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I'm Such An Idiot!

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
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Citizen of Nowhere
Yeah, not exactly news. ;)

Over the last 12 months I've been increasingly unhappy with my intonation while playing alto. Tenor hasn't been a problem since getting the Keilwerth MKX but I've not been as happy as I could have been with the alto. It wasn't until I was asked to regularly play with digital instruments, and their unnaturally perfect intonation, that I realised there was a problem - especially at the top end of the instrument, which is where all the parts written for me seemed to be centred.

Yesterday I finally realised what the issue was - I was playing the alto like it was a tenor. By that I mean my emboucher was far too relaxed. This goes against everything I've worked on for years as I've always focussed on relaxing how I play. It also goes against what I thought was obviously true, which turns out to be the exact opposite. By using a firmer emboucher on the alto, I've found the intonation across the whole instrument is now far more accurate than I've ever managed and, more surprising for me, the firmer emboucher is somehow much easier on the facial muscles, noticeably increasing my playing stamina. I assume that's because I'm not constantly lipping up and down.

I know, everyone has known for a century that the alto needs a firmer emboucher than the tenor but I hadn't realised to what extent the difference actually is. Hopefully, my stupidity will help someone else who finds themself in the same situation.

:doh:

:cool:
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
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8,690
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Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
Some players do not put much stock in checking their mouthpiece pitch, but I have found in my playing and teaching that it can be a useful tool to check the tightness of the embouchure. On alto it should be no higher than A=880 although some jazz players play a step or a step and a half lower and push the mouthpiece on farther.

Another test I use is to check the pitch of the mouthpiece plus neck which should be close to Ab concert. The test given in "The Art of Saxophone Playing" is to play an A with a big full tone and with the free hand flick open the neck octave key momentarily.
  • If the note goes to high A and stays a while, the embouchure is too tight.
  • If the note goes to a flat sounding high A, the embouchure is too loose.
  • If the note jumps to a nice sounding high A and quickly drops back down, the embouchure is set correctly.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
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Burnley bb9 9dn
Had the reverse experience alto to tenor. I had to learn that the tenor isn't a big alto. It's quite surprising how they're the same but different.
Baritone will be easy now. They all add a little something to each other.
 

Dr G

Member
Messages
351
Locality
Northern California
My life is easier without an alto in it. I choose to commit to sop and tenor. I have played alto on demand, but it's not among my preferred voices.

No saxes should be taken lightly - each has its own demands. One can easily tell the doublers from the dabblers.
 

LostCircuits

Member
Messages
442
Locality
Black Forest
I just went back to alto for the first time in months for a few songs that I am trying to learn / work on for a tenor/alto duet and it did feel a bit alien to me. But then, the songs / my parts are very alto and that made things a lot easier. But yes, it is a different world alto-gether and my main voice remains with the tenor.
 

DavidUK

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Near Lutterworth, Leics.
I experienced this, but the other way around, going from alto to tenor and having to consciously relax my embouchure to play.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
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4,898
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brighton by the sea
Ah yes- the myth that altos and tenors play the same. Been battling with that myself quite a bit over the last year or so. After many a yonk on tenor I’m fairly confident that it’ll make the noise I want it to and generally respond in the way I want it to –sound and tuning wise. My a alto I still feel has its own ideas what it wants to do and I’m along for the ride…
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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3,340
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UK
I think the fact that so many big name players have chosen not to play both sufficiently backs the argument of them being quite different on its own.
Brecker was almost as seldom on Soprano as Sanborn, and no recording seems to exist of Brecker on alto or of Sanborn on tenor - except maybe in a section.
Coltrane on alto? Parker on tenor? Desmond on tenor? Getz on alto?
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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UK
Some people find the relative closeness in size to be an easier double, yet others find that the soprano is an easier switch as to it being further removed from tenor.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
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4,898
Locality
brighton by the sea
Some people find the relative closeness in size to be an easier double, yet others find that the soprano is an easier switch as to it being further removed from tenor.
Absolutely- personally I find keeping my set ups as different as possible to be really advantageous, even if it seems somewhat counter intuitive
 

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
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Citizen of Nowhere
Get a soprano, then your alto embouchure will feel very relaxed.

:D

Perhaps one day...

Baritone will be easy now.

I've only ever played the bari once, at Sax (Crowborough, which doesn't seem to be listed on their site as a shop anymore :confused2:) and found it pretty easy to play. Surprisingly so to be honest - down to C, anyway. One day I'll add a bari to the collection.

I think the fact that so many big name players have chosen not to play both sufficiently backs the argument of them being quite different on its own.

For some, probably masochistic, reason I love swapping between the two during gigs. Or it could just be that I want to play with all of my toys all of the time. :D

Parker on tenor?

There are a couple of recordings out there of Parker on tenor, I think from his early days where he took whatever gig was offered. He was, unsurprisingly, superb.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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UK
:D

Perhaps one day...



I've only ever played the bari once, at Sax (Crowborough, which doesn't seem to be listed on their site as a shop anymore :confused2:) and found it pretty easy to play. Surprisingly so to be honest - down to C, anyway. One day I'll add a bari to the collection.



For some, probably masochistic, reason I love swapping between the two during gigs. Or it could just be that I want to play with all of my toys all of the time. :D



There are a couple of recordings out there of Parker on tenor, I think from his early days where he took whatever gig was offered. He was, unsurprisingly, superb.
Ah! Eric Marienthal spoke of a meeting with Brecker once when Brecker asked to have a go on his alto. Asked what he sounded like Eric said with a smile "like Brecker on alto". He also said that he thought Brecker's Mk6 tenor to be rather ordinary at best.
 

LostCircuits

Member
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442
Locality
Black Forest
Ah! Eric Marienthal spoke of a meeting with Brecker once when Brecker asked to have a go on his alto. Asked what he sounded like Eric said with a smile "like Brecker on alto". He also said that he thought Brecker's Mk6 tenor to be rather ordinary at best.

Surprise!! And I totally appreciate Michael Brecker but his tone wasn't really spectacular. I mean, I'd be happy if I had it but especially compared to Eric Marienthal, who is probably my favorite "tone" in the current sax world, I have a good perspective of this comment. And there is nothing "negative" or "sarcastic" about it, at the worst, it would be some tongue in cheek statement.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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UK
Surprise!! And I totally appreciate Michael Brecker but his tone wasn't really spectacular. I mean, I'd be happy if I had it but especially compared to Eric Marienthal, who is probably my favorite "tone" in the current sax world, I have a good perspective of this comment. And there is nothing "negative" or "sarcastic" about it, at the worst, it would be some tongue in cheek statement.
I suspect Eric was talking about the general playability of his horn. The surprising thing about that is that Brecker was one of the smoothest players when transitioning notes, and of course his control throughout the range of the instrument and also his amazing ability with huge intervallic phrases.
 

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