Saxophone Intonation


I invite you to forget what you think you know about saxophone intonation characteristics. It is all wrong. Learn and practice the first, most basic, and most important rule of conical wind instruments (practiced readily by oboists and bassoonists) and vintage or modern, experience problem-free intonation and dramatically improved, tonal center, note stability, and response.

Every respected authority on the subject of woodwind acoustics (I mean published acousticians. This would exclude ALL mouthpiece manufacturers, all instrument manufacturers, and all sax techs) stresses the supreme importance of matching the acoustic properties of the mouthpiece, it's chamber volume and resonant frequency to the particular saxophone it is to be used on, for that instrument to function at it's best. Not only is this something that must be done, it must be done meticulously, in every sense of the word.

With as much as has been written on the acoustical reasons for doing so however, (using mostly the oboe as the example instrument) the experts neglected to provide saxophonists with a practical method for accomlishing just that feat. Most, interested in the idea though having less than a complete knowledge of messy nature of applied acoustics, become only confused attempting to take measurements and interpret the results, and that, after addressing only the first 1/2 of the job (the mouthpiece volume). As a result, the entire saxophone world, all manufacturing (as far as one can tell), marketing, servicing, teaching, and performing, takes place with those involved completely oblivious to the real significance of this first rule, i.e.,

....without realizing the true nature of the instrument.

This may seem like a drastic statement, but, I assure you, if you have never adjusted your mouthpiece geometry to provide perfect and effortless D1/D2 and C#2/C#3 octaves (No-Measurement Mouthpiece Optimization), both perfectly placed in the A=440 pitch center, you don't know what your horn is capable of. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have found a mouthpiece that matches your horn perfectly as-is. Most are not. If published intonation charts are any indication of the reality, then most players are using mouthpieces that don't even come close.

The key to realizing your horn's true, superb intonation is in balancing the effects of mouthpiece volume AND mouthpiece resonant frequency, both of which affect the overall pitch and scale of the instrument in varous ways. What most consider to be the normal tuning characteristics of the saxophone are just the result of these mouthpiece aspects being out of balance.

With a correctly matched mouthpiece, one typically finds the scale to be uniformily even and centered, to within +/- 5 cents, throughout the full range of the instrument. Intonation adjustments then become primarily subconscious, freeing the player to concentrate on making music.

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