Dismiss Notice
I hate the colors. What do I do?

At the far bottom of the page, on the left, is a menu or link that says, "Forum Default." Click on that and choose a different Style.

Mouthpiece Pitch - Fact and Fable

Discussion in 'Books, Literature, and Websites' started by jbtsax, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

  2. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I've got a bunch of questions.

    First, what pitch of saxophone was this done on? I'd wonder if there are any differences between, say, a Bb tenor and an Eb alto. Or just Eb v. Bb v. C v. F. vs. G (thanks to Peter Jessen, we do have saxophones in G).

    Second, is the conclusion that a mouthpiece should be able to generate a concert A as it's "default note" for the horn to play in tune?

    Third (or maybe "2a") -- and I'm not quite sure how to approach the question -- it looks like there's a tone generating device attached to a "fake" mouthpiece, which is attached to a saxophone neck. That makes it look like THE PLAYER has to generate an A=880hz for the MOUTHPIECE to play in tune. That doesn't sound right to me, although I can hum a note into a mouthpiece and get some interesting effects.

    All this kinda hearkens back to a discussion that we had here earlier when I asked if the inside of a sax mouthpiece has to be a particular volume.
  3. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Let me try to add some clarification without information overload. Santy's test was supposedly done with an alto sax, since he refers to the A=880 input pitch. The suggested concert mouthpiece pitches for the saxophone family are: soprano - C, alto - A, tenor - G, bari - D.

    This has much more to do with the embouchure pressure on the reed rather than the "pitch" that goes into the saxophone when we play. Playing higher than these pitches on any of the saxophones produces a pinched sound that lacks volume and tends to be sharp in the high register. By playing with a "looser" embouchure on the saxophone to make these pitches and pushing the mouthpiece farther on to the neck makes a lot of things come together acoustically.

    1) The reed is more free to vibrate and produces more energy and high overtones with less effort.

    2) The octaves are better in tune.

    3) Going from one register to the next has a more even tone.

    4) A greater dynamic range is possible.

    Jazz players will exaggerate effects 1 and 4 by playing even lower on the mouthpiece pitch. They must push the mouthpiece even farther onto the neck to play in tune. They then compensate for the lost mouthpiece volume by opening inside the oral cavity even more, which in turn adds even more color and body to the sound.

    2A is hard to answer. In actual performance the mouthpiece becomes a part of the "system" and does not produce a pitch per se. The air column inside the saxophone cooperates with the reed and the length of the air column created by the pads closed at any given point in time "tells" the reed what frequency to vibrate. When the embouchure is set to play A=880 or lower on the mouthpiece alone, the vibrating reed is more able to cooperate effectively with the air column inside the saxophone.

    I hope this isn't too confusing. It has taken me a long time to learn just this much and I am still a novice when it comes to understanding musical acoustics. The fact that the reed's vibrations change for every note played blew me away the first time I heard it.

  4. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    On sax mouthpieces I would avoid the volume question as you can have short and long shank mouthpieces and high and no baffles. Plus the position on the neck can be used to vary the volume equation much more greatly than on clarinet. My Couf J8R I had to add another mpc shank to the end so I could actually use it versus it wobbling and falling off of the neck.

    But the internal design is ever important. have you ever compared an old Otto LInk versus a newer model .. and noticed the thickness of the table; the ramp (or lack of) going into the throat, thickness (and eveness) of rails and tip. A corrected ramp can improve the harmonic frequencies and response can be more easy and direct versus a non-ramped model. There is so much to learn about mpc design rather than just the "refacing" aspect of it.

    Then you add the reed to the equation and see how the tip rail thickness can actually inhibate sound production and the sound wave incidence.

    I love this statement. I've always been a proponent that you can sound different on different mpcs. I sound different on my different sax mpcs which I use for different settings. But if i pinch my throat these variations are minimized. Also the harder reed I use the fuller sound I get (but requires more air support).
  5. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Benade gives two requirements for a conical woodwind to work properly and play in tune with itself (and others).

    1) That the interior volume* of the mouthpiece used must match that of the "missing cone".

    2) That the playing frequency (Frs) of the sax mouthpiece on its neck match the natural resonant frequency produced by the neck with the missing cone added.

    The following links show 2 studies in which these were measured using a classical alto sax mouthpiece. It was found that good agreement exists with Benade's statements and the ideal placement of the mouthpiece on the neck under normal playing conditions.



    It remains to be determined whether jazz mouthpieces of a more radical design will produce similar results.

    * This of course is the measured physical volume of the mouthpiece past the end of the neck plus an additional volume added to compensate for the compliance of the reed and the effects of the player's oral cavity. Benade calls this the "Effective or Equivalent Volume". If anyone is interested the study to determine the "Effective Volume" of the mouthpiece used can be found at this link: http://jbtsaxmusic.homestead.com/mouthpiece_equivalent_volume_study.pdf
  6. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Yes, precisely. But what we are missing is a basic visual representation of what we are talking about.

    The overall shape & volume of a sax mouthpiece is misconceived. The actual volume is actually the amount remaining in the mpc once you shove in the neck and are able to play in tune, not just the entire "length" of the mouthpiece itself.
  7. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    There is a very good visual representation on page 466 of Benade's Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics of the "effective or equivalent volume" of the mouthpiece. It was this information that was used to calculate the "effective volume" of the mouthpiece used in my study.

    You are correct. It is the measured volume inside the mouthpiece PAST THE NECK added to the additional volume created by the compliance of the reed and the player's oral cavity. See the footnote in my post above. Dr. Wolfe at UNSW wrote to me that the strength of a reed on a tenor sax mouthpiece can change the compliance of the reed enough to change the "effective volume" of the mouthpiece as much as 1 ml.

    It is sometimes confusing because the mouthpiece pitch test to find the optimum embouchure pressure uses the entire mouthpiece when it is off the neck. This is entirely different from discussing the "effective volume" of the mouthpiece under actual playing conditions and its relationship to the ideal "missing cone".

  8. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    That also doesn't sound right to me.

    The frequency can be changed by what kind of embochure you're using at any one time, of course, and I'd think that how much of the reed is available to vibrate would make a difference. Strength of the reed might make a small difference and how hard you're blowing would make a difference. However, if you have an "acoustically perfect" saxophone -- one where all the notes are just inherently in tune and you don't have to adjust to get that Eb in tune, or whatever -- I'd think that the vibration would be a constant value.

    The disclaimer, of course, is that I have no knowledge of acoustics, but I'm interested in learning.
  9. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    But if the vibration were a constant value, we wouldn't hear motorboating and warbles and squeaks with different notes. With bass clarinets (where I have most experience with, and where it's very obvious to the player), a low note clearly makes the reed vibrate at a lower frequency than a high one. The shock waves (pardon the unscientific term) travel forth an back, from the reed away down the bore and back to the reed, and the length of the vibrating air column results in different pitches. And it's at this frequency (or a multitude thereof) that a reed vibrates (or feels like doing so).

    Think of a mouthpiece with a reed that is a complete mismatch with the instrument. I played with a soprano sax mouthpiece shoved onto a cornet in lieu of its traditional mouthpiece - the results were, while mighty interesting, not musically pleasing.
  10. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    I find all of this fascinating (as if you couldn't tell). The frequency (pitch) and wavelength are related by this formula:

    Frequency (F) = Speed of Sound (C) / Wavelength (L)
    Wavelength (L) = Speed of Sound (C) / Frequency (F)

    1. The speed of sound is a constant if the temperature and humidity remain the same---around 346 meters per second inside a woodwind.
    2. The higher the frequency the shorter the wavelength and vice versa.
    3. The wavelength is determined basically by the length of the "tube" to its first open tonehole or to the end of the instrument if all the keys are closed.
    4. The wavelength of the soundwave instantly "tells" the reed at what frequency to vibrate.
    5. The player can of course vary this by lipping down or lipping up forcing the reed to respond "out of character" to what the wavelength is telling it.
    6. Lipping a long way not only makes the note very out of tune but the tone quality is negatively affected as well.

    You can make an "oboe" out of a drinking straw by flattening the end and cutting off the corners to try this theory. Play the straw with the full length in tact, and then while blowing with the same embouchure take a pair of scissors and cut off segments of the straw. You will find that the pitch, and therefore the speed the "double reed" is vibrating will get higher and higher as you cut the straw away. In fact this was the world's first disposable woodwind before the Chinese got into the act. :)

  11. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    to (hopefully) make it a bit less confusing about the reed ..

    What exactly is a reed - other than cane, etc.
    What does it do ?
    And how does it do it ?

    to quote Ernest Ferron, who did extensive work with Selmer Paris ...

    1 - The musician is the energy source - ie, compressed air

    2 - The Reed is a regulatory "valve" which controls the output of compressed air

    3 - The reed is a generator for the air column

    4 - the sound is a phenomenom of vibrating air

    5 - the instrument itself is the resonator

    6 - to produce a sound the reed and bore enter into resonance through cooperation between the nodes and antinodes (it gets more complex from here on)

    7 - A reed never produces one type of vibration (speed). It is based on oscillations which varies constantly according to the register and dynamics- and also influenced by the mpc opening and table length.

    and, most importantly

    8 - with the reed and the air column, the vibratory system of the air column will always dominate the reed

    9 - the musician has control over the reed with the embouchure, focused or wide air pressure and other factors.

    think of the reed as a tuning fork .. if that makes any sense and refer to #8

    once one becomes sensitive enough one can actually feel the resistance / air column / pressure variations from top to bottom of an instrument and feel that change in their oral cavity. When an instrument is accidentally designed with a large fluctuation in pressure it then becomes obvious. An example of this is my own Selmer mk VII tenor - and Natai has a fine example of being able to vary this too which also changes the tonal complexity and control of the instrument.
  12. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

  13. I am completely convinced (I'm just not sure what about exactly)!

    For the last year or so (prompted by some Australian guy on youtube), I have been working on mouthpiece-only exercises once or twice a week. I have been working on being able to play a full octave and on playing little melodies along with the piano.

    I feel this is good practice, but I have absolutely no idea why?


    ps. can I get one of those straw oboes with silver key work and a brushed gold body delivered for less than $280?
  14. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    The acoustic scientists refer to what happens in front of the tip of the reed as "upstream" and what happens below the mouthpiece as "downstream". By working to have complete control over the pitch and sound of the reed on the mouthpiece alone you are learning to manipulate the upstream portion of the sound production. This is important in being able to play harmonics and altissimo notes and well as to "color" and "voice" notes in the normal range of the saxophone.

  15. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    this "color and voicing" becomes ever so important if one ever comes across, mostly in a university setting, when one has to learn the different temperaments of the various composers (bach vs Mozart, Handel etc) and musical periods (clasical, baroque, etc) in addition to general playing styles variations
  16. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I find all this extremely interesting.

    First, you mention bass clarinet and later mention oboe. I suck at playing oboe, so I won't mention it further :), but I do play saxophones and clarinets: one thing I noticed when playing a friend's Mark VI straight soprano is that sax players blow more into the mouthpiece rather than across the reed, like a clarinet player. In other words, if I'm playing a soprano sax like a metal clarinet, my tone is icky (as you can hear in this example). If I play it like a saxophone, my tone is OK -- but it's better when I play a curved soprano.

    In other words, different ways of making the reed vibrate.

    However, you mention the bit about using a soprano sax mouthpiece on a cornet (and there is a sax-trumpet mouthpiece, which I mention on another thread). I've also heard of doing the opposite: use a trumpet mouthpiece on a soprano sax. It sounds kinda like ... a soprano sax. I even think there's a recording of someone doing this, somewhere. (Of course, there's also the oft-repeated story that A. Sax got the idea for a saxophone when he stuck a single-reed mouthpiece on an ophicliede, which is a keyed brasswind.)

    You can take a sax mouthpiece and turn it around and blow into the barrel or suck air through the mouthpiece and you will generate a sound. You can do different pitches, too and that would definitely be the reed vibrating at different frequencies. As a matter of fact, I think that this is essentially the way a rackett (Renaissance instrument) works.

    Tying all this up, that's why I don't think that the reed has to vibrate at different frequencies to produce a tone. I think it does only when the player is adjusting to compensate for defects inherent in the instrument's design (i.e. the "motorboating").

    Hey! You've got that mouthpiece robot, JBT! It's got a constant embochure and constant airflow. Does it always play in tune? Can you measure a difference in the frequency the reed vibrates?
  17. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    If we had a voting system, I'd call this one of the best threads evar.

    I've played quite a few cello solos on bari sax, so I've listened to a lot of cello music. There is a considerable difference in the tone of a modern cello vs. one built in the 1600s (say). There is also a significant difference in how a "period instrument" ensemble sounds vs. a modern instrument ensemble, even if you're just talking about them using different tuning standards (e.g. A=440hz).

    The other fun thing, if you look at most music from -- I think -- the 18th century or earlier, you're probably not going to have any dynamic or other performance markings. As a for instance, you can pull out a Bach cello suite and it's just a page full of notes.

  18. Learning how to manipulate the upstream body resonator can not be overemphasized, and is one of the first things required for any "artistic" level of playing. Many intonation and response problems are simply due to the piayer being unaware that changes in the shape of the vocal tract are as neccessary as pressing the right key buttons. Nothing sounds quite as tasteless as a low C on tenor when the player doesn't know how to voice the note.
  19. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    The reed vibrates at one fundamental frequency (including its overtones) for each pitch played on the saxophone. When one plays a low F# on the saxophone the reed vibrates 440 times per second. When one plays high G on the saxophone the reed vibrates at 932 vibrations per second.
    It is getting very close to the testing stage. I had to get a larger compressor to provide sufficient air flow. I just need to get an air flow meter and find a way to quiet the larger compressor. When I set the embouchure pressure on the reed I will blow just the mouthpiece alone and try to come as close to A=880 as possible. Then the mouthpiece will be added to the neck in the position to play Ab concert with the mouthpiece and neck alone. From that point, the reed will vibrate at whatever frequency the length of the tube "tells" it to for any given fingering.

  20. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    speaking of temperaments ...... this chart gives a good visual representation of the various periods and composers and the "evolution" per say.


    and the tuning variations

    So this tells you about how one has to voice in a symphony when the piano is voiced a certain way - or the director wants it that way. I don't think it's very common to be out of the equal temperament .. but i've never really sat down and listened closely enough.

    thus, it becomes important for the player to understand this and be able to match it by voicing. The voicing is an important issue is a clarinet performance major of various periods, at least at UM it was.
Our staff's websites: