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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I hear lots of words being described to describe a saxophone + player + setup's sound quality. Maybe these are all well known to most folks but not to me. Could folks link to real live examples of sounds that they think are Focused, Centered, Bright, Dark, Open, or whatever other sound keywords are bandied about on this forum?

That would really help me understand what you guys are talking about, and maybe I can talk about the same stuff more intelligently with your help.

:?
 

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It's all left up to the player, these things are very subjective.

However, there are certain things I think we'd agree on. I'd say that for an example, John Coltrane has a very bright, edgy, compact sound. It's bright because lots of overtones are present. Edgy because there's a small, noteworthy buzz behind the normal tone. Compact because it does not spread such as classical player's sounds. It's almost focused to a point.

Then there are players like Getz, who have a characterisitcally breathy, dark, and spread sound. There are not many overtones present, thus dark. Breathy because you can almost hear a "ffffff" sort of thing when he plays. Spread because it's not focused to a point, it seems to spread and fill a room, and surround you, rather then come in a stright line to all ears in the room.

Then of course alto players... the closest to Getz tone-wise that I know of would probably be Paul Desmond. And the closest to Coltrane... well there really was no alto player like him. He was totally his own thing...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for the reply on this.

So I guess there are some more terms: Compact, Edgy, Spread out.
I think spread out is the same as open. And Compact is the same thing as focused?

Does everyone agree Getz is spread out and Coltrane is focused? Do folks have other example players whose sound can be described by some of these terms?
 

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And to further complicate things, not all players agree on what sound is bright, and what is dark. Personally, I rather like Sue Terry's description of saxophone sounds. Here is an article Sue wrote for SOTW. She describes three components to a saxophone player's tone: the edge (the main part of the tone), the shadow tone (a very pure sound behind the edge, sounds like a sine wave), and th overtones (high pitched buzzing above the main tone). She describes how focusing on these different areas of the tone can influence a player's sound. For example:
Players like Getz or Desmond focus on the shadow tone.
Players like Coltrane or Charlie Parker focus mostly on the edge of the tone.
Players like David Sanborn focus mostly on the overtones.
Thus we see different kinds of brightness: the "edge-produced" brightness, and the "overtone-produced" brightness. Additionally, I've heard players having few overtones in their playing being described as having a "clean" sound, while players with more overtones have more of a "dirty" sound.
I hope that helps to give another perspective on sound. Do any other players agree with this?
 

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Dr. Love said:
Personally, I rather like Sue Terry's description of saxophone sounds. Here is an article Sue wrote for SOTW. She describes three components to a saxophone player's tone: the edge (the main part of the tone), the shadow tone (a very pure sound behind the edge, sounds like a sine wave), and th overtones (high pitched buzzing above the main tone). She describes how focusing on these different areas of the tone can influence a player's sound.
I have tried many times to hear what Sue Terry calls the "shadow tone", but I didn't hear it, neither in my own sound or while listening to others.

How do you do this?
 

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I found that it helps, at first, to play into a place that reflects as much of your sound as possible. Sue Terry recommends playing into a wall, I went into the bathroom and played into the shower (the water was off, obviously :D ). The first notes I can remember hearing it on were G#1 and D#2. I don't know why these notes worked for me, but they did. So you may hear it on certain notes for a while, and not on others. Also, your awareness of the shadow tone can fade in and out. When I first heard it, I would only hear it after playing that note for 8 or more seconds. So, it can take patience in that regard.

With some players, the timbre of their instrument changes quite a bit as they approach the bottom end of the horn (Beginning on low Eb, D, or C#). Have you ever heard an Alto player playing low Bb and think "That's a low note!", yet when a Bari player plays the same pitch, it doesn't sound nearly as low. Part of this effect is due to the shadow tone dropping below the pitch of the main tone. Trying to seperate these two pitches may help you hear the shadow tone.

One thing that Sue did not mention, but which helps me identify my own shadow tone, is that the shadow tone does not sound like it's comming from the horn. With me, the main part of my tone sounds like it's centered around my horn, but the shadow tone sounds as if it isn't resonating from any point in particular, as if the room itself is resonating. At first, I thought this was some sort of wierd echo, but now I can hear it regardless of where I stand or what pitch I play.

One question: Have you heard the overtones that she also talks about? I heard them before I heard the shadow tone. I don't know quite what else to say... Good Luck!
 

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I found the shadow tone is easily heard if you play so softly that the edge is removed and there's nothing but the "pure" tone. In the upper register for me it sounds flatter than the played pitch, and in the lower register, sharper.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
it's settled then

I think it's pretty much settled then. It's tough to get anyone to agree on what just about any of these terms mean.

This concept of Shadow Tone sounds even more elusive than the terms I was asking about. I think I'll hear a shadow 'bout the same time I see the Emperor's New Clothes :p

To be fair I haven't read the article mentioned above yet so I'll do that.
 

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Anyone care to try a scientific explanation of 'shadow tone'?

Is it like a difference tone, something that happens in your brain?

I can hear them (at least, what I think they are), but they sound like resonances to me - possibly literally in my head - oral cavity, sinuses, etc.
Also I find it easier to hear them in the centre of the room, away from the walls.
 

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My take is that the "shadow" tone is the first overtone (one octave up) in the series. You hear it as a shadow because it is so close to the same pitch. The first overtone that the ear hears AS AN OVERTONE would probably be the fifth above that which is the second overtone in the series.
When exploring the book Top Tones it is facinating how being able to isolate overtones helps you develop a complex tone. This is what seperates the men from the boys (so to speak) in the tone department.
 

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Ptrick said:
My take is that the "shadow" tone is the first overtone (one octave up) in the series. You hear it as a shadow because it is so close to the same pitch. The first overtone that the ear hears AS AN OVERTONE would probably be the fifth above that which is the second overtone in the series.
I, for one, can hear the shadow tone, the main tone, and the first overtone (octave) simultaneously. So, I can confirm that the shadowtone is not an overtone.
 

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This is such a nebulous area tho...
Especially if you are playing into a wall. The room also has resonating freqs that are stronger than others (maybe accounting for you hearing the shadow more at G# and D#). And where you stand in that room (nodes).
My point is that there are so many outside influences on sound that it is nearly impossible to isolate anything except the overtone series. Plus take into account that the ear is subjective and can be tricked into many things...
Good for debate tis true.
 

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Here's my opinion. For me focused, centered , and open apply to any good quality tone. This means that the embouchure is functioning efficiently and the throat isn't constricted and the air flow isn't closed off. So tones as varied as Coletrane or Sonny Rollins are good quality tones that are both focused, centered, and open. I hear the biggest difference in bright to dark and the amount of growl or humm put into some contemp sounds. Bright might be Lenny Picket, Bryan Steel, Tom Hamilton, Alot of the background saxes you hear on rock sounds or soundtracks. But although bright, they still are open, centered and focused. The darker tones I usually hear in more of a jazz setting and there are so many that can be listed. Once again there is a big spread of quality of tones and I'd put Trane in the middle of what's out there today. Just my 2 cents. K
 

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tonal definitions

Generally, in my experience in music and college, musicians use these terms the following ways:

Bright - a more buzzy sound, made from proliferation of higher overtones; often called edgy or harsh, raspier; eg boots randolph, for an extreme

Dark - smoother sound, more "pure" favoring the fundamental of each note; mellower and warmer, clearer; old school jazz players and especially classical players got darker sounds; a good example of dark playing is earlier Joshua Redman ballads - eg "Faith" on his moodswing album.

Other stuff like focused is just a matter of how big the sound seems - you know Joe henderson sounds HUGE but in real life he was barely audible unless miked.

It gets hard with saxophones to say what you mean because the sound is so rich that you can have a very clean, smooth dark souind that still has a bit of edge and ring in it. But essentially bright is edgy and dark is clear.

I hope this helps...
 
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