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Beginner Upper octave hollow/thin compared to lower

TimC

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I've been having less than pleasant results whenever I play notes above the middle C# (no fingers) and been reading how to improve and found it helps a bit, but still quite far from what I was expecting. Because whenever I play a note that uses the octave key it comes out a lot thinner/airier than all the lower notes that sound fuller, like there is a solid core that is lacking whenever I play notes in the upper octave. Is it something that is supposed to happen more or less as a beginner and needs a lot of practice to get rid of, or am I doing something substantially wrong that I can fix? I've been testing quite a few reeds that differ both in strength (2-3) and brand (Alexander, Java, RJS, La Voz, Rico royal, Vandoren) without getting a significant difference.
 
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jbtsax

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A thin sound in the higher register can be a symptom of:

- Playing too high on the pitch of the mouthpiece (biting).
- Insufficient air volume and pressure.
- A constricted throat (which causes the above).
- Not enough mouthpiece in the mouth.
- Any combination of the above.

It is challenging for developing students whose embouchures are still forming to produce an acceptable sound in the upper register. Quite commonly students will compensate for the lack of embouchure control by taking less of the mouthpiece in the mouth, blowing less air, and biting with the embouchure. The higher notes become less "squawky" but the resultant tone is thin and pinched sounding.

An exercise that can help is to practice playing low Bb as a long tone with a big, fat, well controlled sound. Once this is mastered, then practice playing notes above the staff using the same volume of air, the same embouchure, and the same open feeling in the throat. This flows from the idea that every note on the saxophone except the altissimo range is played with the same embouchure. Low Bb is used because it demands a big volume of air, an open throat, and an embouchure that is not too tight to even come out. The counter intuitive admonition used by teachers is "in order to play high notes, you must practice low notes".
 
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Justin Chune

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3,011
When I started I thought that the first and second registers sounded like different instruments. It just takes time to get the second register to sound like a natural extension of the first. You'll get there.

Jim.
 

TimC

Member
Messages
50
A thin sound in the higher register can be a symptom of:

- Playing too high on the pitch of the mouthpiece (biting).
- Insufficient air volume and pressure.
- A constricted throat (which causes the above).
- Not enough mouthpiece in the mouth.
- Any combination of the above.

It is challenging for developing students whose embouchures are still forming to produce an acceptable sound in the upper register. Quite commonly students will compensate for the lack of embouchure control by taking less of the mouthpiece in the mouth, blowing less air, and biting with the embouchure. The higher notes become less "squawky" but the resultant tone is thin and pinched sounding.

An exercise that can help is to practice playing low Bb as a long tone with a big, fat, well controlled sound. Once this is mastered, then practice playing notes above the staff using the same volume of air, the same embouchure, and the same open feeling in the throat. This flows from the idea that every note on the saxophone except the altissimo range is played with the same embouchure. Low Bb is used because it demands a big volume of air, an open throat, and an embouchure that is not too tight to even come out. The counter intuitive admonition used by teachers is "in order to play high notes, you must practice low notes".
Yes two of the things I focused on today while playing extensively on the upper octave is remember to keep my embouchure as relaxed as when I play in the lower octave and keep my stomach muscles a bit tense to increase air support. It did help a bit but still I'm quite a bit away from what I want to hear. I'll work on the lowest notes next, because it's true that low B and Bb is something I still have major problems with. Thanks for the input, now I know what I should focus on to improve.
 

TimC

Member
Messages
50
When I started I thought that the first and second registers sounded like different instruments. It just takes time to get the second register to sound like a natural extension of the first. You'll get there.

Jim.
Yeah the first times I tested the upper octave it sounded like a harmonica since I was pinching the reed quite hard and was playing quite far out on the tip of the mpc, and now it sounds like some kind of flute. Hopefully in a few months it'll sound kind of like a sax!
 

Colin the Bear

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13,063
We're never satisfied with the tone. Some days it's great all over , other days the bottom is better than the top and visa versa.

You're hitting the notes which is good. Practice will bring improvement.

As you progress and your embouchure develops you may want to try a different mouthpiece. However don't fall into the trap of looking for a mouthpiece to improve your tone. Embouchure produces tone, mouthpiece helps.
 

Nick Wyver

noisy
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Shamelessly borrowed from Wikipedia:

The richness of a sound or note produced by a musical instrument is sometimes described in terms of a sum of a number of distinct frequencies. The lowest frequency is called the fundamental frequency and the pitch it produces is used to name the note, but the fundamental frequency is not always the dominant frequency. The dominant frequency is the frequency that is most heard, and it is always a multiple of the fundamental frequency. For example, the dominant frequency for the transverse flute is double the fundamental frequency. Other significant frequencies are called overtones of the fundamental frequency, which may include harmonics and partials. Harmonics are whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency, such as ×2, ×3, ×4, etc. Partials are other overtones. Sometimes there are also subharmonics at whole number divisions of the fundamental frequency. Most western instruments produce harmonic sounds, but many instruments produce partials and inharmonic tones, such as cymbals and other indefinite-pitched instruments.

When the orchestral tuning note is played, the sound is a combination of 440 Hz, 880 Hz, 1320 Hz, 1760 Hz and so on. Each instrument in the orchestra will produce a different combination of these frequencies, as well as harmonics and overtones. The sound waves of the different frequencies will overlap and combine, and it is the balance of these amplitudes that is a major factor in the characteristic sound of each instrument.
See also here - about the function of the octave key.

So the relationship of the harmonics to the note you are hearing changes. In order to minimise this change you need a set up that produces as few harmonics as possible. A "classical" set up with large chamber, close lay and a hard reed is going to give you a less noticeable difference in the octaves than a "rock 'n' roll" set up with high baffle, wide lay and soft reed.
 

TomMapfumo

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5,219
I do notice that many folks tighten their embouchure when they play higher notes. Being able to play full bodied with a relaxed embouchure is a big help when playing higher notes.

On trumpet a real help with the upper register is to emphasise and regularly play the lower register such that air can be produced without tightening the embouchure. This can help with playing the sax.
 

oldpuffer

Member
Messages
46
As a fellow beginner I think I sound exactly the same with the octave key... thin, not sax like and inconsistent, that was until I recorded myself, and it didn't sound as thin etc. as I thought. Maybe it is something to do with how we hear ourselves when playing, the sound goes through our mouth, into the sinuses, rattles around the skull and finally hits the ear. Might be worth recording yourself
to see the difference. My teacher insists my embrouchure should be the same up and down the scale, but as a beginner I find that difficult.
 

TimC

Member
Messages
50
I've been testing out having the same embouchure when playing a good note in the lower octave and then pushing the octave key to play the same note one octave up. But for some reason I can't get rid of a terrible warble that occurs when I change up an octave from F and G. I always have to tighten up my embouchure more to make these upper octave notes play a clean note. Does that mean that I should keep this tighter embouchure throughout when playing or is there something I need to correct on the saxophone itself?

And yeah I've also considered I don't sound the same from "outside" compared to how I hear myself, I've ordered a Samson Go mic to record myself and see how that sounds. I'm thinking of recording a weekly clip to keep track of my own progress and what I need to work on.
 
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Koen88

Sax Drinker / Beer player
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426
I play sax now for 12 years or so.. I bought a lebayle metal jazz 8 about 5 years ago, it has been my main piece for pop/rock, since then.

I also though I sounded thin up top (never heard anyone else complain now I think about it) This wasn`t the case on other alto mpc`s and I hadnt that problem on tenor either. So had a good look at the mpc in June and I saw I had uneven rails, and a real thin tiprail which was also uneven. This made the mpc real touchy and nervous, so I saved some money and sent it off to a Dutch refacer. We had a lot of contact via mail and he had a suggestion what made it sound fuller up top (next to a general reface / touch up of the facing rails and tip rail): He "scooped" out a part of the mouthpiece just after the tip rail..

when I got it back it was much much much better, and everytime I play the mpc I'm amazed about how this worked.

this is not an advise to let your mpc be refaced, bacause you're still a beginner and it`s hard to tell what the real cause is. But to show it doesnt have to be all player caused.

so lets just call that my .005 cents;}
 
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Chris

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I've been testing out having the same embouchure when playing a good note in the lower octave and then pushing the octave key to play the same note one octave up. But for some reason I can't get rid of a terrible warble that occurs when I change up an octave from F and G. I always have to tighten up my embouchure more to make these upper octave notes play a clean note. Does that mean that I should keep this tighter embouchure throughout when playing or is there something I need to correct on the saxophone itself?
The "G" on the octave is always a problem G. Good breath support and a lot of practice does go a long way to helping.

Chris..
 

jbtsax

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I've been testing out having the same embouchure when playing a good note in the lower octave and then pushing the octave key to play the same note one octave up. But for some reason I can't get rid of a terrible warble that occurs when I change up an octave from F and G. I always have to tighten up my embouchure more to make these upper octave notes play a clean note. Does that mean that I should keep this tighter embouchure throughout when playing or is there something I need to correct on the saxophone itself?
From your description, my best guess would be that the embouchure is too loose when playing the low G and F. That would create a "flabby" and unstable note when playing the same note an octave higher. The partner admonition to "don't tighten for the high register", is "don't loosen for the low register".

I would suggest you try Larry Teal's embouchure test which is to hold low A and have someone else open the neck octave key for a few seconds and then release it without you knowing when.

- If the note goes to high A and stays there a long time the embouchure is too tight.
- If the note goes to high A, but it is flat and flabby sounding, the embouchure is too loose.
- If the note goes to an in tune high A and then drops back down to low A when the octave key is closed, the embouchure is correct.

The other test I like is to play the mouthpiece and neck apart from the saxophone. If the note produced on the alto is an Ab concert (F on the alto sax), the embouchure has the optimum setting.
 

TimC

Member
Messages
50
Thanks for the helpful info jbtsax, I tried doing the octave jumping test myself without finding a consistent sweetspot, I'll try the Ab concert with mpc and neck tomorrow and see if it'll work better!
 

TimC

Member
Messages
50
I've been testing more today to keep the same embouchure on both octaves but it's not working. I do the test when I hold the same tension in my embouchure and go up and down an octave with the octave key. But quite often when I do that from E, F and G the horrible warbling sound appears. I have to tighten up my embouchure more to make a decent note, and when I do the note won't drop an octave when I release the octave key. Could it be some problem with the octave hole on the side of the saxophone or how it opens? Because when I do the octave test on A and B there's no warbling and it's when the octave hole opens on the neck.

Actually warbling might not be the right word, it's this hollow ringing metallic sound that disappears if I pinch my embouchure more but because it's that much tighter it's quite difficult to sustain and in reflex I start to bite a bit which is quite uncomfortable.
 
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Colin the Bear

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13,063
If you're having to bite , there's something very wrong. You shouldn't need to bite to get the normal range. Sorry if you've posted it before but what set up are you playing with? sax, mouthpiece, reed.
 

Chris

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Hi Tim, you shouldn't have to bite. If you have only been playing a few months then long tones and breath support will go a long way to sorting out the problem.. As I said before the 'G' can be tricky for a lot of players. Do you have a tutor or anyone local that could have a look at the sax for you??

Chris...
 
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