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Thread: Severe struggle from baritone to alto

  1. #1

    Default Severe struggle from baritone to alto

    Recently I've been trying to get my alto playing up to scratch but am *really* struggling. I play baritone as my main instrument and concentrate on a Harry Carney-like tone on my Conn 12M with a Woodwind Co B4* large-chambered mouthpiece.

    I have quite a few Conn altos (all 1930s) and one Buescher Aristocrat (1945) with a variety of old mouthpieces including a Tonalin, a couple of Woodwind Cos, a Buffet, a Conn Eagle and Steelay, Meyer 5M and 6M and other odd bits. The Conns and the Woodwind Cos have large chambers and very close tips, and so far I haven't managed to produce a decent sound with them. I have experimented more with the other pieces, and I've got a variety of different chambers shapes and sizes amongst them as you can probably guess from the list

    On the altos, however, I simply can't develop an embouchure that I can play in tune with any of the mouthpieces. I'm looking for a vintage tone (Otto Hardwick, Hodges, etc), not a modern tone. On any of the "sensible" mouthpieces I simply can't get the upper register not to be sharp, whereas trying either the Conns or the Woodwind Co pieces results in an excessive swing in the other direction - upper register flat to the extreme. I can't seem to find a compromise anywhere. I'm finding this very frustrating. I can play my tenor (Conn 208xxx) fairly well in tune: the pitch seems pretty stable and centred.

    I don't know how to tackle this problem. Any advice on how I should develop an alto embouchure from scratch?

  2. #2
    SOTW Administrator SAXISMYAXE's Avatar
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    As a (primarily)) Tenor and Bari player myself, I'm sure you are aware that we use a looser embouchure than what is needed for the higher pitched horns. Other than finding an ideal setup (which is a another can of worms and enough for a second thread or two, or three!), since your embouchure is already well developed from playing the bigger horns, I'd simply concentrate on overtones and long tones practice using a tuner to keep you on track. This should help you refine your embouchure for the Alto.
    I think most of your tuning problems can be attributed to consciously or sub consciously trying to play with a slacker embouchure out of habit. Generally speaking, the alto and higher horns are far more sensitive to subtle changes than their bigger brothers, and will show up squirrelly tuning if one plays them only occasionally. Regarding the higher range being too sharp, are you quite sure you are supporting your embouchure with muscle/breath support/oral cavity alone, or are you biting to compensate? I suspect the latter.

    Do you play Soprano as well? If not, give it a go with that horn, and I'll bet your tuning is even more off the mark than with the alto. Best of luck.
    Last edited by SAXISMYAXE; 02-10-2006 at 11:14 AM.
    Mike S.
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  3. #3

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    I am a performer who came into a Music Performance degree in University as a Bari player primarily and have since had to pick up and play all four horns fluidly. First off all, do you make it a practice to do embouchure work-outs without your horn? These can help as the looser embouchure on the Bari does provide quite the same support that a higher horn like the alto may require. Secondly, I'm not sure if you have heard the phrase 'to blow sharp', but that is a common problem on the saxophone. Especially when moving from a horn as large as the bari you may find yourself putting too much air through... there are two ways to tackle this. First, try a harder reed. I know when juggling Bari and Alto in the Wind Ensemble (having to be able to switch mid song and still keep tuning in check) I have had to step up with my reeds to a 4 as the extra resistance. Secondly, try some exercises designed to control your airflow because it sounds to me like it is something that if you were to actually become more aware of your airflow well playing you very likely would be able to correct atleast a large portion of your problem. I hope this is of some assistance to you....

  4. #4
    SOTW Administrator SAXISMYAXE's Avatar
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    CrazyMusician:
    These can help as the looser embouchure on the Bari does provide quite the same support that a higher horn like the alto may require.
    I believe you meant to say "DOESN'T provide the same support...", which is the same advice I posted. Great minds think alike!
    Mike S.
    SOTW Administrator/Staff

  5. #5

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    Sorry I'm late just noticed the post but had somthing to add, I switched from B flat clarinet, not bass clarinet! to Bari and for the first week it was hard and the first couple switches it was hard but you get used to it I could play 'um back to back after my third try, you just have to get used to the difference.
    '?? Welklang Bari
    '23 Buescher TT Alto
    '2? Conn Stencil Alto

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