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Beginner Intonation

Frnic

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As a re-beginner I am starting out (4 or 5 days now) focusing on building my embouchure by playing long tones while trying for constant loudness and intonation. So far intonation is a real challenge. (duh)

My first question is: Is repeatable/intentional and steady intonation (not drifting in and out of tune/pitch) a function of embouchure, jaw position, mouth cavity size and shape, or air pressure/volume control? Or all the above - Sigh!

I know it will get better over time, what I am interested in is how to help it get better - what should I focus on at first. I assume somethings have more impact up front than others.

I understand that different saxes have inherent intonatione issues on a per note basis probably (maybe?) related to quality (cost?) of the sax. I know that adjusting the mouthpiece to tune a single note I then need to check all the other notes to see where they are and sort of adjust the MP position for an "average' in tune value with some being a little sharp and some a little flat. Eventually as I learn to play I will learn to adjust the pitch of each note automatically without thinking about it.

My concern right now is not so much absolute accuracy as it is in improving "repeatability". Meaning playing the same pitch each time - intentionally. Obviously as a noobie I am not going to hit the SAME pitch every time. However as I practice I would expect that I would gradually get closer and closer. Playing a note within 20 cents of the right pitch (+/- 20 cents) every time would be okay maybe for a noobie like me. And as I progress I will eventually be playing notes within 10 cents, and then later within 5 cents.

It would seem that to do that requires that all the above be controllable - ie. Embouchure, pressure, air volume, mouth cavity, jaw position, and mouthpiece position. Thats a lot of variables to control while yawning scratching, breathing and coughing...

At the moment if I concentrate on all the above and carefully play the first note "in tune" I can then try to play the same note repeatedly or to play a scale.

As long as I leave everything the same (jaw, MP, etc) and just practice playing the same note over and over I am slowly improving in playing close to the same pitch each time. But, if I take the mouthpiece out of my mouth, put it back and try to play the same note I am not very successful.

I would appreciate advice on how to make playing a note in tune more repeatable/intentional without having to bend the note into in tune. I understand practice - duh - I am asking what to practice and any specialized techniques that should focus on improving this.

Along the same lines, if I play a middle C in tune, and then try to play the C scale down to low C, I see the intonation tends to go flat as I go down the scale. If I go up the scale instead, the intonation tends to drift sharp. In either case, I find that if adjust the mouthpiece position on the neck it seems(?) to make the drifting smaller - but not to go away - I think - maybe - LOL. Or maybe it has nothing to do with the mouthpiece position on the neck, but instead "all the above" are changing when I put the mouthpiece back into my mouth and try again?

Some times, not often I can adjust my embouchure and jaw position slightly as I play each note and bend it into being in tune and keep them from drifting as much - some times I can't.

I would appreciate suggestions on - what to practice and techniques to keep all the notes of a scale in tune and what to practice and techniques to make the entire process more repeatable and "intentional"

thanks for any advice
 

Pete Thomas

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I would agree that while doing long not practice, don't worry about intonation and using a tuner while doing long notes is not good IMO. gets some good control then think about intonation when it becomes important, playing with back tracks or other people.

Playing a note within 20 cents of the right pitch (+/- 20 cents) every time would be okay maybe for a noobie like me. And as I progress I will eventually be playing notes within 10 cents, and then later within 5 cents.

As a seasoned pro I'll often be happy with +/- 20 cents as long as it sounds good. And often it will sound better being that far off the tuner scale anyway. +/- 5 cents is probably getting useful if you let your OCD have priority over musicality. I used to worry about that kind of thing but honestly, it's not worth worrying about.
 

GCinCT

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As a seasoned pro I'll often be happy with +/- 20 cents as long as it sounds good. And often it will sound better being that far off the tuner scale anyway. +/- 5 cents is probably getting useful if you let your OCD have priority over musicality. I used to worry about that kind of thing but honestly, it's not worth worrying about.

This is eye opening and very encouraging for me. As a decent amateur ( and that may be ranking myself too high) I work on intonation a lot using my ears. I can consistently get within +/- 20 cents without much trouble. I never thought that was nearly close enough. I realize that it all depends on how good you sound and blend with other musicians.

This gives me a nice confidence boost at a very good time. Thanks!
 

Frnic

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Florida
I would agree that while doing long not practice, don't worry about intonation and using a tuner while doing long notes is not good IMO. gets some good control then think about intonation when it becomes important, playing with back tracks or other people.

Thank you, so control, then intonation - exactly the kind of info I needed!

As a seasoned pro I'll often be happy with +/- 20 cents as long as it sounds good. And often it will sound better being that far off the tuner scale anyway. +/- 5 cents is probably getting useful if you let your OCD have priority over musicality. I used to worry about that kind of thing but honestly, it's not worth worrying about.


Thank you very much, knowing how close other play is also very useful, and the added suggestion of how it sounds with the rest of the group is excellent.
 

jbtsax

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I completely agree with focusing on producing a clear, steady tone and not obsessing on pitch. However, there are some things you can do to help the pitch become more consistent.
  1. Set the top teeth in the same spot on top of the mouthpiece each time you play. A thick rubber patch with a groove can help.
  2. Insert the mouthpiece into the mouth at the same angle each time you play. Setting the neck strap the same length each time helps.
  3. Play with good posture: back straight, head erect, feet flat on floor, chest high, shoulders relaxed, breathe with the abdomen.
  4. Bring the saxophone to you---don't you go to the saxophone is a good habit to get into.
It just makes common sense. The more consistent you can be with the basics of tone production, the more consistent your tone quality and pitch will become.
 

Frnic

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Florida
I completely agree with focusing on producing a clear, steady tone and not obsessing on pitch. However, there are some things you can do to help the pitch become more consistent.
  1. Set the top teeth in the same spot on top of the mouthpiece each time you play. A thick rubber patch with a groove can help.
  2. Insert the mouthpiece into the mouth at the same angle each time you play. Setting the neck strap the same length each time helps.
  3. Play with good posture: back straight, head erect, feet flat on floor, chest high, shoulders relaxed, breathe with the abdomen.
  4. Bring the saxophone to you---don't you go to the saxophone is a good habit to get into.
It just makes common sense. The more consistent you can be with the basics of tone production, the more consistent your tone quality and pitch will become.

Thank you.
 

Mat

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Melbourne, Australia
Hi Frnic

Just a reminder to have fun. See this is a long term gig where playing music can be a soother for the soul and a source of fun, friendship, and a sense of achievement.

I have played music in various forms, some public (not saxophone for the last 30!!!!) for 40 years. Relax and enjoy, and follow the sage and sound advice of the guys from here (that are far better at saxophone than me) and make sure each practice has something that you enjoy. You will keep coming back to music long after your intonation issues are no longer so big in your mind.
 

Zugzwang

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I think us 'returners' have a harder time than first-timers, and not just because of general senility, amnesia, infirmity, etc (no aspersions intended:p), but because however long it's been since we played, the minute we hold a sax again there are expectations - the mere fact you're thinking of "repeatable/intentional and steady intonation" and using words like "embouchure" after 3 days back shows how much has stayed. A teenager would be straight on to finding the notes for their favourite tune, and never mind the quality of the notes produced. More playtime needed.

ps My amateur recommendation is to break parts of your task away from the sax - eg for breath control blow long tones on an empty beer or wine bottle,
having emptied it first of course...
 

6441

 
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Someone here gave some good advice when I started about playing with drones (the note kind, not the hobby or deadly weapon kinds), rather than a tuner. After you get a little more control, maybe, I think you'll find it more enjoyable and more helpful. Hopefully, someone can remind us where they are (the drone file).
 

GCinCT

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Someone here gave some good advice when I started about playing with drones (the note kind, not the hobby or deadly weapon kinds), rather than a tuner. After you get a little more control, maybe, I think you'll find it more enjoyable and more helpful. Hopefully, someone can remind us where they are (the drone file).
I got an app called "Real Tanpura". I use it when playing long tones. It really helped my intonation a lot. I still use it every day.
 

Pete Thomas

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As a seasoned pro I'll often be happy with +/- 20 cents as long as it sounds good. And often it will sound better being that far off the tuner scale anyway. +/- 5 cents is probably getting useful if you let your OCD have priority over musicality.

re: my post above

I probably need to qualify this a bit in that it can be very difficult to either tell when and how much a note is technically out of tune (technically would mean as shown on a tuner that is calibrated to an appropriate intonation, which would in most/many practical cases be equal temperament. Even when you can tell you are playing a note which is either sharp or flat, it is not always so easy to determine how acceptable it is, or whether it is actually better than "in tune."

So it may be misleading for me to imply to beginners it's necessarily OK to be +/- 20 cents. There are many worms in this can.
 

GCinCT

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re: my post above

I probably need to qualify this a bit in that it can be very difficult to either tell when and how much a note is technically out of tune (technically would mean as shown on a tuner that is calibrated to an appropriate intonation, which would in most/many practical cases be equal temperament. Even when you can tell you are playing a note which is either sharp or flat, it is not always so easy to determine how acceptable it is, or whether it is actually better than "in tune."

So it may be misleading for me to imply to beginners it's necessarily OK to be +/- 20 cents. There are many worms in this can.

What I take from this is, when playing in an ensemble, use your ears and adjust accordingly. ;)
 

Pete Thomas

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What I take from this is, when playing in an ensemble, use your ears and adjust accordingly. ;)
Exactly, and by the same argument when in an ensemble don't play to a tuner. Especially an ensemble with no keyboard.

Often guitarists will use a tuner on stage, and theoretically that makes more sense to me than a saxophone doing it as it's more about actually tuning the six open strings to some standard.

Mind you I've been on stage with a guitarist who was so loud in the monitors/amp that he could only hear himself, and although hw was more or loess in tune he raged to play some runs a semitone sharp due to not being able to see the frets under dark lighting conditions. Oh how we chuckled.
 

Frnic

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33
Locality
Florida
I think us 'returners' have a harder time than first-timers, and not just because of general senility, amnesia, infirmity, etc (no aspersions intended:p), but because however long it's been since we played, the minute we hold a sax again there are expectations - the mere fact you're thinking of "repeatable/intentional and steady intonation" and using words like "embouchure" after 3 days back shows how much has stayed. A teenager would be straight on to finding the notes for their favourite tune, and never mind the quality of the notes produced. More playtime needed.

ps My amateur recommendation is to break parts of your task away from the sax - eg for breath control blow long tones on an empty beer or wine bottle, having emptied it first of course...

Pretty much agree with all you said. Getting old pretty much sucks despite the memes :)

I am amazed how much I remember - or maybe I should say how much my body remembers.

Thanks
Frank
 

Frnic

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33
Locality
Florida
re: my post above

I probably need to qualify this a bit in that it can be very difficult to either tell when and how much a note is technically out of tune (technically would mean as shown on a tuner that is calibrated to an appropriate intonation, which would in most/many practical cases be equal temperament. Even when you can tell you are playing a note which is either sharp or flat, it is not always so easy to determine how acceptable it is, or whether it is actually better than "in tune."

So it may be misleading for me to imply to beginners it's necessarily OK to be +/- 20 cents. There are many worms in this can.

I understood what you meant.I also play the cello, and there are long arguments over just what in tune means. And of course Pianos, with their locked in equal temperament, are evil. I guess I was trying to say there that I expect "in tune" will come and I am not so worried about that and it was a long winded way to ask should I start getting in shape by focusing on tread mill, rowing or free weights... in other words, everyone says practice to get better, and I was asking WHICH things should I practice on first to get to where the sound produced is controlled and intentional.

My favorite meme from learning cello was, "Practice doesn't make perfect, Practice makes permanent"

Thanks

frank
 

Colin the Bear

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Part of the attraction and personality of the saxophone is its flexibility of tone and its idiosyncratic intonation. Playing tunes on just the mouthpiece will help with voicing.
 

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