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Down an Octave

Gar

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Not sure if this goes here or in the beginner's section, but here it goes.

I am trying a lesson in a section of a book for intonation. The exercise is to go up and down in legato in what it terms as "Roots and Fifths". It starts on a root, goes up an octave, back down to the fifth of the root, and then up an octave of that fifth, then down to the octave of the root, and then up another octave from that. End of legato. And then it goes back down in a similar sequence from that again in legato.

My issue is that I am fine going up octaves, but it is difficult when doing the second part which involves going down octaves. This is supposed to be a section on intonation, and it is legato, so I am assuming that I use no tonguing to try to achieve the lower octave, which in this exercise starts to go down from a high b flat to a middle b flat. So far when I end up trying to go down, all I end up doing is over-toning. Is this a problem with my octave key not being tight enough over the hole, do I have to keep experimenting with the embouchure, or am I supposed to give the reed a flick as I go down?:confused: One thing I'm pretty sure not to do, after perusing this site, is to not let down on the air pressure using my lungs.

Thanks,
Gar
 

jbtsax

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The problem usually isn't with the octave mechanism itself. One of the idiosyncrasies of a conical woodwind is that slurring up an octave is easier than slurring down an octave. The reason has to do with the fact that in going up an octave, the rate of vibration doubles. The saxophone does this more naturally that the opposite, which is to have the rate of vibration cut in half as when going down an octave.

One technique that I learned which can be helpful is to imagine you are playing the lower tone when the high one is sounding with the octave vent open. I was taught that it is important to keep the embouchure the same when changing octaves or registers. What changes is the speed and focus of the airstream which some people call "voicing" the note. It is important to keep an open throat as well.

To see how it feels to do this start by playing low G as a long tone, and then have someone else hit the octave key for a few seconds and then release it. Your focus should be on playing low G with a good tone throughout---regardless of the octave that sounds. If you are not "biting" when you play, the sax should slur easily up and down on the G.

To check if you are biting, remove the mouthpiece and neck and play that apart from the saxophone. On alto the pitch of this "tone producer" should be an Ab concert. On tenor the pitch should be an E concert. If the pitch is higher than this, try to open the teeth more when you play and direct the airstream in a more downward direction.
 

kevgermany

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Gar there are two schools on the embouchure change, one says thatt he embouchure shouldn't change over the range of the sax. The other says it's OK to tighten up a little as you go up, and loosen up as you go down.

If you're tightening up, it'll be like John says. I've been taught the other way, and the only way I can drop an octave is by thinking low/ahead and momentarily dropping my breath support as the note changes. Thinking ahead adjusts the breath support for the next note. Consciously playing with a looser embouchure helps as well (and improves your sound).

One way of tackling this would be to try smaller drops in pitch that don't involve the octave key, then extend the range a little, then do smaller range changes over the break. and work up to it. But octaves are harder, cos the sax doesn't have the keys moving to 'help' persuade the ssax to swap pitch. Once you get the octave drops, work on getting them smoother. It comes with practice. Must say I've a long way to go here.
 

jbtsax

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Thanks to kevgermany for correctly pointing out that there are different schools of thought on embouchure changes when changing registers. I would like to take the topic a bit further and share some thoughts gained from my study and experience in support of my "school", and welcome others with different points of view to do the same.

Having taught many student saxophonists over the years, I have observed some of the negative results of tightening and loosening the embouchure to change registers on the saxophone---a habit I struggled with as a developing player as well. Tightening the embouchure and/or moving the jaw forward as one goes higher often results in a tone that is pinched and sharp. Loosening the embouchure and/or moving the jaw back as one goes lower often results in a flabby and flat tone in the lower register.

Trying to play different notes with a different embouchures makes little sense when one stops to think about it and creates unnecessary work for the player. Not only the pitch, but flexibility when changing octaves/registers suffers as well. The ability to execute rapid octave slurs in both directions is not helped, bit is actually made more difficult by using embouchure gymnastics. The mainstream pedagogical literature affirms that the saxophone can actually be played with essentially the same embouchure from low Bb to high F. The key is in finding the optimum embouchure tension as a starting point.

Larry Teal in the book "The Art of Saxophone Playing" gives an excellent test to check for the correct embouchure tension. First a low A is played and then the neck octave key is flicked open with the right hand. If the note jumps to high A and stays, the embouchure is too tight. If the high A sounds flat or flabby, the embouchure is too loose. When the embouchure tension is correct, the note will jump to a good sounding high A and then return quickly to the low A when the octave key is released.

When one plays with too tight an embouchure to begin with, it is common to relax a bit for the low notes. This may seem to make sense, and work to some degree. However the better solution is to find the "middle ground" embouchure tension that works equally well in all registers. This was the point of Santy Runyon's famous discovery about mouthpiece pitches. His "theramin experiment" turned out to be a bit far fetched, but he was right on in focusing on the importance of the input pitch when playing the saxophone.

Some folks will point to the way some famous jazz players tend to move their jaws forward and back when they play, as evidence it is ok to change the embouchure to go high and low. However, it is important to remember that in jazz styles, the lower register is almost always played using a subtone which does require a change in jaw position. This is a stylistic effect as are bends and scoops and other pitch changes that use jaw and lip changes to execute. It is also important to note that playing in the altissimo register requires some physical changes that playing in the "traditional" range does not. None of these stylistic playing skills should be misinterpreted to mean that different registers and octaves "require" a different embouchure when playing the saxophone.
 

kevgermany

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The last reply made me re-read my post.

Just want to make it clear - I was taught to tighten up as I go up. Gives me the same problem trying to drop an octave. I'm having to unlearn it. Not easy.

When I said loosen up, I didn't mean to the extent of flabby tone(thanks for pointing this out J).... Just that when you're too tight, especially in the lower register, it strangles your sound. You need the happy medium/correct embouchure and this needs to be your instinctive/normal position.
 

Jazzaferri

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About 3 years ago after going through Dave Leibmans Developing a Personal Sax Sound, I changed to having a much looser embouchure. It took nearly 3 years to get back to the point where I am happy with my sound and I practice a couple of hours a day.

Best exercise IMO for plaing octaves down is to play long tone fundamentals on the bell keys and slur up an octave and then the fifth above that then back to the octave and then fundamental. Time it so one runs out of breath after going back down to the fundamental.

The other exercise I find really useful is to play a bell key fundamental an octave up (not using the octave key) and then changing the fingering to the upper stack of the same pitch. The goal is to get the tone as even as possible.
 

Gar

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Thanks jbtsax!

Imagining playing the lower note beforehand seemed to help. At least I did get the note to drop eventually: About half a second after releasing the octave key. I guess the goal would be to have the tone change almost instantaneously with when the key is released. I presume what I am subconsciously doing is increasing the air to play a lower note (correct me if this is backward), and somewhat anticipating the new sound in my vocal chords. I think I experience this effect other times when I am anticipating the correct sound to play, but accidentally play the wrong key. Even though I may be playing off by just a full tone, instead of hearing the incorrectly played note, I hear a squeak, or something other than the keyed note, instead.
 

Gar

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Thanks to all.

I will keep experimenting. But I think some of this stuff may be over my head. Not sure what is meant by "long tone fundamentals on the bell keys". What is a "bell key"? what is a "fundamental"?

FYI: the book I am using must be in the school of "change the embouchure as you move along the register." Here is an excerpt from 'mel bay presents improvisation & musicianship for the jazz, blues & soul SAXOPHONIST'[sic]:

"As a general rule, keep the embouchure tight in the lower register. Although you may produce a nice breathy sound by playing the notes below the break with a relaxed embouchure, they will almost certainly be flat in relation to the rest of the instrument. Conversely, the embouchure should be relaxed for middle D and Eb and also for the uppermost register-C# to F#. Example 2 shows the registers on the saxophone which often prove problematic."

Then it shows in a figure the notes middle B through C# as tight, middle D and Eb as relaxed and high C# through F# as relaxed.

Even for this school of thought, it seems backward to what was said in this thread as far as when to relax and when to tighten up. Also what does it mean by "the break"?

Thanks again,
Gar
 

kevgermany

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Break - with/without the octave key
look up subtones for the breathy low flat notes, think stan Getz for playing them, loooooose embouchure breathing in the sax
tighter gets the normal sound, even tighter gets the higher notes with the octave key

Bell keys - the really low notes where the key clapper is on the bell of the sax - bottom Bb etc.

long tones exercises on a single note over a long time, changing the volume keeping the pitch constant and working on developing the sound. Can be done on any note, really pays dividends.

Fundamentals - a single note on the sax consists of a number of actual notes, called harmonics. The first harmonic - or fundamental - is the lowest , then the second harmonic is at double the freqeunecy, third at three times the frequency and so on. this givces the sax it's rich sound. e.g. if you play a real A at 440Hz, the second harmonic is at 880Hz, the third at 1320 Hz and so on. Also known as partials, just to confuse us mere mortals.
 

Jazzaferri

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I hope some teachers who have experience with an initio training can jump in as I am not certain what to suggest. It is a very different process to play with a relaxed embouchure and get solid tone, for a breathy subtone sound Getz certainly is there but ii would rather suggest for a learner to conceptualize a less breathy sound at first.

At some point reading a copy of Dave Leibman may be in order depending on one's goals. It's a long process. I am just not certain at what point to recommend to start it.

Partials come in two varieties...harmonics which are whole number multiples of a fundamental frequency (as above) and overtones which are non whole number multiples of a fundamental. Drums are almost all overtones. Sax is mostly harmonics with a tiny touch of overtone for character.
 
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Gar

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Wow! Such a wealth of knowledge by everyone here. I learn something new every time. I may hold off on the tutor for a while since I have improved so much already after following these posts.

I only had introductory physics at the university. We covered sound waves in cylinders but not to the point of how different instruments create their own distinctive harmonics and overtones.

I thought overtoning was when you play a note that is normally played with the octave key, without the octave key. Or is that when you play in the alti-something range, IE notes that the saxophone was not designed for above the top registers?
Similarly is a subtone playing the notes below what the saxophone was designed for?

Thanks again.
 

Morgan Fry

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At some point reading a copy of Dave Leibman may be in order depending on one's goals. It's a long process. I am just not certain at what point to recommend to start it.

I think Liebman's is the best book on saxophone sound production, regardless of one's goals as a player. I don't think any time is too soon or too late to start working from it.

Partials come in two varieties...harmonics which are whole number multiples of a fundamental frequency (as above) and overtones which are non whole number multiples of a fundamental. Drums are almost all overtones. Sax is mostly harmonics with a tiny touch of overtone for character.

Close but I don't think this is quite correct. All harmonics and partials are integer multiples of the fundamental. The only difference is how they are conventionally counted -- fundamental = 1st harmonic, 1st partial = second harmonic, 2nd partial = 3rd harmonic, etc..


Gar--
Sounds like it's likely an embouchure related thing. Consistent embouchure position is acceptable, changing embouchure position in/out as you go up/down the instrument is also acceptable. Big changes in embouchure pressure are bad.

Try this: take the mouthpiece off the horn. Play it. Slur down as far as you can, slur back up, back down, back up, etc. Play something, a tune, a scale, anything. See how wide a range you can cover while keeping the embouchure pressure pretty much constant. It's ok if you move the mouthpiece in and out a bit, it's ok if you don't. Work on this 5 minutes or more a day until you can play more than an octave on the mouthpiece alone, with constant embouchure pressure.
 

Jazzaferri

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Had a similar discussion with my recording tech teacher and stood corrected. At least for north America. Partials is defined the set of sound waves above a fundamental frequency. According to him they come in two varieties in acoustical science harmonics which are whole number multiples and overtones which are non whole number multiples.

Overtones in acoustics apparently are not to be confused with overtones on sax. Teacher is an old guy is recording engineer techie type who is into guitar and effects and other such geekie stuff. His guitar god is Hendrix....need i say more.

On our exam we had to know the corresponding notes for the first 16 harmonics. Yep he's that kinda guy. I have no idea why
 
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kevgermany

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Too many similar terms...

Subtone - no it's not playing below the normal frequency, it's a different sound, more breathy, at the same pitch, although it tends to play flat. The old master is Stan Getz, listen to the low notes in this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH_nVv9eiyo. Compare his subtones around 50second mark, with the low notes around 4 minute mark.

Overblowing is when you force a note higher than the fundamental. E.g. playing the middle register notes without the octave key, usually cos your embouchure is too tight.

Overtones are as decribed above. This describes it well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overtone

Partials are as described by Morgan. Sometimes. They're also as described by Jazzaferri. It depends on who you're talking to and how they're using the term. To quote Benade 'Some Partials are Harmonic' (Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics p63). To further quote Benade: 'We will have to be very strict in our terminology or endless confusion can result'. The Wikipedia article pretty much covers this. A simplistic example - if you have a sound made up of three frequencies: 100Hz, 123Hz and 200Hz. There are 3 partials. The 100Hz and 200Hz are harmonic partials. The 123Hz is not. But if it's part of the sound, it's a partial, but a non-harmonic one.
 

Jazzaferri

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Morgan. I appreciate your insight on Leibman's book. I will follow your lead and recommend it without qualification from now on.
 
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