Do Saxophones Need Tuning Often? (Explained)

Do Saxophones Need Tuning Often? (Explained)
Written by Corey Morgan

Do saxophones need tuning often? Yes, they do.

It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, the saxophone is a finicky instrument when it comes to playing in tune; in other words, it is essential to tune the saxophone in order to play it correctly. Saxophone players need to be very patient with their instrument.

There are a variety of factors that can influence the precise tuning of each pitch, including your embouchure, the aging of your instrument, and the gap that exists between the keypads and the open holes.

However, the first thing you need to do in order to play an instrument with accurate intonation is to tune the instrument itself. Tuning can be affected by a number different things, and because of this, the more frequently you go through the process of becoming in tune, the simpler it will become.

Does tuning a saxophone matter?

The importance of keeping a saxophone in tune increases while performing alongside other musicians.

However, even if you’re playing solo, a keen ear for tuning will improve your overall sound and musicianship. Tuning is a crucial but frequently neglected aspect of practicing.

When tuning a saxophone, it’s not just about perfecting each note in isolation, but also about how they all fit together in the context of the entire range.

All musicians, including those who play the alto or tenor saxophone, are aware that there are some notes on their instrument that are trickier to play in tune.

Your ability to generate a high-quality tone will greatly benefit from your familiarity with your instrument and your ability to tune it.

How to tune the Saxophone

The instructions that are provided below are applicable to all saxophones, despite our recommendation that beginners begin with the alto saxophone.

  • Warm up the Saxophone:

Warming up is the first thing you need to do before you can even begin to tune your saxophone.

When the saxophone is stored in its case, the materials inside do not experience vibration or touch, and as a result, the instrument becomes cold.

However, the saxophone expands as a result of the player’s body heat and the instrument’s vibrations.

This is not unique to the saxophone, but rather true of all instruments; in general, the larger the instrument, the lower its pitch.

Because the saxophone will get out of tune as it gets warmer and expands if we tune it up and then start playing, we need to warm up beforehand.

If you play some scales or lengthy notes across the entire range of your saxophone, you’ll help each section warm up and sound its best.

  • Get a Tuner

After that, a digital tuner is the best investment you can make if you care about playing in tune.

However, if you don’t have access to a dedicated tuner, you can use your smartphone or tablet and any number of tuning apps that are readily available.

If you’ve never used a tuner before, it’s an electronic gadget that measures how far a note is from being in tune with conventional concert pitch.

It is commonly depicted by a needle on a gauge that can be sharpened or flattened to show the desired degree of sharpness or flatness.

Green means you’re in the ballpark, while red means you’re either too high or too low.

  • Play into the Tuner

Each member of the saxophone family has its own unique characteristics; alto and bari saxes, for example, tend to be more consistent in tone across the instrument, whereas tenor and soprano saxes exhibit much greater tonal variation.

Two excellent tuning notes for alto or baritone are concert A (written F#) and concert B-flat (written G). Sopranos and tenors benefit from being able to sing in concert B-flat (written C) and F. (a written G).

First, play the first note in the instrument’s middle register while turning on the tuner and taking a deep, cleansing breath.

See where the tuner picks up the pitch by playing a second note in the same octave and then pressing the octave key to hear where the higher notes land.

  • Adjust the Mouthpiece

The final stage in tuning the instrument is to make a very tiny adjustment to the mouthpiece until the tuner indicates that you have achieved the desired pitch.

If you are playing below the note (flat), you will need to push the mouthpiece deeper onto the cork so that it is flush with the cork.

If you are playing at a higher pitch (sharper), the mouthpiece needs to be pulled out somewhat.

You can fine-tune the mouthpiece by turning it in and out while gently pulling or pushing on it. This will prevent you from going too far in either direction.

When you are first beginning to play an instrument, it’s possible that you won’t be able to obtain all of the tuning notes and the notes that are an octave higher in perfect tune at the same time.

First, your attention should be focused on obtaining the notes in the instrument’s middle range to sound in tune. After that, you can turn to other techniques to adjust the range of the instrument.

How Mouthpieces Can Affect Tuning

When we pull or push the mouthpiece against the cork, we are actually causing the length of the saxophone to change, either getting longer or getting shorter.

This indicates that the air that you blow into the saxophone must travel a greater or lesser distance, which is the primary factor that determines the pitch of the music that it produces.

However, mouthpieces can also alter the pitch because of how they are manufactured, which includes the materials that are used, the tip facing, the baffle, as well as other aspects, which all affect how well the saxophone will play in tune.

In general, a saxophone mouthpiece that has greater room within is regarded to be more “open,” and it requires more air to maintain the note’s pitch from turning flat.

In what way does your embouchure affect tuning?

Your embouchure refers to the way your lips are curved around the mouthpiece, and it can have a significant impact on the instrument’s tuning.

The saxophone calls for an embouchure that is relaxed overall but tense at the corners, in addition to a forceful, consistent airstream.

If the embouchure is overly tight or too stiff, it will generate a pinched sound as well as a narrow airstream, which will cause the pitch to drop flat.

An embouchure that is excessively open or loose won’t be able to stabilize the reed for a consistent pitch, and it can let loads of air through (a technique that is commonly referred to as “overblowing”), which results in a loud and piercing tone.

When playing an instrument, the embouchure is used to fine-tune each pitch once the instrument has been tuned. You can raise the pitch by tensing your muscles ever-so-slightly, or you can reduce it by expanding your mouth and dropping your jaw while maintaining your embouchure strong.