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Beginner Why do we call the notes on the Sax by the wrong name? plus other stuff.

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56
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Isle of Skye
This question may have been asked before but rather than trawl through all the possible threads I will just ask. If the sound an Alto Sax makes with what we call the "C" key depressed is actually an Eb why don't we call it Eb? I don't understand the need for Sax's and Trumpets and Clarinets to be in these weird tunings. For example a Tenor sax is only one step off "C" anyway (I think) so why not make it a little shorter or longer to bring it to "C" then all the keys would be correct. I am a complete novice at music theory and many many aspects of music absolutely baffle me. Such as Modes, my son has tried to explain and I've read books on the subject but I just can't grasp it at all. To me, if you are playing the notes of the "F" scale in a different order they are still "F" scale. I guess I'm just thick. And you said there were no stupid questions. :confused:
 

AdamBradley

Member
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134
Many instruments have native keys that they work best in for the size, where the intonation is good and everything 'works' I suppose. I think there is also the factor of the way things 'have always been done' perhaps.

Thevreason we call the notes on the sax what we do is because it follows the flute. And to an extent the oboe, extremely similar fingerings, but i believe mr adolph sax shamelessly copied the flute fingering system. So that players could easily switch and still read the music, they call the same fingering the same note and have the composer write their part in a different key. Easier than asking muicians o learn to transpose (effectively) as they'd have to see a C, and think 'i'm on sax, so play what i think of as an A'.

I think there's a good bit on transposing instruments on Pete's site.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Firstly Adam, Saxe did not follow flute fingering as simple system, id est normal tin whistle plus extra keys on mainly wood bodied flutes were common and are still made for the Oirish Traditional Music faction. Böhm invented his system to make flutes generally louder and it was this fingering system that Saxe ado/a-pted.

Two ways to make family of instruments,

1) To play with reference to Concert Pitch

and

2) As same fingered families.

Disadvantages

1) The fingering varies with the various family members. Take the recorder. The soprano Bell Note is C and the alto Bell Note is F. Therefore you have different fingerings to play the same written note on different family members.

2) Like Brass Bands, the saxophone uses the same fingering for the same written notes so the music has to be transposed to keep everything in tune but you use exactly the same standard fingering read from the score on each family member.

Don't ask me which I prefer, both work and transposition if you need it, can be performed with fairly simple notation programmes like PrintMusic. Otherwise one can just use brain power but I don't possess that.
 

SteveK

Member
Messages
149
Location
Guildford, Surrey
There are C saxophones around and they were popular, I believe, in military bands in the early 19th century - you still see them for sale sometimes. Watch out for anything pre-1940ish.
I haven't played or knowing heard one but apparently they sound awful when played with other instruments. The equal (tempered) tuning scale that we use in western music throws up all kinds of inconsistencies like this - as, for that matter do all tuning systems. Guitar makers have all kinds of problems with the tuning of the 3rd string (G string that is - no humour intended) and have tried for centuries to solve this problem.
So we live with the fact that many instruments sound best when they are of a particular length and it is not possible to simple add or remove some tubing.

Why do we call the notes by the wrong name? It's simply that by doing this we are able to play any saxophone with the same fingerings - the down side is that music has to be transposed not a bad price to pay.

Steve
 

SteveK

Member
Messages
149
Location
Guildford, Surrey
By the way, there is a great book on this topic called "The Music Instrinct" by Philip Ball.
..and there is also "The Five Big Bangs of Music" by ??????? (was also a BBC TV documentary)
But I warn potential readers - it's heavy!

Steve
 

Lloyd

Member
Messages
208
Location
Hertfordshire
I too struggled with this when I started out. The first thing to get your head around is that the notes you play on your sax are not the real notes, or concert pitch. By that I mean some instruments do play in concert pitch, such as the piano or the flute. So, if you asked a flautist to play you a G then s/he would use the first three fingers of the left hand. The resulting note would be the same pitch as a G on the piano. However if you used the first three fingers of the left hand on a sax then the note would not be the same pitch? Why is this? Because the sax is a much bigger instrument than the flute so it will obvioulsy produce a different note. To produce a concert pitch G the sax player will have to use different fingering. This leaves us with a bit of a snagette! Do we ask musicians to learn completely new fingering for every type of woodwind instrument or do we just say 'to hell with it, the first three fingers on the left hand is called a G no matter which woodwind instrument you play'? This is what was adopted which means that composers and arrangers, if they want to use instruments in their pieces that use are not concert pitch, have to change the notes that these instruments play accordingly so that they harmonise with those instruments that are. This is transposing. In other words we are making life easier for the players but more difficult for the composers and arrangers. If a piano and a sax were to play exactly the same tune then the score for the sax would look different from the piano.
 
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AlanU

Member
Messages
628
Location
Enfield, North London
Steve K,
C Melody Saxophones are fine with other instruments as long as the C Saxophone is 'Low Pitch' ie. 440 hertz.
Any Saxophone that is 'High Pitch' will be miles out and incompatible.
 

814jazzer

Member
Messages
55
Location
Pennsylvania
In addition to keeping consistent fingerings among all saxophones (sopranino on down the line to contrabass), the transposition allows us to center the range of notes on the written treble clef.

Think about this for a second:
On the grand staff of the piano, the range of the tenor sax is Ab (bottom space of bass clef) up to Eb (top space of treble clef). If tenor were written in concert pitch, it would either have a LOAD of ledger lines below the treble clef (or above the bass clef). AND/OR the music would constantly switch clefs to suit the needs of a particular passage.

I, for one, am GLAD for the transpositions.

cheers from Pennsylvania!
~ Rick
 
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