Monday, December 7, 2015

Quick Tip #2: Saxophone & Sympathetic Piano Resonance

For those of you who are lucky enough to have access to an acoustic piano, here's a fun way to break the monotony of practicing tone, and to get a new outlook on things.

Quite simply, the method here is to hold the sustain pedal on the piano, while playing your horn, so that the piano strings resonate sympathetically with what you play. There is a variety of exercises you can try with this trick.

1. Tone Resonance

Play a medium short note, with a medium volume, and let the piano strings resonate sympathetically when you're done (keep your foot on the pedal). Depending on what note you're playing, the resonance will be softer or louder. As you may have guessed, the goal is of course to even out the instrument's scale.

Even though this method is far from fool-proof, and it surely won't replace a more traditional approach to practicing tone production, it may help focus specifically on one particular aspect which is resonance (or presence). A resonant tone will carry across a room in an authoritative way, even at low volume.

This exercise isn't meant to be incredibly precise, as many factors come into play; some notes are naturally more resonant than others on the saxophone for example, and the piano strings will resonate more if you match how they are tuned. Still, it reflects the tonal tendencies of both the particular horn you're playing, and the person playing it, accurately enough to provide some helpful feedback.

In the sound clip below, you can hear how some notes make the piano strings vibrate less than the some others. This is in part due to the very nature of the saxophone design (more open tone holes means a less full sounding tone for example), and my tuning. But there are ways to counterbalance these acoustical obstacles over time, and this is exactly what we're aiming to improve.

If you don't have access to an acoustic piano, you can still apply the same principals in a very resonant room, preferably with wood floors. The feedback won't be as obvious, but the resonance and vibration of your instrument will be amplified by the room and be more apparent, which you can use as feedback.

Other variants of the same idea are also worth exploring.

2. Tuning

You can work on tuning by playing the note on the piano first, with the sustain pedal engaged, then play it on your saxophone. If you are out of tune, the harmonic clash will create an unstable resonance coming from the piano - guitarists apply a similar concept when tuning their instrument by ear by striking two strings . Listen to a demonstration below. I play an Ab concert, first in tune (or at least I bring it down in tune), then sharp, and finally flat.

3. Chords

You can also take advantage of the resonance of the piano to hear chords played on the saxophone, in a way you would otherwise not be able to.

I play some voicings over a mii7 - V7 - Imaj7 in Eb concert in the first excerpt below, some chords over the range of the horn, and finally some noodling in the final excerpt below.

That's about it for this quick tip. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.



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