How To Tune A Saxophone
So, you’ve been wondering how to tune a saxophone.
Maybe you are new to the whole saxophone thing, maybe you have just purchased / rented / borrowed / or otherwise obtained a saxophone and you have discovered that it, like all musical instruments, saxophones sound sooooooo much better when they are in tune.
There is both an art and a science to tuning your saxophone.
But, the first and most important thing to remember is – DON’T PANIC !!!!!!!!!!!
Take a big breath and relax 🙂
The science of tuning your saxophone.
How to tune a saxophone – there are a couple of things to look at here. If your notes are not sounding as they should:
First – watch the “Mouthpiece And Reed Placement” video ( Alto Sax Lesson 2 ) inside the Members Area here at HowToPlayTheSax.com – especially the part between 40 secs and 2 mins 25 secs.
How far you push your mouthpiece onto the neck of your saxophone determines the tuning.
Pushing / twisting / turning your mouthpiece further on to your saxophone neck makes your saxophone more Sharp ( slightly higher in sound ).
Pushing / twisting / turning your mouthpiece further out to your saxophone neck makes your saxophone more Flat ( slightly lower in sound ).
The saxophone is essentially a big tube of brass. By making this tube shorter ( pushing the mouthpiece in ) the sound becomes slightly higher. By making this tube longer ( pulling the mouthpiece out ) the sound becomes slightly lower.
Perhaps you need to push your mouthpiece a little further onto your saxophone neck ? Perhaps you need to pull your mouthpiece a little further off your saxophone neck ? You will need to experiment here to find the exact spot that suits both your saxophone and your embouchure ( your face and mouth muscles ).
If your saxophone is brand new, then the cork on the neck is likely to be new and thick and stiff.
A suggestion would therefore be to put a little cork grease onto the cork and gently twist and push your mouthpiece a little further onto the saxophone neck. Over time the cork will soften a little – with help from a tiny bit of cork grease – and this will make things easier for you.
Second – Metronome / tuning / note names – saxophones are in a different key to many other instruments.
Alto saxophones and Bari saxophones are in the key of Eb ( E flat ). Tenor saxophones and Soprano saxophones are in the key of Bb ( B flat).
This means that when you play a note on your alto sax, it sounds like a different note on a different instrument. So, for example:
When you play a B on your alto sax, or E on your tenor sax, it sounds like a D on a piano.
When you play a C on your alto sax, or F on your tenor sax, it sounds like an Eb (E flat) on a piano.
Some metronomes have built in tuners which display the note names THEY THINK that you are playing.
Some of these gadgets or apps have settings that allow you to tell them what instrument you are playing – you can set it to piano, or cello, or trombone, or alto saxophone, or tenor saxophone, etc, etc.
These gadgets and apps usually default to piano or guitar (both known as C or concert instruments).
Therefore, when you play a note on your alto sax, your metronome/tuner gizmo may or may not know that you are actually playing an alto sax….it may be thinking that you are playing a piano and hence the note name it displays will be “incorrect”.
If you are using an electronic tuning device, or a tuning app, can the settings on your metronome/tuner gadget or app be changed to alto saxophone or tenor saxophone ?
So, if you are getting weird note readings from your tuning gadget or app, I suspect that you are likely to be correct, but the tuner is not !!!
The art of how to tune a saxophone.
In combination with the above mouthpiece position, nice firm lips, mouth and cheeks will also affect the tuning.
Over time your “embouchure” (lips/mouth/cheeks and the muscles that hold them all together) will become tighter and stronger – just like if you go to the gym and do heaps of muscle building exercises.
Sure, your face won’t win any body building competitions just by playing the saxophone, but your embouchure will strengthen over time.
A loose embouchure tends to make the saxophone sound a little flat ( lower ).
A tight embouchure tends to make the saxophone sound a little sharp ( higher ).
Perhaps just do a mental check each time you are playing to ensure that your mouth and cheeks are nice and firm, rather than loose and floppy. Make sure your cheeks are nice and tightly held in when you play your sax !!!
Please keep playing your saxophone – 10 mins or more every day is much better than an hour once a week 🙂
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P.S. If you would like simple step by step instructions to help you learn how to play the saxophone:
- all neatly organised in the one convenient location,
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then check out our saxophone lessons membership options. Get started on your saxophone journey today !
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