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Mouthpiece Pitch Revisited

jbtsax

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I suspect most sax players by now have heard of checking the mouthpiece pitch. Most sources say this idea originated with Santy Runyon several years ago. Santy's pitches were B for the clarinet, A for the alto, G for the tenor, and Eb for the baritone. Eugene Rousseau, also a proponent of mouthpiece pitch in his book "Saxophone High Tones" gives the pitches as C for the soprano, A for the alto, G for the tenor, and D for the baritone.

Out of curiosity I recreated the "experiment" described by Santy Runyon in this(DEAD LINK) from his book, "Suggestions for Woodwind Players". Instead of a "theramin" which was simply a frequency generator which one could control by moving the hand between the metal poles, I used a pitch generator on my computer to play the A=880 input pitch into a small speaker.



The sound produced can be heard here Runyon Test
1. The small speaker alone sounding A=880
2. The small speaker connected to the "mouthpiece"
3. The "mouthpiece" on the neck of the saxophone
4. The saxophone being fingered

As you can hear, Santy's story is completely bogus. He apparently didn't understand that the resonance from each change in the length of the body tube couples with the reed and causes the reed to vibrate at that frequency. The little speaker has to vibrate at 880vps no matter what the length of the tube.

More to follow.
 
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jbtsax

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No comments? Ok, then I will continue. Does the fact that Santy's story was made up mean that the concept of mouthpiece pitch is not relevant or important? I think not, and here's why.

I'm not sure where I read this explanation, it may have been in one of Paul Cohen's articles, but I haven't been able to find it again. What it said was at the time Santy was experimenting with his tone quality, there were lots of clarinet teachers who were suddenly switching to saxophone to get work in the dance bands and show bands that were growing in number during that era. Without having any real saxophone training, these players were playing the saxophone high on its mouthpiece pitch, just like they did on the clarinet. We know today that this produces a "pinched" sound that is sharp in the high register. This story makes a lot of sense to me.

By dropping the jaw, opening the teeth and putting less pressure from the lip on the reed a player can produce a pitch on the mouthpiece which is closer to the "center of the pitch" which is more characteristic of the saxophone and results in a more "open" tone and better intonation.

Some have argued that long mouthpieces produce a lower mouthpiece pitch, and shorter mouthpieces produce a higher mouthpiece pitch. All things equal this may be true, however because the mouthpiece is such a short tube it does not have a strong natural resonance by itself like the body of the instrument. When a note is played on the instrument, the natural resonance of the body tube "couples" with the reed and causes it to vibrate at that frequency. The mouthpiece alone on the other hand has no such strong resonance frequency and the pitch can be set at wherever the player wants it to be with either the tightness of the embouchure or the "voicing" inside the mouth. It is reported that there are players who can produce a complete octave scale on the mouthpiece alone.

This is why I believe mouthpiece pitches can be very useful as a "starting point" for players and teachers to find an embouchure pressure that works the best for them or their students. Next installment will cover the different mouthpiece pitches used by some jazz players, and what acoustics literature has to say about all this "input pitch" stuff.
 

PaulM

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This is why I believe mouthpiece pitches can be very useful as a "starting point" for players and teachers to find an embouchure pressure that works the best for them or their students. Next instalment will cover the different mouthpiece pitches used by some jazz players, and what acoustics literature has to say about all this "input pitch" stuff.

Absolutely agree about the usefulness of using mouthpiece pitch as a basic reality check for the embouchure. I recall when I first started playing I was around a major second sharp on just the mouthpiece, no wonder it felt like such hard work. Relaxing the muscles and taking in a bit more mouthpiece worked wonders. I still sounded like I was playing a tuned foghorn rather than a saxophone, but at least it had better intonation.

Looking forward to the next instalment.
 

Nick Wyver

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Some have argued that long mouthpieces produce a lower mouthpiece pitch, and shorter mouthpieces produce a higher mouthpiece pitch. All things equal this may be true, however because the mouthpiece is such a short tube it does not have a strong natural resonance by itself like the body of the instrument. When a note is played on the instrument, the natural resonance of the body tube "couples" with the reed and causes it to vibrate at that frequency. The mouthpiece alone on the other hand has no such strong resonance frequency and the pitch can be set at wherever the player wants it to be with either the tightness of the embouchure or the "voicing" inside the mouth. It is reported that there are players who can produce a complete octave scale on the mouthpiece alone.

Ah! So mouthpiece pitch is more to do with the reed than the mouthpiece? I'd always thought that the length of the mouthpiece must play a more significant role but I suspect you are correct. If it's the reed that's the dominant factor what happens with the weirdos that insist on playing tenor reeds on alto and bari reeds on tenor? Does that drop the mouthpiece pitch?
 

aldevis

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I have always been skeptical about using a mouthpiece for daily practice.

JBT, what happens when you finger the saxophone with the tone generator producing 880Hz?
 

PaulM

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JBT, what happens when you finger the saxophone with the tone generator producing 880Hz?

I'm going to rudely butt in here, so please excuse me. The Runyon Test file above demonstrates the effect of fingering. You can readily hear the change in timbre of the tone as the keys are operated, but it's frequency remains unaltered.
 

aldevis

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I am expecting differences in volume, but probably it would be clearer with a louder 220hz generator (F# on alto, B on tenor). or even 110hz
 

kevgermany

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Ah! So mouthpiece pitch is more to do with the reed than the mouthpiece? I'd always thought that the length of the mouthpiece must play a more significant role but I suspect you are correct. If it's the reed that's the dominant factor what happens with the weirdos that insist on playing tenor reeds on alto and bari reeds on tenor? Does that drop the mouthpiece pitch?
I guess John's going to cover it, but if you think of the sax as a cone with the sharp end cut off, the mouthpiece volume must match the volume of the missing part of the cone. There are two effects - volume and length. both have an effect, depending on where in the sax's tonal range you're playing traditional thinking has been that it shifts from volume to length. Which is the explanation for sharp tuning in the upper register - pull the mouthpiece out and lip up in the lower register.

What John's saying is that length doesn't matter and that traditional thinking is wrong.

Reed vibration (before you get the lips and sax affecting it) depends on stiffness, position of centre of mass and a few other things. If you think of the reed as being anchored to the break, then the longer the reed, the lower it's natural frequency. It's not really length, but the distance of the centre of mass of the vibrating part from the break. Thicker/stiffer reeds vibrate faster. Putting more weight towards the tip slows things down. Thinning the reed in the region of the break will also slow things down. Reeds have a natural vibration frequency much higher than the frequencies we use in playing the sax. But it's all probably irrelevant as the pressure changes inside the sax are much stronger than the reed's ability to vibrate, so it follows/couples.You can emulate a lot of this with a wooden ruler, some tape and coins as weights.
 
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jbtsax

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Ah! So mouthpiece pitch is more to do with the reed than the mouthpiece?
Actually I believe it has more to do with the player's embouchure tension and/or "voicing" inside the mouth and throat.

I have always been skeptical about using a mouthpiece for daily practice.
As I understand it, practicing on the mouthpiece alone has more to do with learning how to "voice" which is essential in playing in the altissimo register.

JBT, what happens when you finger the saxophone with the tone generator producing 880Hz?
As Nick said, the timbre of the note changes, but the basic pitch does not.
I am expecting differences in volume, but probably it would be clearer with a louder 220hz generator (F# on alto, B on tenor). or even 110hz
I used the 880 hz frequency because that is what Santy said "played" all of the notes in both registers.

I guess John's going to cover it, but if you think of the sax as a cone with the sharp end cut off, the mouthpiece volume must match the volume of the missing part of the cone. There are two effects - volume and length. both have an effect, depending on where in the sax's tonal range you're playing traditional thinking has been that it shifts from volume to length. Which is the explanation for sharp tuning in the upper register - pull the mouthpiece out and lip up in the lower register.

What John's saying is that length doesn't matter and that traditional thinking is wrong.
I think you misunderstood the point I was trying to make. Mouthpiece volume vs length of the instrument is another issue altogether. Although "input pitch" and "mouthpiece pitch" are both related to mouthpiece geometry, this thread has more to do with the variable that is the player himself/herself.
 
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kevgermany

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I think you misunderstood the point I was trying to make. Mouthpiece volume vs length of the instrument is another issue altogether. Although "input pitch" and "mouthpiece pitch" is related to mouthpiece geometry, this thread has more to do with the variable that is the player himself/herself.

Sorry, yes I misunderstood you:oops:
 

jbtsax

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Vanessa Hasbrook in her Mouthpiece Pitch Study did a quite thorough investigation of, and research into both the pedagogy of mouthpiece pitch and the harmonic "footprint" of different mouthpiece pitches played on an alto saxophone. Her study is quite long, but can be summarized quite simply. Classical saxophonists tend to play at or near A=880, and jazz players typically play lower---as much as a tritone in some cases.

The resultant sound spectrum of the jazz "embouchure setting" tended to produce a sound with more and stronger high overtones than the "firmer" classical embouchure. This stands to reason acoustically speaking because the "jazz embouchure" provides less "dampening" of the reed and as a result the reed is more free to vibrate producing higher partials. [As a side note: playing on high baffle, long and narrow chamber mouthpieces helps in this area as well.] This of course gives the player in styles other than classical an "edge" to the sound that stands out in the ensemble rather than a "round" sound which blend well with other instruments. The player using the jazz embouchure of course who plays lower on the input pitch must push the mouthpiece farther onto the cork to play the instrument up to pitch.

What follows is how I have tried to connect "mouthpiece pitch" or "input pitch" to what is known about the acoustics of the saxophone. Kev was correct when he mentioned that in order for the saxophone to play "properly" the "effective volume"** of the mouthpiece must match the volume of the imaginary "missing cone".

Arthur Benade in Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics p.470 puts it this way :
The reed cavity plus the restricted passageway through the staple (or the reed plus the bocal in the bassoon, or the mouthpiece plus the neck in the saxophone) must therefore be arranged to imitate the acoustical properties of the missing part of the cone.
Here he is referring to the missing part of the cone of the saxophone as being represented by both the mouthpiece and the neck starting from the top of the body of the sax where the neck tenon is inserted which helps to convey the concept. The "neck" of the oboe is the staple on which the double reed is attached. It would be ridiculous to talk about the pitch produced by the oboe reed off its staple so he adds the bocal and the neck for the saxophone as well.
7. For a conical woodwind to work properly, the equivalent volume of the reed cavity [mouthpiece] added to the mechanical volume of its staple (or bocal or neck) must closely match the volume of the missing part of the cone.
Here he tell us that one of the "acoustical properties" of the missing cone that the mouthpiece + neck must match is the volume.
We can continue our search for a useful imitation of the missing part of the cone by tying the effect of matching the Frs [frequency of the reed on its staple, bassoon reed on its bocal, or saxophone mouthpiece on its neck] for the reed system to the first mode natural frequency of the cone apex itself. In the general frequency neighborhood of Frs the oboe [bassoon, or saxophone] will see an object at its upper end whose acoustical behavior is quite similar to that of the missing apical cone.
Here he is telling us that the other "acoustical property" of the missing cone that the mouthpiece + neck must match is the played frequency. In other words the pitch that sounds when the mouthpiece and neck are played apart from the saxophone. Does what pitch the player produces on the mouthpiece alone affect the pitch of the mouthpiece plus neck? Certainly, but so does where the mouthpiece is place on the cork which also helps to determine the "effective volume" of the mouthpiece. Next and final installment is how to find the volume and pitch of your missing cone, and what to do with that information once you know it. :)

** The "effective volume" of a mouthpiece is the actual geometric volume past the neck opening plus the volume added to other factors which add to the volume such as the motion of the reed, the "resonator" inside the mouthpiece chamber, and the effects of the player's oral cavity.


 
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Guenne

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Hey guys,

what I can tell from my own experience is that things work better on the sax for me if I play even jazz or pop with a higher mouthpiece pitch than I used to.
I can play more than one octave (a 13th maybe) on the MPC alone, but playing at least near the mentioned MPC-pitches makes me play with a more constant embouchure which gives a more even intonation or less need for changes to have good intonation.
I also think that (as Hasbrook states) overtone structure changes as you change mouthpiece pitch and if you have to compensate it is harder to keep the overtones even and in tune.
BTW: On clarinet, I have my students play F# on MPC and barrel.

Very interesting topic indeed.

Cheers, Guenne
 

Guenne

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Hey,

Eugene Rousseau talks about "Angle" or "Direction" of the airstream in his Saxophone Altissimo book, when he has you play the "A" on the MPC alone.
He also talks about "firmness" of embouchure. Thats where the picture of the spokes of a wheel come into play.
I think you also have to keep that in mind when reaching for the "A", as the "angle" will vary in different registers of the saxophone.
If you reach the "A" by pinching, you only have the choice to change firmness of the embouchure.
At least that's how I understand it :)

Cheers,
Guenne
 

davidk

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I guess John's going to cover it, but if you think of the sax as a cone with the sharp end cut off, the mouthpiece volume must match the volume of the missing part of the cone. There are two effects - volume and length. both have an effect, depending on where in the sax's tonal range you're playing traditional thinking has been that it shifts from volume to length. Which is the explanation for sharp tuning in the upper register - pull the mouthpiece out and lip up in the lower register.
...
From http://www.steveduke.net/articles/mouthpiece.shtml

"The surprising and seemingly contradictory idea about mouthpiece placement is that if you play sharp in the upper register then PUSH IN and LOWER THE PITCH CENTER! This is the opposite of what everyone is taught – if you are sharp then pull out. If your pitch center is high and you pull out, then you only add to the problem by forcing your pitch center even higher."

After a bit of getting used too, this approach has worked wonders for my tone and tuning.
 

aldevis

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My skepticism:
If I play a G2 on tenor, remove the mouthpiece and blow the same way, I get the same note.
If I play a G1 on tenor, remove the mouthpiece and blow the same way, nothing comes out unless I start biting (or alter my embouchure).
 

kevgermany

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From http://www.steveduke.net/articles/mouthpiece.shtml

"The surprising and seemingly contradictory idea about mouthpiece placement is that if you play sharp in the upper register then PUSH IN and LOWER THE PITCH CENTER! This is the opposite of what everyone is taught – if you are sharp then pull out. If your pitch center is high and you pull out, then you only add to the problem by forcing your pitch center even higher."

After a bit of getting used too, this approach has worked wonders for my tone and tuning.
Got it wrong... Thanks!
 

Guenne

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My skepticism:
If I play a G2 on tenor, remove the mouthpiece and blow the same way, I get the same note.
If I play a G1 on tenor, remove the mouthpiece and blow the same way, nothing comes out unless I start biting (or alter my embouchure).

Hey,
why not consider the G or A on Alto as a perfect starting point, (we could discuss this also of course) where you can modify sound and intonation without changing the "outer" embouchure and are able to play the whole "normal" range of the horn.
I don't think the idea is to freeze it at one note.

@Mouthpiece placement:
Yes, overlooked.
It does not only affect intonation but also the horn's response and your ability to play vibrato.

Cheers,
Guenne
 

aldevis

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Hey,
why not consider the G or A on Alto as a perfect starting point, (we could discuss this also of course) where you can modify sound and intonation without changing the "outer" embouchure and are able to play the whole "normal" range of the horn.
I don't think the idea is to freeze it at one note.

But I better adapt my embouchure to a whole instrument to optimize its sound, rather than adapting it to a stub. the coupling of the reed with any note will be different than the mouthpiece itself.
 

jbtsax

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My skepticism:
If I play a G2 on tenor, remove the mouthpiece and blow the same way, I get the same note.
If I play a G1 on tenor, remove the mouthpiece and blow the same way, nothing comes out unless I start biting (or alter my embouchure).
I want to be sure I understand your statement. When you say G2, do you mean concert pitch which is A on the tenor? Do you change your embouchure pressure as you go from G2 to G1? Do you change the speed of your airstream as you go from G2 to G1.
 

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