Intonation Tendencies and Sax Bore Design

Pete Thomas

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there has not been one mention of "mouthpiece pitch" or input pitch as it relates to the intonation tendencies of the saxophone
Could be that people are a bit sceptical of its relevance. I play the "wrong" pitch on my mouthpieces and have been mostly happy with my playing over the years. (AS have a few other people) Sometimes you just have to play the thing rather than get bogged down in technicalities like that.
 

jbtsax

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Could be that people are a bit sceptical of its relevance. I play the "wrong" pitch on my mouthpieces and have been mostly happy with my playing over the years. (AS have a few other people) Sometimes you just have to play the thing rather than get bogged down in technicalities like that.
I think it is important to remember that there is no one ideal mouthpiece pitch even though many saxophone players seem to have that misconception based on Santy Runyon's writings. As a "general rule" tightening the embouchure to play above A on alto or above G on tenor produces a tone that is "pinched" and tends to be sharp in the upper register. That is a given. One need only sit next to a clarinet player doubling on saxophone in a band who has had no instruction on saxophone to know this is true.

On saxophone unlike clarinet which plays at or near the top of its mouthpiece pitch, the mouthpiece pitch must be somewhere closer to the "center of the pitch" meaning one can "lip" the pitch up as well as down. Of course it is always possible to "lip" down farther than up. Many jazz players play on a lower mouthpiece pitch than do classical players which gives more volume and edge to the sound, but they compensate by pushing the mouthpiece farther onto the neck. That makes the input pitch of the mouthpiece + neck the same regardless of the pitch on the mouthpiece alone and that is the high frequency requirement that Benade said was so important. To paraphrase Benade, when this frequency requirement is met, the saxophone [or oboe, or bassoon] will
"see an object at its upper end whose acoustical behavior is quite similar to that of the missing apical cone." FMA p.470
 

aldevis

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You're not specific on why, so it's hard to address this point. The case study clearly stated that the sax was warmed up then tuned to middle C on a standard tuner. Why middle C and not concert A or some other note? Because it's roughly in the middle of the instrument and we don't know it's intonation yet. We find out later whether middle C was a good note on which to tune that sax/mouthpiece combination, once we've completed the study (spoiler: it wasn't).
I try to put it short:
Considering that a saxophone is necessarily a compromise, when it comes to tuning
Also assuming that someone can play with a really "neutral embouchure",
There are two separate aspects to tune:
- the instrument's lower register
- the octaves

Generally speaking, the mouthpiece volume affects the lower register, the length affects the higher register (the theory of the missing cone is more of a theory for making mouthpieces than a direction for tuning)
Length: since it affects short notes (C2) more than long notes (C1), a "short" instrument will have a sharper C2 than C1
Let's say that we found a position
Narrow octaves will want a longer tube. (keeping in mind that some notes are wrong anyway) But this will affect the previous ste, so it is necessary a compromise.

Talking about octaves, D1D2 is a troubled octave, as is A1A2, so I wouldn't rely on them to tune my octaves.
F1 F2 is ideal: its octave pip is in the correct position, as is the one on B2B3, but the shorter pipe of B is more prone to embouchure variations.

In practice:
- I play the lower register, making sure that I don't lip up or lip down excessively a register (I do anyway)
- I check the octaves, expecting F1F2 to be nicely in tune
- I check with the tuner

If most of the notes are flat or sharp, it may be the wrong mouthpiece for the horn, so there is no point in continuing
If most of the notes are about in tune, I can start checking tuning tendencies (as in your study)

In your case F1 F2 were out of tune and most noted were sharp

There is one more issue on low instruments (I had some enlightening conversations about contrabass saxophones and clarinets):
We often hear harmonics rather than fundamentals, as does the microphone of the device (300-3400 Hz).
An F#1 on a bari is 110Hz, the tiny mic is probably unable to understand it. I noticed most tuners going really funny on bass clarinet.
 
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scotsman

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Hi Rhys.. Just seen your post re tuning.. When i started playing i did few years on a Buffet crampon alto. I then moved on to other horns and when pads fell off I was given a copy of Stephan Howards book. this led me to immerse (a couple years) myself in padding, rebuilds etc resulting in a major aquisition of saxes. Alto , tenor, sopranos baritone ect. In a word a serious GAS problem..I flicked from Conn to Buffet to Kholerts (great tenors BTW) As i progressed I was finding serious intonation (I now knew what intonation was) issues as I measued different saxes with different mouthpieces. Eventually I tried a Theo Wanne "Mantra" Tenor and Alto on a Conn. Amazing! I belatedly realised that all horns are different with regard to those slight manufacturing tweeks, Build, what day it is ect ect. So I decided to stay on 2 horns.. A MK6 Tenor and an SBA Alto.. NOW I was getting somewhere and realised that my way to move forward was to stay static regarding setups and progress. I still have way too many horns (Dont ask!!). Each one is fabuloues in its own way. each sound it infinitesably different . That is the fun of sax playing of course.. I still find however that when I move from Alto to tenor I have to conciously remind myself what I have to do with my phisiology.. It is now ALMOST automatic.. I still play all the other horns just for the joy of it.."Wot Larks eh Pip!" Dickens...Just my experience by the way.. Regards
 

jbtsax

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Generally speaking, the mouthpiece volume affects the lower register, the length affects the higher register (the theory of the missing cone is more of a theory for making mouthpieces than a direction for tuning)
Length: since it affects short notes (C2) more than long notes (C1), a "short" instrument will have a sharper C2 than C1
Let's say that we found a position
Narrow octaves will want a longer tube. (keeping in mind that some notes are wrong anyway) But this will affect the previous ste, so it is necessary a compromise.
Do you have any sources or references I can follow up on to learn more about the highlighted statement, or is it simply based upon personal experience? I am not challenging its veracity, I simply would like to learn more about it. The only concept I know that might be related is the well known fact that moving the mouthpiece on or off the neck has a greater effect upon "short tube" notes since a greater percentage of the "sounding length" changes compared to "long tube" notes with more closed toneholes.

The part that is both fascinating and puzzling to me at the same time is that moving the mouthpiece farther off the cork has a dual effect.
  1. It increases the overall length of the saxophone
  2. It increases the volume inside the mouthpiece
That the mouthpiece "effective volume" which consists of the volume inside the mouthpiece along with the volume added by the travel of the reed and the player's oral cavity must be a close match to the volume of the "missing cone" is given by Benade as his "low frequency requirement". Is this the same as your statement that the "mouthpiece volume affects the low register"?

I have wanted for a long time to experiment with increasing the length of the instrument by pulling the mouthpiece out while at the same time keeping the volume inside the mouthpiece constant. The other approach would be to change the volume inside the mouthpiece without changing the length. Perhaps using a Conn "micro-tuner" neck would be the best way to test the first idea. I don't know enough about changing the interior of a mouthpiece to attempt the second.
 

aldevis

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Do you have any sources or references I can follow up on to learn more about the highlighted statement, or is it simply based upon personal experience?
Unfortunately I don't, and it is also a quite crude experimentation, since many other variables occur at the same time
Most of my experimentation was done on soprano, but the typical A2B3C4 sharp on alto is a good place to mess with plasticine in a mouthpiece. the reduced volume requires to pull out, affecting the high register more than the low.
I guess that the missing cone theory kind of works, but until I start sellotaping a mouthpiece and neck and fill it with water, I won't know for sure.

Also some of the information that I have comes from makers like Sequoia or Eppelsheim (that did a huge work on octaves and missing cones): if you try and look at a soprillo you would understand the amount of knowledge involved. It wouldn't be nice of me to share too much, since some things may be confidential.

Since you mention the microtuner, there is another question with a difficult answer: where does the mouthpiece become standing wave?
If you think of a soloist-like mouthpiece, with the inner frame, and you compare it to a meyer/link style you see that diameters in the first part of the instrument are a real mess.

And to add more, curves change tuning
 

aldevis

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vries1

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If I interpret Aldevis’ comment correctly, I think he says that large-chamber mouthpieces will widen the octave (C1 to C2) because they will need to be pushed further in, while small-chamber pieces will give a narrower octave. I am not sure that my personal experience supports this observation. On a Couesnon tenor I found pretty similar octave spread regardless of chamber size, but I didn’t document the findings properly. Maybe it’ll be easier with the IntonationStation app.
 

aldevis

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If I interpret Aldevis’ comment correctly, I think he says that large-chamber mouthpieces will widen the octave (C1 to C2) because they will need to be pushed further in, while small-chamber pieces will give a narrower octave. I am not sure that my personal experience supports this observation. On a Couesnon tenor I found pretty similar octave spread regardless of chamber size, but I didn’t document the findings properly. Maybe it’ll be easier with the IntonationStation app.
This is another interesting subject: on some instruments there is one and only pitch that works for a mouthpiece.
While my SML can play in tune with a range o mouthpieces at a wide range of pitches. Something to do with bore design, I guess
 

jbtsax

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I will revisit Nederveen and get back to you. As far as the Pillinger study goes, it is excellent in its own right, but acoustically clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces behave quite differently. Without going into a lot of detail, Benade writes that a "clarinetist or instrument maker can think of the mouthpiece simply as a small length of tubing. If he wishes to substitute a small-volume mouthpiece for a larger one, it is simply a matter of pairing it with a suitably longer barrel joint. . . . in order to keep the instrument in tune with itself." In short, changing the "equivalent volume" of a clarinet mouthpiece changes the "modes" (harmonics) almost equally so the ratios between the resonant frequencies are very little changed.

On a conical woodwind instrument changing the equivalent volume of the mouthpiece has a measurable effect upon the width and spacing of the harmonics as well as the pitch of the fundamental. Ideally a saxophone player who changes to a mouthpiece with a smaller "effective volume" would need to also change to a neck with a different taper to keep all things equal in terms of the tune of the modes. Fascinating stuff.
 

aldevis

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I will revisit Nederveen and get back to you. As far as the Pillinger study goes, it is excellent in its own right, but acoustically clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces behave quite differently. Without going into a lot of detail, Benade writes that a "clarinetist or instrument maker can think of the mouthpiece simply as a small length of tubing. If he wishes to substitute a small-volume mouthpiece for a larger one, it is simply a matter of pairing it with a suitably longer barrel joint. . . . in order to keep the instrument in tune with itself." In short, changing the "equivalent volume" of a clarinet mouthpiece changes the "modes" (harmonics) almost equally so the ratios between the resonant frequencies are very little changed.

On a conical woodwind instrument changing the equivalent volume of the mouthpiece has a measurable effect upon the width and spacing of the harmonics as well as the pitch of the fundamental. Ideally a saxophone player who changes to a mouthpiece with a smaller "effective volume" would need to also change to a neck with a different taper to keep all things equal in terms of the tune of the modes. Fascinating stuff.
Currently fighting with clarinet bores.
Don't have me start
 

diyaddict

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I try to put it short:
Considering that a saxophone is necessarily a compromise, when it comes to tuning
Also assuming that someone can play with a really "neutral embouchure",
There are two separate aspects to tune:
- the instrument's lower register
- the octaves

Generally speaking, the mouthpiece volume affects the lower register, the length affects the higher register (the theory of the missing cone is more of a theory for making mouthpieces than a direction for tuning)
Length: since it affects short notes (C2) more than long notes (C1), a "short" instrument will have a sharper C2 than C1
Let's say that we found a position
Narrow octaves will want a longer tube. (keeping in mind that some notes are wrong anyway) But this will affect the previous ste, so it is necessary a compromise.

Talking about octaves, D1D2 is a troubled octave, as is A1A2, so I wouldn't rely on them to tune my octaves.
F1 F2 is ideal: its octave pip is in the correct position, as is the one on B2B3, but the shorter pipe of B is more prone to embouchure variations.

In practice:
- I play the lower register, making sure that I don't lip up or lip down excessively a register (I do anyway)
- I check the octaves, expecting F1F2 to be nicely in tune
- I check with the tuner

If most of the notes are flat or sharp, it may be the wrong mouthpiece for the horn, so there is no point in continuing
If most of the notes are about in tune, I can start checking tuning tendencies (as in your study)
Hi Aldevis,
Thanks for taking the trouble to explain your position and approach, and I'm in accord with your reasoning.

In your case F1 F2 were out of tune and most noted were sharp
In the study, it turned out that the neck was too long or too short for all but two of the mouthpieces to be positioned for F1-F2 to be mostly in tune. If I were to embark on a comprehensive study of suitable mouthpieces for that model horn, I'd be happy to constrain it to ones that behaved well in F1 to F2. Then any charts presented would have the mouthpieces positioned so that the F1 to F2 range was mostly in tune, providing a decent baseline for reference.

I would say that my approach has the additional advantage that you can play more 'naturally' while the app logs the tuning, because you don't need to look at the device while playing. Hence the temptation (with conventional tuners) to 'compensate with your eyes' is avoided. Also, by averaging the measurements when the same pitches are played multiple times, the need for a neutral embouchure throughout is not such an issue: The measurements better reflect the embouchure you naturally use. This makes it a very useful approach when you're working on the best combination for your own sax/playing technique. However I acknowledge that doesn't apply if you're trying to present a comparison relevant to all players of a given model. In that case, defining and ensuring a neutral embouchure would be essential. And if you managed to achieve a truly neutral embouchure, there'd be no need to take averages, as each pitch would have the same tuning every time. (Of course you'd also have to ensure constant temperature, humidity etc.)

There is one more issue on low instruments (I had some enlightening conversations about contrabass saxophones and clarinets):
We often hear harmonics rather than fundamentals, as does the microphone of the device (300-3400 Hz).
An F#1 on a bari is 110Hz, the tiny mic is probably unable to understand it. I noticed most tuners going really funny on bass clarinet.
Yes, this is certainly a challenge when developing a good pitch-detection algorithm. In fact the mic itself on an iPhone or iPad is pretty good (I've been able to successfully detect tuba pedal notes, which are over an octave below a bari sax). But harmonics in low saxes and clarinets can be difficult to deal with. Fortunately, computing power is increasing all the time, and I have the relative luxury of being able to post-process, rather than work exclusively in real time, as conventional tuners must. Also, research on pitch-detection has shown some considerable advances in recent years, with wavelet-based approaches supplanting more traditional Fast Fourier Transform techniques. Still plenty of room for improvement though.

Anyway, I've now updated the study to address some of the points raised in this thread. There's also been some interest in conducting an exclusive mouthpiece comparison study with another member. Between us we'd have two virtually identical vintage saxes and a bucketload of mouthpieces to audition. I've just got to decide how daunted I am by the prospect!

Paul
 

Jeanette

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There's also been some interest in conducting an exclusive mouthpiece comparison study with another member. Between us we'd have two virtually identical vintage saxes and a bucketload of mouthpieces to audition. I've just got to decide how daunted I am by the prospect!
Do post the results here if you ever get around to it..

Jx
 

Jazzaferri

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Fascinating discussion.....I find the sweet spot for the mpce via octave tuning on F....which I learned from someone who I cant recall at the moment.

Then I check to make sure there are no notes that need lipping up and fine tune for those if needed as I find it much easier to go down a bit than lip up
 

aldevis

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Also, by averaging the measurements when the same pitches are played multiple times, the need for a neutral embouchure throughout is not such an issue: The measurements better reflect the embouchure you naturally use. This makes it a very useful approach when you're working on the best combination for your own sax/playing technique.
This is the real deal.
A lot of work can be done using this method, both about equipment and about playing technique.
I had a similar idea about a research on materials, but I dropped it.

Probably if you investigated the 12m issues before developing the app, you would have meatier results.
Just to show off, a member here has a berg Larsen with the same modification as Ronnie Ross, to play on a 12m
Also both Pete Thomas and me play 12m, and Pete worked in deep on developing his PPTs

Looking forward to hearing more
 
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rhysonsax

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Just to show off, a member here has a berg Larsen with the same modification as Ronnie Ross, to play on a 12m
Hey, I wonder if that is me.

I saw that Derek Nash plays his Conn 12M with a Berg Larsen "modelled on Ronnie Ross's mouthpiece size 130+". He very kindly loaned that to me and I had Dr Ed Pillinger copy it twice - once for me and once to produce a backup for Derek.

My Pillinger copy is a lovely bit of work but while it helps the 12M tuning a bit, it is by no means as "locked in" as my modern Selmer bari.

Or maybe @aldevis means another member.

Rhys
 
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