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Saxophone/Keeping altissimos in tune

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Question
I have recently been able to play altissimos and I spend lots of time practicing with a tuner but I can never quite get in tune, I've tried alternate fingerings but to no avail. Is there anything I can do to improve this? Thank you for your time and consideration.

Answer
Kevin,

Contragz on getting into the stratosphere. Basically it sounds like your are doing it right. As you said you have been recently able to play the altissimo register so your experience is limited you will need time to get it where you want. Keep in mind the saxophone is an imperfect instrument and is one of the most difficult instruments to play in tune because it is out of tune with itself. One of the best quotes I've ever heard about saxophone intonation is that you don't "tune" a saxophone, but you play a saxophone in tune. This takes ear training and lots of it. Long tones with a tuner and subtle adjustments with your embouchure, pressure and support go along way.  I have spoken to 1000's of saxophonist over the years and I've never met one that didn't complain about intonation issues regardless of the make and model they were playing. I love my Mark VI alto, but I have issues with the left hand palm keys and my open C# is a bit flat. You need to know the characteristics of your instrument and adapt to them.

Concerning the intonation with altissimo, how out of tune are you? If you are just a few cents off (+/-) then I wouldn't worry about it. If you are stressing that you cant get the needle to stand up perfectly straight, then you are going to give yourself a huge headache. As you go higher in pitch, there is more distance between the pitches regarding the number of vibrations being produced. So it's just simply easier to be out of tune the higher you go. This is why you usually don't ever see more than one piccolo or Eb clarinet in an ensemble. If you do, they rarely ever play the same part.

However if you are going so sharp or flat you are playing a different note then you may need to make some additional adjustments. Belive it or not the key to the altissimo is the lower register. (low D down to Bb) When you have this range under control and can easily play a pianissimo low Bb then you are ready to tackle the upper range. How did you approach the altissimo before you tried to play it? Did you work on your overtone series starting with low Bb and play every partial until you got to the high F, without moving your fingers, (Yes it's possible0 or did you just find a fingering chart and "Go for it"? If you didn't do the preliminary work with the overtones, you are going to have all types of problems. I would recommend you get Sigurd Rascher's (Top Tones for the Saxophone) if you don't already and go through that. If you have done the overtone work and are still not able to get close to being in tune, then keep practicing. Long tones in the low register really helped me.

But the key is to keep practicing. Also you may find lifting or closing various keys will sometimes help. I recently spent some time adjusting to a new tenor (Martin Committee / The Martin Tenor) and had to find the fingerings that worked on that horn. I found if I played an altissimo C#, I had to take my thumb off the octave key for it to play. If I kept the octave key down, I got a weird warble sound. Sounds crazy but it worked.

One last thing about the altissimo register. If you are spending a good amount of time working on this, keep a good supply of reeds. When playing high, you will cause the reeds to just go bad sooner than playing in the standard register. Sometimes just switching to a new reed will help.

Keep practicing and don't be afraid to experiment. You will get there.

Good luck.
Charles Harris.  

Saxophone

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Charles Harris

Expertise

questions regarding equipment, performance, repairs, lessons, etc. Almost all saxophone related questions.

Experience

I am a professional member of N.A.P.B.I.R.T (National Association of Professional Band Instruments Repair Technicians). I have been repairing saxophones, flutes, clarinets, and brass instruments since 1993. I perform in several professional groups covering genres form classical, jazz, and rock.

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N.A.P.B.I.R.T (National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians

Education/Credentials
St. Petersburg Junior College (AA) University of South Florida.

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