SYOS

Beginner Should lower notes be harder to play?

Kenen

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So I play the flute and I've been learning the alto sax for about a week now and I've noticed that the notes you play using both hands at the same time (c, d, e, f, ect.) Are harder to play and I have to push the air a lot harder, especially for c!! Is this normal or does my saxophone possibly have a leak? I got it used from someone who obviously didnt clean it, as there was so much gunk inside and on a one or two pads there is a bit of green. Any help, knowledge, or advice would be helpful! Thank you
 
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Kenen

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On my flute some of the lowest notes take some more air but the difference isnt as great as with my saxophone
 

Zugzwang

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Yes! Completely normal - think of the comparative sizes of the tube/cone, and you're pushing air out of the first open hole. (But on the plus side, less air than a flute on the higher notes (I dimly remember) Welcome to sax world.
 

Wonko

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Some notes are harder to play than others. But if the low notes are really hard to play, I would check for leaks.....
Or maybe let someone more experienced try your horn, if they also have a hard time playing those low notes, get your sax to a qualified tech.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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Most beginners start in the middle of the sax range, and then gradually move downwards into the bell notes and upwards towards the palm keys. So it is normal for the higher and lower notes to be difficult in the beginning. And the very low and high notes remain difficult.

But it is also very likely that your sax has a leak as well, and that will make things unnecessarily problematic. If you bought an unloved used sax then I think it is definitely worth taking it to a repairer for a service.
 

jbtsax

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Even on an airtight saxophone the low C#, C, B, and Bb are challenging for the beginning player---especially at softer dynamic levels. These note require more air and are require the correct "voicing". Basically "voicing" refers to the shape and volume inside the oral cavity.

I teach inexperienced players to approach the low notes by playing a low G with a big, full, sound and then slurring quickly down to low C. It helps to sing those pitches on an "AHH" and mimic that feeling in the mouth and throat when playing the saxophone. "The lower you go, the harder you blow" is another tip I give them. When the low C is achieved, they then slur down and hold the low C as a long tone again and again to learn the "taste" of that note. From there they can either move on to slurring down to low B, then Bb using the same process, or work on coming in on the low C without having to slur down to it.

It takes practice at first, but once the "feel" of the low notes is achieved playing, those notes in a musical context becomes possible. In all the studies I have read where acoustic scientists use an "artificial embouchure" to play a saxophone in their tests, the "machine" usually can play only down to a low F or low E This shows how extremely important the "nuances" human beings must learn to master the low register on conical woodwinds.
 
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Is it just a coincidence that the "difficult" notes start where the bend in the body is, or does the vibrating air column somehow get messed up by the curve? Can any soprano (or straight alto) player confirm whether the effect is the same on straight saxes?
 

davidk

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Ease of playing low notes:
Easiest: baritone
then soprano
then alto
Hardest: tenor

Well that's my opinion. Feel free to disagree. :)
I find the alto more difficult at the low end than the tenor. This is probably down to having bought my tenor mouthpiece specifically for its ease of playing soft low notes (I was using a tenor mute at the time).

Alto mouthpiece: Aizen Jazz Master 6 with Java Red reeds #3
Tenor mouthpiece: JodyJazz DVNY 8* with Select Jazz filed #3M

I have previously played a JodyJazz DV (non-NY) on alto, and still found the low notes more resistant than on tenor.
 

jbtsax

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Some tenor players who are not classical players choose mouthpieces that give them more edge to the sound. This means they produce more energy in the upper overtones at the expense of the fundamental. This is part of the reason the lower notes are harder to play on tenor. It is not the instrument as much as set-up they play on.

With all mouthpieces the fundamentals of the lowest tones are weaker than the second and third harmonic. Benade in his book "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" gives an exercise that illustrates this tendency of conical woodwinds. You play a low C forte and then keeping everything the same but the amount of air you play a long slow decresendo. At a certain dynamic level the fundamental loses control and the 2nd harmonic automatically takes over. He calls this the "octave sneak".
 
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Pete Thomas

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Some tenor players who are not classical players choose mouthpieces that give them more edge to the sound. This means they produce more energy in the upper overtones at the expense of the fundamental. This is part of the reason the lower notes are harder to play on tenor. It is not the instrument as much as set-up they play on.
That's interesting to know. It may explain also why it is (at least for me) easier to play low notes subtone than full tone, ie there are fewer upper overtones with subtone.

We can hear that in most cases, but also I did some waveform comparison here;

 

Pete Effamy

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Like many others I find tenor low notes the most difficult. I personally put that down to being a clarinet player essentially, until my 20's and then an alto player, and not having to gig as a tenor player until my mid-30's (only ever picked up a baritone a few times and don't own one so no comment there).
I did buy a much smaller mouthpiece a few years back, thinking that I could finish my days on tenor as a fluffy jazzer, but the phone started ringing again and out came the Jody. During this sabbatical though I did note that a really soft reed (a #2) enabled me to play the lower end quite easily, full and sub-tone. You can do quite a lot with the setup, but not all the things that the guy on the end of the phone was telling me about. So...
 

randulo

Playing saxophone 20 months - 2.3% of my life
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It may be helpful to concentrate on those bottom three or four notes, going between them and trying to play them softly (which I can't very well). I mess around with chromatic scale up and down on the bottom 6 notes and some random interval passage between them, such as Bb, C#. Not only is the sound hard, but the roller action is, too.
 

Halfers

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It's heartening to know that my fellow esteemed and much more experienced and talented forum members find the lower notes more of a challenge. I guess it's all relative though. I've been practicing overtones recently and I find it really hard to get back to the fundamental note after I've played a couple of overtones up the register. I also find sub toning the lower notes is often easier than a full on note. It's the start of the note I struggle with when I'm going for a fuller tone. It's often starts off with the Octave above before I can find the "correct" note I'm looking for. Needs more practice..
 
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