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Tone Is tone dependent on volume?

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,076
Hi,

Recent experiments recording myself have left me questioning my tone, the best description I can come up with is, muffled. At first I thought it was mic placement, or maybe the mic itself but a quick blast on an acoustic guitar proved I can still remember a few chords and that the mic was functioning perfectly.

‘My tone’ is still very much under development and it’s not yet fully formed in my head, if that makes sense. I guess at the moment I’d like a bit more clarity, I can do a good job of sounding like I’m playing through a duvet.

Tonight I was playing around with the amount of mouthpiece I take into my mouth and by taking in more I was getting better definition on the notes and a bit of that textured tenor sound but the trade off was that it was hard to play quietly and also the palm keys started to get a little unstable.

In the photo below of my mouthpiece, position A is where my top teeth usually sit, B is where I was trying tonight and C is where the reed meets the mouthpiece.



In position B I quickly tired and felt like I was chewing my way through my lower lip when trying to play moderate to quietly. But having shoved a thick pair of walking socks (clean I hasten to add) down the bell I had a good blow and I found it quite comfortable and although a tad muffled by the socks I liked the sound.

Sorry for the pre-amble but here’s my question, when playing loud do you tend to have more of the mouthpiece in your mouth? And is it in the nature of the beast that some tones can only be achieved with volume? I rarely get an opportunity to let rip and crank up the volume as I’m trying to be considerate to those unfortunate enough to be in earshot.

All the best,

Chris
 
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half diminished

Senior Member
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1,361
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Buckinghamshire
Chris

I've found I generally get better tone by pushing more air into the sax and that tends to increase the volume BUT I can also get a pretty reasonable tone at much lower volumes by increasing the pressure from the diaphragm even when consciously playing quietly.

In fact I practice a lot at lower volumes especially scales, scalar exercises and 'Top Tone' exercises.

I think ideally, and the better among us will confirm this or deny it!, you shoud generate good tone at whatever volume you play at and that just takes time, a great embouchure, strong diaphragm and good breathing. Not much of a challenge then! :w00t:
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
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447
Location
Leeds
Your bottom teeth should be at the break (where the mouthpiece starts to curve away from the mouthpiece). Much less and you're not letting the reed vibrate to its full extent.

Control of the volume comes with proper air support and embochure control. That said, when I have to play very soft, I choke down on the mouthpiece.

The thing about volume and tone is that what we percieve as more volume is really more overtones in the sound. A greater preponderance of higher overtones is percieve as not necessarily more brightness, but more volume. So yes, tone quality and volume are inextricably linked.
 

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
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Looks like you are already taking in quite a lot, so I wouldn't recommend more. Sometimes it can help but there are trade offs as you mention. Plus more trade offs in fact, ie worse control of vibrato and articulation.

Two things to think about are your air support, lip pressure and the actual set up. (oops, that's three). Try a few different mouthpieces, try pushing on more (so it's sharp), and relaxing so it comes back in tune. And lots of long notes and breath exercises

Related articles:


Saxophone Embouchure

And see all these pages:

Exercises for Saxophone Tone & Sound
 
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I find that opening my throat and altering my "vowel" shape controls the tone. The best tone seems to come from shaping "A" as you blow, this opens the throat the most. "E" and "U" close the throat. By shaping different vowels and opening and closing my throat I get different degrees of tone,from mellow to sharp, soft to loud and eveything in between. Maybe try the above with long note practice, this could help.

Peace

Flipp
 

Saxlicker

Well-Known Member
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1,829
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Breakfast room since '06 UK
Good post Chris,

I think sax is difficult to record so you will have to make an allowance even though your guitar sounded fine.
What kind of gear are you using for that?

What is your mouthpiece and reed set up?
 
OP
Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
Thanks everyone for you help and suggestions,

Chris

I've found I generally get better tone by pushing more air into the sax and that tends to increase the volume BUT I can also get a pretty reasonable tone at much lower volumes by increasing the pressure from the diaphragm even when consciously playing quietly.
Hmm… I think I’m not fully utilising my diaphragm to support the air, so I'm tending to tighten my embouchure to compensate.

'Top Tone' exercises.
You keep mentioning this book Ian, I must get hold of a copy.

Your bottom teeth should be at the break (where the mouthpiece starts to curve away from the mouthpiece). Much less and you're not letting the reed vibrate to its full extent.

Control of the volume comes with proper air support and embochure control. That said, when I have to play very soft, I choke down on the mouthpiece.
Hi Morgan, I think it's that balance between air support and embouchure control that I need to work on and then once that's better I can develop my tone.

The thing about volume and tone is that what we percieve as more volume is really more overtones in the sound. A greater preponderance of higher overtones is percieve as not necessarily more brightness, but more volume. So yes, tone quality and volume are inextricably linked.
That makes a lot of sense and explains the more complex and textured tone that comes from pushing the sax.

Looks like you are already taking in quite a lot, so I wouldn't recommend more. Sometimes it can help but there are trade offs as you mention. Plus more trade offs in fact, ie worse control of vibrato and articulation.

Two things to think about are your air support, lip pressure and the actual set up. (oops, that's three).
I think my lip pressure is too much and maybe, thinking about it now, I might be using too hard a reed. I think there is a critical relationship between reed strength, air support and lip pressure before the reed will vibrate. Maybe by reducing the reed strength that point where the reed vibrates will be reduced and so be more dynamic. Pete, I think I read somewhere that you favour softer reeds for that reason but warned that, what is gained in the low notes is lost on the higher notes but with practice that can be over come.

Try a few different mouthpieces.
I need to talk to you about that now that my sax has been serviced.

…try pushing on more (so it's sharp), and relaxing so it comes back in tune. And lots of long notes and breath exercises
Will do, I've got lots to think about and to play around with over the weekend.

Thanks for the links to your articles, I actually came across them this afternoon while escaping from trying to get MS EXCEL to recognise timecode! I felt a bit daft for my post as you'd already gone to great lengths to explain a lot of it on your site.

Thanks for everyone's help,

Chris
 
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Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
I find that opening my throat and altering my "vowel" shape controls the tone. The best tone seems to come from shaping "A" as you blow, this opens the throat the most. "E" and "U" close the throat. By shaping different vowels and opening and closing my throat I get different degrees of tone,from mellow to sharp, soft to loud and eveything in between. Maybe try the above with long note practice, this could help.

Peace

Flipp
Hi Flipp,

Thanks for the advice, I'll have play around tomorrow. I sometimes think I'm a very static player with my embouchure and how I shape my oral cavity. When I watch more accomplished players they are constantly adjusting their embouchure depending on the note and I presume they are also manipulating their oral cavity as well.

Best wishes,

Chris
 
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Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
Good post Chris,

I think sax is difficult to record so you will have to make an allowance even though your guitar sounded fine.
What kind of gear are you using for that?

What is your mouthpiece and reed set up?
Hi Saxlicker,

For recording I'm using a Rode NT2a straight into Logic via my interface, no EQ or compression at source, but I do add just a bit of compression and reverb in post. (Reverb's a headache to get just right!) I liked the sound you got on your recordings.

If I were feeling brave I'd post a small sound clip!

My mouthpiece and reed set up is: Vandoren Java T75 with a (Green) Java 3 reed.

All the best,

Chris
 

Saxlicker

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Breakfast room since '06 UK
Hi Chris,

I'm no recording expert but you seem to have more than adequate gizmo's.

Something is probably not right for you in that mouthpiece and reed combo. A number 3 reed is no puppy, so while you are deciding what to do mouthpiece wise via talking with Pete. Why not get a softer reed on there, blow it in well and try again?

When a reed is to hard for me, I can't blow it softly and retain what I want from a note but I can get it vibrating freely with more power hence a clearer tone with increased volume. That goes back to your original question " Is tone linked to volume?"

It's not, if you are controlling the equipment but it will seem to be if you can only do certain things with the equipment like blowing louder to get clarity.

If you've been using #3's for a while just go down half a strength and blow it in well.
Hope this helps.
 

DaveW

Member
Messages
163
Location
Stockport, Cheshire
Hi Chris,

If you don't normally play with socks stuffed down the bell be aware of how it affects your playing.

I was advised to stuff a towel down the bell to keep the volume low for the neighbours but I was surprised at the amount of back pressure I felt when blowing.

Without the improvised mute I found a marked difference, especially with the low notes.

BTW Many thanks for your ongoing diary, I have enjoyed every one of your posts and following your progress, well done.
 
OP
Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
Something is probably not right for you in that mouthpiece and reed combo. A number 3 reed is no puppy, so while you are deciding what to do mouthpiece wise via talking with Pete. Why not get a softer reed on there, blow it in well and try again?

When a reed is to hard for me, I can't blow it softly and retain what I want from a note but I can get it vibrating freely with more power hence a clearer tone with increased volume. That goes back to your original question " Is tone linked to volume?"

It's not, if you are controlling the equipment but it will seem to be if you can only do certain things with the equipment like blowing louder to get clarity.

If you've been using #3's for a while just go down half a strength and blow it in well.
Hope this helps.
Hi Saxlicker,

I found a well blow "retired" reed that was suitably soft and had a go with that. It certainly spoke easier, but old habits die hard and I was having to really concentrate on keeping my embouchure more relaxed. It was more vibrant in tone and more flexible so I think I'll take your advise and get a box of 2.5s and see how I get on.

Thanks again for your help,

Chris

Hi Chris,

If you don't normally play with socks stuffed down the bell be aware of how it affects your playing.

I was advised to stuff a towel down the bell to keep the volume low for the neighbours but I was surprised at the amount of back pressure I felt when blowing.

Without the improvised mute I found a marked difference, especially with the low notes.
Hi Dave,

It was the first time I tried the socks down the bell actually and I did notice the increase in back pressure and I couldn't get any note below C# to speak. I don't think it'll be anything I'll do often but I just wanted and uninhibited blow :w00t:

BTW Many thanks for your ongoing diary, I have enjoyed every one of your posts and following your progress, well done.
Thanks, I've kind of lost my way with it recently, in the early days there always seemed to be something new and exciting happening, now progress seems to have plateaued out and I've got less to say. It's nice to know you've enjoyed it.

All the best,

Chris
 

Saxlicker

Well-Known Member
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1,829
Location
Breakfast room since '06 UK
Hi Saxlicker,

I found a well blow "retired" reed that was suitably soft and had a go with that. It certainly spoke easier, but old habits die hard and I was having to really concentrate on keeping my embouchure more relaxed. It was more vibrant in tone and more flexible so I think I'll take your advise and get a box of 2.5s and see how I get on.

Thanks again for your help,

No problem, glad to help and I hope it works, especially as it's the cheap option...good luck!
 
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Chris98

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
It's been just over a month since I downgraded to #2.5 strength reeds and I've found them quite a bit more versatile, certainly dynamics are easier and I'd not say I've noticed the high note be any more difficult. The tone to my ear at least is more expressive so all in all, I think it was a good move.

All the best and have a wonderful Christmas,

Chris
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
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1,019
Location
Essex
That's interesting Chris and I think I may try going down to a #2 - see if it solves my problem with low notes - anything is worth a try!
 

Pee Dee

Member
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425
Location
Dorset
Chris, why you no ask at band practice. As you know, I have the same mpc as you, and I always use 2-1/2 reeds, sometimes 2. Tried a 3, and it left me panting!:shocked:
Not too bad on the high notes either, just have to use my 'clarinet embouchure':D
 
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