With the complexity of a saxophone’s anatomy, it’s only natural that you might run into hiccups with its maintenance and consistency. One of those hiccups is the instrument sounding out of tune, which could happen due to a couple of reasons, each with its own remedial measure.
The 4 main things you should consider when you start noticing that your horn is playing out of tune are as follows: Changes in temperature, issues with the horn’s assembly, mouthpiece and reed placements, and whether there are any dents on the saxophone’s body.
Another reason that’s quite common and usually a culprit if the player is a beginner is the saxophone not getting enough warm-up, which results in distortion in pitch across few or all notes.
Why Is My Saxophone Out of Tune?
So, now that you know the basics, let’s delve into the details of why your saxophone may be out of tune and how you can fix it.
1. Mouthpiece or Reed Placement
One of the first things to check whenever you find problems with the tuning is the placement of either the mouthpiece or the reed.
The distance that the air travels can change according to the placement of the mouthpiece onto the cork, which results in the change in pitch. Moreover, the reed plays a role in controlling the strength needed when blowing air to maintain the consistency of your pitch.
You should keep in mind that taller facings (distance between the tip of the mouthpiece and tip of the reed) allow more airflow to get through to the bore, but will need a stronger mouth grip to hit the right notes. On the other hand, shorter facings give the player more control over the pitch, but might result in less projection and gain.
This is why you should readjust their placement until you find the combination that produces the most in-tune notes in a consistent way. If you’re using a tuner and it indicates a sharp note, try to pull the mouthpiece further from the cork. On the other hand, if you’re getting a flat note, push the mouthpiece in the cork’s direction.
Related: The Top Alto Sax Reeds on The Market
With the 600 parts, give or take, something in the saxophone’s assembly could go awry, and the best remedy is to hand it to a professional to assemble it.
If you decide on doing it on your own, you should make sure to learn the settings of the instrument before disassembly. Otherwise, the horn is prone to semi-tonal shifts or micro-tonal deviations in the pitch.
Saxophones have a distinct shape with many details like pad adjustment, spring tension, and key height, each precisely measured to enable the instrument to deliver just the right tone.
Consequently, any small alterations can have a big effect on how the sound is delivered. Not only that, but the location of the dent itself can influence the level of the out-of-tune sound. In other words, the nearer the dent is to the tone holes or to the neck, the more problematic the tuning issues will be.
The dents that are near the tone holes result in air leaking through the keys and pads as their sealing mechanism doesn’t work as well as before. A tell-tale sign that it’s probably a leak is if your instrument is only playing high notes.
You can check for leaks in the pads or keys using a leak-detection light like the Liyafy, which will point you to where the small dents or leaks are.
Dents near the neck have a huge influence on the projection of the saxophone, that’s why this part is more sensitive than the area around the bell.
Whether the dent is around the neck or bell and whether it caused a leak in the keys or pads, the ultimate solution is to take your horn to a repair shop where a professional can deal with it and give it proper maintenance.
4. Changes in Temperature
The final cause of why your saxophone could be out of tune is vulnerability to changes in temperature.
Saxophones are made of metal, despite what the “woodwind” categorization could lead us to believe. Typically, your sax would be made of copper or brass with a lacquer finish, and that’s why they’re prone to expanding by heat or contracting in the cold -as any elementary chemistry book would tell you.
And although the changes are ever so slight, they do affect the shape of the air column and bore. Higher temperatures and expansion cause the instrument’s pitch to increase and vice versa, and the best way to overcome this issue is to warm up before playing to get your sax adjusted to a certain level of heat. This brings us to…
Related: Why Does My Saxophone Sound Sharp?
The Importance of Warming Up
If you’re looking for steady performance and consistent sound throughout your playing session, you should get in the habit of warming up before playing your saxophone.
Ensure that the saxophone’s parts are all heated equally by hitting both high and low octaves while playing long notes. You can also go for quick scales or wide glissandos.
Going for a test run before playing helps the instrument adjust to the heat produced by the vapor in our breath as well as the friction from our hand movements on the horn, resulting in consistent output down the line.
How to Keep My Saxophone in Tune?
While there are remedial measures to the reasons your sax might be out of tune, there are precautionary measures like keeping your saxophone in a protective case like the simple Protec MX304CT or the Protec PB304CTXL, if you’re looking for more bells and whistles.
Moreover, you can also use tuners. Analog ones, like forks, are a good option but their electronic alternatives are much more accurate and better. These gadgets enable you to identify any problematic notes that aren’t matching the concert pitch.
Good options are the Korg TM60C or its black option the TM60BK, or you can get an all-purpose tuner that works for multiple instruments like the KLIQ MetroPitch.
The latter is an excellent option if you play more than one instrument, including the guitar, bass, ukulele, violin, and of course, the saxophone, as it comes with chromatic tuning modes that you can display the Concert C equivalent of whatever note you’re trying to hit on the sax. You can also use the Eb transposition setting to display the saxophone note currently being played.
To sum up, you should start by protecting your saxophone from dents or leaks by keeping it in a case and by warming it up regularly before playing. And if any problem should arise, make sure to identify the root cause, and if it’s something complicated like assembly or dents, make sure to visit a repair shop to handle your sax professionally.