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What are the elements of a voice on saxophone (or any non-electric instrument)?

RienButter

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I agree with both of you, thanks, it's very cool and feels personal in the things you mention. The whole group sound is pretty amazing, too.
Thank you! I can recommend the full album. It's full with interesting melodies and wonderfull solo's I think, indeed from the whole group.
 

Pete Thomas

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what are the qualities that make their voice unique, recognisable or a pleasurable to hear?

Here are some of the things I can think of right now, while I write this:

Tone (obviously) - it's a big part of the player's expression. Other instruments, like piano depend on this far less, and with guitar, when effects come in to the mix, it gets very complicated. It's easier to get an electric sound from someone than a sax sound, IMO. It's why I ask for non-electric instruments.

Articulation : including all the specific saxophon-y stuff done with mouth and fingers.
When you say elements that make up someone's "voice" on a saxophone I think of four things, and ironically (or not) it is the same four things that I believe are involved in the sound production of any electronic sound module or synthersizer also.

I would take out of the equation anything to do with performance, ie a players phrasing because I think it can muddy the waters when talking about sound, and what makes a sound personal.

Those four things are divided into two parts:
  • The core tone
  • How that tone is manipulated for expression (the sound)
The first of those is obvious - it is a straightforward sound that is made up of various different frequencies fundamental and overtones. We often describe this as bright, dark, warm, stuffy etc. based on the frequncies. we hear. I just call this the tone, as opposed to the sound, which is what a player does to that basic tone to make it personal or expressive.

How that core tomne is manipulated is what a skilled player does to make it their own sound and as mentioned it is rather like how a synth programmer will manipulate the core tone (which can be as simple as a sine or square wav, but often more abit more complex these days.

With the saxophone the three basic things we apply are articulalation, pitch and dynamics.

Articulation
is hugely important, very often if you record a note and chop off the beginning it can be very difficult to say whether it is a saxophone, a trumpet or a voice etc. The articulation (whether it is tongued or not) can be more importantb to identifying a player's unique sound than the actual core tone.

Dynamics within a single note: after the initial attack of articulation there can be a swell or diminuendo - also at the end of notes.

Pitch is involved in various ways. The oevrall pitch, whether the pitch center is above, below the actual pitch the music is at. Bend into and out of notes. Vibrato - e.g. constant or added at the end of note. This is all about pitch and hugely important to what makes a sound personal.

These three elements of sound are what I break tone mcontroil practise into:



Then there are various effects on top of those three parameters that can be added, the main one for me being growl. This is something that can be obvious or almost inaudible when done subtly.
 
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randulo

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It's a big 'calling card' for me - where it is used, how fast and what depth and for how long.
Absolutely, it's one of the "parameters" (sorry to sound scientific or intellectual). Certainly, as you've shown, it's a very solid style aspect.
 
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randulo

randulo

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When you say elements that make up someone's "voice" on a saxophone I think of four things, and ironically (or not) it is the same four things that I believe are involved in the sound production of any electronic sound module or synthersizer also.
You are of course correct with all you say, Pete, but I was including harmonic and rhythmic concepts and phrasing as a part of the "voice". When you hear that someone writes stories or poems with a "voice", that's what I meant, the expression of their musicality (or lack of if it's certain kinds I won't name!).
 
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randulo

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Cool, somehow the thread woke up just as I was about to let it go >:)
 

Pete Thomas

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You are of course correct with all you say, Pete, but I was including harmonic and rhythmic concepts and phrasing as a part of the "voice". When you hear that someone writes stories or poems with a "voice", that's what I meant, the expression of their musicality (or lack of if it's certain kinds I won't name!).
Yes I realised that and you are correct, but then the word "voice" is ambiguous. I I am using the more literal meaning, because it is is what applies to me. I think of my sound as my voice. What I do with it in terms of phrasing etc. varies enormously because my work has needed me to play in many different styles.
 
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randulo

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I'm pleased the two main Petes joined in with significant info! And incidentally, about voice, in your definition, that would be how you'd recognize the sax player with a single long note.
 

Pete Thomas

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I'm pleased the two main Petes joined in with significant info! And incidentally, about voice, in your definition, that would be how you'd recognize the sax player with a single long note.
Yes, I'm thinking purely in terms of that kind of voice definition. Phrasing etc. applies to any instrument. (Having said that so do the criteria I listed, but the sound of them is specific to saxophone and also the thread title mentions other instruments.

And yes the thread title mentions non-electric instruments so I suppose it's ironic my definitions are derived from the way i think of synth programming.
 

Pete Effamy

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I'm pleased the two main Petes joined in with significant info! And incidentally, about voice, in your definition, that would be how you'd recognize the sax player with a single long note.
A single long note will have the attack, the tonal colour/qualities of the note itself and any affectation like vibrato - most will add vibrato at some point, but some might also have vibrato throughout as part of the sound. Few will use no vibrato at all - or possibly even a scoop/lip slur at the start, or a fall off at the end. Fall off's like that of Plas Johnson are really individual imo, though the likes of @Pete Thomas might say to the contrary through being far more 'listened' in the old blues guys.
 

Pete Thomas

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You are of course correct with all you say, Pete, but I was including harmonic and rhythmic concepts and phrasing as a part of the "voice". When you hear that someone writes stories or poems with a "voice", that's what I meant, the expression of their musicality (or lack of if it's certain kinds I won't name!).
I was thinking more about this. And yes, a saxophone player can sort of tell a story, but still their "voice" is a component of that bigger picture IMO. If we think about jazz greats, you cou might hear a story evolving as Coltrane eveolved from bop to sheets of sound but still within a harmonic framework and ultimately to free jazz. You could say the story changed but the voice was the same.
 
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randulo

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Halfers

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Actually, I'd tend to say the opposite! I haven't listened to Expression or New Thing at Newport for years, but I thought the voice was far more raw in later years. (I'll need to go listen now.. for a second).
Are you saying this is Coltrane? A quick google suggests this is Shepp playing. I might be confoosed, so apols if I am and move on without me!
 
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randulo

randulo

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Aren't they both playing on this? I didn't check carefully.
 
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randulo

randulo

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I only listened once, but I don't think so. Of course, it begs the question 'what elements of the playing led me to query it wasn't Coltrane'? ;)
You're right, my bad! And you point is well-taken. I was going by the title. I looked for One Down, One Up which was in that era. So, I think the sound is far less rough than Rufus (Shepp) posted above. You hear the concepts of Trane, pushed further "out", the sound is close to his usual but it sounds a little rougher to me.

View: https://youtu.be/vbSWzaDAf10?t=914
 

Jazzaferri

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I have pretty much the same definition of voice as @Pete Thomas I honestly cant get my head around the larger definition. My voice is my voice. What I say with it and how I say it are completely different animules
 
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randulo

randulo

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I have pretty much the same definition of voice as @Pete Thomas I honestly cant get my head around the larger definition. My voice is my voice. What I say with it and how I say it are completely different animules
That's fine, now that the semantics are cleared up, the question remains. I'll re-word it for you: Aside from "voice", what characteristics make a saxophone player sound personal, what makes up their recognisable style?
 
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