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Discussion Starter #1
I'm doing my graduate paper- topic is differences/similarities between the flute and saxophone. As far as woodwinds go, they are in completely different categories (reed, no reed). But there are also many similarities that provide familiarity for the flute or saxophone player to pick up the other and play it fairly readily, not the least of which is the fact that the fingerings are almost identical. Some comparisons:


SX. Canonical pipe
FL Open pipe

SX Air passages of reed players act as a sort of resonator of the saxophone standing wave
FL Sound production is external to the body as the air flow crosses the mouthpiece

SX Use a single reed
FL Air is blown transversely

SX Relatively new invention of about 150 years
FL Oldest one found reportedly being made from a bear’s femur 43,000 years ago

SX 100 Hz lower than flute
FL Soars above saxophone at around 1000 Hz.

SX Similar fingerings and register
FL Similar fingerings and register

SX Tone holes to effect the length of the pipe
FL Tone holes to effect the length of the pipe


Another similarity- apparently, there are two types of toneholes commonly found in*woodwind instruments- An unflanged tonehole made of thin material, such as found on*saxophones*and concert*flutes*and and a tonehole drilled through a thick material, such as found on the*clarinet,*oboe,*recorder, and most instruments made of wood Not sure what this term "unflanged" means. Also, I don't see why air passages act as a resonater for saxophone and not flute just because one has a reed. Any thoughts appreciated!*
 

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Dear Sonja,
some random thoughts:

Ambitus:

SX 2 1/2 Octaves "regular" ambitus - with altissimo register about 4 octaves (which became normal for many professional pop/jazz/classical players now)
FL 3 Octaves regular ambitus with no so called altissimo register (with an extended range up to f# '''' which is rarely used in avantgarde music and normal in a way for charango style)
https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/36553/1/gupea_2077_36553_1.pdf

SX many overtones in the sound
Fl not many overtones in the sound

It should be "conical pipe" in contrary to open cylindrical pipe I think.

Also, I don't see why air passages act as a resonater for saxophone and not flute just because one has a reed. Any thoughts appreciated!*
I don't get that, too. But I heared about the expression "air reed" for the oscillating air lamellae between lips and embouchure hole. This works comparable to a single reed (and the flute should act as a resonator as I understand it).

Though it's true, that the flute is a much older instrument, they both were invented/reinvented in the 19th century (Boehm/Sax)

Interesting topic, All the best to you!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I will check out that book, Mojo.

Taragot- Yes, you're right- I guess my reference didn't take altissimo into account, and it would be interesting to compare the highest frequency possible on altissimo saxophone to flute range.

From what I'm reading (and I had a couple of classes on acoustics), it seems one similarity is that both are linear resonators modeled by filters and a single nonlinear oscillator- the reed on saxophone and the jet of a flute. But they seem a lot different in terms of impedance- which varies a lot with frequency because they produce one or several frequencies only in a particular configuration. The flute is played with the embouchure hole (at least partly) open to the atmosphere, so the pressure at the embouchure hole is very near to atmospheric pressure. So the acoustic pressure (the varying part) is nearly zero. The flow is provided by a jet of air from between the player's lips. Oscillations of air flow in the flute can cause this jet to deflect upwards (outside the flute) or downwards (inside) acoustic flow can be large. The flute actually operates at minima of Z (the unit of impedance): a small pressure and a large flow. On a saxophone the reed is sealed by the player's mouth and they operate at maxima of Z: the varying part of the pressure is large, but the oscillating part of the air flow is small at the reed.
 

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Hummm... point 4 (age) is a category error... everything else is physics / mechanics, that is history... my point being that there are many categories / perspectives across which they can be compared.


What categories are you interested in - or your examiners? Is this an assignment for acoustics or your own interests? I kinda' gathered from other posts you where interested in performance and possibly composition. In which case, other categories might be, for example:

Across genres?
- position in the classical cannon, popular, folk, jazz, rock etc.
Within a genre?
- their respective positing / role withing an orchestra, band, group, quartet.
- role in composition, tradition etc.
etc.

The comparison of the physical is low hanging fruit but is it the most important thing? I was at a gig the other week, a latin band, the sax man sometimes played tenor, other times flute... not because he thought "ah, this now requires a straight tube, not a conical one"...
 

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Discussion Starter #6
lesacks- I'm doing a project about notable players who play both flute and saxophone equally well, with solo recordings on each and who basically elevated the flute in jazz in a revolutionary way. (Frank Wess, James Moody, Eric Dolphy, Lew Tabackin and Joe Ferrell). Although there are great doublers and jazz flute players, but looing to study players who invested in both and significantly contributed a moving jazz flute to a higher level.

I wanted to do a little part at the beginning discussing how the horns are so different in many ways, yet these players spent the time and resources to become very accomplished at both. Yes- I'm needing to get it more focused- just having a hard time with that!

It's a personal interest- I want to play saxophone and flute equally well and am inspired by players who have done it. The flute and saxophone just have a very special relationship I think.
 

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The fundamental differences are that the flute is cylindrical and the saxophone is conical although some piccolos have a tapered headjoint to adjust for intonation. Conical woodwinds have harmonics (overtones) that are whole number multiples of the fundamental's frequency. Cylindrical woodwinds that are closed on one end by a mouthpiece have only odd numbered harmonics (that are strong). This is why a clarinet "overblows" an octave and a fifth (twelfth) rather than an octave. The flute is a cylindrical instrument that is open at both ends which gives it the same harmonic series as a conical woodwind.

The mechanism that sets the air into vibration on a saxophone is a cane reed or one made from synthetic material. The flute is said to have an "air reed". The airspeed, direction of the air stream, and shape of the tongue that on a flute determines the register a note sounds is quite similar to what a saxophonist uses to play harmonics and notes in the altissimo register. One of the harder things to learn for most saxophone players in my experience is the "light touch" required when closing flute keys to develop a fast and fluid technique. Many of us get used to the "gorilla grip" than one can get away with on the saxophone. :)
 

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That's great!
And, again, suggests many more interesting comparisons / contrasts than tube shapes and Hz! Maybe that's why you haven't yet got focus. You have a clear question, seems to me, "why can't these people fully express their music with just one instrument? How do the flute and sax (families) differ to cover different ground?" or such like; but the answer to that will not be in the physics* (or only tangentially).

I'm no where near your (or most people here's) level: but the "feel" I can get out of the clarinet is different to the sax - for the same piece; and not because the fingerings are different.. They invite different approaches - in part because they are physically a bit different - but also, I suppose, because one just is more used to hearing each differently due to their different histories in music production in general. I don't know...

I'm sure when you get focus, it'll be fascinating! Let us know!!

*(I'm , in part, a physicist by training - so it's very hard for me to say that!!)
 

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Another similarity between them:
The players of both endlessly discuss if materials influence sound :p

More seriously, material choice for construction. Saxophone is brass/copper/nickel/silver/plastic while flute is silver/gold/brass/wood/nickel/plastic/glass/ivory

The lists are not exhaustive, just examples. Also, about ranges, flute can have d/c/b/bb/a foot and saxophones can be keyed to low A.

List of makers (top ten?) that are (in)famous for both building sax and flute, which would make some sense since you're tackling players that play both also. Example - Yamaha, Buffet, Conn, Grassi, Selmer
 

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Also, I wouldn't be too quick to discount the resonant effects of the flute player's respiratory system.
 

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I played flute for years, experimenting with tricks of lip & breath to produce bendy or growly tones. Ultimately it seemed that the flute would always sound like a flute, limiting my expression. Switching to alto & soprano saxes enabled me to find my true instrumental voice. I never went back to flute. The fingerings may be similar, but flute & sax are worlds apart.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
saxoclese- I've never heard the term "air reed"- very interesting- you know a lot about this topic- feel free to chime in with other insights. The gorilla grip concepts really rings true for me- so much tension for me to play saxophone vs. flute

lesacks- I love physics, too- just not at all into the math part, more the concepts

chili- yes- that stuff about the resonance still confounds me!

sopsax- I understand completely. Flute is so delicate- but for me that makes it easy to play as a feather, whereas yes, saxophone is much more powerful, but the resistance makes it harder for me to relax and feel effortless. I sometimes wonder if the really good players get to the point they feel so carefree and light as playing flute feels for me. Yes- worlds apart! Weirdly, although flute isn't as "powerful" as saxophone, I can play really gritty on flute- definitely as much as saxophone- so sometimes the there is a similar expression despite the physics for me.
 

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Had a good run with flute in my early 20s -- women used to say I reminded them of the god Pan -- but didn't fully exploit the instrument's potential for feather-light lyricism 'coz I was thinking sax thoughts the entire time. I needed the power, the roaring hoarseness of sax. All these years later, I can back off & play sax lightly if I want to, or go to both extremes in a single solo. While I miss being mistaken for Pan, I'm infinitely happier blowing sax. That's the great thing about any instrument (including flute); spend long enough at it, you find out who you really are.
 

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Also, I wouldn't be too quick to discount the resonant effects of the flute player's respiratory system.
I suspect that that, contrary to some player's imagination, such "resonant effects" are pretty much irrelevant, because unlike other woodwinds, the "air reed" - that is the airstream that leaves the player's lips, and oscillates up and down over the top of the embouchure hole - is completely outside the player's body, so acoustic coupling with the respiratory system, through a very small hole in soft, sound-damping lip material, must be negligible.

IMO. Please somebody correct me if I am wrong.
 

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Another similarity is that the tone holes of both (excluding pre-Boehm flute) are large relative to the bore.

Could another similarity be that both the sax and the modern (Boehm) flute were both largely developed by a single person.
And the mechanism of both has a foundation in Boehm's developments, which were in part to enable an instrument to be played when the tone holes were too large to be covered by fingers.

Learn more about development of the modern flute from Theobald Boehm's book "The Flute and Flute Playing"

Benade's book on woodwind acoustics may be simpler to understand than most acoustic theory books, but still very difficult for most people.
For far more down-to-earth descriptions of relevant acoustics, easily accessed on-line, Google acoustics... UNSW. (University of New South Wales)
 

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Another similarity- apparently, there are two types of toneholes commonly found in*woodwind instruments- An unflanged tonehole made of thin material, such as found on*saxophones*and concert*flutes*and and a tonehole drilled through a thick material, such as found on the*clarinet,*oboe,*recorder, and most instruments made of wood Not sure what this term "unflanged" means. Also, I don't see why air passages act as a resonater for saxophone and not flute just because one has a reed. Any thoughts
Don't forget wooden flutes have a hole drilled through a thick material just like wooden clarinets- the tonehole chimney of metal flutes is there to mkae up for the thickness of the material (that is no longer there). There also saxophones with this characteristic ie the Grafton Acrylic alto. It would be possible to make a saxop[hone from wood, in which case it would also have the toneholes like a wooden clarinet.

In regard to the pitches, as others have said, it is worth taking altissimo into account. I would cite the pitches in notes rather than (or as well as ) Hz - it means more to musicians. It would be worth stipulating that you are thinking of pitches in terms of the instruments commonly played - alto flute, flute, piccolo and saxophone SATB - or are you going to get into the realms of the exttems such Soprillo and sub contra basses?
 

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What about tuning? Older flutes are pitched to A440 and newer flutes are being made to be tuned at A442 as compared to the tuning of saxophones. It's something I've been wondering if modern saxophones are still pitched to A440.
 

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SX many overtones in the sound
Fl not many overtones in the sound
This comment piqued my interest so I did some research. Shown below are the harmonic spectrums of a D2 on a modern flute and the corresponding E2 on a soprano sax from the UNSW Acoustics Website.

View attachment 250580 View attachment 250582

But I heared about the expression "air reed" for the oscillating air lamellae between lips and embouchure hole. This works comparable to a single reed (and the flute should act as a resonator as I understand it).
Both the vibrations of the reed and the "splitting" of the air stream set the air columns inside each instrument into vibration. The length of the "tube" in each case determines the natural resonant frequency of a column of air with that given length. Actually the frequency of a note produced on a saxophone is equal to that of a tube twice that length since a complete soundwave travels both down and back. The important point is that the body of the flute or saxophone has no resonance of its own the resonance is in the column of air inside the body.
 

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I suspect that that, contrary to some player's imagination, such "resonant effects" are pretty much irrelevant, because unlike other woodwinds, the "air reed" - that is the airstream that leaves the player's lips, and oscillates up and down over the top of the embouchure hole - is completely outside the player's body, so acoustic coupling with the respiratory system, through a very small hole in soft, sound-damping lip material, must be negligible.

IMO. Please somebody correct me if I am wrong.
I agree that there's unlikely to be any coupling between the oral cavity (and upstream) and the air column in playing flute, unlike on a single reed where they are directly connected through the orifice of the reed opening. However, it's not hard to imagine that manipulating the oral cavity can cause subtle variations in the air stream that's directed at the edge, thus causing tonal differences.
 
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