SYOS

Beginner Top Teeth! (Again)

jbtsax

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I went through hell today, pushed the mouthpiece way up, was pretty much in tune, but I still can't get a decent sound from the palm keys. I'm going to need a lot of practice -- well, that's what beginnings are about, and I have the time -- but I'm confused by the possibilities. Plus, how do you reconcile this with the business of "tuning" the sax with the mouthpiece position and the overtone method espoused here many times?
What I am finding is that I can adjust the intonation to be decent regardless of the mouthpiece, hopefully that is a Good Sign™. If it's like slide guitar, I just need to keep playing. For this tuning stuff, I am working on a major tune that lends itself to checking intonation, Mercy Mercy.
The tuning will come if you keep working at it. For me it is a combination of good "input pitch" and mouthpiece placement on the cork. As far as tone quality in the upper register is concerned I remember struggling with that as well. Reeds that are a bit on the soft side don't help. What I did for a long time was to try to make the palm key notes sound pretty by using less air and tightening my embouchure. All I ever got was a pinched sound that was weak. What changed my thinking was listening to a recording of the great classical saxophonist Marcel Mule and hearing the full and beautiful sound he achieved on those notes. It got me thinking of how operatic singers approach the highest notes as well by "going for them" and not backing off.

Rather than start with a weak and timid sound, I changed to getting those notes to sound as loud and full as possible regardless of the tone. That gave me a big sound that was full and robust although rough around the edges that I could begin to work to refine. That approach actually improved by embouchure and air control and made all the difference. I even came up with a warm up playing a Bb scale or arpeggio starting on a low Bb at forte and going up to palm F focusing on using the same amount of air on palm F as I did on the low Bb.

This is the specific example that changed my approach to high notes. Try not to be put off by the fast vibrato or the French "classical" sound which isn't to everyone's taste, but listen to his approach to the high F in the phrase.

 
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randulo

randulo

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Today I used the 4C that came with the YAS-480. It can be pushed even further up than most. It I have little no problem staying in tune on the first octave, and little on the octave D E and up, but the palm keys are still very hard to get the intonation right. I'm going to try to practice this way daily for a week and see what happens.
 

Pete Effamy

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Today I used the 4C that came with the YAS-480. It can be pushed even further up than most. It I have little no problem staying in tune on the first octave, and little on the octave D E and up, but the palm keys are still very hard to get the intonation right. I'm going to try to practice this way daily for a week and see what happens.
The 4C is a far better mouthpiece than £31 suggests. Good on Yamaha!
Try (perhaps you do already) playing a long note on your highest secure note and compare the semitone above. Slur between them and try and change nothing (just your fingers;)). See how far away you are. When this note is secure, do the same again). Trevor Wye uses a similar approach for flute low notes).
 

Pete Effamy

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The tuning will come if you keep working at it. For me it is a combination of good "input pitch" and mouthpiece placement on the cork. As far as tone quality in the upper register is concerned I remember struggling with that as well. Reeds that are a bit on the soft side don't help. What I did for a long time was to try to make the palm key notes sound pretty by using less air and tightening my embouchure. All I ever got was a pinched sound that was weak. What changed my thinking was listening to a recording of the great classical saxophonist Marcel Mule and hearing the full and beautiful sound he achieved on those notes. It got me thinking of how operatic singers approach the highest notes as well by "going for them" and not backing off.

Rather than start with a weak and timid sound, I changed to getting those notes to sound as loud and full as possible regardless of the tone. That gave me a big sound that was full and robust although rough around the edges that I could begin to work to refine. That approach actually improved by embouchure and air control and made all the difference. I even came up with a warm up playing a Bb scale or arpeggio starting on a low Bb at forte and going up to palm F focusing on using the same amount of air on palm F as I did on the low Bb.

This is the specific example that changed my approach to high notes. Try not to be put off by the fast vibrato or the French "classical" sound which isn't to everyone's taste, but listen to his approach to the high F in the phrase.

I'd never heard Mule play (but cursed him a lot when wading through his study books). Amazing hearing him, and the trends of playing that happen in classical music, not just jazz and pop. That's some vibrato!! Great articulation. It's a shame he never shuts the vibrato off for my personal taste. Terrific cadenza. Thanks Randulo, amazing to hear these iconic names.
 
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randulo

randulo

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No one has answered my question:

How do you reconcile the idea of pushing the mouthpiece significantly higher up the cork with the method of "tuning" the instrument involving a B overtone and the octave F#?
 

jbtsax

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No one has answered my question:

How do you reconcile the idea of pushing the mouthpiece significantly higher up the cork with the method of "tuning" the instrument involving a B overtone and the octave F#?
Let me try by describing my method of tuning my alto sax. I start with the mouthpiece approximately half way on the cork. Then I check my input pitch by playing the mouthpiece alone making sure it is no higher than A=880. Then I check the pitch of the mouthpiece plus neck and adjust my embouchure so the pitch matches Ab concert.

Using the same embouchure and air stream I play low F# (A Concert) on the saxophone forte and check the pitch with a tuner. If the pitch is sharp I pull the mouthpiece out a bit, if it is flat I push it in a bit. When that F# matches the pitch of the tuner I then check the pitch of F# an octave higher both with and without pressing the octave key---making sure I do not relax or tighten the embouchure. On a well made saxophone and using good tone production skills and input pitch that octave should be in tune or close to in tune. At this point very small adjustments of the mouthpiece placement might be necessary to find a "compromise" position.

Once the low F# is in tune and the F# an octave above is in tune (or as close as possible) I then finger low B natural and overblow to its 3rd harmonic which is the same as F#2. Again, on a well made saxophone with good tone production skills, and good input pitch that harmonic should match the pitch of the regularly fingered F#2. Usually I hold the note as a long tone going back and forth between the different fingerings. Again, it may be necessary to make a small adjustment of the mouthpiece position to find a location that works best for all 3 F#'s. On a tuner 5 cents or less should be considered an acceptable margin of error as far as this procedure is concerned. If you have any more questions, please ask and I will try to answer them.
 
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randulo

randulo

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That makes perfect sense to me. The only problem is, if you're not sure of your embouchure, you can't know where the note is. Eric Marienthal has a lesson on producing good tone where he says (I am paraphrasing) there's a spot in the embouchure just above where the tone starts to sound bad. That is, you loosen the embouchure tension until it sounds weak and unstable, then the correct place is above that. He then suggests that you'll probably have to tune up by pushing the mouthpiece up higher. There is a context to this a relaxed embouchure, but of course these lessons are private and can't be quoted directly. This idea may be common.

In the end, it appears to me that all this manipulation and tuning will, at least for me, be finding a compromise spot I can live with. I can play in tune if I concentrate, on a range of mouthpiece placement, but I can't feel which is best. As I've said, I'm fighting with the top teeth thing as well. Today I spent more time on the highest normal (non-altissimo) notes. I'm hoping to get this thing down by focusing on it.
 

jbtsax

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It sounds to me like you are complicating things a bit. There are certainly different approaches to embouchure and tone production, but the one that works best for me on alto is to use the embouchure pressure that plays an in tune Ab concert on the mouthpiece and neck. Another way to check if your embouchure is correct is to play an A and with your free hand briefly tap the neck octave key to open. If the note goes to high A and stays for a while, the embouchure is too tight. If it goes to a high A that sounds flat and flabby, the embouchure is too loose. If the note goes briefly to a nice sounding high A and comes back down, the embouchure is set where it should be.

There are many different approaches to getting a jazz sound or "finding your own sound". In my opinion these are fine once a player has established solid tone production skills first using the more traditional "classical" embouchure. In other words learning to play "the saxophone" before learning to play the different "styles".
 
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randulo

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Yes, I know about the Ab, but that still depends on the position of the mouthpiece! I am working all these angles and also just trying to play the blues stuff that is in my head. I have a deadline for trying to play actual music in public, September 21st. I've jammed with a few people at that place months ago, but in September I'll be playing and singing a few of my own songs.

When I was a kid taking clarinet lessons, I don't remember, but I'll bet the teacher set the instrument up and told me to leave it like that and say "tew", I remember he wrote that down. The sound I was to make into the mouthpiece. Life was simple then, one authority imposing his view :)

Ah, will try the A trick tomorrow!
 

Guenne

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When I'm trying a new horn, I do the following:
I check the intonation difference between a "normal" fingered C (without OK) and an overblown low C (to C2).
The 2 notes should have the same intonation.
If you are too far out on the cork, the overtone will be higher than the "normal" fingered note.
If you are too far in, the fingered note will be too high.

This is the preparation to have the octave in tune.

(Sorry, if somebody already wrote that)
 

Colin the Bear

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Focusing on only the tuning will do your head in with saxophone. All the above is good practice but after doing it, forget it. The saxophone doesn't play in tune. Accept it and play on.

Something happens when playing a well rehearsed piece. You hit the note to make the music speak. There is so much that goes on automatically or subliminally. Make music. The idiosyncratic nature of the saxophone is where it's charm lives.

As a guitarist I can understand how precise tuning is important. Equal/Even temperament and all that but there's a range where a note will harmonise and sound good to a greater and lesser extent. You don't have to hit the note on the tuner to be in tune.

This video helped me get my ear round playing in tune by ear. Trust your ear.

View: https://youtu.be/6NlI4No3s0M
 

Pete Effamy

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Focusing on only the tuning will do your head in with saxophone. All the above is good practice but after doing it, forget it. The saxophone doesn't play in tune. Accept it and play on.

Something happens when playing a well rehearsed piece. You hit the note to make the music speak. There is so much that goes on automatically or subliminally. Make music. The idiosyncratic nature of the saxophone is where it's charm lives.

As a guitarist I can understand how precise tuning is important. Equal/Even temperament and all that but there's a range where a note will harmonise and sound good to a greater and lesser extent. You don't have to hit the note on the tuner to be in tune.

This video helped me get my ear round playing in tune by ear. Trust your ear.

View: https://youtu.be/6NlI4No3s0M
Yes, follow your ear. Donald Fagen always complains of moderns synths being out of tune, especially up top. To be fair to Randulo though, he's saying that he's just not sure that his start point is correct (ie placement of mouthpiece onto crook/or possible really duff note on his sax), so he isn't sure whether he's giving himself more work to do in the first place or not.
Of course, the further on you are with throat and tongue position it matters less as any adjustment happens automatically at the behest of the ear - as you say. And jaw and airstream can be adapted if you find yourself starting off with the mouthpiece too far on (or if the sax has suddenly warmed up and gone sharp) until a bar rest allows mouthpiece re-tuning.

It's my understanding that you guitarists have similar problems with tuning, especially when you get to some particularly colourful chords or your guitar maybe has a fret that is not quite placed correctly. Bending a certain string slightly within the chord shape/voicing no doubt is pretty hard. I'm going to annoy a few by suggesting that fretless instruments (violins, fretless bass etc) are easier way on down the road as pitches aren't 'set'. So long as the strings are tuned well-enough in the first place it is easier to correct a fretless instrument as frets will actually inhibit this.

A piano player never has to bother themselves with this aspect of playing as they have no control over it after tuning of the instrument is set. And if we're playing with a 'compromised' or ill-tuned piano I guess we have to go with it and play to their tuning. All instruments are difficult to play to a high level. Somewhat OT but I got it off my chest...
 

Guenne

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I'm not sure if it's 100% on topic, but anyway, it's interesting:

 

Pete Effamy

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I'm not sure if it's 100% on topic, but anyway, it's interesting:

Yes, this was the way I was taught clarinet
 
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randulo

randulo

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Folks, I get it and some of you understand, I'm trying to get the correct embouchure tension. I can play in tune with drones and music, but in changing the embouchure, I'm changing the pitch and that makes things feel different. My in-person teacher was not good at this kind of thing, and my online video exchanges with Eric are very useful, but he's not close enough to see the tension in my facial and jam muscles. He did think that my embouchure is too tight, and that's what started this quest! I'm seriously considering looking for a single session with an expert, but that's a whole other can of worms, because experts will vary, too.

As far as guitarists worrying about tuning, I am not that guy. I played with blues players, most of whom were not even close. One even had a vintage instrument that was so bad, that when he tuned it, set it down on the floor and left the room, Red Holloway and I looked at each other and then Red walked over and pretended to stamp his foot on it. On my worst sax day after one month, I was far closer in tune than John Lee Hooker 's guitar after 50+ years. That is NOT to denigrate him, he defined that music, and it wasn't played in tune ;), not that blues.

Anyway, these things will come. Right now I look at a tuner, but eventually, I will let that go. I did, in fact for months, but then this issue came up. All this to repeat, I'm reading with interest and I am sure others, as they arrive on the forum, will do so, too. Great value, thanks!
 

Keep Blowing

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Dan Forshaw British Saxophonist says a Joe Allard method is: the amount of pressure it takes to hold a Reed still in your mouth is the correct embouchure pressure,. It is on YouTube I can post the link if you wish but it's a 10 minute video for 10 seconds of advice.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Dan Forshaw British Saxophonist says a Joe Allard method is: the amount of pressure it takes to hold a Reed still in your mouth is the correct embouchure pressure,. It is on YouTube I can post the link if you wish but it's a 10 minute video for 10 seconds of advice.
Just a reed, nothing else? That's feather weight.
 
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