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notes getting flat when going from soft to loud

JTHANK

Member
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33
My teacher recently started focusing more on my dynamics and pointed out that when I try to get louder, my notes tend to get flat. He told me to try tightening up my lips as I blow louder.

However, another problem I had was that my tone sounded too thin. I worked on relaxing my embouchure and throat and is seeing good results.

I have been struggling to get these 2 problems fixed. Things seem to go into different direction: I need to relax to get a good tone, but I need to tighten my lips to be in tune when I play from soft to loud, when I do so, I get tensed again and my tone is bad although it is in pitch... It just goes round and round.

These couple of days I realized my problem is in the opposite way: instead of blowing flat when I get louder, I am blowing sharp when I get softer.

When I start a note quietly, I tend to play in a tightened fashion. I can then relax my throat and embouchure and "bend" the note down to the correct pitch maintaining the same quietness. After I get to the correct pitch, I can blow louder and maintain the pitch.

My problem now is that I cannot start a note quietly in a relaxed position. Any suggestions? :confused:

By the way, it is actually also a challenge for me to end a note softly while maintaining the pitch. It also tends to getting sharp. However, If I am focused enough, I am able to end the note in tune softly by keeping my throat and embouchure relaxed. So I think this problem should go away after some practices.
 
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BigMartin

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3,904
My problem now is that I cannot start a note quietly in a relaxed position. Any suggestions? :confused:
Keep practicing and maybe try different reed strengths. It sounds to me like you've diagnosed your own problems perfectly. Now you need to work on the breath support. As I understand it, dynamic variation should come from variation in air pressure with as little change in embouchure as possible. Similarly you don't want to tighten up to get the higher notes.

I find my tone improves hugely if I spend a bit of extra time tuning up properly and get just the right spot for the mouthpiece on the cork to play my tuning note comfortably at the right pitch. That way I'm not constantly using my embouchure to "lip" the notes into tune.

By the way, it is actually also a challenge for me to end a note softly while maintaining the pitch. It also tends to getting sharp. However, If I am focused enough, I am able to end the note in tune softly by keeping my throat and embouchure relaxed. So I think this problem should go after some practices.
Yep!
 

jbtsax

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This is a great topic for this forum. Thanks for introducing it. It appears that you have a great awareness of what goes on when a single reed instrument is played a different dynamic levels. Being aware is really half the battle in my experience.

Very little has been written on the subject of WHY the sax goes sharp when played softly, and WHY it goes flat when played loudly. The only information I have found is the theory that when playing loudly, the reed moves farther back and forth which in turn increases the volume inside the mouthpiece which lowers the pitch. Conversely when playing softly the reed vibrates closer to the tip of the mouthpiece thereby reducing the mouthpiece volume.

Hopefully there are those with a better grasp of acoustics who can add to or correct the theory that I have thrown out. As a teacher, I believe that understanding WHY something occurs is important to finding ways to correct the problem.
 

Pete Thomas

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There are two qays of looking at this, as you have discovered.

Either


  1. The note gets flatter as you play louder or
  2. The note gets sharper as you play quieter

I hesitate to say anything that might contradict your teacher, who is in a much better position to know your issues, but at least I can say this is something that happens to everyone.

The first thing to think about is your choice of dynamic when tuning. If you play quietly to tune the saxophone, then your mouthpiece would not be pushed on as much as if you play loudly to tune.

Sounds obvious I know, but it's worth trying each, or finding a compromise, and then work out what you are happiest with.

Common advice given to people is to push the mouthpiece on to be a bit sharp when you tune, thus causing you to relax your embouchure.

Another thing to think about is that tightening your embouchure will help you sharpen when playing loud, as your teacher correctly says, but it's also possible to alter the pitch by changing the shape of your throat or tongue. I find that generally doing this is very hard to describe, but it seems to be easier for me to flatten the pitch this way rather than sharpen it.

Again, I don't want to go against what your teacher says, just mentioning a couple of things to try out and/or discuss with your teacher.
 

JTHANK

Member
Messages
33
Keep practicing and maybe try different reed strengths. It sounds to me like you've diagnosed your own problems perfectly. Now you need to work on the breath support. As I understand it, dynamic variation should come from variation in air pressure with as little change in embouchure as possible. Similarly you don't want to tighten up to get the higher notes.
Thanks BigMartin for your comments. I believe breath support is key also.

I realized if I try to start a note softly, I naturally start "squeezing" a little bit of air out by tightening my throat, as I started getting the note, then I push in more air for the loudness, and at the same time the air stream is forcing my throat to open more. This variation in my throat is what I believe the variation in pitch.

I recall my teacher mentioned long time ago that I should use warm air to blow. Even on soft notes, I should exhale with the support from my diaphragm. Maybe at some point I just forgot to pay attention to this and had not even bothered about it until recently.

I find my tone improves hugely if I spend a bit of extra time tuning up properly and get just the right spot for the mouthpiece on the cork to play my tuning note comfortably at the right pitch. That way I'm not constantly using my embouchure to "lip" the notes into tune.
About tuning, my teacher told me to tune with an A on alto (i.e. concert C), but I read that the tuning note should be the concert A, i.e. F# on alto. Can anyone verify this?

Anyway, regardless of which note I use to tune, I figured my tone actually is better if I play the tuning note a little uncomfortably at the right pitch. The reason is my natural or comfortable throat position is actually tighter. My conclusion is drawn based on 2 things: 1. if I adjust my mouthpiece to the point that I can play comfortably in tune, it is a lot further out than many others. It would take only less than half of the cork. 2. I read in a few places that if I blow my alto mouthpiece, I should get a concert A. If I blow comfortably on my mpc, I am actually getting a B.

In my case, if I tune with a slightly uncomfortable relaxed throat, the result is that I get better sound and more flexibility bending up and down the notes without using too much of my lips or dropping jaws, etc. which are considered bad habits(?).
 

JTHANK

Member
Messages
33
jbtsax, thanks for your comments. Interesting. I really haven't thought about it this way.

However, I had a hard time playing loudly and my teacher told me to suck in more the mpc instead of keep pushing more air into it, which I think is somewhat related to what you mentioned. But my own feeling is that as I suck in more, my throat and tongue position also change, and I think this is affecting the pitch. So now I tend not to do this even my teacher told me to do so...
 

JTHANK

Member
Messages
33
Hi Pete. Thanks a lot for your advices.

Frankly, I don't mind if you say anything that contradicts my teacher. He is a good player but in terms of teaching, I think he is so-so. However, there are not too many saxophone teachers around and there are even fewer who are into jazz like him, so I sort of learn from him selectively.

In fact, I am experimenting more with changing the shape of my throat and tongue. I realized it is much more effective after I started doing mouthpiece exercises.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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C on alto is concert Eb. Doesn't really matter where you tune, but if you're always tuning to other people, understand the relationship - you play 3 semitones lower than the note they call. Make sure that if your sax has a note that's a bit out, that you don't tune to that note...

Volume control comes from air and reed - assume you're playing loudly and gradually reduce the air and close the reed off to maintain the note. Trick is to do a little at a time at first, until it becomes automatic. Change in loudness is more from air pressure/support than how much ari goes through and I think we tend to push more air, rhater than increase support as we get louder. I think the pitch change comes from having to close off or loosen up on the reed. If you listen to your playing you'll find intonation becoes automatic.
 

jrintaha

Senior Member
Messages
283
Very little has been written on the subject of WHY the sax goes sharp when played softly, and WHY it goes flat when played loudly. The only information I have found is the theory that when playing loudly, the reed moves farther back and forth which in turn increases the volume inside the mouthpiece which lowers the pitch. Conversely when playing softly the reed vibrates closer to the tip of the mouthpiece thereby reducing the mouthpiece volume.
I'm not sure if the volume in the mouthpiece is the only variable that affects the pitch. The same happens with free-reed instruments (accordions, concertinas etc.), although usually noticeably only with the lowest-pitched reeds. When you play really loud, the notes go flat, especially if the attack is very quick. In the accordion, the volume of the reed chamber stays constant, no matter what the airflow or air pressure is.

In accordion reeds, the lowest reeds almost universally have a small extra piece of metal in the tip to make the pitch go low enough without having to make the reed unreasonably long. Special long-scale reeds (I've never seen one in person, but I know of a concertina builder who makes them) are more resistant to the flattening effect (the tip-to-root thickness ratio is more balanced), so I guess it must be something related to the "elasticity" properties of the reed material - perhaps in extreme airflow / pressure situations, the force exerted on the reed causes it to behave slightly differently.

Cheers,
Jori
 

Jazzaferri

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Messages
2,667
Having a veryrelaxed embouchure with just enough lip pressure to seal and using the throat and tongue position to make any adjustments in pitch works well for me.

I have also discovered that adjusting reeds correctly helps to balance the pitches vetween the bell key notes and the palm key notes. When I get the reed balanced and adjusted really well there seems to be little if any pitch change due to volume.
 

jbtsax

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The analogy with the accordion is quite interesting. In that case there is no "embouchure" to correct the pitch. However, isn't there a different reed for each note whose pitch is determined by the length of the reed that vibrates when set into motion by the air stream generated by the bellows?

Another thought along the same lines would be the behavior of the reeds in bagpipes, although I have never heard bagpipes change their dynamic level once they start. An ancient double reed woodwind similar to the modern day oboe was called a "crumhorn". The main difference was that the reeds were enclosed so the player furnished only the air with no control over the tone quality or the pitch. I suspect the crumhorn would exhibit very clearly the natural tendency of the effect of dynamics upon the pitch of a reed instrument.
 

Colin the Bear

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13,091
I find it useful to check tuning all round to make sure the mouthpiece is in the optimum position. Check high , middle and low to make sure you're not compensating in one area to be in tune , at the expense of another area.

Practice is the only way. Always play in tune and try for the best tone you can get. A beautiful tone is wasted if it's out of tune.

Striving for perfection is an attitude that will improve your playing but you yourself may not feel the improvement as the closer you get to it the more it moves away from you. So that even though you are progressing and improving, to you, you always sound like you. Some days I feel like I can't get in tune and can't play at all and others I'm on song and flying. I suppose to an independant listener it sounds much of a muchness.

Try bending notes and sliding between them to build your control and it will come naturally.

You should be your own worst critic but don't be too harsh.

As for other reed instruments, I don't have any problem bending notes on a mouth organ, just by controlling air flow and pressure. And you have to suck on a gob iron.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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I believe the reason bagpipes only play at one volume is that there's more than one reed involved - one in each drone and the one in the chanter. They're tuned to each other at the volume you're going to play - and changing volume puts the reeds out of tune with each other.

Agree on the mouth organ and the kids have a chinese gourd flute which follows the same principles as the crumhorn, but is multi reed with 2 drones and I've messed with that a bit. Seems to me that having lips in contact with the reed gives you more control over a wider range. The volume range on a mouth organ is much more restricted than a sax, for instance.
 
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