The Best Saxophone Embouchure: Where’s that Bottom Lip?

I just completed a new saxophone video lesson entitled “The Best Embouchure for Tone, Intonation and Endurance Lesson” in which I teach my approach to the saxophone playing embouchure and playing the saxophone.  While working on the sax lesson, I thought it would be a cool idea to search the internet for good photos of famous sax player’s embouchures.  The photos I found are below.

The Best Embouchure for Tone, Intonation and Endurance Lesson Only 9.99

The word embouchure means “the way in which a player applies the mouth to the mouthpiece of a brass or wind instrument”. There are probably as many variations of embouchures as there are saxophone players in the world.  Each a little different, each a bit unique.  The goal of my lesson and this article is to see what commonalities we can find.  In my video lesson I am teaching my opinion and approach to embouchure based off of what I have learned and noticed through my many years of playing the saxophone.  Here is the description of the lesson:

In this new video lesson, The Best Embouchure for Tone, Intonation and Endurance Lesson, I give you the inside scoop on my approach to the saxophone embouchure.  I talk about my journey with different embouchures and when I realized that there was a better way to play my sax in regards to the embouchure.  I teach you how this type of embouchure effects your tone, intonation, sub-tone and endurance.  I show you first hand how to do it and talk about how to practice this type of embouchure.  Lastly, I will be posting a blog article with photos of great players like Dexter, Coltrane, Brecker, as well as many others doing what I believe is exactly what I am teaching in this video.(37 Minute Video Lesson)

*The teachings in this video on playing the saxophone are based on my experience.  They are based on my opinions that have been formed over many years of playing and teaching the saxophone. I understand that others might approach embouchure, tonguing, voicing and playing the saxophone in a different way entirely and that is ok.  This lesson is based off of the approach that I have found to be the best for me and hopefully it will benefit you as well.    Steve 

Dexter Gordon Embouchure-Lady Bird Video

The photo above is taken from the iconic Dexter Gordon video on Youtube of Dexter playing on Lady Bird.  This is my “go to” video when I am teaching a sax student about the embouchure.  Notice the bottom lip and the downward tilt of the head.  Watch the video and you will see the effortless movement of Dexter’s lower jaw as he sub-tones.  All these topics are talked about and illustrated in my lesson also.  You can see a sample of the video lesson here when clicking on the lesson sample tab.

John Coltrane Embouchure

John Coltrane!  Notice bottom lip and slight downward tilt of the head.

Another John Coltrane Embouchure

Johnny Griffin Embouchure

Johnny Griffin!  Not as much of a downward tilt of the head but notice the bottom lip and bottom jaw retracted in what looks like a sub-tone position.

Benny Golson Embouchure

Benny Golson with a similar bottom lip. So far the four great tenor players above all have bunched up chins!  I don’t know about you, but I was taught by a few sax teachers not to bunch up my chin but to point it down and try to make it flat.  Interesting!

Coleman Hawkins Embouchure

Coleman Hawkins with a similar bottom lip and bunched up chin.  If you would like more info on this approach to playing check out my 37 minute video lesson below where I talk about it in depth as well as it’s effect on tone, intonation, sub-tone and endurance.

The Best Embouchure for Tone, Intonation and Endurance Lesson Only 9.99

Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins Embouchures

Two Tenor giants! Coleman Hawkins along side Sonny Rollins!  Wow!  Notice Sonny’s bottom lip rolled out.

Gene Ammons Embouchure

The incomparable Gene Ammons with a rollout of the bottom lip.  Where is your bottom lip when looking in a mirror while playing?

Young Michael Brecker Embouchure

The amazing Michael Brecker with a slight rollout and a bunched up chin. Michael has a thinner bottom lip than other guys but you can still see it slightly rolled out……..

Middle Aged Michael Brecker Embouchure

….and again……slight rollout and bunched chin……… Question:  How much pressure does it look like Brecker is putting on that reed in this photo?

Michael Brecker Embouchure in Full Sub-tone

….and again in full sub-tone.  Not the best photo but look at that bottom lip!

Max Ionata Embouchure

One of my favorite tenor players, Max Ionata!  Slight downward tilt of head and rolled out bottom lip……. If these help get a tone like Max’s tone.  Then they are certainly worth trying out!  Don’t worry about the mouthpiece yet, try experimenting with what they do first…..

Bob Mintzer Embouchure

Another of my favorite tenor players…. Bob Mintzer…….. downward tilt and rolled out.  Bottom jaw looks pulled back.

Chris Potter Embouchure

…..let’s not forget Chris Potter……..see the bottom lip and bunched chin muscles.

Young Joshua Redman Embouchure

Young Joshua Redman with downward tilt of the head and rolled out lower lip.

Middle Aged Joshua Redman Embouchure

same with middle aged Joshua Redman…..

Mark Turner Embouchure

Mark Turner.  Sax sits a bit higher but that bottom lip is most certainly rolled out a bit. Mark Turner always seems to have perfect posture!

Jerry Bergonzi Embouchure

The amazing Jerry Bergonzi.  No slight tilt of the head for Jerry in this photo but you can see some of the red of the bottom lip.

Charlie Parker Embouchure

Let’s get some alto players in here. Charlie Parker…….. No downward tilt for Bird but I see plenty of bottom lip!

Cannonball Adderley Embouchure

Cannonball Adderley………

Another Cannonball Adderley Embouchure

Phil Woods Embouchure

One of my idols when I was a young alto sax player in high school, Phil Woods!  You can see his bottom lip and bunched up chin……..

Paul Desmond Embouchure

I was curious about Paul Desmond as he has such a different and unique sound.  But even with Paul Desmond you can see a  downward tilt of the head and the bottom lip rolled out slightly.  His chin does look a bit pointed here in this photo though.

Kenny G Embouchure

Finally, To close the discussion once and for all, the incredibly “smooth” Kenny G. You can see the slight roll of his bottom lip in the photo above.  In my lesson below, I talk about the importance of thinking of the embouchure gripping the mouthpiece from the sides and not from top to bottom.  Kenny G might not subscribe to this teaching of mine though because he always looks like he is smiling when playing in this photo and many others I have seen with the corners of his mouth pulled back.  That’s ok though, he is Kenny G and what do his fans want to see?  Of course, Kenny smiling at them while playing the most loving melodies and lines dripping with smoothness and emotion.  It would make any heart melt at the very thought. (Except you hardhearted smooth jazz haters of course……)

That is it!  If you want to find out more about what I teach students in regard to embouchure, tone and intonation check out the 38 minute video lesson below.   Thanks for tuning in as we all talk about interesting saxophone topics.  See you next time……..   Steve

The Best Embouchure for Tone, Intonation and Endurance Lesson

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Avatar Giuseppe C. says

    Thanks to you Steve for listening.
    I honestly don’t know for sure if Larry used double lip or not; it is very likely. Despite several years spent together, I never asked him. Certainly he taught that both methods were fine, classic or double lip, and that it was better to use the one with which you were better off. I chose the double lip.
    But I don’t know which method he adopted: I doubt that perhaps he used both, because once another student lent him the alto sax to record a record as a sideman, he found the mouthpiece practically engraved; or from the teeth, or from a sign that he had done with something; as a reference point?
    I certainly know that he regretted, once he told me, that he moved his mouthpiece back and forth a little bit depending on whether he had to make high notes or low notes; I have the impression that he would have preferred to keep the mouthpiece in a single position; but this was just a moment when he indulged in this little confession for a moment.

    • Avatar Giuseppe C. says

      I reply to myself , because regarding my choice of the double lip I would like to make some clarifications:
      in those days, when I started playing, the two methods were almost both used. Then the method now considered classic with placing the teeth on the mouthpiece prevailed as almost the only acceptable one.
      However, I read on a saxophonists forum that, at the beginning, the classical method was considered the double lip, as it seems, I read, it was written in the first (or the firsts) edition of the Jimmy Dorsey method for saxophone; then, as in the copy in my possession, I read that the book was corrected in the subsequent editions with the indication to place the teeth on the mouthpiece.
      History changes, fashions also …
      I hope the result counts, as I have tried for some time, but without success, the method with the teeth resting on the mouthpiece.

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