SYOS

Shouldn't harmonics be exactly in tune?

TonyP

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I have started practicing harmonics on the low notes as per Sigurd Rascher's "Top Tones for the saxophone" and many other useful tomes.
Its going well, but... I was a physics teacher before retirement, and thought I knew about overtones: you play eg low Bb, and the overtones are middle Bb, F, top Bb, D etc, all perfectly in tune, because they are harmonics, and not notes played with the keys. You are just emphasising the upper partials of the note....
Well, mine aren't exactly in tune according to my tuner. Only a few cents out, and sharp, on my Conn 6M alto.
Any comments greatly appreciated,
TonyP
 

aldevis

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Just commented on another thread of yours about harmonics....

No. You are lucky if they are approximately in tune.
As a physics teacher you were probably using tuning forks, glass tubes and strings, not a bent conical lump of metal with keys attached to it, supposed to play two octaves and a fifth of chromatic notes.
In my edition of the Rascher there was a picture of his keyless saxophone. Maybe that one was slightly more in tune.

Another consideration, is that harmonic fifths are sharper that tempered fifths, and thirds are flatter. 7ths are deadly out.

My advice? Ignore the tuner and focus on sound.
 
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kevgermany

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I think Aldevis is spot on. The harmonics are exact multiples of the fundamental, but this isn't the case on the even temperament your tuner will work off.

If you want to know more about temperament, try and find a copy of How Equal temperament ruined harmony. But there's also some good stuff on the web.
 

tenorviol

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Points above are valid - equal temperament is what your tuner will be using and it will be wrong for this purpose. Drone idea is good. If you've got an electronic keyboard, try holding down a key on a note in the middle of your range. Then sing a tone in tune with it. Then slide up - as you reach the 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc you will feel the interval 'lock' in place. If you checked the pitch of your 'locked in' notes with a meter they will not 'seem' to be in tune as they are not equal temperament.
 

jbtsax

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The point that true harmonics are different from the tempered scale is well taken. The main issue as I understand it is the inherent inharmonicity of the saxophone's geometry. Theoretically, in a perfect cone with a true taper the harmonics would be truly "harmonic". However, in the real world each closed tone hole creates an imperfection as do the bends at the neck and the bow as you go down the tube. It is amazing how close the manufacturers of the best instruments come to making all of the complex compromises required to produce an instrument with good harmonicity on most of the notes from top to bottom.

There is an excellent paper by Jean Pierre Dalmont entitled Some Aspects of Tuning and Clean Intonation in Reed Instruments that discusses these issues in detail. The old Conn Strob-o-tuner used to show the intonation of the fundamental and its harmonics by the use of a spinning wheel. There is a very pricey modern day software equivalent called Linotune that looks quite interesting.

It seems that string players have known about the inharmonicity of their strings for years. As the metal stretches over time, the string becomes out of tune with itself and becomes less resonant and harder to tune because you hear one pitch on the fundamental and different pitches on the harmonics. When I worked in a music store I used to wonder why string players would keep replacing strings that looked perfectly good to me every few months. Now I know.
 

tenorviol

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Yes, JBTSAX is right about strings - they go 'false', particularly gut strings which I use on the viols as they stretch in a non-linear way and so you tune the string, but fingered notes are out-of-tune. The metal strings on my cello are less prone to this, but it does happen - I suspect it's more of an issue with violins.
 

Desgranges

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As the metal stretches over time, the string becomes out of tune with itself and becomes less resonant and harder to tune because you hear one pitch on the fundamental and different pitches on the harmonics. When I worked in a music store I used to wonder why string players would keep replacing strings that looked perfectly good to me every few months. Now I know.
Most string players, at least guitar and electric bass, replace strings that have lost upper harmonic content, in other words, "go dull". They are still perfectly fine to play however and it would take a decent amount of time for a string to truly go dead as in being untuneable - there are quite a few bassists with strings older than dirt. I know a handful who kept the same set of strings on for thirty or fourty years (pro players no less so it's not about playing as little as possible). Mine are around six years old. It's an aquired taste, but metal fatigue is usually not the reason string players change strings in my experience.

Maybe that is a problem with metal strings for cello and upright bass, I don't know.
 

aaronrod

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If you are really keen on using a tuner for harmonics, there are tuner apps that can use different tuning methodologies (for lack of a better word) - ClearTune is one example and I am sure there are many, many others.

However, I'd go with what others have suggested - use a drone note and your ear and learn how to bend them. Ultimately when you playing with others, you'll have to do that anyway - playing with a piano is a little different than playing with an upright bass, which is a little different than playing with a guitar...any of which may be out of tune themselves! On stage, you've got to match the collective group, not your tuner.
 

jbtsax

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To answer the question of this thread, "Yes they should, but that is not always the case".

To see how well your saxophone is made and/or how well your mouthpiece matches the bore and taper of your saxophone there are some interesting playing experiments you can try.

1) Tune the sax to low F#, then play high F# without the octave key and see if a perfect octave is created.
2) After step (1) still without the octave key finger low B play its 2nd harmonic and compare the pitch to the 2nd octave F#.
3) Finger low Bb, B, or C and produce a multiphonic octave above the fundamental. See if you hear "beats" indicating they are out of tune with one another.

If your sax passes all of these tests with flying colors, it is an instrument with good harmonicity. If it does not, you might try changing mouthpieces, reed strength, and embouchure tightness to see if any other combination produces better results.
 

old git

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Put it all down to J.S. and his like. Ruined the musical instrument market with this equal temperament rubbish. Perhaps Pete will show us again his partner's keyboard with the split keys.
 

tenorviol

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Do you mean C,C#,Db,D? Wow!
For a while, there were keyboards where the 'black' notes were split, usually the front and the back, rather than left/right. So you hit say the back half to get Db and the front half to get C# (or whatever the arrangement was).

I think there were even experiments to split it more than that so that you had different C#s to play depending which key you were in...

JSB didn't invent equal temperament and he generally didn't use it - his book was for the 'well-tempered klavier' (keyboard). Bach was reputed to be an expert tuner of harpsichords and developed his own tuning method. Sadly, we don't know what it was.
 
OP
TonyP

TonyP

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Wow! Never thought a simple question would bring out so many fascinating responses. The main point I had forgotten was the difference between Harmonic and equally tempered notes - no wonder my tuner thinks the overtones aren't correct.
Also the imperfections of the tube, bends and tone holes. I think jbtsax has got it as near right as possible, and I shall proceed using ears to tune rather than tuners - advice I have had many times but have undervalued until now. Thanks everybody!
TonyP
 
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