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Recorder vs Clarinet & Sax ... a question I couldn't answer

Without going into all the who's, where's why's and wherefore's, I was recently asked a question to which I had no informed response. I'm pretty sure folks here will nail the answer in detail (or with appropriate measures of friendly derision). The question was this ...

"Why can't you have an instrument like a clarinet or a saxophone that has a mouthpiece like a recorder instead of a reed?"

I took that to mean why can't those instruments use a fipple-type mouthpiece rather than a reed?

Instead of waffling, I said I'd try to find out a definitive reason. No amount of general Googling provided more than hints so --- can anyone explain?

Thanks.
 
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kymarto

Content Expert/Moderator
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A clarinet with a fipple is a recorder. There is some acoustical physics at work here. There is a fundamental difference between a flute (end blown, side blown or fipple) and a reed instrument. The flute is considered open at both ends. It has a velocity antinode at both ends (where the air movement varies and the pressure stays constant). A sax, oboe, or clarinet is open only at one end (the bottom). At the top it has a pressure antinode (where the air movement remains constant and the pressure varies). These do different things. A tube closed at one end has only two musically useful shapes (where harmonics are actually in tune with the fundamental--being some sort of integer multiple of that frequency). Those shapes are a cylinder and a cone. A cylinder basically only has odd harmonics in the sound, and the wave shape is square. That is why the clarinet overblows the 12th, it skips the first harmonic, the octave. A square wave sounds rather hollow.

Panpipes are another example of a tube closed at one end, which overblows the 12th, the difference to clarinet being that you blow in the open end, not the closed end. You'll notice that the sound of panpipes also sounds somehow hollow.

The other shape is a cone. This shape creates a sawtooth type wave, with all harmonics present. There is your sax and your oboe.

A tube open at both ends has only one musically useful shape, a cylinder. And in this case the cylinder also produces a sawtooth-type wave, with all harmonics present. So basically, a recorder is a clarinet with a fipple. A fipple on a cone would produce a very weak sound, and would play no recognizable overtones.

Wait a minute, you say--a recorder is an inverse cone, not a cylinder. Yes, that's true, but an inverse cone only makes a small difference, aligning the overtones to compensate for some physical facts of life at the fipple end. The old flute was also an inverse cone. It's really only a cylinder for practical purposes.

So that's the very basic story. By the way, there is a double reed instrument which is cylindrical like the clarinet. It comes from Korea and is called the pir'i. It sounds almost exactly like taking a drinking straw and flattening one end and cutting the edges off to form a double reed.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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So, if I have it right, the reason why you can use a recorder-like mouthpiece on the flute (Shakalute and others) is because that style of mouthpiece isn't fundamentally changing the acoustics of the flute. In the same vein, if you use a recorder-like mouthpiece on a sax, you're fundamentally changing the instrument: it won't overblow an octave, it won't play in tune, etc.

However, you can use a cup mouthpiece on sax. It makes the horn sound like (in the case of this link) a euphonium. This makes a degree of sense, if you accept that the genesis of the sax was A. Sax slapping a reed mouthpiece on an ophicleide.
 

kymarto

Content Expert/Moderator
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Yep, that is basically it. You put a cup or reed mpc on a flute and you have a weird clarinet, that's missing a few throat notes because you overblow an octave and a fifth (if you can overblow it without a register key, which the flute doesn't have). Now one interesting thing is that a lip reed is outward striking and thus blows slightly higher than its resonance frequency, whereas a reed mpc is inward striking and plays slightly below the reed's natural resonance frequency, so the pitch with change even if the length doesn't. Here's an interesting link:

https://youtu.be/VNnpeoJ_MfY
 
Yep - I suspected there would be an expert, detailed response (and responder) for my oddball question. Your initial explanations and the subsequent link for the upload featuring different mouthpieces on a sax really covered everything I has become curious about. Very many thanks. You've given me a lot to think about.

Thanks also to 'Pete' for that link to the 'euphonisax' ... a weirdly fascinating sound.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I'm actually more happy that I got an acoustics concept right, OPB!

There's another player -- I couldn't find him immediately on Google -- that recorded an album playing tenor sax with a trombone mouthpiece. One of the other folks here probably know who I'm talking about.

Two other comments: first, there are a couple folks on YouTube that experiment with putting a sax mouthpiece on other instruments. This one was pretty interesting. The one thing I noticed, very quickly, is how using a sax mouthpiece makes a lot of instruments sound very sax-like. That implies a lot of things, I'm sure, but the take-away I got was that the mouthpiece is going to influence your tone on a sax probably more than the horn, itself. (Of course, the number one thing that'll influence the tone is the player.)

Second, if you didn't check out the video that kymarto linked to, you definitely should. It's really interesting. It also made me remember that there's a late baroque piece out there, somewhere, I heard on NPR in the past year or so. It's performed on instruments from that era. On first listen, you'll think, "What an odd trumpet sound." On the second listen, you'll realize that those are clarinets. Hey, the name means "little horn."
 
Roland Kirk did a killer Miles Davis impression on a trumpet with harmon mute and sax mouthpiece.

[video=youtube;Rz9wtsQqAd0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz9wtsQqAd0[/video]
 
I assumed you could have a fipple on a sax crook as I thought for sure the flute, like the sax blew out at the octave. However even if it's acoustically sound it seems to me projection would be poor. The saxophone is a modern reed instrument that attempted to offer volume more competitive with brass than flutes and clarinets, so making a fipplesax would be rather counter-intuitive.
 
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kymarto

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I assumed you could have a fipple on a sax crook as I thought for sure the flute, like the sax blew out at the octave. However even if it's acoustically sound it seems to me projection would be poor. The saxophone is a modern reed instrument that attempted to offer volume more competitive with brass than flutes and clarinets, so making a fipplesax would be rather counter-intuitive.

Yes, they both overblow the octave, but they are apples and oranges. The flute is open at both ends, it sounds at impedance minima in the tube. The sax is closed at one end, it sounds at impedance maxima in the tube. You cannot overblow the octave on a conical instrument open at both ends. Doubtful you could get a second register at all.
 
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