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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
It's not a question of reductionism, it's based on the fact that sound production is a physical mechanism and subject to the laws of physics. What you do after that is your own affair, but every single nuance that comes out of the horn is pure physics, and understanding the physics is useful when you start asking questions about the differences and similarities between instruments, unless the responses are along the lines of "flute has a nicer sound than saxophone" or "hotter girls are attracted to sax players".
So explain the physics, that's what I'm asking Sherlock. And correction- hotter GUYS are attracted to sax players...
 

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I haven't done the research to verify this, but my instructor said that Adolphe Sax developed the modern key system for flute, which he later re-used for the development of the soprano sax, the first of the saxes he developed.

I play both, and it seems reasonable, if you look and compare the two: you could say that the soprano is kind of a conical flute, played with a reed.
 

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I haven't done the research to verify this, but my instructor said that Adolphe Sax developed the modern key system for flute, which he later re-used for the development of the soprano sax, the first of the saxes he developed.

I play both, and it seems reasonable, if you look and compare the two: you could say that the soprano is kind of a conical flute, played with a reed.
Your instructor is wrong on both counts. The first sax was a bass. His reason for inventing the sax was to create a new, more powerful bass woodwind instrument for the orchestra.

He had nothing to do with flute design, but did improve the design of the bass clarinet.
 

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No. Sax based the keywork of his sax on designs for flute and oboe key systems originated by Theobald Boehm of Munich.
 

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So explain the physics, that's what I'm asking Sherlock. And correction- hotter GUYS are attracted to sax players...
If you want the math, go to Scavone's thesis, where it will all be laid out in mind numbing detail. But Joe Wolfe of UNSW has done a great job of laying out an introduction to the acoustics of both flute and sax on his site, which I gave you the link to (twice, by mistake). I'm not going to invent the wheel all over again here on the forum. Wolfe did a great job. Once you read that, then start asking questions and we can discuss.

https://www.music.mcgill.ca/~gary/thesis.html
 

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Discussion Starter · #46 ·
If you want the math, go to Scavone's thesis, where it will all be laid out in mind numbing detail. But Joe Wolfe of UNSW has done a great job of laying out an introduction to the acoustics of both flute and sax on his site, which I gave you the link to (twice, by mistake). I'm not going to invent the wheel all over again here on the forum. Wolfe did a great job. Once you read that, then start asking questions and we can discuss.

https://www.music.mcgill.ca/~gary/thesis.html
Thank you for the information- very informative paper, although it fouses on single reed instruments vs. comparing with open pipe where air is blown transversely (flute). The physics is very interesting, but I guess I'm not just considering physics (sound)- and not going into that kind of detail- but really more mundane (dare I day simple!) differences and similarities, such as they both have unflanged toneholes (in contrast with clarinets, oboes, etc. where the tonehole is drilled through thick material), and that they are both linear resonators- the reed on the saxophone and the jet of a flute having the same function. I'm also looking at comparing acoustic impedance- which varies with frequency because they produce one or several frequencies only in a particular configuration, and embouchure, an obvious difference and I go into that.
 

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It's important to remember that there are wooden Boehn flutes with bodies as thick as those of other wood-bodied instruments, and that makes no difference to the sound. And of course there are both metal and wooden clarinets. Extruded or drilled tone holes make no difference in and of themselves, if the chimney heights are the same. There are only three geometric shapes that are musically useful, because the impedances create a harmonic series in integer relationships (which allows for a standing wave to be formed in the bore, which allows for a steady tone): the cylinder, the cone, and one species of bessel horn (which is not really useful for playing music). And of those two remaining shapes, there are two configurations of one--the cylinder (as you know) -- closed at one end or open at both ends. You cannot really use a cone open at both ends (no conical flutes).

The clarinet is the only orchestral instrument using a cylinder closed at one end. There is a double reed closed cylinder instrument in Korea called the piri, and there is actually a closed cylinder flute (panpipes). All of these instruments produce (theoretically) a square wave instead of a sine wave, in which the odd harmonics do not contribute to the standing wave. That is why they all overblow to the second harmonic.

Open cylinders and closed cones produce a sine wave (by different physics) with all partials present. It is important to realize that the cylinder has only a planar wave component, whereas the cone has also a spherical wavefront, and this, by complicated physics I do not pretend to fully understand, creates a standing sine wave.

One of the main differences between a sax and a flute has to do with the way the wave forms within the tube. A standing wave has nodes and antinodes: nodes being where a given quantity remains constant, and antinodes being where that quantity varies maximally. There are two quantities we are looking at here: pressure and displacement (or velocity). At a pressure node (displacement antinode), the pressure remains constant and the air molecules move, whereas at a displacement node (pressure antinode) the air molecules stay still and the pressure varies.

At the open end of either the sax or the flute, there is a displacement antinode, because being open to the air, the pressure cannot vary (there is nothing to contain the energy of the wave). So at the sax bell or end of the flute, the air moves. But at the reed end, they are totally different. In a sax, there is a pressure antinode, but in the flute there is another displacement antinode (because it is open and so the pressure cannot vary. So this is a fundamental difference that determines how the wave forms in the tube. And this leads to another major difference concerning the impedances. Impedances in a tube are point along the bore where it is most easy to form a standing wave. But there are two different impedance points: the maxima and the minima (roughly analogous to pressure and displacement antinodes for the standing wave, sorta, kinda). The flute, because of the characteristic way that the wave forms in the tube, having a displacement antinode at both ends, sounds at the impedance minima, whereas in the sax, closed with a pressure antinode at the upper end, forms standing waves at the maxima. In both types, the standing wave is twice the length of the effective bore, whereas in a closed cylinder it is four time the length of the bore--which is why clarinets can play so low.

Another fundamental difference between the cane reed and the air reed of the flute is that the player varies their properties in different ways. The cane reed has certain fixed mechanical properties (stiffness and size among them), but the upstream impedances formed in the player's vocal tract can have a lot of influence on the behavior of the reed. With the flute, the air reed is composed of an air jet striking the leading edge of the embouchure hole, causing an oscillation that couples with the tube impedances and creates the standing wave. The shape and geometry of the embouchure hole and chimney are roughly analogous to the geometry of the sax mouthpiece, but the player has the ability to vary the air jet in ways impossible with the sax, whose reed is fixed. Jet timing is essential to forming and maintaining the standing wave, and the player can vary it in two ways, blowing harder to speed up the air jet, or changing the distance between the lips and embouchure hole edge. What is interesting about that is that when one moves the lips closer to the edge, the embouchure hole is "shaded" leading to an end correction which lowers the frequency of the sounding note. This end correction varies with frequency, meaning that higher notes get flatter for a given end correction or shading of the embouchure hole.

Why does this matter? Because it means that a player can overblow the octave either by increasing the jet speed or by shortening the jet length, or a combination of the two. On a sax, you need register keys to play the octaves. Not on flute--it is up to embouchure control alone, and there are an infinite number of ways to do it, depending on how much harder you blow and how much you change the lip position to control the distance between lips and hole edge. There is another factor at work in this, and that is that jet timing varies linearly with length but as a second order power of velocity, so halving the jet distance doubles the jet timing, but to double it simply by blowing harder means you have to blow four times as hard. In addition the shape of the air jet is of importance to the harmonic generation of overtones, so all these factors give the flute player ways of shaping the timbre of the note and its intonation not available to the sax player. But the flute player's upstream resonator (vocal tract), not being directly connected with the downstream resonator (the instrument tube), means that variations in the vocal tract have much less effect in flute than in sax. So possible means of expression and tailoring of the note's timbre and quality is quite different between sax and flute.

For starters...
 

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Why does this matter? Because it means that a player can overblow the octave either by increasing the jet speed or by shortening the jet length, or a combination of the two. On a sax, you need register keys to play the octaves...
Not so. In fact, playing the full range of the saxophone without using the octave key is a great exercise.
 

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Not so. In fact, playing the full range of the saxophone without using the octave key is a great exercise.
Of course it is possible, but it is not standard practice, and I'd wager there are plenty of passages with fast jumps that would be near impossible without the use of the register keys.
 

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Well, we all know that one CAN play the full range of the saxophone without the register vents, but it's considerably harder on sax than on flute (or clarinet, in my experience). I play both flute and saxophone and I can tell you that between these two instruments that both overblow the octave, it is FAR FAR easier to overblow the octave, octave and a fifth, two octaves, and on up, on the flute than it is on saxophone. Most of the second octave of the flute is played with no register vent at all, and fifth graders with two months experience pop those notes right out with no trouble at all. Try that in the second octave of the saxophone without using the register vents. Sure, you as an experience adult saxophonist can make it happen, most of the time, wiht some pretty distinct voicing activities. But the minimally trained beginner? Ain't gonna happen.

Personally I found overblowing clarinet, especially up into the third and fourth octaves, was also much easier than saxophone altissimo.

So we have three instruments, one "stiff and unyielding" in overblowing, the saxophone, a closed end cone. Two easy to overblow, one, the clarinet a single reed (same tone generation as sax) but a closed end cylinder; the other, the flute, using a different tone generator AND being a different shape (open end cylinder). To what extent is stiffness in overblowing the result of the tone generation mechanism, and to what extent is it due to the shape?

Yamaha's Venova instruments are an interesting creation; an open end single reed (the open end is created by that little "side branch pipe"). The only one I'm aware of. It would be interesting to see the ease of overblowing it, as well as the accuracy of the overtones (again, the overtones of flute tend to be very accurate and those of the saxophone not so much, in my experience).
 

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On the Venova, the side branch pipe has a closed end.
So does the top end of a flute. But the fact that on flute and Venova, the point of tone generation (air reed on flute, or the point where the branch with the reed joins the dead branch) can be a pressure node/displacement antinode, causes these two instruments to act as "cylinder with both ends open" acoustically, thus overblowing the octave.

It would also be interesting to understand why the particular length of the dead branch on flute, and on Venova, needs to be that length and not some other length. For that matter, what happens if you try to play a flute with the head joint stopper removed?
 

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So does the top end of a flute. But the fact that on flute and Venova, the point of tone generation (air reed on flute, or the point where the branch with the reed joins the dead branch) can be a pressure node/displacement antinode, causes these two instruments to act as "cylinder with both ends open" acoustically, thus overblowing the octave.

It would also be interesting to understand why the particular length of the dead branch on flute, and on Venova, needs to be that length and not some other length. For that matter, what happens if you try to play a flute with the head joint stopper removed?
The space above the embouchure hole on a transverse flute acts as a Helmholtz resonator and shifts the impedances of the tube so that the third octave is in tune. Interestingly it also changes the tonal character of the flute, reducing harmonic content at the frequency of the resonator. End-blown flutes not having this space play the third octave about 25 cents sharp, and also have a fuller tone. I know this personally because I have an "Okuralo", which is a Boenm flute body with a shakuhachi head joint. It also has a standard head joint, and they sound totally different.

The Venova is, practically speaking, a conical instrument, not a cylinder by any means, and there is no way, by adding an extra compliance near the top, to change it into a "cylinder open at both ends." The reed generator is still a pressure antinode. There is absolutely no way to change that. The body has been cleverly designed (check the bulges) to place the impedances in the correct places to be able to get the second octave in tune. The branch below the mpc is most probably there to tune the registers, placed to pull the upper notes down, which otherwise would be unbearably sharp, but make no mistake, it has nothing to do with allowing the bore to overblow the octave instead of the twelfth, only to tune the second register because of the compromises of the bore--which is basically conical in behavior.

If you changed the length of that branch it would throw some range of notes out of tune. You cannot play a flute without the head stopper, because there would be no air springiness at the top, and so the standing wave could not possibly form. No pressure variation could build up at the embouchure hole, so no wave could travel down the tube to be reflected and deflect the air jet. There needs to be a periodic pressure variation at the embouchure hole, and if you removed the cork none could exist. A extra air above the embouchure hole acts only as a slight spring, which acts mostly at higher frequencies.
 

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The Venova is, practically speaking, a conical instrument, not a cylinder by any means
But the shape of the tube is cylindrical, no?

On the yamaha website:

Despite being a cylindrical wind instrument, the Venova™ exhibits the timbre and easy fingering of conical wind instruments due to the compact, simple branched-pipe structure of its cylindrical bore.
I did not have a venova in hand, but on the photos it looks like the branch is open.

I always thought that the open branch makes this thing a cylindrical pipe open at both sides, but this doesn't seem to be true. Could someone explain that one more time to me?
 

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Taragot, hope all is well with you. Speaking specifically about flute compels me to put almost all of the emphasis on the headjoint being the vital component; its parabolic shape in particular can be so significant that a measurement as small as several thousandths of an inch or hundredths of a millimeter can have the most profound effect on whatever body and footjoint you play with it. I had a very nice conversation with a first chair flautist of a renowned symphony orchestra a few months ago and it was an enlightening experience. He favored a vintage Powell from the 40s and he demonstrated how evenly it played next to a newer Powell with a minutely different headjoint in its parabolic shape.

But the shape of the tube is cylindrical, no?

On the yamaha website:

I did not have a venova in hand, but on the photos it looks like the branch is open.

I always thought that the open branch makes this thing a cylindrical pipe open at both sides, but this doesn't seem to be true. Could someone explain that one more time to me?
ct
 

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But the shape of the tube is cylindrical, no?

On the yamaha website:

I did not have a venova in hand, but on the photos it looks like the branch is open.

I always thought that the open branch makes this thing a cylindrical pipe open at both sides, but this doesn't seem to be true. Could someone explain that one more time to me?
It is literally impossible for it to be a pipe open on both ends, because the actual generator is still a reed, and that is a closed end. If you think that the branch is open, then why would opening the A key on the clarinet not turn it into a tube open at both ends? The length of the branch does not change the fact that it is still an open hole, even though it is long. if you want to perform an experiment, take a clarinet, take off the A key and put a drinking straw down the hole, and see how far down you can play below the A.

Honestly, I don't know the exact acoustics of the design, but if you look at the body, you will see that it is nowhere near a cylinder, even though the end is basically cylindrical. There are all kinds of bumps and extra compliances in the bore, in order to allow convenient fingerhole placement and correct impedances. The branched design at the top is part of that, but no way the end of that branch is open. It is very cleverly figured out, obviously modeled on a computer to figure out how to align the resonances for two octaves with various extra compliances in the uneven bore.
 

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Taragot, hope all is well with you. Speaking specifically about flute compels me to put almost all of the emphasis on the head joint being the vital component; its parabolic shape in particular can be so significant that a measurement as small as several thousandths of an inch or hundredths of a millimeter can have the most profound effect on whatever body and footjoint you play with it. I had a very nice conversation with a first chair flautist of a renowned symphony orchestra a few months ago and it was an enlightening experience. He favored a vintage Powell from the 40s and he demonstrated how evenly it played next to a newer Powell with a minutely different headjoint in its parabolic shape.

ct
Lambros, I agree that the head joint is the most important part of the flute, and that small changes in the embouchure hole geometry and the curve of the contraction of the head joint can make major differences in how the head plays. It is interesting to note that the contraction has a very specific purpose, and that is to spread the registers so that, by simply overblowing, the second octave will be significantly sharp as compared to the first. There is a good reason for this, and that is because in order to make the second octave sound, the jet timing from the lips that strikes the far side of the embouchure hole needs to be increased. There are two ways to do that: the first is to blow harder, making the air move faster, and the second is to move the lips closer to the striking edge, making the jet shorter.

The problem with simply blowing harder is twofold. First, it increases volume, making it impossible to play the second octave softly. Second, and related to that, is the fact that to double the jet timing, it takes four times the blowing pressure, as this is a second order function. But jet length is a linear function, so half the distance doubles the timing speed with no increase in breath pressure.

Now there is a thing called end correction, and at the embouchure hole it means that the more of it covered by the lips, the flatter the note produced. Now to play musically, you cannot simply blow the octave four times as hard, you have to move the lips forward too. And if there was no contraction in the head joint, then the second octave would be miserably flat. So all makers choose a curve that they think is the optimal sharpening for you to play musically with a combination of some extra breath support and some slight lip correction to shorten the jet. The amount of contraction will determine how much you must move the lips to stay in tune playing the second octave, with the rest to be done by harder blowing.

The musician doesn't notice this, s/he only adjusts the embouchure to play in tune, but the contraction will determine how much of that is done (unconsciously) by blowing more and how much by adjusting the lip position. This will affect how the head joint feels.

It is also true that the contraction has a complex effect on harmonic production, and the exact curve of the walls is an important factor in how the head joint plays, regardless of the the actual amount of contraction that determines how much the registers are spread. And BTW it is never truly parabolic, though it is also not linear. Each manufacturer decides on the geometry of the contraction, and simple manufacturing tolerances can also have a significant effect between two "identical" head joints.
 

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Very thoughtful response above, Kymarto, thank you. Embouchure technique on flute is so exact and yet each player has a unique challenge based on their specific ability/technique and lip shape, breath support too can vary quite a bit as well.
 
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