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  1. #1
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    Default Clarinet to Sax- intonation issues

    To give a bit of musical background of myself, I've played clarinet for about six or so years, then learned tenor sax to be in my 8th grade jazz band. Took a few lessons, then dropped sax freshmen year of high school. Fast forward to now, sophmore year of high school, and my band director put me on alto sax in our school's jazz band and marching band. And my intonation is really suffering. Even though I can hit notes up to the high F (octave higher than ), they're nowhere near being in tune. And I'm lucky if I can reach the low c. And, just to complicate matters, my band director gave me the school's e-flat clarinet, which even though I love the instrument, does not help my sax. I really would like some help, especially because I'll be playing sax and clarinet on Reed 1 of The Wedding Singer. So all advice and tips are welcome.
    Last edited by Joes; 11-25-2012 at 05:24 PM.

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    This is a very common challenge in music, one that if you succeed will help you from now on in your life of music. I know that people don't like to hear this, but please take lessons. There are so many pitfalls like biting too hard on your mouthpiece which provides a little help but will haunt you the rest of your life. The bane of my life on sax is that a trombone teacher taught me to play, which means I use the index finger of each hand for Bb. I've spent the last 8 years trying to fix that one.

    On your own you can do these exercises. But a real teacher will talk you through the overtone series which is what you really want to do.

    1. Long tones. Start soft the low C slowly getting louder to about four beats and then decrescendo to pp. Please do this with a tuner. The start moving up the scale. If you do this 5 to 15 a day for 4 to 5 days a week, for a month, you will start to love the sound of the instrument. AND your ear will improve; you could become the most in tune sax at your school.

    2. Starting on say maybe a G (in the staff) drop your jaw slowly so that you go flat and then come back to the in tune note. Work to get at least a two note range.

    3. 'kay, this is cheating, but this is the exercise that has done so many saxophonist well in my community bands, I am going to run it by you. When you solo, a slight vibrato is preferable to trying to hold the note in tune. To learn to vibrato (something that 90% of community and high school bandees never have learned) drop your jaw once a beat for about 8 beats, so that you make a wow, wow, wow, wow sound. Then drop is every half beat (eighth note). You should be able to learn to vibrato in a pleasant manner in very little time.

    4. Okay, one more trick... play along with recordings of musicians you love. You will find some more jazz and legit vocabulary like grace notes, trills, turn arounds, slides, and more that will make your sound more like a pros.

    These are the kinds of things a good teacher would work on with you. The best teachers play along with you and you pick up their tricks and vocabulary. Good luck.
    Last edited by Gandalfe; 11-25-2012 at 11:40 PM.

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    What you are experiencing is not uncommon when someone has played clarinet for several years and then tried switching to saxophone. Over my teaching career of 32 years I helped scores of students who started on clarinet to successfully switch to saxophone. Here are some of the things I learned:

    When clarinetists switch to the saxophone they have a tendency to:

    1. Not take enough mouthpiece into the mouth

    2. Tilt the mouthpiece down too far

    3. Play too high on the pitch of the mouthpiece (embouchure too tight)

    4. Restrict the air in the throat to create resistance

    All of these whether done consciously or unconsciously are an attempt to make the saxophone feel more like what they are more familiar with. Doing one or more of the above generally results in a pinched sound, a sharp upper register, and a limited dynamic range.

    Ways to remove these tendencies and substitute good playing habits are:

    1. Use a mp patch and for alto draw line approx. 5/8" from the tip for where to place the top teeth. For more info see: Bruce Pearson Teaching the Saxophone Embouchure

    2. While standing erect balance the sax with both thumbs, keeping the head level, and adjust neck strap so the tip of the mp touches the curve above the chin. Then tilt the head down slightly to insert the mouthpiece into the mouth. This is the correct angle of the mouthpiece for the saxophone.

    3. Play the mouthpiece and neck apart from the saxophone. Adjust the embouchure so that the pitch matches Ab Concert for the alto saxophone. This is the correct embouchure tightness for the entire range of the saxophone below altissimo.

    4. The clarinet has lots of resistance when you blow. The saxophone has very little. To keep the "channel" open for the more free blowing sax, say "HAUP" when you take a breath and shape the throat like you are singing "AHH" on the lowest note you can hit. Think of blowing warm air.

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    John, your timing is impeccable. I have a newbie tenor sax player arriving in a half hour for voicing lessons. We will start with your instructions.

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    I should be getting some kind of royalty, don't you think?

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    Default Well...

    ...most of them are already tied up, but I understand that young Phillipa ("Pippa") Middleton, she of the comely behind so featured during the recent royal wedding, is available. Perhaps you can settle...

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    There's one in every crowd. Thanks SOTSDO, you made my day.

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    Thanks for all the tips. Unfortunatley, I haven't been able to practice saxaphone regularly because I had auditions on clarinet for my county band. But I just came back from that, so now I can work on my saxaphone. I'm trying to get a teacher, just have to find one my patents can afford. They're already paying for clarinet lessons, so cost is a big issue.

    And SOTSDO, It took me far too long to get the joke. I was thinking you were suggesting using Pippa as a saxaphone instructor. I was so confused...

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    First rule of sax is that it's spelled saxophone.


    Yes, I'm the Artist Formerly Known as Saxpics.

    Check out my photoblog! Updated on September 7, 2014: Yanagisawa (a work in progress).

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    And SOTSDO, It took me far too long to get the joke. I was thinking you were suggesting using Pippa as a saxaphone instructor. I was so confused...

    Your offering up to me of a softball setup line like that is tempting, but I will take the high ground and refrain from making the obvious joke(s) involving young Pippa and your learning of the saxophone. You'll just have resolve your confusion through your playing of the Eb soprano clarinet.

    Other than the occasional part in a musical, my only extended performance on the little Eb horn was at the Steinberg Skating Rink inSaint Louis during the 1960s. I was the guy in the smelly polar bear costume, playing Christmas carols while skating around the rink in temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Getting paid rink attendant pay did not make up for the damage to my lips, but my pain was nothing compared to that of the brass players

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    So, good news, I have a teacher.

    Bad news, there's an altissimo a flat. Is this common in musicals?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joes View Post
    So, good news, I have a teacher.

    Bad news, there's an altissimo a flat. Is this common in musicals?
    It's not uncommon for the highest clarinet parts in musicals to go up there.

    If it's a saxophone part, it's usually a soloistic line in a rock 'n' roll/funk/pop setting. Not common in section work, and generally not something that's meant to be play with any degree of subtlety.

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