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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I am sitting in community band rehearsal last night and my band director states that the best way to use a tuner is to use it to figure out your perfect embouchure when you are practicing. And then when you come to band practice, you should be able to replicate that exact same embouchure to help you assure everything is in tune.

(Band director’s primary instrument is clarinet. She doubles on the alto sax).

I play the tenor sax. Is it even possible to have one exact embouchure that is replicable from one rehearsal to another. Heck, I can’t even get perfect tuning between notes if I don’t adjust my mouth a bit. (My understanding is that tuning on the tenor is inherently problematic).

In my experience, minor changes in reed positioning, neck strap length, sitting position, and time of day (my energy level), all have an impact on how I sound.....and I need to make adjustments to accommodate. Is the Band Director asking me to chase a pipe dream? Or is it good, solid advice?
 

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So I am sitting in community band rehearsal last night and my band director states that the best way to use a tuner is to use it to figure out your perfect embouchure when you are practicing. And then when you come to band practice, you should be able to replicate that exact same embouchure to help you assure everything is in tune.

(Band director’s primary instrument is clarinet. She doubles on the alto sax).

I play the tenor sax. Is it even possible to have one exact embouchure that is replicable from one rehearsal to another. Heck, I can’t even get perfect tuning between notes if I don’t adjust my mouth a bit. (My understanding is that tuning on the tenor is inherently problematic).

In my experience, minor changes in reed positioning, neck strap length, sitting position, and time of day (my energy level), all have an impact on how I sound.....and I need to make adjustments to accommodate. Is the Band Director asking me to chase a pipe dream? Or is it good, solid advice?
This makes no sense to me at all.

Why use a tuner to figure out your "perfect embouchure?"

I may adjust my embouchure form note to note if appropriate, or it may stay the same 9as as close as makes no difference). I would question her a bit kore about this and whether her clarinet embouchure is relevant to the saxophone.
 

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So I am sitting in community band rehearsal last night and my band director states that the best way to use a tuner is to use it to figure out your perfect embouchure when you are practicing. And then when you come to band practice, you should be able to replicate that exact same embouchure to help you assure everything is in tune.

(Band director’s primary instrument is clarinet. She doubles on the alto sax).

I play the tenor sax. Is it even possible to have one exact embouchure that is replicable from one rehearsal to another. Heck, I can’t even get perfect tuning between notes if I don’t adjust my mouth a bit. (My understanding is that tuning on the tenor is inherently problematic).

In my experience, minor changes in reed positioning, neck strap length, sitting position, and time of day (my energy level), all have an impact on how I sound.....and I need to make adjustments to accommodate. Is the Band Director asking me to chase a pipe dream? Or is it good, solid advice?
Well, you need to practice enough that you have some degree of "repeatability". In other words, given the same temperature, the in-tune point of your MP on the cork should be pretty much the same day to day. This is about "muscle memory" and I doubt that a tuner whether present or absent really makes much difference to the development of this consistency.

On the other hand, there is an idea floating about that the embouchure should be some kind of never changing total constant, which doesn't make the least bit of sense to me. We put the sax into our mouths because the muscles of the embouchure can be flexible and adapt to the needs of the moment. If there were no need for movement and adjustment of the embouchure, we would just apply a big metal clamp and that would be the end of it.

We don't know the context of this remark. It may be that the saxophone section takes ten minutes to get into tune, every week, and twenty minutes later every exposed passage is wickedly out of tune, and the next week it's the same all over again. In other words, the individual members don't have sufficient consistency to stay reasonably in tune from week to week or over the course of half an hour. As far as I know the only cure for this is practice.

Now what I do use the tuner for is when I am getting used to a new instrument, and then I will do interval studies and long tones with the tuner, so that I can see the inherent pitch tendencies and develop the internalized feeling for what I need to do here and there. By and large I am not talking about favoring every single note, which is a rat hole you don't want to go down, but rather understanding whether higher notes are tending sharp or flat, are the octaves wide or narrow, etc.
\
Honestly I think the metronome is more useful in daily practice than the tuner.
 

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Man, I sometimes wish the internet had never happened, but I have learned a tremendous amount here and many other places. What I mean is, sometimes its better to just play and not try to be conscious of every single thing your body is doing to accomplish that. I've been playing for 60 years and have done okay with it. I just got on with a local stage show because I can play the Boots Randolph solo in 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' - and sell it - you dig? Anybody can learn the notes and stand up there and toot it, but playing something people have never heard live before as though you were the original player is something else. I really would rather not be thinking about my embouchure during that solo because at my age I have to really concentrate on what I'm doing. But I already know from this subject coming up many times before that I have a basic embouchure that goes through many changes on any given song - its really totally flexible. Otherwise everything I play would sound the same, and that's never been me. Not saying its the right way by any means. I see great players who stand very still and their embouchure never changes. They can probably play every jazz lick known to man without moving anything but their fingers and without a change of expression. Maybe that's where its at, I don't know, but I've also seen many (especially the 'old masters') who did differently.
 

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Well, I have heard many, many saxophonists (from brand-new to professionals) that have been in tune, but sounded unpleasant/boring. Conversely, I have heard out-of-tune saxes that sound beautiful.
Incidentally, (and in my experience)a beautiful sound will be more in-tune than an ugly sound.

And what is the "perfect embouchure?" What what is "in tune?" What function does the note have?!

Okay, okay, seriously, I think that's a misguided statement. Work on producing a beautiful sound, and intonation will be a by-product. Embouchure shouldn't "change", but it is constantly "adjusting." To me, a change is a drastic change in mouth formation whereas an adjustment is a slight change (yes, I know, same word) to accommodate a note. You wouldn't roll your lip completely out day to day, but you might roll out a little to get a note in tune etc.

Do you have an embouchure that you feel comfortable on currently? Are you having intonation issues?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Do you have an embouchure that you feel comfortable on currently? Are you having intonation issues?
I am pretty happy with my embouchure....though none of it is automatic. I need to pay attention. Long tones with a tuner have been quite helpful.

I take private lessons periodically. My private teacher tells me that my tuning is as good as anyone else’s.....but I have days where everything just sucks....like I am in tune but my tone quality is horrendous....or my tone quality is great, but I feel as if my pitch is all over the place. On those days I feel as if I need to stop....remount my reed. Remount my mouthpiece. Adjust my strap...restart the set up.....those days tend to be streaky....I might go a week being frustrated every day....and then I could go for 2 or 3 weeks feeling great about how I sound.

What I am working on right now for my tone is to stop going sharp when I play faster. It is tough for me to consistently get staccato and marcato notes to come out consistently in tune and with good tone quality. Some days I am right on. I’m pretty sure that when I play faster, my embouchure tends to tighten up, and that that is what is causing the problem. I usually, but not always, improve when I focus on loosening my lower lip, taking more mouthpiece into my mouth and/or opening up my airpassage and pushing more air through.

......though I haven’t figured out how to push more air through and play staccato. It usually ends up marcato when I do that.....

Perhaps this is stuff everyone struggles with.
 

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Well... I'm a clarinetist who plays alto, tenor, and bari sax on a somewhat regular basis. Currently covering the tenor parts in my community band.
In my honest opinion there really is no such thing as a 'perfect embouchure'.
Even on the clarinet my embouchure is fluid.
Sure, you can use a tuner to be 'in tune' at home, but once you get in a band setting all bets are off.
Know your horn, know your gear, use the ears, and hope for the best.
I would have asked her how musicians found that perfect embouchure before the invention of the electronic tuner. Shoot, even the old fashioned pitch pipes can be out of tune.
 

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I am pretty happy with my embouchure....though none of it is automatic. I need to pay attention. Long tones with a tuner have been quite helpful.

I take private lessons periodically. My private teacher tells me that my tuning is as good as anyone else’s.....but I have days where everything just sucks....like I am in tune but my tone quality is horrendous....or my tone quality is great, but I feel as if my pitch is all over the place. On those days I feel as if I need to stop....remount my reed. Remount my mouthpiece. Adjust my strap...restart the set up.....those days tend to be streaky....I might go a week being frustrated every day....and then I could go for 2 or 3 weeks feeling great about how I sound.

What I am working on right now for my tone is to stop going sharp when I play faster. It is tough for me to consistently get staccato and marcato notes to come out consistently in tune and with good tone quality. Some days I am right on. I’m pretty sure that when I play faster, my embouchure tends to tighten up, and that that is what is causing the problem. I usually, but not always, improve when I focus on loosening my lower lip, taking more mouthpiece into my mouth and/or opening up my airpassage and pushing more air through.

......though I haven’t figured out how to push more air through and play staccato. It usually ends up marcato when I do that.....

Perhaps this is stuff everyone struggles with.
Sharp when playing fast sounds like STRESSIN' OVER SPEED. Also, a tuner is *fine* for checking intonation for certain notes, but I never play with those things anywhere near me while I play. I always listen, that works much better. If your private teacher isn't concerned about your embouchure, I wouldn't be either.

The thing that sounds odd (to me) is the fact that this isn't automatic. If you constantly need to focus on your embouchure, that'll make the music suffer. Maybe don't worry about what *exactly* you are doing and just play with good sound. Don't try so hard, try easy.
 

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See if your tuner can play an audio tone. Then, play along with the tone droning on the root or 4th of the scale or piece you are working on. It will soon be clear which notes are out of tune.

"Is it even possible to have one exact embouchure that is replicable from one rehearsal to another? Heck, I can’t even get perfect tuning between notes if I don’t adjust my mouth a bit."

I agree with you. There is no perfect embouchure. You have to adjust… even within a phrase sometimes. I got the same advice years ago from a sax teacher. He said, "don't change your embouchure while playing". Worst advice ever.
 

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Perhaps what the director was trying to communicate is that practicing long tones at home with a tuner helps to develop "consistency" in terms of tone production. That is something I can agree with. The title of this thread can be a bit misleading. Of course one's embouchure is not always the same. Players adjust when going from very soft to very loud to maintain the pitch. Playing in a classical style requires a different concept and embouchure (and set-up) than playing in a jazz style. Throughout the range of the saxophone there are notes that are naturally out of tune because of its acoustic nature. Skilled players listen and "humor" those pitches to bring them in tune with the rest. That requires a slight change in the embouchure.

In my experience there are two common habits that work against consistency in tone production. They are moving the top teeth about on top of the mouthpiece taking more in sometimes and less in other times. "Teeth tracks" are a dead giveaway of this habit. The solution is a thick mouthpiece patch with a groove made in it at the ideal location depending upon the players physiology.* The second is not adjusting the neckstrap the same length everytime you play. In my teaching I have my students sit up with good posture with the head erect and adjust the length so that the tip of the mouthpiece just touches the curve above the chin. Then they tilt the head down slightly so the mouthpiece can enter the mouth. This puts the mouthpiece at the same angle every time the student plays and as a bonus promotes good posture.

* I know the argument that some jazz players move about on the mouthpiece, and that playing altissimo requires some adjustment in this area. What I am referring to are the "fundamentals of tone production" for students who are working on their playing skills.
 

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I have two tuners that I use every day - one is on the left side of my head, and the other on the right. Being "in tune" is an active, not passive, thing - you have to use your awareness and intention to be in tune with your fellow musicians. When practicing, I often do tonal studies or slow scalar/lick studies with a drone or backing track, paying particular attention to having a good blend with the bass.

I think the proper place for electronic tuners is on the shelf, turned off. Use a drone or a good backing track if you want to check your tuning. The only place an electronic tuner is useful is in the shop when considering whether to purchase a new instrument or mouthpiece, or when picking up your horn after repair. And even then, it's usefulness is limited - time spent with drones and playing with others will clue you in to an "in-tune" sound, and you can easily remember that sound and feeling in a music shop.
 

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I have two tuners that I use every day - one is on the left side of my head, and the other on the right. Being "in tune" is an active, not passive, thing - you have to use your awareness and intention to be in tune with your fellow musicians. When practicing, I often do tonal studies or slow scalar/lick studies with a drone or backing track, paying particular attention to having a good blend with the bass.

I think the proper place for electronic tuners is on the shelf, turned off. Use a drone or a good backing track if you want to check your tuning. The only place an electronic tuner is useful is in the shop when considering whether to purchase a new instrument or mouthpiece, or when picking up your horn after repair. And even then, it's usefulness is limited - time spent with drones and playing with others will clue you in to an "in-tune" sound, and you can easily remember that sound and feeling in a music shop.
+1 :)
 

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A guy in class asked "How can you tell if you're in tune?" Another guy said "When it sounds good."

Which is a wise-*** remark, of course. When my kids were in school band they wanted me to buy them electronic tuners. I wouldn't do it right away; I had them play a note on piano and match it using their ears. Because the wise-*** remark holds a lot of truth, insofar as out-of-tune sounds bad. As a band exercise, I presume that your director has the clarinet play their concert Bb or A; woodwinds tune to that; 1st trumpet then tunes to it, on through the brass sections matching pitches. It DOES require that you can hear if you're in tune with the pitch you're matching. You absolutely may need to modify your embouchure, push in/pull out the mouthpiece -- I've had horns where it worked better to pull the neck itself out a little bit, and push the mouthpiece in.

Playing in bands these days, I may have tenor line that's unison with trombones. If they're sharp, I try to lip it up, because if we're all sharp I figure it'll sound better than out-of-tune. They're usually in a row behind me, I can hear them great, they can't hear me as well. If the bones adjust their pitch to mine, I turn around and thank them! Same with alto doubling a french horn line in a concert or symphonic band: if the horns are having pitch problems, they're probably not going to adjust to me. Shoot, legit groups often aren't that happy to have saxes around in the first place, what with Jazz and all. Your director tells the saxes to tone it down fairly often, I presume! I think that's a universal thing.

Reminds me of an old story: I was playing tenor in an Air Force concert band. The conductor (read: band commander) stopped the band and asked me to play softer. 8 bars in, stopped again, asked me to play softer still. 8 more bars, he was a little upset with me at that point. I quietly removed my reed and pretended to play. He once again stopped the band and started to shout at me about my volume and my 'awful jazz tone', out-of-tune, etc. I held up my reed. Oops, band takes a 15 minute break and I'm in the First Sergeant's office. Got a letter of reprimand for that one, Derelict of Duty. Moral: do what the director says!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Your comments make me smile......My band tunes in reverse. She starts with Tuba, moves to Euphoniums, Trombone, Horns, Bassoon, Tenor, Altos, trumpets, clarinets and concludes with flutes.

Fortunately, I am not asked to play softer anymore, but that is because of my equipment selection. I have a wonderful, vintage Gregory Mouthpiece - 95 tip opening, no baffle. that's the Christmas concert and the other more classical concerts..

For the Halloween concert, and when I am not playing with the band, I currently play a D'Addario D8M.....not so quiet....but fun!
 

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Hi, Bjroosevelt! You've gotten no shortage of good advice so far. This being the Internet and all, I am needlessly compelled to chime in with my two cents, even though I think you're probably in fine shape.

As you've probably figured out by now, when it comes to the saxophone, you are correct and your band director is not. The saxophone is a very naturally out-of-tune instrument over the range of the horn -- even very expensive horns are -- and it's up to the individual player to develop a strong and flexible sound along with attentive, receptive ears to play in tune. The upside of that is that experienced saxophonists can be extremely well in tune thanks to that flexibility, more so than pianists or guitarists who might be limited by strings and frets. Just listen to Mark Turner and his perfect tone and intonation on every stage of the tenor's range, it's really beautiful.

Of course, it does indeed take a lot of time to develop that. My favorite method of practicing has been to reference pitches instead of tuners since that ends up being a better practical application, but checking with a tuner occasionally doesn't hurt. Sometimes I put my iTunes on shuffle and play long tones along to whatever comes on, trying to fit into whatever pitch is happening. It's good practice for playing in tune with an actual group.

I assume your teacher has filled you in on the mechanics behind solid tone and intonation, but it's essentially all about air support and high tongue position, not so much embouchure. Your embouchure should be strong enough to make a seal but loose enough to let the reed vibrate very freely, and so that your jaw can adjust pitch as needed.

That Gregory sounds like a cool piece! I'd love to try one, one of these days.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I assume your teacher has filled you in on the mechanics behind solid tone and intonation, but it's essentially all about air support and high tongue position, not so much embouchure.
HeavyWeather77.. Thank you for the comments. Could you help me by elaborating on ‘High Tongue Position’. I haven’t bumped into that term before. Thank you.
 

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Sure! This is common practice for single-reed instruments (although it's NOT good practice for flute, notably). Your tongue position can act as a speed booster for your airstream. Feel what your tongue is doing when you say "HEEEE." That's how your tongue should be when you play: high in the back of your oral cavity, but low and flexible up front for articulation. This acts similarly to pinching off a garden hose: it makes the air you're producing with your abdomen move more quickly. This gives it power and flexibility, allowing you to have a strong tone at any dynamic level and with plenty of pitch flexibility without sacrificing sound.

This is something I focus on a lot when teaching, and I do Skype lessons, if you're ever curious about digging deeper into this stuff. Most solid teachers will be able to help with this, though!
 
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