If your saxophone is playing sharply, there could be a couple of things that need fixing. Most of the time, it has to do with the mouthpiece or reed placement, which is an easy fix.
However, if you’ve exhausted all the combinations of mouthpiece-reed placements, you could start looking into the saxophone itself, the neck, or your own playing.
Now, let’s go through the possible reasons and how to fix each of them.
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Why Is My Saxophone So Sharp: The Quick Double-check
One of the very first things to verify when your saxophone starts sounding sharp is whether the issue is with the reed or mouthpiece.
Try playing with a different reed type or strength as well as playing with a different mouthpiece, and if the issue is fixed -there you have it.
1. Reed: Placement and Type
There are a couple of ways that you can properly place your reed, depending on the sound that you want your sax to produce.
Towards the top
Placing the reed ever so slightly above the tip of the mouthpiece will enable you to get a sound that’s crisper and popping as well as having higher percussive articulation. This also works if you want to raise your pitch up a notch.
Keep in mind, though, that this will require a tighter embouchure or that you blow harder as it requires more effort playing on the reed and faster articulation. This playing technique is a little like moving 0.5 reed strength up.
Towards the Bottom
Another way you can set your reed up is by going a little below the tip of the mouthpiece, where the softest part of your reed is the seal between the mouthpiece and the reed itself.
This setup will spare you the heavy lifting needed to get the precise level of articulation you need. Moreover, the softer the reed you play with, the faster you’ll be able to hit all the notes.
The Best of Both Worlds
Finally, you might want to go with the typical lining of the reed with the top of the mouthpiece. This way, you can get a balance between the edginess of the sound, the articulation, and the bliss point of nimble sound.
However, this won’t be the best route if you want to produce a unique sound and hit certain notes, but by all means, it’s a good place to start and to make sure you get perfect placement to avoid any sharpness or flatness in the sound of your horn.
Related: The Best Alto Saxophone Reeds on The Market
Mouthpieces come with varying facings (curvature) and shorter ones can lead to sharpness in notes with certain reed-mouthpiece setups. With alto saxophones, you can try a mouthpiece with a longer shank as it would engage with the cork in a smoother way, while with tenor ones, you might need to push the mouthpiece further to bring the horn into tune.
Alternatively, you can use plumber tape to increase the diameter of the cork to seal the setup more properly and avoid any sharpness.
There are three little experiments you can try with your mouthpiece to pinpoint tone problems or enhance tone resonance and tune.
Tune your sax to a low B by using a reliable tuner like the Korg TM60C Combo Tuner and make sure that the tuner’s meter points to zero. Then, play the B two octaves higher than the low B, notated on the first ledger line above the staff without looking at the meter.
Then, make sure you’re playing a high B and then take a look at the meter, which should be within 10 cents of zero without any huge alterations. If the high B sounds a lot sharper than the low one, you might want to lower the pitch of the high B in order to get the tuner back to zero.
Note that the pitches aren’t in the concert pitch but rather in the saxophone key.
Place your mouthpiece in its typical position and play a middle B while bending the pitch as far down as you can. You should be able to hit a minor third on the alto (Ab) and a second on the tenor (A). If you find yourself stuck at a pitch-bend that’s only down 20 or 30 cents, then you might need some technique adjustments.
Using the same regular position, play the middle B and this time around, bend the pitch as far upward as you can. Normally, you should be able to hit a 20 or 50-cent increase. So, if you find that you can’t get to 10 or beyond, try readjusting your technique.
Through these 3 experiments, you’ll be able to figure out if your low B was flat to begin with and then work on bringing the pitch up by pushing in the mouthpiece or if your high B was too sharp compared to the low one. Also, you’ll be able to tell if you were simply unable to bend the middle B upward or downward to suit the notes you’re trying to hit.
3. The Saxophone Itself
One of the things you should bear in mind is that the sound of your saxophone is prone to change with the changes in temperature.
Since saxophones are made of metals and alloys, they expand with heat, and this could be the root cause of the issue, especially if you’re playing on older horns as modern ones are less prone to this particular issue.
If you find that some notes are in-tune and some are out, it could help to push the piece all the way in and play sharp notes with a “clarinet embouchure,” which is typically tighter than that of the sax.
But if it’s a whole tone sharper, there could be a problem with the sax itself, in which case, you should take it to a professional to give it a look and give it proper maintenance.
4. Playing Technique
This one is the trickiest of them all, so you might want to save the effort you’ll have to put into it until after you’ve checked with a professional that there’s nothing wrong with the sax, its neck, or your reed and mouthpiece setup.
Playing the saxophone is a journey, and mastering it invariably requires time, effort, and lots of trials and errors, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right from the get-go.
Not only that, but the learning curve with saxophones is practically never-ending, with the possibility to improve your technique all the time. Still, you should be able to get the hang of it after you experiment a little with the placement of the reed and the mouthpiece, the playing technique, and of course, a lot of practice.