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My daughter, who doubles on alto and tenor, has trouble playing her alto in tune. The sax (a Selmer AS-100, I believe) is flat across the board. I don't play alto, so I can't play-test her sax and see what's up. She's using a Vandoren V16 A7 mouthpiece. Aside from a tighter embouchure, is there anything she can do to sharpen pitch across the board? I know that larger chamber mouthpieces can lower pitch. Can smaller chambers raise it? Any suggestions for a mouthpiece that might sharpen things up? And yes, the mouthpiece she's got is pushed all the way in. And she's been playing for 5 years.
 

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Is it really pushed all the way in, using cork grease to lubricate the cork? If so I'd recommend you take her to the music store with her tuner and try different mouthpieces. If that doesn't work have a tech look at the horn.
 

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Hi, Cheese Cake!

I tighter embouchure is pretty much never a good idea. It's very easy to use your embouchure (with strong, fast air support in place) to bring the pitch down, and in doing so it can actually open up the player's sound to make it more flexible and full. As saxophonists get older and more experienced, they very often find themselves pushing their mouthpieces in more and dropping their jaws more since that offers them the flexibility to play in tune more often. The saxophone is naturally a VERY out of tune instrument so a lot of responsibility lies on the player to listen and adjust, and having a flexible embouchure is how to make that happen. If this mouthpiece is all the way in already, the saxophone might need some adjustment (key height can affect intonation). Two other possible things to check out would be reed strength (moving up a half strength might bring pitch up a bit) and air support.

If a saxophonist's air support and tongue position are in good shape -- that is to say, air speed is strong from a lot of support from the stomach muscles, even at low volume levels, and the tongue position is high in the back with a strong "EEE" syllable -- he or she should be able to bend down an entire step from high "B" down to the "A" below it. If that isn't possible, then some work needs to be done on air support and tongue position, and doing that will help intonation and sound production a lot.

If she plays on another student's saxophone and pitch is much better, then sadly it might indeed be the horn. Student Selmers aren't very consistent and don't have a great reputation for good workmanship. I student or intermediate Yamaha will probably be much more reliable!
 

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Hi, Cheese Cake!

I tighter embouchure is pretty much never a good idea. It's very easy to use your embouchure (with strong, fast air support in place) to bring the pitch down, and in doing so it can actually open up the player's sound to make it more flexible and full. As saxophonists get older and more experienced, they very often find themselves pushing their mouthpieces in more and dropping their jaws more since that offers them the flexibility to play in tune more often. The saxophone is naturally a VERY out of tune instrument so a lot of responsibility lies on the player to listen and adjust, and having a flexible embouchure is how to make that happen. If this mouthpiece is all the way in already, the saxophone might need some adjustment (key height can affect intonation). Two other possible things to check out would be reed strength (moving up a half strength might bring pitch up a bit) and air support.

If a saxophonist's air support and tongue position are in good shape -- that is to say, air speed is strong from a lot of support from the stomach muscles, even at low volume levels, and the tongue position is high in the back with a strong "EEE" syllable -- he or she should be able to bend down an entire step from high "B" down to the "A" below it. If that isn't possible, then some work needs to be done on air support and tongue position, and doing that will help intonation and sound production a lot.

If she plays on another student's saxophone and pitch is much better, then sadly it might indeed be the horn. Student Selmers aren't very consistent and don't have a great reputation for good workmanship. I student or intermediate Yamaha will probably be much more reliable!
Even if you find it's the instrument - every word of the above is helpful info...


the internet is an amazing thing. 20 years of "trade secrets", condensed into two paragraphs. Wealth of knowledge in that post.
 

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I play a Selmer USA Model 162 'Omega' alto which later became the AS100. I actually had to cut a quarter inch off the neck and I still have to push the mouthpiece way on. I do not recommend you have this done but am just saying the horns can play flat. Mouthpiece 'all the way on' may be subjective. Try to get the mouthpiece on farther. If you have to force it, you could crack the mouthpiece, so if its tight at the end of the cork, sand it down a little. Always use cork grease and see if you can get it on all the way until the neck hits the throat of the mouthpiece put it on without the reed so you can see the neck as it approaches the throat. That could be too far for intonation but at least you'll know exactly what 'all the way on' means.
 

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A good diagnostic is to check the "input pitch" going into the instrument from both the mouthpiece and the mouthpiece plus the neck. Playing the mouthpiece alone, see if she is close to A=880. Next check the mouthpiece plus the neck and see what pitch that combination gets. The alto sax plays its best when that pitch is an Ab concert. If she can set her air stream and embouchure to dial in both of those pitches, the problem should take care of itself.
 

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I never understood the mouthpiece test. I can play literally ANY note on the mouthpiece alone give or take an octave. Isn't neck length (hence pitch) also somewhat arbitrary? When I play the most comfortable note on just the mouthpiece, I get Db. Mouthpiece and neck I get an A. Assemble horn, and every note is on the money.
 

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I never understood the mouthpiece test. I can play literally ANY note on the mouthpiece alone give or take an octave. Isn't neck length (hence pitch) also somewhat arbitrary? When I play the most comfortable note on just the mouthpiece, I get Db. Mouthpiece and neck I get an A. Assemble horn, and every note is on the money.
Mouthpiece pitch is an often misunderstood topic. It has nothing to do with the length or internal dimensions of the mouthpiece. It has to do with the tightness of the embouchure. On the mouthpiece alone an entire range of pitches are possible depending upon the player's embouchure, voicing, and airstream. Unlike the clarinet which plays at the top of its mouthpiece pitch, the saxophone works best somewhere closer to the center of the range of pitches possible on the mouthpiece not counting the extremes of voicing require to produce an entire octave. :)

The A=880 pitch often cited on alto is the upper note of the range that works on the alto. Playing above that pitch on the mouthpiece produces a tone that is pinched, and is often sharp in the upper register. Playing a mouthpiece pitch below A=880 works for jazz players who want to get a more spread out tone with more volume, but they need to compensate by pushing the mouthpiece farther onto the cork. There is very little variation in the lengths of saxophone necks that I have measured. In my calculations of the length of the "missing cone", that length added to the physical length of the neck on an alto saxophone is very close to the wavelength of the note Ab concert. That is the "natural resonant frequency" of a conical tube that length. In Benade's writing he states that the saxophone, oboe, bassoon work best when the played frequency of that portion of the instrument is equal to its "natural resonant frequency".
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Hey, thanks for all the replies. I'll start with some cork grease and work up from there. FWIW, HeavyWeather77, I don't think of the Selmer AS100 as a student horn. It was bought as a step-up instrument from a professional player, and I did my research before purchasing it. Also, it sounds really nice--kinda dark, actually. Now if we can just get it to play in tune. I may get my daughter to play one of the other altos we have laying about with her usual mouthpiece and a tuner handy, and see what that tells us.
 

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Hey, thanks for all the replies. I'll start with some cork grease and work up from there. FWIW, HeavyWeather77, I don't think of the Selmer AS100 as a student horn. It was bought as a step-up instrument from a professional player, and I did my research before purchasing it. Also, it sounds really nice--kinda dark, actually. Now if we can just get it to play in tune. I may get my daughter to play one of the other altos we have laying about with her usual mouthpiece and a tuner handy, and see what that tells us.
Fair enough! I don't have any first-hand experience with the AS100, and Selmer USA has indeed made some very good instruments in the past (the Omega is pretty legendary), so it's very possible the horn is fine. Just trying to help isolate the issue. :) If it's a mouthpiece/reed/air support/tongue position issue, it'll be a MUCH more affordable fix, that's for sure.
 

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Even if you find it's the instrument - every word of the above is helpful info...


the internet is an amazing thing. 20 years of "trade secrets", condensed into two paragraphs. Wealth of knowledge in that post.
Hah, thank you sir... I guess I should take that endorsement as an opportunity to mention that I teach? :)
 
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