A Private Lesson With Marcel Mule

, 1964
By Marshall Taylor
These are my sometimes rather cryptic notes from the first series of private lessons with Marcel Mule at his home in Paris, beginning in the fall of 1964 and lasting until April 1965. Square brackets enclose my present efforts at decryption. Obviously, some of Mule's suggestions apply to specific problems I had at the time, but there are plenty of general suggestions, which anyone can use to his or her profit.

A little more control [firmness] in embouchure, not vertical but around.

Staccato shorter, embouchure firmer but not enough pressure on the reed to choke off the sound.

Keep shoulders relaxed.

Work on scales & arpeggios:
G major arpeggio D7
G minor scale, arpeggio.
F# diminished 7

Scales and arpeggio practice not only for finger facility in extreme registers, but for matching sound over the whole horn.

Phrasing: [over a phrase] as one note; crescendo gradually, not by steps.

No vibrato on fast notes! (Only where it is possible to obtain a full cycle).

Don't raise the fingers too high on rapid notes. Keep them glued to the keys.

Ferling #1 adagio study: staccato not too short.

Shorten the note before a staccato [as well as the staccato note itself].

The embouchure must stay the same for staccato as for legato. The tongue must be light and short [in its movement]. Keep the breath the same.

Don't change embouchure as you go higher or lower.

In short notes at the end of phrases, no vibrato!

Always sostenuto, intensity of breath line, not individual notes but a line of notes played as one note.

Use enough embouchure control for high notes for tuning, response and sound.

Tune with your ear.

On two connected notes stop the vibrato just before going to the second note. [I remember we worked on this expressive technique, which Mule likened to a portamento effect, on the opening few notes of the slow movement of the Ibert Concertino da Camera.]

Legato phrases extremely legato and connected; no embouchure change, play as if one long sustained note, only fingers moving, with sostenuto (intensity). Breath should be as steady and continuous as the bow of a fine violinist.

Vary the vibrato occasionally; not always a certain number of undulations per beat. Don't be mechanical. More warmth in general.

When breathing in the middle of a phrase, let the note before [the breath] diminish a little and breathe while it does so, like a comma [in a sentence].

Change to third finger, left hand for high notes [I think this referred to a technique Mule showed me for moving the whole left hand up one note higher when using the palm keys, so that the middle finger rather than the index finger rested on the B key, the ring finger on the A key. This puts the left hand in a more natural position for the palm keys.]

Clear moisture from mouthpiece quietly and unobtrusively at end of phrases or during rests so as not to break mood of piece.

Work on slurs down to middle D (height and speed of fingers).

Exercises for slurring down to middle D from A, A#, B, C, C#, etc.: [Play A above staff long, G as a 32nd or grace note, then D long. Repeat making G as short as possible.) Keep third finger lh close to G key; raise rh fingers a little higher. No embouchure change! This exercise is to correct the tendency of the middle D to sound as the next highest overtone (A). Instead of dropping the jaw on the D, as is the common solution, Mule wanted to lead slightly with the ring finger of the left hand, making a grace note G before the D, then repeat, making the G shorter each time until it is imperceptible. Especially with right-handed players, the right hand tends to lead slightly, making the A overtone more likely to sound on the middle D.]

Sostenuto: The breath, like the bow on a string instrument, must be steady and not change from note to note. Only the fingers move, while as far as the breath and embouchure are concerned, you are sustaining a single long note. You may raise the fingers a little higher on slow sostenuto passages than you would on fast ones. The action of the fingers is very important, they must move just as quickly as they do in fast passages. In summary, steady, even supply of breath; very rapid finger movement from one note to the next, especially in slow moving passages.

In slurring from upper register to lower, release the octave key a split second before changing the other fingers to facilitate the slur and avoid getting the octave above the second note.

In sustained notes after [a series of] rapid notes, not too fast a vibrato! [Don't let the excitement of the fast notes make the vibrato on a succeeding long note too fast.] Staccato notes must be extremely short and light and always filled with sound (just like legato notes). This can be achieved with a very light tongue and much breath.

For soft attacks on individual notes, practice repeated attacks on the same note, then alone [isolated?], [paying attention to] pressure of corners of mouth and quantity of air, tongue, etc. I think this means to practice repeated attacks on a note without completely stopping the air or relaxing the embouchure in between; then practice isolated attacks on the note, which, of course, is more difficult to do.]

In a group of four rapid notes, tonguing with the pattern, tongue one, slur two, tongue one, sounds almost like double tonguing at fast tempi. For groups of three fast notes, tongue one, slur two.

Ferling, p. 11, pattern is four 16th notes per beat, but vibrato should be three cycles per beat.

Drop jaw for high register to open up the sound and for better intonation.

Use bis key for most scale passages.

Next lesson: Henri Tomasi Ballade, Jeannine Rueff Concertino, Pierre Max Dubois Divertissement, Ferling Etudes.

When working on finger technique, play at a very soft dynamic in order to better concentrate on the fingers.

In practicing silently with the fingers, don't raise them too high and keep the mouth corners firm.

Tomasi Ballade, rehearsal mark 12: work tongue on first two notes in rhythm, staccato eighth, quarter; then add fingers in rhythm of quarter, eighth.

Ferling #26: In staccato, keep embouchure firm, move tongue only slightly in order to keep the sound the same as in legato or very fast staccato playing.

Dubois Divertissement: Don't move head or embouchure. II [movement]: not too slowly, since vibrato will be too slow.

Tomasi Ballade: Watch vibrato, not too slow. In fast passages, quarter, eighth, three eighths, don't delay the second note [the eighth]. Play in exact rhythm.

When practicing fast technical passages, take short sections (one measure) at a time and play several times as fast as possible until sure of them, then put them together, a few at a time. Marshall Taylor

all photos courtesy Marshall Taylor

A Lesson With Marcel Mule
published in MayJune 2002 Saxophone Journal
Vol. 26, No. 5

© 2002, all rights reserved, international copyright secured
Anyone wishing to use excerpts from this interview, permission must be acquired from Dorn Publications, Inc. to do so. Email permissiontouse@dornpub.com for permission.
photos courtesy Marshall Taylor

[back to top of page]

[back to top of page]
Marcel Mule Scholarship

Information about the Marcel Mule Scholarship Fund can be obtained by clicking here to visit the Marcel Mule Scholarship webpage at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
[back to top of page]