SYOS

Intonation when playing overtones

Mark Hancock

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I've noticed that when I'm playing overtones, they (I) have a tendency to be very sharp (e.g. the 1st overtone above low Bb is >+30cents). I checked some online examples of other people (including educators) playing overtones, and it seems to be quite common.

Is this a natural tendency of the saxophone, due to it's design, or is it a player tendency?

I assume I should aim to play all the overtones in tune. Is that right ?

I normally play with the mouthpiece pushed quite far on. In this position I can play the full range of the instrument in tune. I can also play the 1st, and 2nd overtones in tune, but to do that I have to relax the embouchure a lot to get there. The 3rd overtone, I can't - it's too sharp.

So basically, I can't use the same embouchure to produce the same note using overtones, and when using the normal fingering. (I *think* I have a relatively relaxed embouchure. )

I have tried another mouthpiece, with similar results. I tried the mouthpiece in difference positions, but the tendency is the same.

I wondered if it was something to do with the type of tuning (equal, just etc.), but an octave is and octave in any tuning system, isn't it? At least the octave overtone should naturally come out in tune anyway, because science .... or so I thought.

I couldn't find this in an existing thread. Does anyone have an idea what's going on here?

Thanks!
Mark
 

randulo

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It is normal according to the books I've read. This is the argument against the tempered scale, or for it if that's where you fall :)
 

Pete Thomas

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From what I have read here on the Forum, the first couple of overtones should be pretty much spot on
I believe the 1st and 3rd should be about right as those are are octaves (nothing to do with equal/just temperament)

Other overtones and intervals may be more related to just intonation. So you would never expect these to show in tune on an equal temperament mere.

However there can also be anomalies due to the imperfect acoustic design of a saxophone, ie what would be the pointy end of a cone (the saxophone boded) is truncated by the mouthpiece.

So for example your aux F is an overtone of A, but is actually a minor sixth above the A so does not fit into what we think of as an in tune overtone series. The way the aux F works if you scrutinise it is that it is an A fingering that is vented (at the F palm key) to make an overtone. We know that F palm key is not causing the F because it works (often best) when it is open just a slight crack.

Back to topic - if the 1st overtone is 30 cents then that may be cause for concern as it is a lot more (IMO) than just a bit of tolerance and implies that maybe the mouthpiece is not in the ideal position or is a mouthpiece/horn mismatch (most likely with older saxophones and modern small chamber mouthpieces).

However if the horn itself plays nicely in tune maybe best not to upset the apple cart, open a can of worms or set the cat among the pigeons unless you really think it's necessary.
 
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Mark Hancock

Mark Hancock

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I believe the 1st and 3rd should be about right as those are are octaves (nothing to do with equal/just temperament)
This is what I also understood - and the link that @randulo posted supports this.

So how could I be getting the overtone octaves so sharp??? :confused2:
 
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Pete Thomas

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This is was I also understood - and the link that @randulo posted supports this.

So how could I be getting the overtone octaves so sharp??? :confused2:
As I said that could be either mouthpiece doesn't suit the horn or it's not situated at the best place on the cork.

If that 1st harmonic is 30 cents out I would hazard a guess that the entire instrument may be in tune on some notes but way out on others. And it may sound fine if you =ave learned (maybe subconsciously) to alter your embouchure to compensate for that.
 
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Mark Hancock

Mark Hancock

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As I said that could be either mouthpiece doesn't suit the horn or it's not situated at the best place on the cork.

If that 1st harmonic is 30 cents out I would hazard a guess that the entire instrument may be in tune on some notes but way out on others. And it may sound fine if you =ave learned (maybe subconsciously) to alter your embouchure to compensate for that.
From what I can tell, the overall intonation of the instrument (Yani TWO2) is pretty decent. I had 2 other saxes a while ago, and they were not remarkably different to the Yani by comparison. I have tried with 2 mouthpieces so far - a Syos and an Aaron Drake, and they seem similar.

I could try a couple more. And try again with the positioning....
 

Pete Thomas

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May be interesting to position the mouthpiece so that those two Bbs are in tune. In fact you want those 3 Bbs to be in tune, ie low Bb (Bb1), fingered Bb (Bb2) and 1st overtone of low Bb (Bb2)

So try that and then see what happens to the rest of the notes.

BTW, what note are you using for initial tuning of the instrument? If it's a tenor and you tune to A concert, then you use B which may not be the ideal note to tune to as it is near the extreme of the register. I tend to trust something more in the middle such as (transposed) G
 

randulo

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Didn't anyone blow into the tube of mom's hoover? You can definitely hear the overtones aren't tempered!
 
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Mark Hancock

Mark Hancock

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May be interesting to position the mouthpiece so that those two Bbs are in tune. In fact you want those 3 Bbs to be in tune, ie low Bb (Bb1), fingered Bb (Bb2) and 1st overtone of low Bb (Bb2)

So try that and then see what happens to the rest of the notes.

BTW, what note are you using for initial tuning of the instrument? If it's a tenor and you tune to A concert, then you use B which may not be the ideal note to tune to as it is near the extreme of the register. I tend to trust something more in the middle such as (transposed) G
For my tuning, I usually play slowly chromatically down from C(middle) to G. I use a tuning app (Tonal Energy) which displays this as a pitch vs time graph. I adjust the mouthpiece so that all those notes are sitting between 0 and +5cents. Those notes are quite nicely in tune (relatively) on this saxophone, so it seems quite convenient.

I'll have another experiment this evening with the mouthpiece like you suggest and see if I can get a better result.
 

randulo

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You may have sold a few Tonal Energy copies just now! Looks fascinating!
 
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Mark Hancock

Mark Hancock

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You may have sold a few Tonal Energy copies just now! Looks fascinating!
It's brilliant. I use it every day. The tuner and metronome are excellent. I thought everyone was using it - I'm a bit late to the show....
Sadly I won't be making any money from any sales :(
 

Colin the Bear

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And there's the problem. Using a tuner. Ignore the tuner.

The saxophone doesn't play in tune. You have to.

Position the mouthpiece so that the overtones, especially the octaves are in tune and lip everything else in.
 

randulo

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The best use, as I already have two very good tuner apps, is to monitor long tones.
 
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FWIW my first couple of overtones are sharp, but I think that is related to a tightened embouchure.

Once I've hit the overtone I can slightly loosen my embouchure and bring it nearer to in tune, if I go to far it starts dropping to the fundamental note though. I'm not sure how many hz it is, I'll look tonight.

So far I'm not able to hit the overtones without changing my embouchure.
 

jbtsax

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It is the taper of the neck and body tube that determines the "harmonicity" of the overtones. The "pure" harmonics of your saxophone can be found by using a tuner with a "harmonic" feature. If for example when playing a low Bb you see that that the first two or three harmonics line up and are whole number multiples of the fundamental's frequency the problem isn't your saxophone. It may be possible that when trying to play overtones you are biting a bit instead of just using the oral cavity to "voice" the note. This would cause a note to sound sharp whether it is a fundamental or a harmonic.

I get good results by first tuning written F#1---A concert on alto, E concert on tenor. Next, using the same embouchure I check F#2 both with and without the octave key. A very slight mouthpiece adjustment may be needed to match the pitch in both octaves. Last, I finger low B and "overblow" to F#2, and go back and forth between the low B and the regular F# fingering. When there is good agreement among all of these fingerings, I have found the best mouthpiece position.

Two other thoughts: The mouthpiece input pitch can also have an effect upon the "harmonicity" of the saxophone. A good target pitch is Ab concert on the alto mouthpiece and neck, and E concert on the tenor mouthpiece and neck. Lastly acoustic studies have shown that harder reeds have a tendency to play sharp in the upper register, both by the way the reed vibrates, and by the fact that the player needs to tighten the embouchure when playing a harder reed.
 
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