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Kingsleyhk

Senior Member
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508
Is it just me or are some of the sax players we regard as current stars seriously out with their intonation? Not mentioning any names but I was just listening to one sax player with a high reputation and to me he is out of tune a lot. On the other hand I listen to, say, Eric Marienthal and he seems spot on all the time. Similarly, I heard Ernie Watts (live) a couple of weeks ago - perfect - fast, slow, low Bb or altissimo, you couldn't fault him.

I think Pete wrote somewhere that Charlie Parker sometimes played sharp. I just listened to Parker playing Laura on the "with strings album" and, to me, he is noticeably sharp. Now listening to Now's the time - and he sounds perfect.

So, is it me - and does it matter?
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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Interesting remark!

I consider tuning a relative concept: in some styles it is part of the expressive palette of the instrument.
My favourite example is Charles Mingus on doublebass: He can play out ot tune in the most classy way making sense of it. He can also play in tune when needed.

Marienthal comes from a midi generation in which tuning was subordinated to keyboard (if Chick Corea is your employer....).

Without going back to the tempered system, if you play a bluesy Eb on a C7, you must play it sharper than you would on a Cm7. Just an example...
 

Kingsleyhk

Senior Member
Messages
508
Take your point - and I realize that bending a note is part of the palate.

I was referring to something deeper than that - what seems to me to be a fundamental technical problem with their playing. Now who am I to criticise? Well . . .

1. I pay to hear these people- most of the time anyway - so I have the right to express my views.

2. I'm trying to improve my technique, but hear what appear to me to be examples of poor technique lionised.
 

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
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I don't believe in jazz or blues and some other genres there is such a thing as "correct" intonation.

I remember when I first started working asa commercial composer, a client turned down a track I sent on the grounds that it was too in tune. I redid it with plenty of what many people would call out of tune notes, and the client loved it, there was much more character and it sounded less like "a bunch of session musicians".

When I record I can see exactly what my intonation is, often it's at least 30 cents sharp or flat on some notes. I have the software to correct it or the possibility to edit/rerecord, but first I decide on whether it should stay like that and very often it does.

I did a test which involved a track played with a note in tune and the same track with the note about 25 cents out of tune. I (and most people) preferred the "out of tune" version:

http://tamingthesaxophone.com/saxophone-intonation-tuning.html

I do think people hear music differently, some people are very sensitive to intonation and need it to be spot on, other people don't, or prefer it to be not spot on.

You also have to take into account the difference between equal temperament and other tunings, e.g. just intonation. My wife runs a choir who sing early music, and some of what they do involves singing in meantone temperament. The new singers sometimes have a problem as they need to learn to sing intervals that seem (at first) to be "out of tune" with how they were taught.

My own thoughts are that intonation either side of what is technically in tune (either with equal temperament or other instruments in the band) is just another area of expression and the musician can use the context to judge whether the note should be what the tuner would register as "in tune".
 

Kingsleyhk

Senior Member
Messages
508
Jackie McLean? Lou Donaldson?
Actually the Joshua Redman track "Moonlight" referred to in a somewhat controversial other post - which is why I didn't actually indentify it/him.

It's something of a sensitive subject with me since in my early days playing in bands with much older and more accomplished musicians, I was frequently criticized (that's the polite term) for being off with my intonation. In those days we didn't have tuners - just A on the joanna. Part of it was just an awful no brand mouthpiece that came with the sax - a brand no-one's never heard of called Embassy - thank you Boosey and Hawkes - but who knew? Things improved dramatically when I managed to save enough to buy a Selmer C** metal mpc.

But it's bugged me ever since (only 50 years!). It's being brought back into focus by my struggles with the soprano.
 

SopJob

Member
Messages
78
Hello Kingsleyhk,

I noted that many of the old celebrities played out of tune and that quite a lot. It partly had to do with the instruments they were playing. I think Steve Howard once said that "things can get muddy on a vintage horn".

I think this is only problematic when several voices need to build a chord. What distinguishes a good musician in such situations is that she or he can adjust the pitch (simply by hearing) when longer notes are played that are crucial to the chord.

Else bending can be used effectively as a style element. Sometimes, keeping the proper pitch can be very hard. Just switch on a tuner and play a few longer trills. I think many of us will note that the pitch is going down. Playing subtone is a similar thing. And despite this, it can sound quite charming.
 

Colin the Bear

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13,059
I was taught that the scale in early music was based on the harmonics of the valveless trumpet. After the piano it got divided up into 12 equal slots. I remember there was an orchestra playing Bach on period instruments and the review criticised the trumpet of being out of tune. He wasn't out of tune he was in a different tune that the modern ear wasn't used to.

Some Indian music has a whole scale between our notes and some of those African harmonies are unreal. For me it's the next note that defines the last note. You'll find violin players denote Eflat from Dsharp etc. Two completely different notes for them.

Your ear will hear things differently as the years pass. I was in my thirties till the penny dropped with bebop. I just couldn't hear Charlie and Dizzy but I got Brubeck and Paul Desmond from the first time I heard them.

It all boils down to if you like it or not. I don't struggle to understand music any more. It either touches me or it doesn't. However I do go back to classic stuff I didn't get and try it again. And of course to nick the occassional lick or solo to reinterpret. (nick)

We all suffer from being tone deaf in varying degrees. I've played in bands where the trumpet was playing a semitone sharp, on purpose to cut through and be heard and bands where the trombone played the whole number in the wrong key without knowing.

And don't get me started on Tuba players
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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eaf in varying degrees. I've played in bands where the trumpet was playing a semitone sharp, on purpose to cut through and be heard and bands
Lucky you: I often am in bands where trumpets think it is cool to play 12 and 1/4 semitones sharp (they act as professionals too).
 
Messages
159
I've heard recording where great players are playing out of tune and others where they are nails. For the saxophone it generally reflects practice habits. Even the best of us get out of tune when we're not on the top of our game. If you take time off from the horn your intonation won't be where it was when you left, and the same is true for the greats.

As far as intentional out of tune playing, it just depends on personal taste. I love Ornette and Eric Dolphy, but for very different reasons than I love Charlie Parker and early Trane.
 

Mike

Senior Member
Messages
559
Yes, everyone hears differently? How can they not?
My playing can tend to go sharp being that I don't spend hours practicing and I'm fine with it because I know all too
well I will not achieve keyboard status intonation in my playing because of my neglect to practice extensively. My playing is loaded with 'impurities' that create all sorts of deviations in my intonation. It's just the overall make-up
of who I am as a saxophonist at this point in time. I believe it adds character, personally speaking.


It also depends on emotion and how we approach each and every note with passion.
We're trying to taste the note and so we can very easily alter it. Sometimes environment, as in temperature, may result in an altered intonation.


I'm not an antiseptic type of player and so I treat it as effect and I like imperfection. Ya see, I have no pressure in my playing......lol............If I didn't enjoy what was coming out of my horn I wouldn't do it. It's has to be about having fun and not being consumed with what is not present in our playing.
I believe wholeheartedly with Pete's assertion that there is not a correct intonation in spite of what tuners reflect. Different sounds appeal to different ears for whatever reason. It's not a universal understanding. It's personal.


To be quite honest, Ron Carter was playing cello with Eric Dolphy and he tuned it sharp, which I believe/hope was on purpose. I couldn't stand it!
 
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Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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I suspect that this is a mixture of personal taste and also of instrument / genre. Let's face it, the sax is a fairly wild beast - even I can bend a note by a substantial amount and I'm a rank novice compared with some of the Café residents!

I think genre is relevant too. Some styles need to be in tune, others are perhaps more flexible in that regard.You'd run a mile if a string quartet or viol consort was not in tune. Interestingly, most experienced string quartets (it goes without saying for viol consorts) tend not to use equal temperament because of the poor tuning of the thirds in particular.

I sang at a music workshop a few years ago where we were tuned 'harmonically'. With in-tune thirds and fifths the chords really pinged in a way that doesn't happen with ET.
 

Jazzaferri

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,658
Its such a cool feeling when that chordal resonance thing happens . ET go home ??

Otoh i double on acoustic guitar and lime the joke says how long does it take to tune a guitar .. No one knows theynhavent done it...without tempering the instrument is very limited to the notes it can play and ot sound decidedly off.
 

Jazzaferri

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2,658
Apologies for the spelling weirdness. Ipad is being recqalcitrant and not wanting the cursor to go where i want.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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Apologies for the spelling weirdness. Ipad is being recqalcitrant and not wanting the cursor to go where i want.
This is a different forthcoming thread: how comes I can play several instruments and cannot use a touch screen?

Or

How comes these kids in the tube can use a touch screen but cannot walk in a straight line?
 

Wade Cornell

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2,118
I don't hear any tuning or intonation problems in the above clip. Especially tight at miniute 54 where it's unison with the piano. You can't do that if you're not spot on.

There is a big difference between being out of tune and intonation problems. Nerves and a warming instrument can cause playing sharp. If you've got a good ear you pull out the mouthpiece and correct. Intonation involves both the insturment and the player. The sax is an imperfect instrument so we mostly need to adjust either our playing for specific notes or a specific range, to play in tune. The higher the pitch of the instrument the worse it gets. Some instruments just can't be changed and this requires extreme changes of embouchere to make it play in tune. You "vintage" instrument players probably know all about this. The sopranino is a good example. It has to be played by ear or you will never play in tune.

There are some players who just can't hear (or don't listen to) where the pitch is so may not tune (adjust the mouthpiece properly to be in tune) or correct for specific notes or a range of the instrument. This is a pretty severe limitation that needs more emphisis as I hear lots of killer players who seem to think that playing techincally or fast without regard to pitch is OK. It's not.
 
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aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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I hear lots of killer players who seem to think that playing techincally or fast without regard to pitch is OK. It's not.
Are you sure? If they are really fast I stop listening, so i don't really know
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,059
This maybe is the guy that this thread. is about... Let him answer it.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z9tK0eWvTg&feature=related
Love it !!!! IMO of course..............;}
There's a couple of places on the first number where the bass goes wandering off which makes the sax sound out of tune. Or does the sax go wandering and make the base seem in the wrong key. Or maybe it's done on purpose to create a little tension. It happens. It's live.

Tuning and intonation sounds bang on to me. I've not heard of this lot before. Very easy to listen to. Just when I thought I was getting good I am put back in my place lol. Thanks for the link.
 

Mike

Senior Member
Messages
559
Are you sure? If they are really fast I stop listening, so i don't really know
Really? Why are you shortcoming your ears like that? Shame! I've heard some truly great things at breakneck speed!

As in John Coltrane's 'sheets of sound' perspective. Don't try and listen to each and every note but capture the overall color which is easy.

Fast and slow passages have equal importance.................................What it comes down to is I don't care in the least
why a musician picks a particular part in the tune to play fast runs. The only thing that concerns me is did I like it. Some I do and some I don't
but I never automatically dismiss velocity because of it's energy expenditure.
 
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