Neff's Sax Intonation Chart

Saxophonist Steve Neff just sent me his chart for mapping the intonation of each note on the saxophone. I think that this is a great idea, what sax player doesn't need help with their intonation?

Neff's graph plots pitch on the vertical, from 35 cents flat to 35 cents sharp. On the horizontal is each note from low Bb to high F sharp. The idea is to check each note with a tuner and plot a graph for the entire range of your horn. Try not to look at the tuner until your pitch is stabilized, better yet, have a friend take the readings without you looking the tuner at all.

You can also use different color pens to plot more than one mouthpiece or horn on the same graph for the sake of comparison.

After you've completed your intonation graph you'll be able to make better decisions about what you need to change to play in tune. You may find that you need to be more aware of certain notes and lip them down or vent keys to bring them up. You may decide that more drastic measures are needed, like changing the key height regulation or building up the insides of tone holes. Once you see how bad your intonation is you may even decide to trade in your horn for something that plays in tune better, or trade it in for an auto-harp or an ocarina if it looks too hopeless.

Seriously though, you can't spend too much time dialing in your intonation, plotting it out like this can help to clarify what's going on. This information may not be all that pleasant to learn, but it's better to face the hard facts- YOU SUCK! Just kidding, though that's how I felt after I bought my virtual strobe tuner.

Here's an example of a completed chart, the Meyer piece is plotted in blue and the Jody Jazz piece is in red:

Here is a link to download a blank graph: Neff's Sax Intonation Graph

You can download online lessons, on this topic and many others, from Neff's web site for a reasonable fee. Thanks Steve!


Alexa Weber Morales said...

All it takes is going into the recording studio to learn just how poorly one's intonation is.

Two questions:

1. Has there been any pitch analysis of great players of the past along the lines of the graph you present?

2. My problem is usually when I'm playing with a loud band. It can be really disturbing (to me) to view a video of a performance that I thought went pretty well only to hear some pitch problems undoubtedly caused by the poor mix. Do sax (or all) players have this problem? Any solutions? I'm working in salsa and funk bands and sometimes I fear I'll lose both my hearing and my voice. Then where will I be?

Mal-2 said...

I too play in salsa bands. The best answer I have is to WEAR EARPLUGS. Then you'll hear your own pitch. If this still isn't enough, run your mike through a headphone amp as well as sending it to the board (it should be hot enough to do both) and wear headphones on top of the earplugs. You'll probably only want one side of the headphones on though, so you can still hear everyone else.