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Trouble with sound and high notes

Ji-em

New Member
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4
Hi all,

I know there are a lot of topics on this forum talking about "having trouble with the high notes". I think a read them all, or at least many of them. My problem seems to be a bit different, so i decided to creat this thread.

I am not a saxophone beginner : i have been playing the saxohone since at least 20 years. I started as a child, but without beeing very interested in it. I had a break, then i joined my college brass band 10 years ago and had very much fun with it so i didn't stop playing since. The problem is that i never got a teacher since my childhood, and i fear i took several wrong habits that prevent me from progressing now. I think i took the bad habit to "close the throat" playing with the brass band, because my goal was to play louder and louder. I didn't care about tuning at this time, and i was mainly blowing as "fat" as i could.... I had frequently pain in the throat and a hoarse voice after the gigs o_O

My main trouble is from high notes, especially palm keys notes : most of the time i get a low note instead. I am trying to get back to basics since a few months, playing long tones and working on my embouchure, my throat and my tongue positions but i don't feel i'm getting better at it.

At the moment i'm really trying to get the throat open as i i were yawning, with the tongue on a "ee" position and blowing "from the abdomen" but palm keys notes are still not working. Interesting fact : it's easier for me to play high E, F and F# using the front keys fingerings, and i don't have too much trouble with altissimo (at least G, G# and A). High G is sometimes a trouble, but i think i'm getting better on this. All of the others notes speak really fine.

I changed my mouthpiece 2 years back for a Durga 3 with a 7 opening. I play on 3,5 Fibracell reed. My goal is to have a brilliant sound, mostly for rock, blues and funk playing sessions.

It had been a year since i decided to get back with a teacher, but the coronarivus decided i had to try to work on this high notes troubles alone....or not, if some of you can help me !

Thank you very much for your time,

Jean-Marie
 

Jimmymack

Member
Messages
358
I don't understand how you can play the palm keys and get a low note, I can see how you might get a thin sounding note but a low one suggests a mechanical problem. Is your octave mechanism working properly? High G is always a problem but the front keys don't need the octave key pressed to sound but the palm keys do unless you have very strong chops and enjoy putting in more effort than you need.
 
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turf3

Member
Messages
56
I don't understand how you can play the palm keys and get a low note, I can see how you might get a thin sounding note but a low one suggests a mechanical problem. Is your octave mechanism working properly? High G is always a problem but the front keys don't need the octave key pressed to sound.
Well, it's very common when pushing too hard to get (for example) a E in the staff when playing a properly fingered high E with palm keys and octave key. It's not difficult at all to get notes played with the octave key to sound the octave below just by embouchure and voicing. Personally if I need to start a fortissimo high E or F I'm likely to select the front key fingering for just this reason.
 

Jimmymack

Member
Messages
358
As I added above, you can play the palm keys without the octave but it's something you'd develop. If you play them without it will normally default to the lower octave as seems to be the case here.
 

Ji-em

New Member
Messages
4
What size saxophone do you play? Also what mouthpiece and reed strength do you use?
I play on alto ; with a theo wanne durga mouthpiece and 3,5 fibracell reeds.

Thank you all for your answer. I asked myself about a mechanical problem too, the sax is going to the repair store next week. I checked my octave key, wich seems to work fine.

I have trouble with these high notes from a long time so i'm not sure the saxophone is the problem, that's why i'm looking for other leads to improve myself.
 

Ne0Wolf7

Member
Messages
565
It can happen, the palm notes drooping an octave even when your sax is in working order. Particularly embarrassing when it happens live in a chamber group o_O
The higher you go, especially on the smaller horns, the more significant any subtilties of your embouchure and airstream become. For me, I try to make a more "focused" air stream, and need to avoid "directing" the air to blow downwards onto the beak. Those are in quotes because they are rather abstract ways of thinking about it.
 

jbtsax

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8,265
It is not uncommon when using an embouchure that is not tight enough around the mouthpiece for the octave key not to work on some notes. When pressed a "fuzzy" lower octave note sounds or in the case of playing clarinet it produces a grunt rather than a high note. Another way to say this is playing far too low on the input (mouthpiece) pitch. Another cause can be not blowing enough air or fast enough air to sustain the reed's vibrations at the higher frequency.

Both of these causes can be ruled out, if using the front F fingerings for F, E, and F# are successful, as are the lower altissimo notes. What these notes have in common is they do not involve the neck octave vent in the same way as the palm key notes. The front F fingering produces a 2nd harmonic above A that is ordinarily an E, but it is a half step sharp and sounds an F. The front E fingering produces a 2nd harmonic above G that would be a D, but it is a whole step sharp producing an E.

That leaves the only possibility that neck octave vent is not doing what is supposed to do for the notes above C#3 that use that vent to jump to their 2nd mode of vibration. Gary Scavone in his doctoral thesis writes that the body octave vent is in the ideal location for the note F and the neck octave vent is in the ideal location for the note B. This means the palm D, Eb, and F are 3, 4, and 6 half steps from the ideal vent position respectively. One would assume that the farther away from the ideal location, the less effective the vent is going to be.

According to Benade an octave vent must fulfill two functions 1) at soft dynamic levels it must increase the dampening of the first mode sufficiently that the oscillation cannot be sustained and 2) at high dynamic levels must shift the frequency of the first mode to make cooperation with the second mode impossible. Benade also provides a formula to calculate the height and radius of an octave vent for a given note based upon its distance from the acoustic end of the instrument and the radius of the bore at that location. It seems counterintuitive, but he claims that vents that are smaller and shorter are the most effective.

Out of curiosity, you might try playing each of the palm key notes without the octave key using a tuner and record the pitch, and then play each with the octave key pressed to see how much opening the vent "detunes" the fundamental and makes it go sharp. Two other things you might do is to check how high the neck octave key is opening, and run a pipe cleaner through the vent to make sure there are no obstructions.

 

jbtsax

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I think the "acoustic" explanation for what Guenne is demonstrating is that on "short tube" notes where there is not a strong natural resonant frequency in the "tube", it allows the resonance of the oral cavity "upstream" to take control of the oscillation of the reed. This is the same effect that takes place playing harmonics and notes in the altissimo register.
 

Guenne

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Messages
1,001
@jbtsax:
I think the "acoustic" explanation for what Guenne is demonstrating is that on "short tube" notes where there is not a strong natural resonant frequency in the "tube", it allows the resonance of the oral cavity "upstream" to take control of the oscillation of the reed. This is the same effect that takes place playing harmonics and notes in the altissimo register.
There is always a gap between what we think we are doing and what we actually do, but I don't sense a difference in playing let's say high D with palm key or overblow low Bb.
 

jbtsax

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@jbtsax:

There is always a gap between what we think we are doing and what we actually do, but I don't sense a difference in playing let's say high D with palm key or overblow low Bb.
You make a very important point. Skilled players naturally "tune" their "voicing" to match the note they are playing whether it is a regularly fingered note or a harmonic---especially playing longer tones. In my experience it adds to the tone quality, and sonority of the note as well as centering the pitch.

A technique I learned from Dr. Ray Smith saxophone instructor and multi woodwind doubler at BYU is what he called "playing on the airstream". One hears the pitch in their mind, blows an airstream with that pitch (like an airy sounding whistle) and then plays the note on the instrument using the same airstream and shape inside the oral cavity. That idea improved my tone production on saxophone and clarinet---especially in the upper register, and took my flute playing entirely to the next level.
 

Dr G

Member
Messages
173
You make a very important point. Skilled players naturally "tune" their "voicing" to match the note they are playing whether it is a regularly fingered note or a harmonic---especially playing longer tones. In my experience it adds to the tone quality, and sonority of the note as well as centering the pitch.

An exercise to start down that path is to learn to play the entire range of the horn WITHOUT using the octave key. There are other exercises that lead to better voicing control, but this is a great starter as it is among the most achievable for many players.
 

jbtsax

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An exercise to start down that path is to learn to play the entire range of the horn WITHOUT using the octave key. There are other exercises that lead to better voicing control, but this is a great starter as it is among the most achievable for many players.
I agree 100% with one caveat. One should be careful not to try to produce the higher octave by biting. o_O
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,268
Hey Guenne! That's an excellent video that demonstrates (from a flutist's point of view) a vital clue. You've got to be able to hear what you're playing. The only problem with actually trying to do this on a sax is that with a reed we get a "standing wave" which then interacts with our vocal chords and can be...irritating...physically. However changing your throat tongue and embouchure to play each note is definitely what makes the difference between the sound of a beginner and someone who has good tone and plays in tune. If you can't hear it you can't play it well or in tune. And it seems that in this instance some can't get the right octave.

There is a major disconnect in teaching sax as though it's a keyboard or string instrument. You're taught that you read a note which equals certain finger positions and the right note should pop out (whether you can hear it or not).
IMHO that's a poor teaching method when we need to first make a connection between our ears and brain to the instrument as taught in methods like "Suzuki". A more extreme example is playing any of the brass instruments. There is a slide or valve position for each note, but without being able to hear the note you're trying to play it will come out wrong (a fifth, forth or octave off pitch).

It's unfortunate that the way sax is taught (without reference to singing or at least hearing what you're playing) it takes many years, decades, or in some cases a player never develops the ability to play with good tone or in tune.
It's most exaggerated when you hear a group of saxes playing together or in chamber ensemble. They read the note, press the right key, but the harmony or unison is way out of tune. Did they tune initially? Yes, of course, but if you can't hear the pitch you're playing you're less likely to play it in tune. The sax is an "imperfect instrument". You can play with the right fingering on a horn that's got great intonation completely out of tune.

We need to pitch each note by knowing the sound and adjusting our body to play it in tune, and in a manner that communicates to listeners (with feeling).
 
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