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Saxophones Ideas on tuning the saxophone

jbtsax

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In another thread a player said he heard that the note to tune to on alto was A concert, and asked if anyone could confirm that. It got me thinking that tuning notes and procedures would be a great thread topic in itself. I will begin by describing what I have found that works for me.

Alto/Bari Sax

- Before tuning the instrument it is brought up to "playing temperature" by playing a warm up routine or if playing aloud isn't possible by blowing warm air into the sax while fingering low Bb.

- Once the instrument is warm, the pitch of the mouthpiece + neck is checked to "tune" my embouchure to produce an Ab concert

- The sax is reassembled and low F# is played mf using the same embouchure pressure that produced the Ab concert on the neck and checked against a tuner or fixed pitch instrument sounding A concert.

- The mouthpiece is adjusted in or out on the cork to match this pitch.

- The second note played is F# an octave higher with no embouchure change to check the tuning of the octave. Playing this note both with and without the octave key gives a feel for the effect of the body octave compromise position. Since the body octave vent is typically set at the ideal position for F natural, F# a half step away should have nearly perfect octaves on a well made saxophone.

- The next step is to finger low B natural and sound it's 3rd harmonic which is F#. This gives a good assessment of whether the overall length of the saxophone is correct for tuning to A=440.

- There may be minute changes to the embouchure and/or mouthpiece position to bring all 3 of these F#'s into agreement.

When playing in a concert band or wind ensemble the brass typically tune to a Bb or F concert, and the woodwinds tune to an A concert. When the F#s line up on my sax, it means the physical tuning of the instrument is as close as it can be. I will then oftentimes check middle C# a 5th away (usually flat) and high C# (usually sharp) kind of like an orchestra tuning intervals of Perfect 5ths. This reminds me of how much "lipping" is required to bring these notes in tune.

Tenor/Soprano Sax

- The tuning routine on tenor and soprano is the same as above, but would ideally be to an E concert.

- When tuning in an ensemble where A concert is the tuning note one can still get good results tuning to A concert (B on the tenor and soprano) and then checking the written F# a Perfect 5th away. Fingering low B natural and voicing its harmonics fits this tuning note as well.

I believe it is very important to tune the lower octave first and then bring the upper octave note down to pitch with the embouchure or "voicing". Oftentimes inexperienced players pull the mouthpiece out to tune to the upper octave tuning note which is being pinched sharp only to find everything in the lower register to be flat.
 

aldevis

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Very clear and well written! Thank you.
But why do you choose A/F#/B instead of Ab/F/Bb? I always assumed that saxophones are more precise on the flat side, being originally invented for military bands. I follow a very similar procedure, but based around the low Bb natural harmonics or around concert Bb, for solidarity with brass players. I tend to use concert A if I am playing with classical musicians.
 

jbtsax

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Very clear and well written! Thank you.
But why do you choose A/F#/B instead of Ab/F/Bb? I always assumed that saxophones are more precise on the flat side, being originally invented for military bands. I follow a very similar procedure, but based around the low Bb natural harmonics or around concert Bb, for solidarity with brass players. I tend to use concert A if I am playing with classical musicians.
I suppose it is because the groups I have played with have only tuned to Bb and A concert. I would agree that tuning the F natural (Ab concert) including the F2 overtone of low Bb would be even better when tuning to play solo or with a fixed pitch accompanying instrument.
 

MandyH

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Useful information, thanks.

If I may just add.... I always tune my sax with my eyes closed. When I feel / hear that I have a steady note with a comfortable embouchure, I open my eyes and look at the tuning meter. That way, I never bend the note to make the meter read "correctly", I merely play the note, then look to see what the meter reads.

I have always been told that when tuning (in the quartet / band), someone else should hold and look at the meter, not the person playing the note.

Since this is impossible when playing alone, I figured that playing with my eyes shut was a good option.
 

jbtsax

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A wise teacher told me a long time ago that when playing a musical instrument we tune with our ears, not with our eyes. Ever since I have avoided using a meter to tune my instrument. I do find the meter useful when checking the intonation tendencies of certain notes on an instrument I'm not familiar with.
 

Nick Wyver

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And, of course, never forget you are only tuning one or two notes at a particular volume level. You still have to play all the other notes in tune at varying dynamics. For that you only have your ears to trust - the sax won't do it for you, no matter how much you paid for it.
 

oldpuffer

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And, of course, never forget you are only tuning one or two notes at a particular volume level. You still have to play all the other notes in tune at varying dynamics. For that you only have your ears to trust - the sax won't do it for you, no matter how much you paid for it.
Well being a novice using a tuner to check a new mouthpiece was a godsend, turned out I'd been sent an alto piece(or mel.c) for a tenor. Enabled me to send it straight back. Although I must admit it did sound a little sharp to my old ears.
 

Tenor Viol

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Basic tuning to a meter is OK - ears are best for tuning intervals off that. Most meters are ET so it's OK for tuning to a keyboard, but not otherwise.
 
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