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Fluffy middle D

Profusia

Senior Member
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984
My tenor suffers with a very fluffy sounding and hard to hit middle D (needs tonguing to hit it reliably). Playing middle C but using the octave keys with low C fingering is even worse, and going for B and Bb that way is virtually impossible.

Does anyone have any experience of this and ideas of what may cause it or how to fix it?

Its a King Bb Tenor dating back to the late 1920's but otherwise in very good condition. The pads however are at least 30 years old but still pretty good. I'm a beginner and am using a Yamaha 4c mouthpiece and also a very old Berg Larsen 110 1 sms (ebonite I think). Typically using Rico #2 reeds but also play around with #1, 1.5, and 2.5.

Background: I bought the sax (c/w the BL mp) a little over 30 years ago but never learned to play because of the challenges of the fluffy D combined with not realising that the BL mp was too much for a beginner to start on. Finally started again 5 or 6 weeks ago in earnest and found that switching to the Yam 4c mp really upped my game and stopped all the squeaks I was hitting on the BL. However I guess my embouchure must have improved as I'm now finding the BL much more playable and somewhat more reliable for hitting the fluffy D and even being able to slur to it rather than having to tongue it every time. But its still fluffy sounding.

I'm hoping someone has come across this kind of problem before?

Many thanks in advance.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,937
1 - Low C through to low Bb should not be used with the octave key. You may get a note, but generally not or if you do it's not stable. The sax isn't designed to work this way.

2 - Stuffy middle D is a common feature, especially on older saxes. Add the LH palm D to correct it. (i.e. D + octave + LH palm D at the same time). You can also ask the tech to adjust the key height so the C# below it opens a little more.
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Kev,

Many thanks indeed. I realised that playing middle C and below with the octave key is not the standard fingering but have occasionally found it useful (just C, not below) in passages especially given the problems with hitting the fluffy middle D when slurring. I also sometimes find the tone (when I can get it) and intonation of that C preferable to playing middle C as its intended (LH2), although this may be down to still having a beginner's embouchure and/or not know all of the right and wrong alternative fingerings. In any case, its one thing to get away with it on my new alto but something else on the old tenor. I'm really looking forward to trying out your LH palm D suggestion tonight! I'll also ask about the C# opening next time I'm at the technician's.

Thanks again.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,990
Try to play/test your sax with a mouthpiece with bigger chamber (and no baffle). More like a classical mouthpiece. The other day I gave a girl, who is playing an older sax, an Alexander, Paris mouthpiece. I think it was c 0.085" tip opening and with a 2 or 2½ reed her sax sang well with that combination. You can often find used mouthpieces like these for less money.

Thomas
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Thanks for the suggestion Thomas. I'm baffled by the baffle bit though as wouldn't know one if it slapped me. My Berg Larsen has a wide tip at 110 (I think - correct me if I'm wrong), maybe that's why the D is playing a little better with it. No idea of chamber size. I guess I need a nice diagram showing/labelling parts of mouthpieces. Still struggling with terminology generally (is there a glossary on here?). "GAS" being a nice illustration of another frequently used term which baffles me! :) It would be nice to find a mouthpiece that plays the whole range on the sax cleanly, but I wouldn't want to compromise tone preferring to aim for something mellow. I'll definitely keep my eye out though. Thanks very much again.
 

jbtsax

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8,268
My suggestion would be to first have the saxophone checked by an experienced repair tech. Instruments and pads that old may "look" pretty good to the casual observer, but a trained technician with a leak light can make an accurate assessment of the true playing condition of the instrument.

Once the leaks are fixed and the key heights adjusted, then you have a clean slate to pursue the "timbre" and "texture" of individual notes. That said, older Kings have a reputation for having some intonation idiosyncrasies that need to be worked around that more modern saxes do not exhibit.
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Thanks jbt,

I've had a leak light down it a couple of times and its just come back from the repair shop but no real improvement on the middle D. The repairer (a VERY experienced one by the way and who came recommended) did spot slight leaks but recommended the service rather than a complete pad change. (A couple of small pads did get changed as part of the service). Its sounding more and more like it may just be an old King thing. :(
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Update: I've been trying the various bits of advice where I can with the following results...

Playing middle D with the L1 2 & 3, RH 1 2 & 3 + Octave key and Palm D. This does seem to give me a more stable note but I'm a bit uncomfortable with the tone and intonation. Maybe that could improve with practice. Ditto synching hitting so many fingers and the palm D all at the same time fluently. I'd like to find a better solution if I can as I feel the middle D really shouldn't be this fluffy.

Opening the low C hole/pad wider. The felts are old and by easing the low C's felt to one side a little I can open the C hole/pad wider and it will stay wider (until I play a low C#, or lower of course). I THINK I'm getting a very marginal improvement in strength/stability/reliability and tone on the middle D when I wedge the C hole open this way but its very marginal indeed. Will definitely investigate further when I speak to my repairer/tech.

Wider tipped mouthpiece. My earlier feeling that playing my old 110 1 Berg Larsen was hitting the middle D more reliably seems now to have been more about having the right reed and reed/ligature positioning now as I now find both Yam 4c and BL 110 1 can be better or worse depending on reed strength and reed position etc.

Soft Reeds. I've moved down from Rico 2's to a Rico 1 in the BL mp and a Rico 1.5 in the Yam 4c mp and with the reeds protruding ever so slightly longer than the tip of the mouthpiece. This seems to fog out the whole horn a bit (a bit like I imagine blowing with sock down the bell might sound) but seems to have the benefit of making the middle D a bit stronger and more reliable to hit or slur to. The other benefit of this has been a reduction in the tinny vibration that the horn seems to have since coming back from the repair shop which is really bugging me, but I'll look through the other threads for info on that and/or post a new thread on tinny sound if appropriate.

Thanks indeed to everyone for their advice so far. (Further suggestions always warmly welcomed)
 

Chris

Well Known
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3,821
Hi Thomas, while there are workarounds to your problem, most new players have the same as you with the middle "D". As with most things saxophone, over time and with practice, it will go away. Most of all don't get hung up over it..

Chris..
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,921
Could be a "voicing" issue. Try raising the back of your tongue slightly when you go from the bottom octave to the middle D and above.
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Chris/Martin, thanks guys.

Hard not to get somewhat hung up when not blessed with a patient disposition and my beloved instrument is pretty unplayable.
Is it a tenor thing or common across the range of saxes, or old saxes, as I find no such issues on my new Alto?

I'm sitting at my desk trying the tongue raising thing Martin in anticipation of trying it tonight. Struggling to know what's going on in there though - think I may need dental mirrors!

I think I need to get to a shop and try a few different tenors and see how they feel.

At the moment I'm faced with the choice of going back to the technician to probably face a full re-pad, or putting the cost of that towards buying a modern tenor (as the improving patiently idea isn't sitting well ;} )
 

jazzdoh

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,387
Hi Thomas
What all have said in previous posts are valid temporary solutions,a lot of saxes not just tenors and not just old saxes have problems with middle D, it does take time to voice this note better and feel the palm D along with normal D fingering is your best bet until you voice this note with experience.
Another thing to rule out the sax is get the repairer if he/she lives close to play the sax and see if he/she has the same problem.

Best of luck

Brian
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,921
I'm sitting at my desk trying the tongue raising thing Martin in anticipation of trying it tonight. Struggling to know what's going on in there though - think I may need dental mirrors!
You just have to get the feel of it, really. With a bit of practice you can slur from the bottom D to the middle one and back without using the octave key or changing your embouchure. I was surprised at how easy this was when it was pointed out to me a few weeks ago. Try singing a note that's fairly low for your voice and then an octave higher (think "somewhere over the rainbow"). Try and feel what your tongue does. It's the same movement.

I hope this is your problem and not the equipment, as it's a very cheap fix!
 

jbtsax

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8,268
Thanks jbt,

I've had a leak light down it a couple of times and its just come back from the repair shop but no real improvement on the middle D. The repairer (a VERY experienced one by the way and who came recommended) did spot slight leaks but recommended the service rather than a complete pad change. (A couple of small pads did get changed as part of the service). Its sounding more and more like it may just be an old King thing. :(
The D difficult to make respond and the "fluffy" quality when it does respond are two different things. The poor response would indicate that there is a leak somewhere. Did the tech check the neck tenon with a "neck leak isolator"? Another area to check is that the mouthpiece is snug on the cork on the neck. If it is out near the end and/or wobbles easily up and down in its tuned position, this may also be a source of the leak.

I have never heard the term "fluffy" used to describe the sound quality of a note. Would "stuffy" be an accurate description as well, or do you mean something else. "Stuffy" notes are generally caused by under venting which usually means that specific key heights are set too low. Another possibility on the D is that the body octave pip is not "venting" properly. One can raise the pad and insert a soft pipe cleaner into the vent to clear any obstruction. In some extreme cases it is beneficial to drill the pip to have a wider diameter opening.

Another fingering to try is to play D and open the low C# key. This fingering generally clears up the low D and can bring up the pitch of the low D when it is flat. Playing D2 this way usually makes the note too sharp, but trying it in this case it would rule out tonehole venting as the cause if it doesn't eliminate the "fluffy" sound.
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Brian/Martin/jbt,

Many many thanks guys. What an amazing site this is - so much great information. And thanks to everyone that's given advice and suggestions on this thread (and some of my other threads/questions) over my first week aboard here.

I spoke to the technician yesterday and he suggested I pop it in when I next get an opportunity so will ask him to give it a blow and see how the D comes out when that happens. He's also suggested a couple of other things to try including making sure the G is firmly closed and also checking that the extra G trill hole on the back (probably an old King thing) is definitely very firmly shut.

Tried Martin's "voicing" suggestions last night and did feel some positive effect - think it needs more work, practice, effort from me there.

Am finding the severity of the issue is somewhat intermittent. Its always there to some degree but last night it was behaving much better with a Rico 1.5 at my lesson, and then still when I switched back to a Rico 2 at home.

I'm not sure on the terms fluffy and stuffy - in fact as a sax newbie I'm pretty lost on most of the terminology. Fluffy feels right to me and its a term I remember from playing in brass bands as a teenager when sometimes people would complain of fluffy tone.

I'll try giving the body octave hole a good clean out tonight and will also try the opening-the-low-C#-hole-a-tadge idea a go.

I'm starting to accept that some degree of the issue will persist, but also that with all these ideas and advice and a bit of time to improve my chops I'll get there in the end.

Still highly likely to buy another tenor though (GAS!)>:)
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
984
Thanks Brian and will do of course.

Hoping to see the tech on Sat morning.

Meanwhile have tried various things tonight including trying to ensure pads are firmly down, cleaning out the body octave hole, opening the low C# just a tade so as not to go too far out of tune (which definitely helps a lot but as a newbie is hard work for me and I fear will fry my brain/finger co-ordination), and messing around with various reeds and a new mouthpiece which arrived today (Windcraft Ebonite Etude). Nothing very conclusive to report sadly.

Another thought though... I realised tonight that the note I hit if I go for the middle D and miss it is the A a fifth above. Now is this merely natural because of the harmonics of the instrument (rather as it would be on a brass band instrument) or does it indicate that the G hole isn't quite sealing hence I get an A? Any thoughts?

Wish I'd thought of it sooner as I could trying messing around on the Alto to see if there's any way I could get an A with D fingering, or if opening the G just a smidgeon caused similar tone and issues.

Sorry for the real newbie questions guys.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
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8,268
It is because of the natural harmonics of the instrument, and you are correct in that it is exactly like the brass instruments. On brass instruments, to go to the next higher harmonic using the same fingering, one raises the back of the tongue and blows faster air causing the "buzz" to go higher. Guess what happens on the saxophone when one does the same thing? A low D will go to a middle D an octave higher, and a middle D will go to the next overtone which is A. On saxophones this is sometimes called "voicing" the note. On brass instruments it's just "playing as usual". :)
 
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