first, you can just leave all the finger holes open. Curl your bottom lip into your mouth so that it covers the tips of the bottom teeth. Place the mouthpiece about an inch into your mouth. You'll feel the reed on your bottom lip. Gently make some pressure on to the top of the mouthpiece with the top teeth and blow. If you don’t get any sound then you are probably applying too much pressure. If you get high, squeaky sounds then you have the mouthpiece too far in your mouth. It is not as hard as it seems; you just need to try different positions and pressure, and soon you'll produce beautiful sounds. Next cover the thumb hole, and try to get a good sound. Then cover the next hole, too. Continue this way with the other holes and try to explore the instrument's whole range of sound.

Later you will find that the pitch and timbre can change when you apply more or less pressure or change the position of your tongue. This is where the fun begins and when you start to really "feel" your instrument.

 

How to produce the upper register sounds

Your can play more notes on your instrument, than the basic ten that I previously described. When you cover all the holes you can produce a much higher sound than all the previous notes. All you have to do is place the mouthpiece a bit less into your mouth (pull it out a bit) and blow a bit harder than usual. Simultaneously uncover the thumb hole a little bit, while still keeping the other holes closed.

In practice you can start blowing hard into the mouthpiece with all the holes covered and then gently start to release your thumb from the hole. The first upper register note should start to sound when the hole is half-covered or even earlier. When you have a strong and stable sound, you may cover the thumb hole again (it is not always necessary) while blowing even harder, and you will start to uncover the lower notes (at the end of your bamboo saxophone) one at a time. This way you will get the higher notes: G A B C, in the key of C, and D E F# G, in the key of G. With all these notes you'll get two complete octaves. See details on the fingering chart.

 

Fingering Chart

Fingering photo Fingering chart *   The notes in this column are bent up by a half-tone by blowing harder and applying more pressure.
** The notes in this column are bent down by a half-tone by blowing softer and applying less pressure.

As you can see you cover four holes with the fingers of your right hand for the lower notes, and you cover five holes with the fingers of your left hand for the upper notes. Black circles Black circle mean fully covered holes, White circles White circle mean uncovered holes (released fingers), and there are also half-covered holes Black/white circle for the half-tones.

Please note that the upper register notes might be hard to produce and they can be out of tune because bamboo is a natural, uneven material and it cannot be tuned perfectly in every case in the upper and lower register at the same time. So regarding the upper register notes, much is left for your own exploration.

 

Hints and tips

Squeaky sounds

Sometimes you'll get some high, squeaky sounds while playing. You can easily correct this by placing the mouthpiece a bit less into your mouth. Another solution is to blow some air below your bottom lip while playing. In this way you'll make a "cushion" filled with air right below the reed, and the result is a much better connection with the reed.

Sound of the reed

MouthpieceAfter you start using a new reed, its sound will improve in the beginning and you can use it as long as it sounds good for you. Even a little spilt might be okay. You'll also notice the sound is much better when the reed is wet. To get a perfect sound, you can soak the reed for 30 seconds before your performance.

How to support the instrument's body while playing higher notes

When you should cover holes only with your left hand's fingers, you can use your right little finger as a support by covering its hole. It will support the instrument's body and won't alter the sound of the Bamboo Sax.

 

Taking care of your instrument

Never store wet

Each Bamboo Saxophone has a shellac finish on the inside and linseed oil finish on the outside. This should protect the material of the bamboo from moisture. However it is strongly advised that you never store your instrument soaked or wet. You can gently wipe out the moisture from the mouthpiece with a dry cloth or blow it out with a few hard blows.
Also avoid frequent humidity or temperature change, if possible.

Apply oil a few times

Two or three times a year you can apply linseed oil on its outer surface to prolong its life. Always apply the oil on a completely dry surface with a paper towel or a dry cloth. Let it rest a day and then wipe it dry with a paper towel to remove the remaining oil. (You don't have to apply oil on the inside.)

Avoid heat sources

Never store your instrument near a heat source! It may cause the material to split. It is best if you store your instrument in a warm, dry and good ventilated place.

Rico Reed

Reeds

You can clean your reeds gently in lukewarm water. When your reed goes weary and loose its bright sound, you'll have to buy a new tenor saxophone reed. Always choose a high-quality product with your preferred reed-thickness. The instrument is originally shipped with a Rico Royal 2.0 Tenor Saxophone Reed.

How do I install the new reed?

Gently pull off the plastic collar (ligature) with the old reed from the mouthpiece. Slide back the plastic collar to the mouthpiece but stop it soon (after about 0.5 inches from the end of the mouthpiece). Very carefully insert the new reed under it. Hold the reed by the base (and never the tip) and slide it under the plastic collar to its final position. At this point tighten the collar over the reed by sliding it further up to line up completely on the base of the reed (on the darker part). After this you can gently make fine adjustments by grabbing it by its base to make it sound right.
Generally, the reed's tip should be almost at the end of the mouthpiece, leaving about 1/16 inches distance from it. You should try out several positions here and find the best reed position. A very small position change can have a big effect on the tone and timbre of the instrument. Also make sure that the reed perfectly aligns with the sides of the mouthpiece (the reed should be parallel and well in the center). With a little practice you'll easily get the feel of this.

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