Saxophones Do all saxophones go sharp the same amount when it's hot?

Discussion in 'Saxophones & Accessories' started by nigeld, Jul 12, 2017.

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  1. nigeld

    nigeld slow learner

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    Here's a theory question, probably with not a lot of practical use.

    Last week it was very hot. I was playing in a saxophone group and I had my mouthpiece pulled out a bit further than usual in order to play at concert 440. I was wondering if all sizes of saxophone go sharp by the same amount when it gets hotter. So if we had all left our mouthpieces in their "usual" positions, would we have played in tune as a group? (Assuming that we can ever play in tune as a group and that there are only saxophones.) Someone in the group said that in her experience, tenor saxes seem to be worse than the others when it gets hot, but I don't know why that should be.
     
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  3. Jules

    Jules Formerly known as "nachoman"

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    My old Conn 30M (1938- very wide bore and an oddly soft metal body tube) was significantly more prone to tuning issues linked to temperature changes than any of my modern saxes..
     
  4. jbtsax

    jbtsax old and opinionated

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    That is a very good question. What I do know is that the air temperature affects the speed of sound, which in turn affects the pitch of a wind instrument. The pitch raises (or lowers) 1 comma (23.5 cents) for a difference of 6° C or 10° F. When there is a pitch change caused by a rise in the temperature "large" instruments have to pull out farther than small instruments to compensate. As to whether the pitch of all sizes of saxophones changes by the same amount due to temperature changes, my guess is that it does, but the adjustment of the mouthpiece on the neck cork is different based upon the length of the instrument.
     
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  5. David Roach

    David Roach Senior Member

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    In my experience, I have found that a great deal of ebonite tenor mouthpieces have to sit quite near the end of the neck to be in tune to 440 even during cold weather - this excludes Selmer mouthpieces, the S80 for instance needs to be pushed almost to the end of the factory cork length to get up to pitch.
    Every ebonite Vandoren mouthpiece I have ever owned falls into this category, V16s, V5s and Optimums alike. I found the Navarro ebonite BopBoy impossible to play on my Series 3 tenor because there simply wasn't enough neck to hold the mouthpiece solidly during a hot summer. The BeBop Special was better because it is a longer piece.
    Presumably this is to do with the resonance of an ebonite mouthpiece; makers seem to need to make the shanks shorter. I've never had the problem with metal pieces, which as I understand it, do not resonate. (I hope it's not to do with saving money). I never had the problem on soprano, alto or bari.
     
  6. jbtsax

    jbtsax old and opinionated

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    I believe that where the mouthpiece sits on the cork to play in tune has more to do with the volume inside the mouthpiece and less with its length. It is a common problem for those who play vintage saxes using a long, bullet style mouthpiece to have to pull the mouthpiece out to nearly the end of the cork to get it down to pitch. I experienced that problem myself when I used to play "Frankentenor" made with the salvageable parts of two vintage Conns using a metal Berg Larsen mouthpiece.

    Today I play on an Conn 10M with a Jody Jazz Jet 7 mouthpiece that has a larger chamber area inside and the mouthpiece sits comfortably on the cork even in hot venues. I don't think that the "resonance" of the material a mouthpiece is made of makes any difference in either the pitch or the sound.
     
  7. David Roach

    David Roach Senior Member

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    Since adding a metal ferule to the end of an Ebonite Mouthpiece seems to affect the resonance, I am imagining that a longer shank would do too. Of course this wouldn't affect the pitch, but it does affect the amount of neck cork the mouthpiece would be in contact with, which is the point I am actually making.
     
  8. MandyH

    MandyH Sax-Mad fiend!

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    from experience, I'd say no.
    my gut instinct is the more metal, the more sharp you go when hot, the more flat when cold.
    when our sax quartet / sax ensemble play outdoors, I (on Bari) tune first.
    Whatever the best I can manage given the temperature, the rest tune to that flat / sharp.
     
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  9. jbtsax

    jbtsax old and opinionated

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    I'm not sure what you mean by the "resonance" of a mouthpiece. Could you elaborate on that term?
     
  10. David Roach

    David Roach Senior Member

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    I understand that ebonite mouthpieces do resonate to a small extent whereas metal ones do not. I think I learned this from discussions with Morgan Fry and more recently with Navarro concerning the intricacy of making a single concept of a mouthpiece in the two different materials and how allowances must be made for the fact that ebonite resonates (to an extent) and metal does not. I have no technical knowledge of this personally apart from the fact that this supports my feelings from my 40+ years of playing. Certainly ebonite transfers vibrations in a way that metal does not, so it stands to reason that there is a certain amount of resonance going on as the reed slaps the facing.

    I was observing the fact that quite a few ebonite mouthpieces (i.e. Vandorens, Navarro BopBoy etc and so on) are made quite short and stubby which makes it necessary to sit them close to the end of the neck of e.g. a modern Selmer tenor, in order to be at A440, and this made me wonder if that shortness was due to historical precedent, or money saving (shorter blanks), or good acoustic reasons.

    What do you reckon @jbtsax ?
     
  11. thomsax

    thomsax Well-Known Member

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    Is it the air or the brass (material) that is expanding? Or a combination? I know saxophonists that have some really problems when there are playing outdoors winthertime. Marching bands. Maybe that's why we found most of the HP saxes up in the north? A grandpiano up in the north is often tuned in A=443 and somtimes higher. So if you're playing with a well tuned grand piano you can't look at your own tuner.
     
  12. nigeld

    nigeld slow learner

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    My understanding is that there are three factors:
    1. The metal saxophone body expands when it gets hotter. This will lower the pitch since the distance from the mouthpiece to the tone holes is greater. Presumably the amount of expansion depends on the alloy.
    2. The speed of sound in air increases when it gets hotter. This increases the pitch, since the time for the wave to get from one end of the saxophone to the other is shorter and thus the frequency is higher.

    Edit: added a third factor
    3. Humidity. The speed of sound increases as the air gets more humid. This increases the pitch, but in practice the effect is negligible.

    Factor 2 (speed of sound) is the dominant effect. Otherwise instruments would go down in pitch when they warm up. However, the temperature of the air inside the instrument is not equal to the ambient temperature. If the ambient temperature is lower than 37 degrees then the air inside the instrument will be warmed up by the player's breath and cooled down by the body of the saxophone. Intuitively, I would expect that the air temperature is normally higher inside the smaller saxophones (because the player's breath warms them up more), and that their pitch is therefore less affected by ambient temperature, but I don't know if this is true. Hence my original question.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017
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  13. jbtsax

    jbtsax old and opinionated

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    Here are some things that I have learned in my study of musical acoustics:

    The formula for frequency is:

    f = c / λ Where f is frequency, c is the speed of sound, and λ is the wavelength. ​

    As the speed of sound increases and the wavelength remains constant, the frequency rises. On a conical woodwind the wavelength is equal to twice the length of the instrument to the first open tonehole plus a small distance added for the "end correction". For any given note, the wavelength doesn't change so the increase (or decrease) in the speed of sound raises (or lowers) the frequency or pitch.

    From p. 48 of The Saxophone is My Voice by Ernest Ferron the speed of sound at 20º C / 68º F = 343 m/s (meters per second). The speed of sound at 25º C / 77º F = 346 m/s. Benade states that 347 m/s is a good value to use for the warm, damp air at the upper end of a woodwind.

    The expansion coefficient of yellow brass is .0000113. This means that a conical brass tube measured at 20" long at 20º C will expand to 20.00113" at 25º C---hardly enough of a change to affect the pitch a perceptible amount.
     
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  14. nigeld

    nigeld slow learner

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    Increased humidity also increases the speed of sound, and thus the frequency, but I believe the effect is very small.
     
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  15. Dibbs

    Dibbs Member

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    Although clearly insignificant, expansion of the metal would also cause the bore and toneholes to increase in diameter and the height of the pads above the holes would also increase. All of these would tend to raise the pitch.
     
  16. kevgermany

    kevgermany ex Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    As the tube/toneholes expand with temperature increases, pitch will drop. Pad to tonehole distance will depend on geometric factors and may increase or reduce. Anyway as Jbtsax has shown, the change is negligible.
     
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  17. thomsax

    thomsax Well-Known Member

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    So a mouthpiece that is working well together with your sax is important. A flexible mouthpiece that can work in cold-hot rooms, outdoors-indoors .... . I can play my Rovner #10 tenor mpc (long heavy, very large window, bullet) on Martin HC (comm I) when I'm playing on my own. But if I'm going to tune after an acustic piano that is not tuned or plays in A=440 I've problems. The best mpc on my Martin HC is an old CZ metal "piece" from the 30's: small chamber, bullet ... . My HC plays very well with this mpc. Just one problem. I don't like the sound. So A mpc that is designed in the same style as the original mouthpice is important? Off topic!
     

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  18. David Roach

    David Roach Senior Member

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    Having thought about this a bit further, I was reminded of a recent discussion I had with the master mouthpiece maker Ed Pillinger. I ordered a couple of soprano pieces from him recently and we fell to discussing the effect of the thickness of the beak upon the flexibility of the tone of a mouthpiece (something I felt had been a bit restricted in my usual mouthpiece). According to Ed, if the beak is thick it will inhibit the degree to which one can influence the colour of the tone; conversely, a thinner beak will make it easier to do so. This seems to support the idea that there is some 'resonance' - i.e. 'response to' - the slapping of the reed against the facing which can be inhibited by larger or heavier material in the mouthpiece itself - particularly in the beak. It makes me wonder whether a thick rubber patch might have the same damping effect as a thick beak, when all I actually want it to do is to protect my teeth.

    Is this a more helpful elaboration @jbtsax ?
     
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  19. rhysonsax

    rhysonsax Well-Known Member

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    Mouthpiece maker Ralph Morgan did a lot of experimental work with the shape of the beak and with thickness of the material. His Excalibur line of mouthpieces had thinner wall thickness for more of the higher partials.

    There is information from Ralph Morgan here: --So, Here's the Scoop....Saxophone and Clarinet Mouthpiece Design

    Rhys
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
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  20. David Roach

    David Roach Senior Member

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    Thanks Rhys, very good info.
    Sorry everyone, we're getting a bit off-topic with this :).
     
  21. jbtsax

    jbtsax old and opinionated

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    "Resonance" is an interesting term that I believe is often misunderstood. If I take the mouthpiece off my tenor, finger low Bb and put the end of the neck (crook) up to my ear like a stethoscope, I will hear the "resonance" of the body of air inside the tenor that is set into vibration by that same frequency in the background noise in the room from a fan or other sounding device. That frequency is not only captured but also amplified by the vibration of the air column inside the body of the saxophone. This is an example of what is called "sympathetic vibration" when the "resonant frequency" of an object or a column of air is set into vibration by the sound waves having the same, or close to the same frequency.

    If one goes up to a set of chimes and strikes the top corner of one of the tubes with a rawhide hammer, one will hear the "resonance" of the note that tube is tuned to. In this case what is heard is the metal body of the tube vibrating, not an air column inside which may also be vibrating, but is far too soft to be heard over the ringing of the chime itself. Contrast this with "Boomwhackers" which are colored plastic tubes of various lengths tuned to notes of the scale. When these are struck, it is the air column inside that "resonates", not the plastic tube itself.

    When the saxophone reed is set into vibration by forcing air through the tip opening of the mouthpiece, the reed instantly vibrates at the resonant frequency of the length of the air column produced by that fingering setting up a "regime of oscillation" that includes the fundamental and all of the overtones below the "cutoff frequency" which is in the neighborhood of F#3. Of course there are higher frequencies produced that are above the "cutoff frequency" but these do not take part in the "regime of oscillation". It is well known and that the shape and size of the interior of the mouthpiece can have a great effect upon the relative strength of various frequencies contained in the reed's vibration. To my knowledge there have been no major scientific studies on the effects of the wall vibrations of the mouthpiece itself or the effects of different materials.

    The phenomenon of the reed's closing the aperture of the mouthpiece is called "beating". At levels of mf and above, the blowing pressure against the reed closes it until the pressure of returning soundwave reopens it. On a conical woodwind the sound wave travels to the first open tonehole, reverses its course and then returns to make one complete wave. It is interesting to note that on a saxophone the reed's opening and closing (beating) is not symetrical. It is closed approximately 1/3 of the time and open 2/3 of the time. This is one reason a saxophone plays louder than a clarinet which is closer to 50 / 50.

    The question at hand is whether the vibrations of the beak and/or tip of the mouthpiece somehow effect the reed's vibration when it touches the tip during the closed part of its cycle---remembering that at that point, the reed is not moving.
     

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