Supporting   special needs music

The Path to Being In Tune

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
9,059
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
Rarely in my life have I written something that came out exactly the way I wanted it to. I could probably count the times on one hand. :) One . . .

I just responded to a newcomer's question on SOTW and had this sense so much so that I wanted to share it with my friends in the "former colonial empire". :)

Playing "in tune" with an accompanying instrument, in a saxophone section, or when playing with another player in its simplest form is having the ability to "match pitch". Until good tone production skills which include embouchure, air stream, oral cavity control are mastered you will be "chasing your tail" when it comes to intonation. Work every day on playing long tones at various dynamic levels to develop control, take some lessons with a good instructor, learn to "listen deeply" to what you and others are playing.

Saxophones do not play out of tune. People play out of tune. When I studied music education in the late '60's - early '70's the term used was "humoring the pitch". On all wind instruments the player has a degree of control of where the pitch on any given note is going to be. When playing in unison, or in octaves with another player, one "humors" the pitch on every note to match the pitch of that individual. It doesn't matter if he/she is sharp or flat as measured on a tuner. It is your job as an ensemble player to match the pitches you hear. This is what playing "in tune" is all about. An experienced player will sometimes change the placement of the mouthpiece during a rest in the music to make it easier to "humor the pitch" when the other player is out.

So how does one "humor the pitch" on a saxophone? That's easy. When playing with a lip or jaw vibrato there is a slight tightening and relaxing of the embouchure which makes the pitch go up and down creating the "waves" in the sound we hear as vibrato. Some would argue that it is easier to "lip down" on a saxophone than to "lip up". There are some players who purposefully put the mouthpiece a bit too far on the neck so that most of the "humoring" is in a downward pitch direction.

Two notes that are in unison, an octave, a fourth, or a fifth apart will create "beats" when they are "out of tune". The faster the beats, the farther out of tune they are. The slower the beats the closer in tune they are. Of course the goal is to tune out or eliminate the beats as quickly as possible by humoring the note. On other intervals such as 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths there will not be "beats" that you can hear and count, but when these intervals are "humored" in tune they sound pleasing to the ear.

To sum it up, playing a saxophone in tune is exactly like singing (or playing a damn oboe). Every note must be listened to and made to fit pitch wise into its musical and harmonic context. This can be made easier by having a good instrument and set-up, but even then 99% is up to the player.
 

ptg

Member
Messages
238
Locality
USA
Great post!

I have made it a personal goal to be always playing in tune no later than 65 years from today. :confused:
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
15,987
Locality
Burnley bb9 9dn
I'm always in tune, even when I'm not. The rest of the band, who can say. They do their own thing. Drummer never tunes up and the piano is flat.
 

Guenne

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,303
Locality
Austria
Hi!

There are ways of playing the saxophone that make controlling the pitch easier or harder.
One that makes it harder IMHO is to rely too much on embouchure changes via lip or jaw. One more is to play sax with a very high pitch center.

Cheers, Guenne
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
9,059
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
Hi!

There are ways of playing the saxophone that make controlling the pitch easier or harder.
One that makes it harder IMHO is to rely too much on embouchure changes via lip or jaw. One more is to play sax with a very high pitch center.

Cheers, Guenne
This could be interesting. ;) Let's make sure we are using the same definition for "embouchure" and go from there.
 

Guenne

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,303
Locality
Austria
same definition

What I meant was tightening and loosening lips/jaw.
Maybe slightly tightening and loosening is "part of the game" - at least with some setups, but IMHO first thing should be air stream/focussing/oral cavity.

Cheers, Guenne
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
9,059
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
What I meant was tightening and loosening lips/jaw.
Maybe slightly tightening and loosening is "part of the game" - at least with some setups, but IMHO first thing should be air stream/focussing/oral cavity.

Cheers, Guenne
That raises the question, "Can the pitch be changed by changing the direction or speed of the air stream and keeping the embouchure constant similar to the way it works on flute?" I honestly don't know the answer and could argue either position. :) I used to be convinced that changing the voicing inside the oral cavity could alter the pitch without changing the embouchure, Today I believe that it can only be done on notes about A2 and higher where the resonance of the shorter tube is weaker and can allow the oral cavity to control the vibration of the reed. Once you add keys to form a longer "tube" the resonance of the tube becomes the stronger component and the oral cavity cannot by itself change the pitch, however when the tube gets long enough, the oral cavity can dictate which partial it sounds.
 

HPS

Member
Messages
33
Locality
Scotland
Hi

So using a tasteful amount of vibrato can help hide a multitude of sins? :)
 

MikeMorrell

Netherlands
Café Supporter
Messages
1,721
Locality
Breda
Great post @jbtsax!
...
...
Playing "in tune" with an accompanying instrument, in a saxophone section, or when playing with another player in its simplest form is having the ability to "match pitch". Until good tone production skills which include embouchure, air stream, oral cavity control are mastered you will be "chasing your tail" when it comes to intonation. Work every day on playing long tones at various dynamic levels to develop control, take some lessons with a good instructor, learn to "listen deeply" to what you and others are playing.
...
 

Clivey

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,383
Locality
Edinburgh/Hot Rock off African Coast
I`ve always had a sneaky feeling that if you select to play the instrument that closest matches your own natural register, the easier it can be to pitch. I have always had the devil of a time with parts of the tenor register that do not come naturally to me in my singing voice . Oral cavity size and ability to adapt it fluidly also would appear to be crucial. Whatever the case.having the ability to play and stay in tune can never be taken for granted and has a shelf life determined by the amount of practice given IMHO.
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
Messages
10,034
Locality
KIC 8462852
I`ve always had a sneaky feeling that if you select to play the instrument that closest matches your own natural register, the easier it can be to pitch. I have always had the devil of a time with parts of the tenor register that do not come naturally to me in my singing voice . .
What does that say about men who play soprano or soparino?
 

Guenne

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,303
Locality
Austria
, Today I believe that it can only be done on notes about A2 and higher where the resonance of the shorter tube is weaker and can allow the oral cavity to control the vibration of the reed.

Hi @jbtsax,

interesting you mentioned playing the flute.
I feel that since I started to practice flute daily again, I got a more precise "sense" of what I do with my airstream.
No way to prove that scientifically :)

Cheers, Guenne
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
9,059
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
I taught band for several years before really understanding what a "centered tone" really means. Although the expression is used primarily for brass instruments, it has applications for woodwinds as well.

Draw a circle on a sheet of paper. Then scribe a horizontal line through the center. This visually represents the range of pitches that can be played on any given note. When a brass player over tightens and buzzes a pitch that is above the center the result is a "pinched" and stuffy sounding note. On the other hand when the player plays too loose buzzing a pitch that is below the center it produces a flat and "flabby" sounding tone.

I could go into a lengthy and detailed acoustics description of what is happening, but to put it simply the column of air inside the length of the the brass instrument on that particular partial has a natural resonant frequency. { When a player buzzes a different frequency It is like the trumpet is saying, "I can't tell what note you want me to play---I'm confused. :)] When the player buzzes too high or too low on the pitch, the natural resonance of the instrument tries to "lock onto" that frequency but it cannot. However when the player buzzes the pitch that exactly matches the natural resonant frequency of the air inside the tube, a wonderful thing happens. The lips and sound wave inside the tube "lock" onto one another sharing energy and reinforcing the sound. This is the big beautiful "centered tone" brass players strive for. It is also why kids learning to play brass instruments sound like "kids learning to play brass instruments" ;)

On the saxophone there is a "centered tone" of sorts as well. It is not exactly the same because unlike a brass players "lip reed" we do not have direct control over the reeds vibrations. There are some who don't put much stock in the "mouthpiece pitch" element to playing making the argument that mouthpieces of different lengths play different pitches. My response is, "Well, yes and no." A mouthpiece alone has insufficient length to have a well defined "natural resonant frequency" that it locks into the reed's vibrations. This is why accomplished players can play up to an octave scale on just the mouthpiece alone.

When playing too high on the mouthpiece pitch---above A=880 on an alto saxophone using too tight an embouchure, it restricts how much higher the player can raise the pitch before the reed closes off. It is similar to the brass player who is buzzing above the center line through the circle. Like on the brass instrument the resulting tone sounds "pinched" and stuffy. The clarinet being a cylindrical woodwind is totally different. It sounds it's best when the player plays near the top of the mouthpiece pitch. A common problem for those who start on clarinet and then switch to sax is learning not to play at the "top" of the mouthpiece pitch.

Back to the mouthpiece pitch. My conclusion is that the mouthpiece pitch on alto saxophone does not necessarily have to be A=880, but it should never be higher. Many jazz players play up to a minor 3rd below that pitch on the mouthpiece and sound great. A foolproof way to see if you are playing with a "centered tone" on the alto saxophone is to play the mouthpiece and neck apart from the instrument. If the pitch is above Ab concert, you are playing too tight which results in a pinched tone that tends to be sharp(er) in the upper register. If you are below Ab concert, your embouchure is too loose causing you to play below the "pitch center" resulting in a flat and "flabby" sound.

With just some small variations, the same principles work on oboe, English Horn, bassoon, and flute---which interestingly enough behaves much like a conical woodwind due to the fact that it is open on both ends.
 

David Dorning

Senior Member
Messages
796
Locality
Chichester, UK
Until good tone production skills which include embouchure, air stream, oral cavity control are mastered you will be "chasing your tail" when it comes to intonation. Work every day on playing long tones at various dynamic levels to develop control, take some lessons with a good instructor, learn to "listen deeply" to what you and others are playing.

I obviously need to do all of the above more than I do now. I have noticed when recording two parts for the same instrument, even if I record one part immediately after the other, using the same sax, reed, mp and mp position, they can still be out of tune with each other.
 

Ivan

Undecided
Café Supporter
Messages
8,019
Locality
Peeblesshire
I'm not a convert to centering my tone (but then I'm more-than-likely missing the point)

I was experimenting today and yesterday with Légère (bright) and Forestone Hinoki reeds (not so bright to start with) and recording the difference and noticing that the Forestone was moving closer and closer to the Légère in tone. So, probably it was a me sound rather than a reed sound

Then I started to see where on the scale of bright I could manipulate the Forestone and, low and behold, I could get a satisfying bright/raspy/punchy sound out of the Forestone that I hadn't found when I started playing it a couple of days ago when I had lovely sub-tones but little else

I'm not sure want a centred tone because it seems like a sterile and joyless concept. I value the latitude to play from smoke-tone to impolite, according to whim, even if there is a cost in flaky intonation and other flaws
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
9,059
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
A "centered tone" on a saxophone is simply one that gives the flexibility to move the pitch up as well as down. Of course we will always be able to move the pitch down a lot more. Guy Lombardo proved that many years ago. :)
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
9,059
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
I didn't pick the title of this thread. The "newcomer" on SOTW did. It can't help but remind me of the Zen saying which fits nicely.

What does one do while on the "path to playing in tune"? Chop wood and carry water.
What does one do once they have arrived at "playing in tune"? Chop wood and carry water.
 

Similar threads (maybe)

Popular Discussions

Top Bottom