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· Registered
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

First off, this is a very good article concerning the intonation of the saxophone with the mouthpiece in mind. I got it from Saxmanglen. The link is -

It discusses different experiments to try out and talks about "pitch center." Read it, it's very, very good.

I was hoping some of you could share your experiences with some of the experiments because I had an odd one (when compared to what the article talks of).

When I tune my Low B natural perfectly, turn away, play a high B natural, and then look at the tuner, I'm actually flat. Not a lot, less than 20 cents. But still, I'm flat.

When it comes to bending notes I can bend it down a Major second, and up at a little over 20 Cents. So I'm not too bad there.

It's the flat High B natural that puzzles me.

What are your guys experiences with this stuff and possible explanations for my (and others) results.


· Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2014
23,283 Posts
When I bend up it's after having dropped/loosened the lip so that there's room to go up, otherwise, I don't bend up either. Besides, I wouldn't want to get all bent out of shape. :)

· Distinguished SOTW Member
1,334 Posts
well, pitch is a subject that is complicated by many factors, some dealing with the horn, some dealing with the player, and some dealing with acoustics. To try to 'wrap it all up' in a 2-3 page article is bound to come up short.
After skimming/1st pass, some observations:

* pad heights greatly affect pitch and tone quality. No mention of this, and to assume that a student's horn(most pros know this stuff) is right on is likely to be wrong. So, right away, this could be a show stopper for these tests.

* next up, while I'm not familiar with Yamaha horns(have played a variety of Selmer altos over the years), a low B is built to be quite sharp. Middle B is flat, and high B is sharp. So, dunno if'n I'd wanna start out with this as a reference pitch.

* mouthpieces - whoa, here we go...find/read some of Ralph Morgan's articles on moutpiece pitch in old Sax Journals. High baffle pieces can be quite tricky to tune up high, possibly skewing these tests.

* Not much mention on tone, mainly on tuning. The sax is built such that in any given single mouthpiece position, -most- pitches on the sax will be out of tune, as we're talking compromises on every tone hole position & size, to come up with something workable in the real world. One -must- take this into account.

* volume - little bit said here, but not enough, as volume greatly influences tuning. For example, if in a wind ensemble/orchestra situation with lots of acoustic instruments, I often find it helps to adjust volume to get better in tune with the group. This means I -don't- have to mess up the tone by lipping up/down.

My recommendations(for what they're worth):

* start out with pad heights correct - if you don't know whether they're correct, then they probably aren't - seek outside help, as needed.

* make sure you're developed enough to get an appropriate sound over the range of the horn...

* then, go thru every note(low Bb-high F#), producing the BEST possible TONE you can. Once you can do that, chart each note's tuning characteristics and go from there. What you'll likely notice is that middle D up thru high F# pitches are either close to 'zero' or sharp. Pitches from middle C# down to around low C are likely zero-ish or flat. Lowest pitches are likely sharp.
From here, you have a base to work form...

* Figure out strategies for dealing with each pitch, depending upon the circumstances. For example, on alto, middle D(sharp) will -really- conflict with the identical pitch on clarinet(open G, zero-ish). However, if playing with a flute, high F on a flute is a sharp note, so where you're at could be quite different depending upon the situation.

* I often prefer to play with electronics instruments, as once one gets used to tuning to A=440, playing with wind instruments involves more compromises than electronics. I like to pre-hear the next pitch I'm going to play, and A=440 tuning is the way to go, vs. having to play sharp cuz you're up against a crappy oboe player, who has two pitches - sharp and really sharp.
Try playing some licks with a well tuned piano and you'll get a dose of reality on how far off wind instruments are built - very instructive.

Good luck, first step in all of this is figuring out where you're at, then taking that next small step forward.

Definitely a moving target, no matter how good one becomes...:)

· Distinguished SOTW Member
4,563 Posts
I wouldn't make such hasty conclusions about electronically tuned instruments. There are many who believe that pianos and guitars use HUGE intonation compromises, the greatest in all of the music world, in fact. I love playing in chamber ensembles where the pitch is free to shift a little with all instruments. Playing with a pianist or a guitarist is a lot like being anchored. Some people function better in those situations.

And my pet peeve is electronic pianos. Sometimes the patches just have a cruddy pitch center and there's really nothing a good wind section can to do sound well with that in a pit, for example.
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