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Getting back to the alto


Staff member
I played a lot of alto 25-30 years ago, but somehow evolved into more of a tenor and bari player. I joined a new big band a couple months ago playing the 3rd alto chair - it seemed like a good opportunity to work on my chops and focus on blending and playing with good intonation.

Things are going well except for one little problem. Every time I go to play a G#1 at anything louder than mf, it wants to squawk, and / or jump the octave.

Some info:
Horn is a '72 Mark VI - in good shape and recently adjusted by Paul Maslin. I stuck a leak light in there, and didn't find anything.
I'm using a Meyer HR 7 small chamber with Fibracell 2.5.
The horn does have a tendency to blow flat on that note, so I am probably compensating a little with my air velocity, but I have been careful not to tighten up my embouchure.

I'm thinking one of several things are happening here.
1. Leak, mal-adjustment, or weak spring in the octave mechanism.
2. Partial blockage of the lower octave pip. I haven't messed with this because I'm not sure I want to muck up the adjustment.
3. G# key is not opening far enough. Again, a touchy adjustment I don't feel qualified to do.
4. SUAP!

Any thoughts?


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
It is interesting that the note G# does this and not the G which is usually the case. I would first use your leak light in a pitch black room. Look especially in the vicinity of the high F (or F#) pad for a leak. The other palm keys would be suspect as well for that note.

Your front F might be out of adjustment keeping the F palm key from closing firmly. Make sure there is a small amount of "play" before the touchpiece engages the key.

Another possible cause could be an out of adjustment spring balance in the octave mechanism. Make sure the thumb octave lever spring is firm enough to provide a solid closing of the body octave pad when the 3rd finger of the left hand is depressed. Check the condition of the body octave pad by taking the key completely off. It is a pain to do that, but it is hard to see otherwise.

Not a direct cause, but a contributing factor may be that the neck tenon is not completely airtight. If your tech hasn't checked this and expanded the neck to fit snugly, you might consider this as well.

There is always the pilot error too in keeping the back of the tongue too high or playing too high on the pitch of the mouthpiece that can produce the same effect as opening an octave key. Good luck with that. Hope you find a solution.

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