bright vs. dark [Archive] - Sax on the Web Forum

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09-11-2007, 08:45 PM
what exactly is the difference between what some would call a 'dark' tone and a 'bright' tone?
Ordinarily, I'd think it refers to the pitch--with 'dark' being low and 'bright' being high, but all tenors/altos/sopranos/whatever are tuned the same. If Tenor A is pitched the same as Tenor B, how can Tenor A sound 'brighter?'


09-11-2007, 08:49 PM
I sometimes think of it as turning the treble up or down :) up being bright and down being dark...if that helps any...

09-11-2007, 08:58 PM
imagine a female voice singing the very same note as a male voice.
the female voice would be perceived as what I call "brighter" - usually, that is.

It´s about the whole spectrum of frequencies a tone has, not only its pitch.

09-14-2007, 01:53 AM
dark - Grover
bright - Sanborn

ok .. one plays tenor and the other alto ....but hey it fits

09-14-2007, 01:54 AM
Replace Grover with Paul Desmond? :) There's two altos on two sides of the brightness spectrum...

09-14-2007, 02:06 AM
Replace Grover with Paul Desmond? :) There's two altos on two sides of the brightness spectrum...

I don't know, I always thought of Desmond's tone as a compact, yet bright sound.

Dark for me is the legit tone concept---John Sampen, Donald Sinta.

09-18-2007, 10:15 PM
hehehe, I still don't get the concept--- except with the male/female voices singing the same note.

09-18-2007, 10:24 PM
its all about overtones, when you play your sax your not just hearing one note, hearing a whole spectrum of pitches. Bright sounds have more higher frequencies, and dark sounds have more lower frequencies.

09-19-2007, 02:42 PM
Imagine a man singing a relatively low note. sounds dark.
Now he puts a piece of thin plastic foil against his lips. It "snares" while he sings, giving the tone an additional frequency. The pitch itself does not change, but the sound you hear now has a snaring overtone, which could be a reason for saying the tone is brighter now. Same goes for kazooes.

With the sax, the instrument, mpc, reed and the player (embouchure, size of oral cavity, air support, personal preferences) combine for the specific combination of frequencies a saxophone´s sound has.

Of course, it´s somewhat subjective and highly dependent on the situation of a certain live performance or recording whether a sound is perceived as bright or dark.

But for me, sounds that i feel have a relatively high proportion of higher frequencies or just some high frequencies that are very loud are "bright". The others are "dark".
That´s just my perception, of course i can´t always check with a spectrograph whether I am right when saying that this or that sound is bright or dark.

Often, it´s something in between.
You can´t describe a lemons flavour just by saying it´s sour.
For example, I wouldn´t necessarily say that Cannonball Adderley has a bright sound. I´d say he has a very mature sound with a strong fundament of low frequencies but also some very aggressive overtones which sound bright. In some passages, he sounds rather bright (most of the Kind of Blue tracks), sometimes more dark (Autumn Leaves w/ Miles Davis), and sometimes you can´t decide.
Paul Desmond on the other hand is what I´d definitely put on the dark side, though it´s right that a sound can be even a lot darker.
David Sanborn - I´ve never had an album, but all that I´ve heard from him sounds very bright.
I´d also say that Sonny Rollins sounds - especially nowadays, but also decades ago - brighter than John Coltrane.


09-19-2007, 03:01 PM
Bright and dark are pretty easy to catch in the classical world. Try listening here:

First, listen to Marcel Mule play "Ibert Concertino da Camera mvmt I," (they are only 60 second samples) then listen to John Edward Kelly play the same piece. Mule should have a decidedly brighter tone.