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Discussion Starter #1
How often do you find yourself liking, or disliking, your tone when playing, then listen back on recording and have the opposite opinion? And if you do, what do you try and do to combat that?

I'm pretty happy with my tenor tone, but for both alto and soprano I think I need work. Which isn't helped by a lack of practise time! I find when I'm playing the soprano in particular, that the tone seems and feels warm, but when listening back to recordings there is too much of the oboe quality that sometimes happens with soprano, it sounds as if the whole tone has been squeezed. I'm well aware this could be the recording, but my setup isn't terrible and I've had success recording other players.

So, my question is: what sounds good to me whilst playing clearly doesn't sound the way I want, but how do you find what that sound I want to produce actually sounds like when playing? I listen back to players I like and try to build the parts of their sound that I like in to my own, but the difference between what I hear and what I produce is obviously quite different. I've no idea what those guys sounded like to their own ears whilst playing to know what qualities to work on.
 

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Right after playing (recording) we tend to listen too critically and if we don't like what we hear at the time we might start making unecessary adjustments. Listen for the portions of your playing that you like no matter how short and keep that in mind. Get used to developing your own sound, that's the one that will flow most naturally. We must realize that many of the great jazz musicians wanted to sound like their favorite players also but didn't sound exactly like them either. They just developed what was coming out of their own horns, now players want to sound like them. Also play along with your own recordings and see if you can match and maintain the best parts of your own recordings, especially the parts that you like. Focus in on your best playing instances and maintain your own sound.
 

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Listening to recordings of my self is almost always a depressing experience. Tone, phrasing, ideas, intonation, even my time seems bad. If it weren't for positive feedback from others i would have quit a long time ago. One good thing about it is it keeps me humble.
 

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Listening to recordings of my self is almost always a depressing experience. Tone, phrasing, ideas, intonation, even my time seems bad. If it weren't for positive feedback from others i would have quit a long time ago. One good thing about it is it keeps me humble.
Same here. The musicians of the band I'm in are all better than me, which is great. They all appreciate my playing, so I must be doing something right ...
 

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There's a reason those good audio recording guys get paid a lot of money--
 

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Oddly enough I think I might be in the opposite boat as some of you.

Usually when I'm playing/ recording I find myself overly critical. I tend to get very frustrated and can't seem to feel what I'm doing as if I wasn't recording.

But then I go and listen to it and usually it sounds a lot better than I had thought it would.
 

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Recordings, assuming on decent equipment, can be a real eye-opener. This is what other people hear, minus any bias you would have hearing from behind the horn (plus the sound transfer through your bones).
 

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Recordings, assuming on decent equipment, can be a real eye-opener. This is what other people hear, minus any bias you would have hearing from behind the horn (plus the sound transfer through your bones).
Listening to recordings of my playing, while often frustrating, has really helped me form a concept of how I want to sound. It's helped me slowly continue to move closer to my goal. Now I consider it a critical tool that motivates me to practice more and try new things. Recording keeps me focused and from becoming complacent.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Listening back to recordings is an absolutely brilliant tool, without doubt. And it is indeed very easy to be overly critical. I always hear all the warts that a more casual listener may not pick up on.

But what I'm more interested in discussing here, is the actual tone of the horn as you hear it with the mouthpiece in your mouth & the tone of the horn when listening back on a recording. I know what I want to sound like on soprano, but I don't know what that sounds like when I'm actually playing with it in my mouth. I quite often think "yeah my tone sounds great here", but when I listen to the recording that is simply not the case.

I don't really get that with my tenor playing; I'm pretty comfortable with the differences between the recordings and my perception of my tone whilst playing; but soprano and to a lesser extent, alto, I struggle to make the connection.
 

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If what you hear on the recording is different than what you hear in the room when you are playing, then look to mic placement and EQ and maybe compression (just a little bit) to fix this. I find that having the mic pointed at the LH pinky table, at a downward angle (30 to 45 degrees) and about 24-36 inches away from the horn gives the best results. If your room has a lot of bad reflections (that is, your bedroom or studio) then put some sound absorbent stuff behind and to the sides of the mic - those "mini vocal booth" things that fit on the mic stand are great, but a pillow or two on a music stand or two works just as well.

Use EQ to cut (not boost!) annoying frequencies - these are due to a) the response characteristics of the mic and b) reflections and resonances in your room. (My room rings a bit at E4 for example... and it makes a difference where I stand how bad the ring is.)

Finally, use a little compression to even out the dynamics - don't squish the bejeezus out of it, but a little compression will help with the perception of the instrument. Do the EQ first!
 

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But what I'm more interested in discussing here, is the actual tone of the horn as you hear it with the mouthpiece in your mouth & the tone of the horn when listening back on a recording. I know what I want to sound like on soprano, but I don't know what that sounds like when I'm actually playing with it in my mouth. I quite often think "yeah my tone sounds great here", but when I listen to the recording that is simply not the case.
So, to address your initial question directly:


For me it was a matter of recording enough times and playing back immediately so that I remembered the live sound that produced the recorded sound I was after. They don’t have to sound exactly the same. It’s a matter of training your ear to recognize the live sound that produces the desired playback, then reinforcing it through lots of practice. Early on it was a difficult and tedious process that forced me to improve many aspects of my playing in a step by step, sometimes trial and error, approach to find out what worked and what didn’t. I never cared very much about how I sounded to myself until my live sound started producing what I wanted to hear on my recordings. Then I started striving for that tone in my live playing. Still at it.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
If what you hear on the recording is different than what you hear in the room when you are playing, then look to mic placement and EQ and maybe compression (just a little bit) to fix this. I find that having the mic pointed at the LH pinky table, at a downward angle (30 to 45 degrees) and about 24-36 inches away from the horn gives the best results. If your room has a lot of bad reflections (that is, your bedroom or studio) then put some sound absorbent stuff behind and to the sides of the mic - those "mini vocal booth" things that fit on the mic stand are great, but a pillow or two on a music stand or two works just as well.

Use EQ to cut (not boost!) annoying frequencies - these are due to a) the response characteristics of the mic and b) reflections and resonances in your room. (My room rings a bit at E4 for example... and it makes a difference where I stand how bad the ring is.)

Finally, use a little compression to even out the dynamics - don't squish the bejeezus out of it, but a little compression will help with the perception of the instrument. Do the EQ first!
In terms of recording locations I use all sorts of places, the attic, my front room (a big box that's reflective as hell with high ceilings), outside in my garden, etc. Whilst I'm not a genius engineer, the consistency in recordings is there between each location; I.E. the qualities I don't like in my tone are always present. So I don't think it's a recording issue but an issue that you simply hear what you're playing differently when you're playing. All those vibrations through your jaw, your cheek bones to your ears for example cannot be captured by a microphone. And they effect what you hear whilst you play.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
So, to address your initial question directly:


For me it was a matter of recording enough times and playing back immediately so that I remembered the live sound that produced the recorded sound I was after. They don’t have to sound exactly the same. It’s a matter of training your ear to recognize the live sound that produces the desired playback, then reinforcing it through lots of practice. Early on it was a difficult and tedious process that forced me to improve many aspects of my playing in a step by step, sometimes trial and error, approach to find out what worked and what didn’t. I never cared very much about how I sounded to myself until my live sound started producing what I wanted to hear on my recordings. Then I started striving for that tone in my live playing. Still at it.
I think this is a good approach. When you were experimenting, was there anything in particular that you were surprised about? I was recently experimenting with soprano reeds and whilst playing felt that vandoren java greens were the best... But listening back felt they were amongst the least best.
 

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Some really good and useful responses here. And even though i find it unpleasant, i agree that recording oneself is most useful for making progress. "The tape doesn't lie".
 

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I think this is a good approach. When you were experimenting, was there anything in particular that you were surprised about? I was recently experimenting with soprano reeds and whilst playing felt that vandoren java greens were the best... But listening back felt they were amongst the least best.
Like you, I experimented with reed brands, varieties and strengths finally settling on either Java Reds or Rigotti Golds. Java Greens weren't quite right for me either. I do still like the ZZ's.

Anything surprising? Well, sad to say I thought my embouchure was fine. But it wasn't. Loosening my jaw and taking in a bit more mouthpiece was a revelation - for me. It really helped move towards the sound I was looking for. I could hear it immediately on the recordings. It also meant that all the previous fiddling around I'd done had to be redone with my modified embouchure. I began with gear when I should have begun with Me. Big mistake; although not my first and definitely not the last.

Another surprise was that listening to my recordings helped train my ear. Especially when learning a new song. I'd think that I'd played a segment well, but listening revealed any wrong notes, especially in passing tones during runs on songs I was learning by ear without charts.
 

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In terms of recording locations I use all sorts of places, the attic, my front room (a big box that's reflective as hell with high ceilings), outside in my garden, etc. Whilst I'm not a genius engineer, the consistency in recordings is there between each location; I.E. the qualities I don't like in my tone are always present. So I don't think it's a recording issue but an issue that you simply hear what you're playing differently when you're playing. All those vibrations through your jaw, your cheek bones to your ears for example cannot be captured by a microphone. And they effect what you hear whilst you play.
That is pretty much a given. Just think of your voice and the way you think you sound and then record yourself talking / singing and you want to stand in the corner, put a pillow over your head and start crying .. It takes a bit of experimenting and the biggest mistake you can make is to try and sound "good" because you lose the definition and get lost in microadjusments that will turn the entire vocalization (regardless of whether it is voice or horn) into a cacophonia.

I discovered this the hard way after - and this is kind of the funny part - listening to some life recordings where I was performing for an audience and then trying to record in my home studio. Even with some effects like a bit more reverb, the home recordings sounded awful until I realized that the main difference was the determination, that is, go for it and stick with it.

Timing is another issue and is even more critical than intonation. I started recording multi-instrument tracks, in some cases up to 8 guitar tracks plus bass plus keys and drums and one of the guys in the office who is a casual drummer pointed out every "missed beat". I wanted to blame it on the hardware I was using but the timing inconsistencies were, er, inconsistent and that gave me the incentive to go back to some very simple cadences where I only concentrated on the timing and nothing else. That was probably the biggest step forward and one of the reasons why I don't even look at a drink if I play somewhere.

My advice: use a metronome or synth drums and get the timing right, and you'll find that even a "crappy" intonation all of a sudden will sound so much better. Then work on your determination. My cello teacher once told me: "you sound like a virgin, don't be afraid, you won't hurt your instrument". And then enjoy the experience of: Holy crap, I sound awesome!
 

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I continue to discover that my inflection is not nearly as severe as I think it is when I play....recordings tend to indicate that I should inflect more and restrain less....basically I think I’m playing really tasty stuff, but what I hear is vanilla...

Except of course, when the opposite is true...

Keep tracking - keep listening- and eventually you’ll come up with a take that is completely meh...
 

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I usually hate phone recordings, since they are incapable of capturing the nuance of complex musical sound. If you really pay attention, bad recording equipment does this to all instruments and vocals. It feels like we're picked on the most, but that's only because we understand the saxophone sound better than most. I judge my sound by how often I'm getting hired. If the gigs are slipping, then I have things to work on.
 

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I've definitely heard a lot of recordings of myself that have made me very unpleasantly surprised. It just sounds different "behind the bell" than on a recording.

However, don't get too discouraged. Because there are a LOT of factors. The mix, the mic, the room, where the mic is in the room, how close you are to the mic (I met Chris Potter after one of his shows and asked him advice on recording my first record; the first thing he said was to not stand too close to the mic).

But the best thing to do is to record yourself often with lots of different mics in lots of different settings!
 

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If what you hear on the recording is different than what you hear in the room when you are playing, then look to mic placement and EQ and maybe compression (just a little bit) to fix this. I find that having the mic pointed at the LH pinky table, at a downward angle (30 to 45 degrees) and about 24-36 inches away from the horn gives the best results. If your room has a lot of bad reflections (that is, your bedroom or studio) then put some sound absorbent stuff behind and to the sides of the mic - those "mini vocal booth" things that fit on the mic stand are great, but a pillow or two on a music stand or two works just as well.

Use EQ to cut (not boost!) annoying frequencies - these are due to a) the response characteristics of the mic and b) reflections and resonances in your room. (My room rings a bit at E4 for example... and it makes a difference where I stand how bad the ring is.)

Finally, use a little compression to even out the dynamics - don't squish the bejeezus out of it, but a little compression will help with the perception of the instrument. Do the EQ first!
Very good ...!! Thanks
 
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