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Discussion Starter #1
Hello, my dear friends.

Brace yourselves for a really dumb question from an intermediate-level player.

During the 17 years that I have been playing, I have used different mouthpieces and different reeds, and found that each mouthpiece had its own unique "sweet spot" on the neck cork, at which position the horn played in perfect tune within itself, from top to bottom, and with the right embouchure, in tune externally also. If I am not mistaken, the reed slightly affects the intonation, also.

(First of all, is what I'm saying about all of this, correct, so far?)

Consequently, I end up marking the cork on the underside, in a different spot for each mouthpiece.

But after playing soprano for six months, then using the tenor for six months, then going back to the soprano, and then taking up the alto, I end up forgetting which mark was for which mouthpiece on which horn.

Add to that, the frustration of finding that no pen or marker seems to work well for marking the cork, except perhaps one time, after which the cork grease essentially ruins the pen or marker tip, and it can hardly be used again after that.

Not to mention that it is hard to mark the cork when it is already coated lightly with cork grease anyway.

About a year ago I got the idea of putting a dab of correction fluid or nail-polish, right in the jam between the mouthpiece and the cork, and letting it dry, so that the cork as well as the mouthpiece get marked at the same time with the same color, and at the same point. After marking a couple of mouthpieces in this way, I was back to the same issue of wondering which mark was for which mouthpiece.

Yesterday I tried some green nail polish, and thought I would just use different colors on the cork for different mouthpieces.

This is all a bit ridiculous, of course, but I wonder if you professionals have a better long-term solution to avoid all of these problems and mark the cork once and for all, in such a way that there is no confusion even when changing mouthpieces and changing horns.
 

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I stopped marking the cork shortly after joining SOTW and trying so many mouthpieces - no joke.

Before that? I used a fine-tip sharpie.

To be honest, there's no one spot for any particular mouthpiece. It'll change as you play the horn or switch rooms etc. I think a good, supple cork is a better thing to have.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Yes, I have told beginners that simply tuning the instrument one time is not enough to determine where to mark the cork (other than to have a general starting point for future reference) as I have discovered that only after playing for many weeks, and in an environment of standard temperature, after long warm-ups, and after playing at different levels of volume, and after adjusting my embouchure to get a more consistent tone, and listening to myself through the microphone/speaker set-up, and even after listening to a recording of myself playing along with recorded accompaniment, can I then fine-tune that marking point to the point of making it a little bolder and darker, for example.

I hope that is what you meant by "as you play the horn." Otherwise, I may still have lots to learn on that point.

And by playing in different rooms, I cannot imagine what you mean, unless you are also referring to the volume required for larger rooms, and how playing louder can affect the intonation, or air-conditioned environments vs. hot oudoor environments, etc.

So, it is not just me, then, who is continually adjusting and re-adjusting the position (on a good brand), for the sake of better intonation, all depending on these other factors.

But still, a mark is useful for a quick set-up and starting point for the fine tuning, I feel.

Thanks for the tips.
 

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Yes, I have told beginners that simply tuning the instrument one time is not enough to determine where to mark the cork (other than to have a general starting point for future reference) as I have discovered that only after playing for many weeks, and in an environment of standard temperature, after long warm-ups, and after playing at different levels of volume, and after adjusting my embouchure to get a more consistent tone, and listening to myself through the microphone/speaker set-up, and even after listening to a recording of myself playing along with recorded accompaniment, can I then fine-tune that marking point to the point of making it a little bolder and darker, for example.

I hope that is what you meant by "as you play the horn." Otherwise, I may still have lots to learn on that point.

And by playing in different rooms, I cannot imagine what you mean, unless you are also referring to the volume required for larger rooms, and how playing louder can affect the intonation, or air-conditioned environments vs. hot oudoor environments, etc.

So, it is not just me, then, who is continually adjusting and re-adjusting the position (on a good brand), for the sake of better intonation, all depending on these other factors.

But still, a mark is useful for a quick set-up and starting point for the fine tuning, I feel.

Thanks for the tips.

Yes, different rooms in any dwelling will have different temperatures. Also, you are correct. That is what I mean by "as you play the horn."

I've been on gigs where there was a stream of cold air that passed through the stage whenever someone opened the front door. At one point, no one opened the door for some time. But as soon as I pulled out my piece to adjust, the damn gust came. I had tto push in by a half-inch in order to keep up. In general, it's better to only use the marking as a starting point for after you've warmed up. The ear will (hopefully) remember the good spots and you'll use the marking less and less.
 

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Suggestions?

1). Commit to one mouthpiece. If you need to set a time goal, do it. Is it worth six months to you to play only one mouthpiece/horn, if you KNOW that you will be better for it?

2). Set it in its sweet spot and don’t chase intonation by moving the mouthpiece all the time. I guarantee that you’ll always be behind where it needs to be next.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Very nice advice, indeed.

In fact I seem to be headed toward using only one mouthpiece per hirn anyway, so that will become less of an issue eventually.

Every player seems to take a few years in order to find the ideal setup, so I guess that is where I am as an intermediate level player, which is why I have been trying four or five different mouthpieces during the past 10 years, and different facings therein, in conjunction with different reeds, all on the Quest for an ideal setup for my needs.

But thanks to many of you guys and your tips I am getting much closer to the goal.

I don't know if many of you are accustomed to playing in classical settings on some occasions, and as solo Jazz performers on others, but it would seem that you might switch mouthpieces accordingly, in which case, even if you find the perfect setup for one style of music you might still find yourself switching to another set up for another Style, and in that case I suppose you would be placing each mouthpiece on a different position on the cork and might want to Mark it as a point of reference for each?
 

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You don't mark the cork or use any other method to guess where the intonation will be on any particular day. You tune up every time you get ready to play. There are free tuner phone apps and even if you don't have a smart phone, tuners are inexpensive. Always tuning, even for practicing, helps train you to hear correct pitch better. Saxes are so variable with tuning because of temperature variations and other reasons that marking the cork is meaningless. It is true that over time you will find that the mouthpiece is almost always in a very small range of positions and this point will become visible on the cork - that's all the mark you need. This is all assuming the use of one mouthpiece for each size of sax. If you are messing around with multiple mouthpieces you are holding yourself back.
Anyway, once you establish that position on the cork, you can remove all excess cork but about an extra 1/4" from the 'standard' tuning position. This could give you a little more resonance from the neck. Now measure the cork from the tip of the neck and write it down. When you have the cork replaced, tell them how long to make it and no longer. The idiots will make it too long anyway but maybe you'll encounter one who actually listens.
 

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I don't know if many of you are accustomed to playing in classical settings on some occasions, and as solo Jazz performers on others, but it would seem that you might switch mouthpieces accordingly, in which case, even if you find the perfect setup for one style of music you might still find yourself switching to another set up for another Style, and in that case I suppose you would be placing each mouthpiece on a different position on the cork and might want to Mark it as a point of reference for each?
That describes my experience of the last 15 years or so - big band and classical quartet. If you narrow you choices to only two mouthpieces and one horn, you won’t need to mark up the cork ‘cause there will only be two to remember.

Better still, stick to one horn for the year.
 

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Well, first of all if you're playing as a group you should tune up as a group. I used to mark the cork, however now I just look at the shank of the mouthpiece in relation to the end of the neck cork. How far back is it ? one half inch? Maybe three quarters? I have four different mouthpieces that I switch up and they all seem to work in the same position on the neck.
 

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Yes, tuning up is better. But I find having a mark is a helpful starting point. I use a pencil. Seems to stay fine. For multiple mouthpieces, maybe put an initial next to the line ("B" for Brilhart, "L" for Link, etc.). There should be room for 3 or 4 pieces (i.e. one on the bottom, one on each side, one on the top.).
 

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I most often play bass clarinet now, but almost always open a little (for example) during a rehearsal i.e. it changes while you are playing. The starting position also varies depending on weather that day, etc. I might be recording at 440 one day and playing at 442 the next day (not a huge difference but still, maybe also colder the first day). So IME there isn't really a need to mark anything. For large changes, they are large enough to not need any marking. For fine tuning, they are too specific and small to rely on any marking.
 

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How about mark the underside for one mouthpiece, 30 degrees one way around for the next mouthpiece, 30 degrees the other way for the next, 60 degrees for the next two, and so on.
(Marking both mouthpiece and cork.)
 

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Forget about marks and use your ears. Takes maybe 10 seconds. Even if you did rely on a mark, the temperature of the horn at any given moment changes the position. After you're warmed up, you'll have to move it a little anyway.

If you're playing alone, tuning doesn't matter as long as you're not way off. If you're playing with a group, pick someone and tune to them. No need for any apps or marks, just your ears.
 

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Forget about marks and use your ears. Takes maybe 10 seconds. Even if you did rely on a mark, the temperature of the horn at any given moment changes the position. After you're warmed up, you'll have to move it a little anyway.

If you're playing alone, tuning doesn't matter as long as you're not way off. If you're playing with a group, pick someone and tune to them. No need for any apps or marks, just your ears.
+5

Any horn is off in one direction or another from note to note - and in varying magnitudes at that. Once you and your horn warm up, set the mouthpiece to a reference note that works for you and leave it. From there out, it’s best to learn which notes are flat or sharp and learn to compensate for them. This is yet another reason not to have multiple horns and mouthpieces - especially when starting out on the horn. Each setup will be different and you will either be forever out of tune if you cannot hear it, or forever chasing pitch by adjusting your mouthpiece if you rely on a tuner.

So take the middle path. Warm up, tune your tune, then put your tuner away. Listen, listen, listen. It’s an incredibly worthwhile skill to develop.

P.S. Yes, also, to listening to the rest of the players in an ensemble. Being in tune with your tuner and not the rest of the players is like stepping into the crosswalk in front of an oncoming car. You may be right, but it gets messy.
 

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I am certain you are graciously-intentioned, and probably a fabulous player with decades of experience. And you can't listen to yourself nor recall your first year of playing, right? Before "your ears" were a finely-developed apparatus?

To a learner, your statement is exactly the same as saying, "Just play faster--stop putting your fingers in the wrong places at the wrong times."

As a learner with less than two years experience but schooling including formal ear training courses I find--for me, now, not saying you nor anyone else--it is important to have an accurate reference to develop my ear for correct intervals. That both builds confidence and verifies that I am establishing excellent relative pitch. I also find drones very useful, as well as playing along with other players who are on pitch (Jay Metcalf long tones, for example) and playing with backing tracks and then analyzing the notes of my line for pitch with Tunable. I work on this every day. And my correction for the horn is becoming automatic.

I can't imagine there is any good player without a good ear, but the good ear doesn't appear with a wish or a magic wand. Requires training, effective training, over time, with feedback.
You're also not the OP, whom we were addressing, who has played for 17 years. Children and other beginners sometimes have their teachers mark the cork for them to help them at least be close before they develop an ear. But for those who are experienced, marking a cork is a joke.
 

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When you get used to certain mouthpieces, you will know automatically how far to push it in (after a while). Just pay attention when you're in tune.
 
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