Home Forums Saxophone Tips Am i in tune?

This topic contains 13 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  sxpoet 2 months, 1 week ago.

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    When i was younger, i can always remember when the tone of my dad’s voice changed when he called my name, i could tell he’d found out i had done something wrong, and i was in trouble. lol

    Tones are linked to different emotions in the mind of the listener, and unlock different emotional states in the listener. Fight or Flight.

    When we speak, the way how we express a word differently changes the tone which the listener picks up in your sound.

    How does this fit in with music?

    If you get a tuner out, and play up and down the C major scale, playing tongued legato, expressing each key in the same way, and making sure each note 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 is in tune on the tuner. Your pet dog will be fast asleep on the floor listening to you going up and down the scale hypnotically. Someone walking past you will say ‘Hey, your’e in tune!’

    Now, imagine if you repeated the same process, but instead of expressing all 8 keys the same, you changed the way you expressed the 4th key a lot differently to the way you expressed the other 7 keys? Well the tuner will still say you are in tune. Your pet dog however on hearing the 4th note will wake up (you’ve just unlocked a different emotional state in the listening dog) and he will start snarling, bare his teeth and bite you in the wot sits. Someone walking past will say ‘Doesn’t sound right, you must have gone out of tune Pal’

    So who’s right, the tuner says you played in tune, the listener argues differently, the dog is now in a bad mood, while you check up on your tetanus injections.

    imho – the listener is always right, you’ve just messed with his emotional state.

    So change in expression, results in changing tone, results in changing the listener’s emotional state, results in the listener arguing you have gone out of tune.

    Expression is changed, by altering embouchure control.
    When we unconsciously go up and down the sax keys we could be changing embouchure slightly on certain keys without being aware of it, resulting in expression changes, kicking off the whole chain of events.

    Which comes back to one of my lessons on playing in tune. Get in tune with a Major Scale say C Major, start on the root note, play the next note in the scale exactly in expression like the 1st note – and work your way up the scale, it’s not all about the needle of a tuner being spot on, it’s also about the all the keys in the scale sounding in the same expressed way.

    Probably opened a can of worms.


    Andrew Gibson

    Good points. I think playing in tune, like most basics, it’s good to start simply, like playing each note exactly the same way, as you suggest. It’s all about consistency and that can help, say, in keeping a constant embouchre even when playing a tricky part.
    A counterpoint might be that our music imitates life, in that we speak in a constantly changing pitch, tone and speed; that’s what makes it interesting and holds the listeners attention. Balance, as always, is the “key”.



    It’s open to debate.

    In my case i wasn’t happy with my own playing in tune, so i asked my instructer about how i could improve on playing in tune. From the perspective of playing sheet music, which if you argue is played in a specific scale, then it follows, that you need to practice beforehand playing each note in that scale in a consistent way. So the advice given was to practice a scale starting from the root note going up and playing each note in an identical manner. But that’s not to say, that a sheet of music may call for variation in the way some keys are played.

    for me the hardest key to play is the middle D, it just doesn’t fit naturaly with the sound of the middle c, when i play through a scale, probably to do with the fact its using the octave key, so i have to adjust a lot of embouchure. its the equivalent of playing some notes in a scale on one piano, and then playing the D note on a different piano, both pianos being on tune, but have a different timbre/flavour



    An update on another reason i found out recently why i’m still not playing in tune in songs even though i’ve now nearly been playing for four years.

    currently working on some grade 6 material and came across 2 pages of exercises, which my teacher said a lot of students think these exercises are too easy, so they don’t bother to spend much time on them, hence one of the most common reasons why they play too sharp in the higher registers is because they haven’t spent enough time mastering these exercises.

    The 1st exercise is just playing up the C major scale starting on Low C, but for every note you play in the C major scale, play it’s corresponding 5th note.
    Ex if you play a Low C, then follow it by playing a perfect 5th which is Low G. Then a Low D followed by a Low A etc.. all the way up the C major scale.

    But you must use a TUNER and make sure each note is pitch perfect followed by a pitch perfect 5th note. The hardest bit is playing the 5ths pitch perfectly! These exercises aren’t just about playing each note pitch perfect, its about being able to jump to a higher note (like a 5th) and playing that 5th note pitch perfect. If you can’t do these exercises pitch perfect, then you can’t blame your poor sight reading pitch on everything else like faulty reeds, mouthpiece,ligature, microphone, sax pads etc..

    I’ve no problem getting individual notes played in tune, but i didn’t realise you also have to focus on getting pairs of notes in tune, as the second notes of pairs tends to be put out of pitch by the first note in the pair


    Good post sxpoet. I will do this. It is easy for me to blow A – B -C On the sharp side.



    I’ve spent 15 mins a day on this exercise for the last 2 weeks, and i’m still working on it. What i have noticed, if i just play the notes in the C major scale, they are now a lot better in tune with a tuner across the whole scale than they were a few weeks ago. What i have been told is if i work on the rest of these type of exercises, my tuning pitch would become good enough to play in ensembles. But what i think would happen, to go down that route one would have to warm up every day with tuning exercises ie resetting your in built tuner every day, to keep it in check.

    one thing i have noticed, the more you work on a pitch, the hearing range of the flatness or sharpeness of a specific key does expand. whereas in the early stages you need a tuner to tell you if you are sharp or flat, later on, differences in pitch gradually start to be more noticeable.

    the mind seems to naturally overestimate jumps in pitch, so i guess one has to reign it in and train it to imagine or expect a slightly flatter jump, before playing it.

    The goal is to listen to your key pitch and recognise that sweet spot where the tuner needles says you are pitch perfect, while not looking at the tuner.

    brother cavefish
    brother cavefish

    well, all notes can be pulled “in” up or down, but cork placement is a serious key to tune, i make sure all MPs that i buy is adaptable to my cork, i have semi new EX tenor, with thin cork, i need all my MPs to have an ID of , 16.80 –17mm in the shank, or the MP will slide down too far and sharpen up the sax, it needs to be as far as it can, yet stay snug on the neck to tune down, , it is hard to tune up, and “necks” are the tuning key
    the MP has to work with it. all my MPS are custom made, and/or i search for used ones with a certain ID in shank, , most custom MP makers can take this measurement in consideration, they make them right



    Here’s two interesting points David Liebman makes in his book ‘Developing a personal saxophone sound’.

    Cork position

    Overtone sound

    It seems accurate tuning is controlled by the player and that the overtone produces the best tuned notes.



    The only other thing you have to bear in mind,
    1) my saxophone was serviced a few months back – so i can’t blame tuning issues on my sax
    2) a few years back, a PRO made me completely resight the position of my mouthpiece on the neck which was off by 1/2 inch, resulting in me have to completely adjust my embouchure to get used to to playing with the mouthpiece at the correct spot on the neck. Beginners usually start with the mouthpiece sighted in the middle of the neck – however that creates problems later on if its not the correct place it should be in (check with a PRO). If the mouthpiece isn’t placed correctly, that can result in difficulties when playing in higher registers – which is the problem i had years ago.

    Common sense applies, even though i now have the mouthpiece in the correct place, if there is a change in temperature, i still have to push it in or pull it out just a very tiny amount, which is what you would do wherever you normally put the mouthpiece.

    Fortunately, for me, temperature and humidity isn’t a big problem, when i play in the house.

    So what i’m saying, is i cant blame my sax, or any part of the sax, or recording microphones for playing out of tune,
    it’s just i have worked on exercises related to make me play in tune.

    brother cavefish
    brother cavefish

    this is why one needs to make sure the Mouthpiece fits the cork, not any cork will do



    That’s a fair point about the mouthpiece cork, but that’s got nothing to do with my problems with not playing properly in tune in various parts of a music sheet, as i said before, my saxophone was serviced a few months ago, and when a proper service is done they check that the mouthpiece i use works properly on the cork, they replace worn pads, strip it right down and clean all the crap out of the sax inside etc…

    My tuning issues are related to having skipped certain specific exercises that designed to improve playing the correct pitch, just like there are exercises just for training finger eye coordination while sheet reading.

    In fact i tried out my teachers Selmer with my mouthpiece, his cork was a lot thinner than my yamaha cork, so my mouthpiece was way far too loose on his saxophone neck, but i still managed to play reasonably in tune. So i agree, make sure your mouthpiece sits snug on the cork


    The top of the horn tends to blow to the sharp side. As my embouchure strengthens I find it easier to blow the top side. So my embouchure is more relaxed now which in turn makes the bottom of my horn sound really good. I am truly amazed with Ernie Watts. He plays a metal Florida Otto Link with a .160 opening (#13) with a 2.5 – 3 synthetic reed. He placed a wedge in the mouthpiece to keep the bottom from dropping out to far. He uses the SAME embouchure to play all over the horn.

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