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Theatres, Clubs and Tuning

Halfers

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I think that may be a screen rather than a reflector. It’s the sort of thing that they put in front of the trombones in a symphony orchestra so that the woodwinds don’t suffer hearing damage when they are playing Bruckner.
Yes, I think it is. But if it reduces noise coming from around then it increases the chance of hearing oneself, I would have thought. Maybe not, just offering a suggestion in either case :)
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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Do you have a clip-on tuner ? In between songs would it be possible to step back from the mic, even move away from the band and bell away from audience, quickly clip and turn it on for a quick test ? Just a thought.....
If you absolutely have to then you could do this but there would have to be very little noise so as not to confuse the tuner. But I'm looking more for how you can make sure you walk on stage in tune.
.....a) an electronic tuner would work if you, again, step back from the band momentarily and flick it on....yes it may register some other band noise, but usually it will pick up the closest noise to it.... which in this case would be you.

b) Use the tuner moments before you walk on stage ;)


If you have difficulty hearing the sax how do you know it's out of tune enough to worry about ?
a reasonable query...
 
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JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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You could always adopt the habit of regularly putting your hand on your mouthpiece and making as though you're moving the piece in small increments and looking a bit unhappy with things. In the unlikely event anyone in the audience is able to pick up you're a bit out of tune, that might convince them you're trying to do something about it..;)
Ha. Good suggestion....(but please don't, actually. Wayne Shorter has a habit of doing this...has been doing it for 40+ years matter of fact...I finally concluded it is more of a personal tic than anything else. But gosh darn, when watching him live, it can be distracting) ....
 

Halfers

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Ha. Good suggestion....(but please don't, actually. Wayne Shorter has a habit of doing this...has been doing it for 40+ years matter of fact...I finally concluded it is more of a personal tic than anything else. But gosh darn, when watching him live, it can be distracting) ....
I've not seen Shorter in the flesh. But of the few sax players I have had the pleasure of seeing live since taking up the horn and paying more attention to them, it seems to be a habit shared by many. Scott Hamilton being the most enthusiastic mouthpiece and reed fiddler I've seen.
 
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Veggie Dave

Veggie Dave

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b) Use the tuner moments before you walk on stage ;)
I think I'm not explaining this properly. The temperature difference between the wings/backstage and on-stage can be dramatic - easily 5C, which is more than enough to potentially throw a horn out of tune well before the first song has finished.

Taking a horn from one temperature straight to another one is going to cause tuning issues. It's this issue I was wondering if anyone had any experience of dealing with because starting a gig out of tune is one of the most unprofessional things I can think of doing.
 

Pete Effamy

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I think I'm not explaining this properly. The temperature difference between the wings/backstage and on-stage can be dramatic - easily 5C, which is more than enough to potentially throw a horn out of tune well before the first song has finished.

Taking a horn from one temperature straight to another one is going to cause tuning issues. It's this issue I was wondering if anyone had any experience of dealing with because starting a gig out of tune is one of the most unprofessional things I can think of doing.
It's just a question of experience - I'm sure you have plenty Dave - and making adjustments to the mouthpiece as you go. You can only play to the temperature of the horn at any moment and as long as the mouthpiece isn't too tight on the cork then adjustment can be made very quickly.

The sax is very easily tuned like brass instruments and the flute. Unlike the clarinet.
 

Pete Effamy

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2,203
It's why orchestras tune on stage, but it's also part of the reason that an orchestra packs so much less of a punch when it cranks up. The worst are chamber ensembles - they clomp on, sit down, shuffle about, tune, shuffle some more and eventually start. They also do it on live radio broadcasts too. I think that it's time to stop all of that and 'cope as they go'.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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I think I'm not explaining this properly. The temperature difference between the wings/backstage and on-stage can be dramatic - easily 5C, which is more than enough to potentially throw a horn out of tune well before the first song has finished.

Taking a horn from one temperature straight to another one is going to cause tuning issues. It's this issue I was wondering if anyone had any experience of dealing with because starting a gig out of tune is one of the most unprofessional things I can think of doing.
No, I understand. Please take this in the way intended, as I mean no disrespect nor wiseass-ness.

I, like others...am feeling a bit like you have been presented with some reasonable replies and you dismiss 'em. You are sort of a moving target here. To the tuner suggestion you say it is impractical. To @jbtsax 's point you say the problem is you cannot hear yourself well enough to recognize when you have to make minor tuning adjustments, yet your initial query indicates the opposite (?)

A horn player's horn going out of tune during a set isn't all that unusual, and as noted, unlike other instruments its a pretty simple matter.

I still don't quite get why having a tuner clipped to your stand, onstage, which you can then clip on your bell and walk someplace close-by but away from being very visible, while the vocalist is schmoozing the crowd, is somehow impractical.

You noted yourself that other instruments (bass, guitar) tune up and down all thru a set, and them doing that takes no more time than a sax player takes to push in or pull out and play 3 or 4 test notes away from the mics, is all.

If you have a situation, very familiar to folks here, where temperature and ambient conditions are gonna vary and you need to keep re-tuning, I don't see much of a more practical solution. I mean, I don't even usually need a tuner - I just go over to the pianist and he turns his keyboard to half volume and gives me a few notes once in a while...not very distracting for an audience or front man, really....
 
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jbtsax

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I think I'm not explaining this properly. The temperature difference between the wings/backstage and on-stage can be dramatic - easily 5C, which is more than enough to potentially throw a horn out of tune well before the first song has finished.
From this discussion I'm not sure if the stage is warmer or colder than the area you "warm up" off stage. Here is some of the "science" I have learned over the years:

In Ernest Ferron's book "The Saxophone is my Voice" he writes that for a temperature change of 6°C or 10°F the pitch changes approximately 25 cents or 1/4 semitone.

It is not the temperature of your instrument per se, but the temperature of the air inside the instrument that affects the speed of sound and hence the frequency. Benade writes that 347 m/s is a good value for the speed of sound in the warm, damp air at the upper end of a woodwind. That corresponds roughly with the temperature of 20° C or 77°F. The average temperature of exhaled breath is 34.5°C or 94.1°F.

The air temperature at the upper portion of a woodwind is always going to be somewhat higher than the temperature at the lower portion due to the exhaled breath temperature. Changes in the length of a woodwind, moving the mouthpiece on or off the cork will have a greater effect upon the pitch of the "short tube" notes than the "long tube" notes.

The summary of all of this information is: "Good luck playing a saxophone in tune in adverse conditions, you are going to need it." ;)
 
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Veggie Dave

Veggie Dave

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It's why orchestras tune on stage
That would be my preferred approach from a playing point of view, but I can't think of anything I'd like to hear less as an audience member. I still remember the days of guitar tuners that didn't mute the sound. ;)

I, like others...am feeling a bit like you have been presented with some reasonable replies and you dismiss 'em.

I haven't dismissed anything - I have, however, tried to explain my question more clearly when people have replied because they're answering a question I haven't asked.

You are sort of a moving target here.
Actually I've repeatedly explained that I'm talking about making sure you walk on to the stage with a sax that's in tune, not about tuning during the show.

To the tuner suggestion you say it is impractical.
A tuner during the show shouldn't be needed if you start off basically in tune. Playing into a tuner between songs, unless you can walk off the stage and not be heard, is unprofessional and bloody annoying to the audience and who ever is trying to talk to the audience between songs.

However, as I have repeatedly pointed out, I'm not talking about tuning during the performance.

I mean, I don't even usually need a tuner - I just go over to the pianist and he turns his keyboard to half volume and gives me a few notes once in a while...not very distracting for an audience or front man, really....


In your opinion. One of the things I absolutely hate, and I do mean hate, is hearing musicians tuning on stage. Trying to compare a guitarist tuning on stage to a sax on stage makes no sense. You can't hear a guitar being tuned - at least not these days, because pedal makers realised a long time ago that hearing someone tuning is really, really annoying.

But as that wasn't the question I asked, it's rather moot.
 

rhysonsax

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Actually I've repeatedly explained that I'm talking about making sure you walk on to the stage with a sax that's in tune, not about tuning during the show.
Blow warm air into the sax when you are off the stage so that the instrument, or at least the top part of it, approaches normal playing temperature. If the instrument sits on a stand / isn't played for a long period, then its temperature is going to change towards the ambient temperature of the stage, and so the tuning will probably change when you start blowing it. This can be issue if you are playing various saxes on a gig or spending long periods not blowing.

Try to get a feeling for the stage temperature before you go on, so you know in advance what you will be dealing with.

Know your instrument and mouthpiece and their intonation characteristics inside out, so that you get a feel for where on the cork it tunes for a range of stage temperatures and how far you have to move the mouthpiece to adjust for say 10, 20 and 30 cents flat and sharp.

Get used to lipping/adjusting not just for the known "out of tune" notes on your horn but also for when you hear you are a bit flat or sharp from the rest of the band.

Accept the fact that the saxophone does not play perfectly in tune, but console yourself with the thought that people in the audience won't hear minor tuning imperfections of 5 or 10 cents or even more.

Trust your technique and try not to tighten up when you blow. This could be difficult if you can't hear yourself.

Be aware that vibrato, growling etc and not dwelling on long, held notes will disguise any moderate tuning imperfections.

Rhys
 
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Pete Effamy

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To be fair, Dave has said that he finds the problem to be the changes of temperature around the theatre - dressing/green room, corridors, backstage (usually pretty dark too) and on-stage. If you're playing in a band that uses keyboards, then you must assume that A=440. All you can do is get your sax to it's optimum temperature and try to keep to it whilst you go to the stage. You'll have at least a couple of mins before you go onto the stage and can keep air going through the instrument.
@rhysonsax has said as much in the post above. I think you know all this Dave and are probably just asking if anybody has found a Eureka fix. Again, I'm sure you know that there isn't one - just experience that keeps you close and mouth/throat etc that sorts it out if needed.
 
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Veggie Dave

Veggie Dave

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Accept the fact that the saxophone does not play perfectly in tune, but console yourself with the thought that people in the audience won't hear minor tuning imperfections of 5 or 10 cents or even more.
I do try to warm up the saxes by blowing warm air through them, playing them etc. but I've had situations that reflect JBT's formulae where I've walked on to the stage with a perfectly in tune horn that I think is warm, to perform the first solo only to be massively sharp by the time I'm half way through it because the temperature difference has been so great between back stage and the stage itself, with no way to stop and do something about it. Not too massive a problem in a jazz context, where you can stop for a second to move the 'piece, but rather more troublesome when you're playing a specific melody that everyone in the theatre knows backwards.

In the old days, pre LED pars etc., this must have been a much bigger issue, which is why I thought there might be a simple trick the old guys used that is so obvious it's taken for granted ... as long as you know it. ;)

I was wondering if you, or anyone else, has tried leaving the horns on stage to acclimatise and then spend just a few minutes warming up back stage immediately before you go on to combat this initial temperature problem?

I keep thinking this would be a good idea if you're playing on almost every song but not if you're only playing on occasional tracks as you can't just meander on stage and grab your horn during the song before the one you're playing on to check the tuning before you start. ;)

This is going to be my first time as part of a horn section playing at serious volume - the shows I did for the Bacharach thing were a totally different world of laid back lines played at relatively low volume (for a theatrical gig), where you could naturally hear yourself and had all the time in the world to make changes if required. In comparison, a stress-free gig.

Recent experience of recording as part of a section at a studio that had constantly varying room temperatures, how that kept throwing out the tuning between the sax and trumpet and how dreadful it sounded has brought out the paranoia. The tuning was never out by more than 15 cents but you could really, really hear it. It was painful.

I've spent two years bringing this show together. I'm not prepared to let anything ruin it. ;)

Know your instrument and mouthpiece and their intonation characteristics inside out, so that you get a feel for where on the cork it tunes for a range of stage temperatures and how far you have to move the mouthpiece to adjust for say 10, 20 and 30 cents flat and sharp.
That's a talent I'd kill for. :D

I think you know all this Dave and are probably just asking if anybody has found a Eureka fix.
That's precisely what I'm hoping for. :D

Again, I'm sure you know that there isn't one - just experience that keeps you close and mouth/throat etc that sorts it out if needed.
Except I honestly didn't. I really thought there was something I didn't have the experience to have worked out yet.

This is the sort of thing I would think horn players would've talked about after a show at the local musicians' pub/club back when there was a scene. Most of us sadly don't have access to other players anymore so rely on tutors (who can't always be relied upon ;) ) and forums, where the written word can be so easily misinterpreted or misunderstood.

In the real world I only know one sax player (except for Jules, but being close to three hours away he isn't exactly local for hanging out with), who only plays jazz pub gigs and who has some unusual ideas about a lot of things, so not necessarily a good source of information. ;)
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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2,203
The best thing about all this is that you can hear it. Many don't. Thinking about it, I have left my horns on stage, and also I've kept them with me. I think it depends on whether I've thought they were safe (stagehands moving about), whether I had too many instruments, or how concerned about the first tune I was. I rarely have problems with tuning because of my classical clarinet training luckily.

But, if in doubt, err towards sharpness. A few cents of sharpness is heard as "top spin" as lead trumpet players call it, and some classical violin players use it for "zing". The same degree of flatness sounds horrible. A little sharpness can be dealt with quite easily, whilst flatness can't much.
 

rhysonsax

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That's a talent I'd kill for. :D
Knowing your instrument + mouthpiece and their tuning characteristics isn't really "talent" but more about experience of having played them in different conditions and getting a feel for where on the cork they play in tune at different temperatures or with tunings different from A=440Hz.

The smaller saxophones need only a very slight movement of the mouthpiece on the cork to shift the pitch by say ten cents, whereas the baritone will require a much bigger movement.

Softer reeds make it easier to adjust the pitch without moving the mouthpiece.

Rhys
 
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