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My sound - Where does it come from?

Rock Lobster

Member
Messages
124
I was speaking to a really good sax player last week who said, "your sound is 10% your mouthpiece and reed, 5% your sax and 85% what you do, getting a good sax doesn't have that much effect, you need to blow right and you discover this by practicing."

So I asked why lots of good players use mark 6s or other great makes of sax and he said, "they are easy to play but they don't give you your sound, a good player will make a cheap sax sound good".

Well I was a bit flabbergasted, what do you all think?
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Messages
12,125
I was speaking to a really good sax player last week who said, "your sound is 10% your mouthpiece and reed, 5% your sax and 85% what you do, getting a good sax doesn't have that much effect, you need to blow right and you discover this by practicing."

So I asked why lots of good players use mark 6s or other great makes of sax and he said, "they are easy to play but they don't give you your sound, a good player will make a cheap sax sound good".

Well I was a bit flabbergasted, what do you all think?
1- that we like to blame the equipment for our faults
2- that finding the right 15% represented by reed mouthpiece and instrument can be a tough job
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Sounds about right to me. One thing you'll notice when you pick up a really good instrument is how smooth and light the action is. Then there's the issue of reliability. Those things are worth a lot to a pro.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,064
Flabbergasted = to overcome with surprise and bewilderment;

I can just imagine Frank Singing, Bewitched bothered and flabbergated by you......

Sounds right to me.


Once you find your set up the rest is just mechanics.
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
25,898
I was speaking to a really good sax player last week who said, "your sound is 10% your mouthpiece and reed, 5% your sax and 85% what you do, getting a good sax doesn't have that much effect, you need to blow right and you discover this by practicing."

So I asked why lots of good players use mark 6s or other great makes of sax and he said, "they are easy to play but they don't give you your sound, a good player will make a cheap sax sound good".

Well I was a bit flabbergasted, what do you all think?
I don't totally agree that a good sax does not have much effect, my tutor plays a YSS62 which seems to have a certain tone to it. When he played my Trevor James with the same mouthpiece and reed there was a definite something missing from the tone that the 62 gave. When I sold the TJ and got a 62 myself there was a definite different and better sound coming out again with the same mouthpiece and reed.

I am sure as players we have the biggest impact but the sax does play some part but how you define it in percentage terms I'm not sure.

Jx
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Surely the weight and smoothness of the action is due to the tech, unless Griff sent a different instrument back.
 

AndyWhiteford

Senior Member
Messages
454
1- that we like to blame the equipment for our faults
2- that finding the right 15% represented by reed mouthpiece and instrument can be a tough job
3 - Capitalism teaches us that we can buy a better sound..... :confused:

ifi only ahd a slemer.jpg
 
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BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Surely the weight and smoothness of the action is due to the tech, unless Griff sent a different instrument back.
Probably, but I suspect there would be a noticable difference in feel between a posh horn and a cheap one, even if both are in tip-top condition and that the posh one would stay that way for longer. If only I could afford to perform the experiment at home. Maybe I could apply for a grant...
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,799
I can hear some differences betwen a mark six vs King , The Martin and Keilwerths. These saxes are not built as copies of the mark six. Clarence Clemons had a diffent tone when he played a mark six with larsen 0 chamber compared to when he played a Keilwerth with Rovner Deep-V D40 chamber? Still the same energy and style but ....

I love my Keilwerth "The New King" from -68. An intermediate sax with a quite big bore. Perfect bluessax. The action is not that fast, but the sound is huge! You can buy one for around £ 200.00. They were sold as Bundy/Bundy Specials in USA. Some blueshonkers are still blowing on these saxes. Don't forget Noble "Thin Man" Watts. He played a Conn "Shooting Star" in the 90's.

Yes, where does your sound come from? And what are doing to sound like you do?
 

altissimo

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,355
I don't think anyone's ever quite figured out what is responsible for a players "sound" and I wouldn't want to put it in the form of percentages, but here's a few points worth considering -

Firstly...
the sound you hear as a sax player is different to what an audience member hears. This is due to a number of factors -
Proximity - you're a lot closer to the instrument than anyone else, so you'll hear a lot more of the details of the saxophone's sound
Physical contact - not only can you feel the vibrations in the instrument, you've also got the reed vibrating in your mouth and the air column vibrating in your oral cavity as well as the mouthpiece resting against your teeth. P
lus there's the effects of bone conduction - "Bone conduction is the conduction of sound to the inner ear through the bones of the skull. Bone conduction is one reason why a person's voice sounds different to him/her when it is recorded and played back. Because the skull conducts lower frequencies better than air, people perceive their own voices to be lower and fuller than others do"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_conduction

So as players we hear things that other listeners just won't notice and the differences between different horns, mouthpieces, reeds etc are more apparent to us and also our perception of our tone is unique to us

I've made recordings of myself with different combinations of mouthpieces and different makes of saxes and apart from things being a bit brighter or darker, I sound pretty much the same.

So what is it that gives us our sound?
Well, that's like asking what is it that gives us our individual speaking voices -
"The sound of each individual's voice is entirely unique not only because of the actual shape and size of an individual's vocal cords but also due to the size and shape of the rest of that person's body, especially the vocal tract, and the manner in which the speech sounds are habitually formed and articulated. (It is this latter aspect of the sound of the voice that can be mimicked by skilled performers.) Humans have vocal folds that can loosen, tighten, or change their thickness, and over which breath can be transferred at varying pressures. The shape of chest and neck, the position of the tongue, and the tightness of otherwise unrelated muscles can be altered. Any one of these actions results in a change in pitch, volume, timbre, or tone of the sound produced. Sound also resonates within different parts of the body, and an individual's size and bone structure can affect somewhat the sound produced by an individual..... There are seven areas that may be listed as possible vocal resonators. In sequence from the lowest within the body to the highest, these areas are the chest, the tracheal tree, the larynx itself, the pharynx, the oral cavity, the nasal cavity, and the sinuses"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_voice

Given all these variables, it's no surprise that we all sound a bit different or that skilled players can shape the sound of the saxophone so much. It also explains why you'll never sound exactly like John Coltrane....

Mouthpieces -
There's no doubt that many mouthpieces will have an effect on your sound, particularly if you go to extremes. A high baffle mouthpiece like a Dukoff D, Lawton BB, Lebayle Studio, Guardala King etc will always sound bright and edgey and you'll never sound like Johnny Hodges with something like that, and at the other end of the spectrum a vintage large chamber mouthpiece of the kind that was made in the 1930's will never give you a David Sanborn type sound.. well, I say never, there's bound to be someone who can do it, but you get my point.

Choice of mouthpiece is a personal thing and involves factors like how it feels in your mouth, how it responds, the amount or lack of resistance ("freeblowing"), did your favourite sax player use one and can you afford it, as well as the obvious tonal qualities...

I tend to think that the response of a mouthpiece is one of the main factors in what I use - I like one that responds quickly with little effort and works well in the altissimo register and helps me play multiphonics, hence my choice of a Lawton BB. Other people like a lot of resistance to push against and like to "put a lot of air through their horn" - generally these are the vintage Otto Link enthusiasts. I've found that to get the best out of a Link you have to work at it and really learn to use your embouchure, oral cavity, throat etc, so you spend hours practising long tones when you could be having fun. The payoff is you'll get a big fat sound (and angry neighbours), whereas the highly responsive, high baffle mouthpieces will tend to sound shriller and brighter.
Mouthpiece makers like Theo Wanne have tried to combine the two, so you get a fast, easy to play mouthpiece with a full rich sound. I suspect the PPT and Morgan Fry's Rhodium Large chamber also give you the best of both worlds..
Skilled mouthpiece technicians can do all kinds of things to enhance the playability of your mouthpiece and an accurate facing curve usually helps a lot.
Factors that will affect the sound of a mouthpiece include the height and shape of the baffle and the size and shape of the chamber. The length of the facing and thickness of the sidewalls can also have an effect. The material the mouthpiece is made of may also be a factor, but given that the thing is in contact with your teeth and you're hearing some effect through bone conduction, it's difficult to determine how much effect the mouthpiece material has on the sound heard by the audience. There's been scientific research, but nothing conclusive. There are too many variables involved.

Another thing to consider is that you'll tend to adapt your playing to how you perceive the mouthpiece to sound. - stick a Dukoff D8 on your sax and you'll soon end up in Sanborn territory and there won't be many Ben Webster licks coming out of your horn.
Listening the the sound samples on Steven Neff's excellent website, you hear him playing differently according to how he hears each mouthpiece he reviews
http://www.neffmusic.com/blog/category/mouthpiece-reviews/

and there's no doubt that there's a relationship between what we hear and how we play

Saxophones -
There's been a lot of discussion on various forums about body tubes, tone holes and all the rest of it. I'm not going to open that can of worms...
Over the last 50 years the R&D departments of companies like Selmer, Yamaha and Yanagisawa have improved the intonation and evened out the response of modern saxophones. This has, in the ears of many vintage sax enthusiasts, also evened out the tonal differences between the different saxophone makes.
Sure you can, as a player, tell the difference between a Yamaha and a Yanagisawa, but could you tell the difference if someone else was playing them? I can't.
While I wouldn't deny for a second that having a modern sax that plays in tune and is little effort to play is a very wonderful thing, there's something about the experience of playing my old Martin that just can't be had on a modern horn. Mostly it's bad intonation and rattling noises.... or is that old age catching up with me...?

The attraction of vintage saxes (and mouthpieces) is at least partly due to the mystique and mythology - your hero played one, so you must have one just like his etc - plus the sheer loveliness of them and the antique collector mentality. A lot of it's psychological, if you've got a Mark 6, you'll feel better and more confident and play better. Or at least try harder in an attempt to justify your expensive investment.
Conversely, a lot of pro players are leaving their valuable Mark 6's at home and gigging with modern instruments that you can actually get spare parts for.
I've heard music college students get a nice warm sound out of a Yamaha 4C and a YAS 275, so fancy equipment isn't a necessity. Practice will bring results.
A well set up, leak free horn with a nice fast action that plays in tune is all you really need..

GAS -
I think a lot of the neurosis for buying mouthpieces etc is driven by wanting to sound different than you do already. We've all got our own individual sound, we're just not happy about it and would rather sound like Dexter Gordon. But even if you could travel back in time and walk into a Blue Note recording session and borrow the great man's sax, the results still wouldn't sound like him..

Years ago when I was a teenage guitarist I used to read in guitar magazines that you could only get your own sound through years of patient effort, but when I listened back to recordings of my own primitive efforts, I could tell immediately it was me. So I realised that I already had my own sound, I just didn't like it very much.
My answer was to accept this fact and learn to like, or at least tolerate, my own sound instead of chasing the mirage of some mythical sound that I could never achieve. I stopped worrying about my tone and got on with enjoying my instrument.

I'll always sound like me and you'll always sound like you - be happy...:)

obviously all this rambling hasn't answered your question, but it gave me something to think about while I was waiting for the bus...
 

daveysaxboy

Big ruff Geordie bendy metal blower
Messages
3,312
Loads and loads and loads and loads of practice time.Thinking about EVERY note you play.Working your whole body on every note you play.Thats a starting point.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,064
With a little more thinking about it. It's so obvious. The sound comes from the reed. Take the reed away and try to play and you'll see what I mean.
 

daveysaxboy

Big ruff Geordie bendy metal blower
Messages
3,312
Wouldn't that rule out improvisation?

Apologies for being serious.
How wolud that rule out improvisation ??? every note i play i try to use my mouth,lip,stomach,lungs,gut and my head to best get that sound i hear in my head.A person who has a good tone works like this.Sorry to blow my own trumpet so to speak but thats why i have a good strong tone.Years of this none stop practice,device.Like i've said before a great singer does the same.Improvisation will follow you but you need alot of practice on both to let them flow and gel together.Of course a player with not much time spent on the sax will find working this way hard at 1st but thats like all new things in life so like i said lots and lots of practice time and start doing the above method.After all tone is king and theres nothing worse than a sax with a bad sound.Its like the less is more factor.Watch say Andy Sheppard who over the years has really played alot less notes in his pieces.When you watch him play a few notes you can really see him using his whole body and he's so into the music.He's working it baby.
Just because someone has a MKVI and a 1950's Otto Link does not mean they will sound great.I agree on say the 85% being the player for getting that good sound.The other 15% is having some nice gear that suits you and is not wall between you and the music .
 
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jonf

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,680
I certainly sound different on my Yanagisawa compared to my cheapy Earlham or 1970s Buescher. Still, I think that the majority of the sound comes from the player. I find that a good sax, and a mouthpiece which suits the player just helps the players sound to come out, stops the kit being a hindrance to the player.
 

dubrosa22

Senior Member
Messages
413
Great thread - really this is the question that is at the heart of all of our hardwork practising tone exercises, scales, chords and the dreaded but beloved - GAS! >:)

Personally I think it's all in the head - mouth, throat, teeth, tongue, ears and brain. But also nerves. I've been playing my SML altos interchangeably lately. Although I prefer a lot of the tonal qualities of the 'Rev. B' and it's less resistant and much easier to play the low-end and the palm keys I just plain prefer the 'Rev. D'. Not a lot more but that little countd a lot towards my tone when playing I believe.

Why? The Rev. D just feels better in the hands (more 'feefback' in the keywork), more resistant to blow, it resonates physically the stronger/louder I blow. These are all nerve endings influencing my performance.
Now obviously a few of these factors could be worked into the horn via a setup but both horns are around the same 'wear age' and were overhauled by the same tech. Neither have play in keywork or other sloppiness. Regardless the blowing resistance and the charming reverberant resonance of the Rev. D cannot be manufactured by a tech.

So, I believe that brand doesn't matter to tone but individual variation in build and material does. And that is all perceived by the nervous system and the brain.

It's all in the head :)
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Messages
12,125
I don't think anyone's ever quite figured out what is responsible for a players "sound" and I wouldn't want to put it in the form of percentages, ...
I think you are 78% correct in your post.

One element i would like to introduce is (as usual) flexibility.
If you are lucky enough to be Miles Davis, you can have gigs because they want you to sound like you, and your sound is essential.

On the other hand, would you really like to eat fish&chips every day? I know that in England many people would, but being able to change the menu is a good thing.

The painful path of adapting your playing to different styles and sounds, does not necessarily mean you lose your personality.
I actually have fun, when I try to "do the Coltrane" with a closer mouthpiece. It is not what i want to express, but it adds colours to my palette (as my teacher always said).
This is a perfect excuse to fuel your GAS attacks, that being a neurosis, is the perfect match for the aforementioned MPD :)
 

Lelly

Scarily Tall!!!!
Messages
167
In my (not so) humble opinion, this sounds about right.

The best sax in the world will not make a poor player good. it may improve the tone of a few notes but you need to put the hours in and get the skills. If there were an instant music "pill/horn" then we would all be on stage as pro performers.

I play a student grade sop and have had people asking amazedly, "what is that set up, it sounds great?" yet my alto is a pro std and although it has a gorgeous tone it is the flesh and blood accessory that is not quite hitting the mark.

Same on clarinet. I play a pro Bb and ti sounds wonderful, yet i also have a £60 plastic one for outside playing and although it is not quite as good, i can force it into line with lip and air pressure.

But I do invest in the best mouthpiece I can get and always blind select them. So I have a vandoren crystal on the Bb clari, a Vandoran RV on the Eb, and a selmer S* on the sop.

I have found that many players blame their reeds (I have a T shirt saying as such) and hear fellow clarinettists moaning about how you only bet 1 or 2 playable reeds in a box. I must have had a seriously tight teacher as he said that with a little adjustment you can make practically any reed play. I have followed this advice and it seems to be true. A slight adjustment of position on the mouthpiece can change the response and also the quality o the sound - lower than the tip i find gives quite a hard glassy sound and makes the reed play softer. Slightly higher thsn the tip gives a warmer rounder sound but it does make the reed play much harder.

I do not posess a reed cutter or reed knife or similar. The only physical adjustments I make to reeds are to make sure they are very wet then flex them in my mouth. it just seems to soften the cane a little.

So that is the word from classical training.

Lxx
 

saxplorer

Senior Member
Messages
879
An interesting discussion: I was struck by a post I read some months ago on this forum that made the point that the simple act of holding, playing and showing off a quality sax will inspire you to raise your game, and because you feel good, you will play well - not to say that you couldn't do as well on another sax, but if you're holding a $6000 sax, you feel like a million dollars and play accordingly.
 
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