In Search of Saxophone Intonation

imageAlways in search of that perfect voice for my various saxophones and clarinets, this post in the Woodwind Forum “True Tone Alto” from John Talbot really spoke to me. The photo to the right is from John too.

Flexibility of pitch is best explained by using an analogy with brass instruments. Trumpet players talk about how different instruments “slot” differently when played through the harmonics.

An instrument that slots well goes quickly and solidly to the desired harmonic when the player approaches the required airstream and lip buzz for that note. In other words, the resonant frequency of the tube length used cooperates with the vibrating source (player’s lips) and locks in to the strongest frequency determined by the “regime of oscillation” of the note and its strongest overtones.

Another way to say it is that when the player gets close to the frequency with the air and the buzz, the trumpet jumps to that note. Instead of saying the trumpet jumps to the note, the player says that it “slots”.

imageThe same thing happens on a saxophone when the player fingers a certain note. The natural resonant frequency of the length of tubing to the first open tone hole tells the reed at which frequency to vibrate. The energy or strength of the “regime of oscillation” is determined by how close to whole number multiples the harmonics are to the fundamental. If the harmonics are not tuned well, the regime of oscillation is weaker and the reeds vibration is not locked in to a given pitch. This gives the player a lot of leeway to more easily “lip” the note up or down to where he wants the pitch.

Most trumpet players like their instruments to “slot” but not to “slot” too well. They say that those instruments deprive them of “flexibility” in their playing.
Saxes that don’t slot very well have the advantage of being very easy to do scoops and falls on and smear between the notes. The disadvantage is that the player has to always be setting and adjusting the embouchure to “dial in” the pitch—especially in the upper register. My experience with the True Tone is that it is too flexible—especially in the upper register. Hopefully a neck with a taper that better matches the horn will help align the harmonics a bit better and take away some of the “kazoo-like” tendencies of the sax.

Check out the saxophone repair “Tip of the Day” at: Altsaxrepair

About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Seattle Solid GOLD Big Band (formerly the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra), and enjoy time with family and friends.
This entry was posted in antique, Forum, Repair, Saxophone, Vintage, Woodwind Forum and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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