Note: when I mention the name of a note in this question, I'm referring to the saxophone pitch, not the concert pitch.

I play the alto saxophone, and lately I've been practicing mostly with a tuner. My instructor recommended that I start tuning to C# rather than G. I've taken the advice and started tuning to C#.

Once thing I've noticed now that I'm playing with a tuner is that, when I tune to G, playing C# sounds really flat. As in, halfway to C♮ kinda flat. It happens the other way, too: tuning to C# makes every other note sound extremely sharp.

When it's tuned to G, every note sounds perfectly normal and in-tune, except for C#. I don't know a whole lot about how instruments actually work, but I would guess it has something to do with C# being played completely open.

Is there a reason behind this? How can it be fixed?

  • Are you using all open C# or low C#?
    – Peter
    Mar 28, 2019 at 23:11
  • @Peter open C# (the note on the third space in treble clef, just to avoid confusion). Mar 28, 2019 at 23:12
  • 1
    I'm a clarinetist, not a saxophonist. But, when we play our open note (G-Bb), we're always told to hold down the keys in the right hand. I find that helps keep the open note better in tune. Is there an equivalent on sax?
    – trlkly
    Mar 29, 2019 at 9:41
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    Most likely it means you have not yet learned to adjust your breath control/embouchure to keep each note in tune. Saxophones are a pain that way. Mar 29, 2019 at 13:01
  • @trlkly On saxophone, the open note is C# (concert E on alto). You can hold down some additional keys, but this will usually lower the pitch, which is bad because this note is already flat. I sometimes hold down the third finger open the left hand, but it is more for tone than pitch.
    – Peter
    Mar 29, 2019 at 14:13

1 Answer 1


The all-open C# is a tricky note on all saxophones. It tends to be very flat compared to the other notes, but it is also very sensitive to changes in embouchure. Personally, I don't think it is a great note to tune to on saxophone. When possible, I produce this note by use the low-C# fingering with the octave key pressed down. The tone of this fingering can be quite different from the nearby notes, so I don't usually use it for scalar passages.

G above the staff, on the other hand, tends to sound be fairly sharp compared to the other notes on the horn. When I play that note, I am always conscious to drop my jaw as much as possible to bring it in tune. Unfortunately, I don't know of any alternate fingerings for that note. Personally, I don't think it is a great note to tune to on saxophone.

Concert bands tend to tune to concert Bb - G on alto and C on tenor. I find that this works alright on my tenor, but as I said above, I don't think G is a very good note to tune to. Nonetheless, if you play in any kind of concert band, you will probably need to do it anyway.

I usually tune my saxophones to concert A - F# on alto and B on tenor. This note is the standard for orchestras around the world, so I figure it's good enough for me, and it puts most of the notes on all horn in tune for me.

Note: the relative pitches of saxophones will vary depending on the make and model, and even varies from horn to horn, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

  • 2
    I feel like I should add that, despite all I have said, you should do what your teacher says. There are many different methods for playing the saxophone, and your teacher probably has a reason for telling you that. The point of my answer is that we tune to different notes in different situations. No matter what, some notes will require embouchure adjustments to be in tune.
    – Peter
    Mar 29, 2019 at 2:14
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    I've never been in favour of doing something 'just because teacher said'. My students get an explanation - at an appropriate level - of anything they are expected to do.
    – Tim
    Mar 29, 2019 at 10:26
  • @Tim - The OP only has to listen to the teacher as long as there is a student/teacher relationship. If the OP is dissatisfied this their teacher, then they should find a different teacher, but it's not helping anyone for a student to just ignore their teacher's advice.
    – Peter
    Mar 29, 2019 at 11:52
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    I agree it doesn't help anyone to ignore - that was never even hinted at. However, merely - and I re-quote - just because teacher said' isn't really a good enough reason. My students are expected to query 'why?' and sometimes it's difficult to give reasons that are understandable, but that's when I really work hard to earn my money (and respect!). And occasionally, I've taken on students from other teachers who obviously didn't think and work like that, but those students accepted things that were just plain wrong, unknowingly. Not helping anyone.
    – Tim
    Mar 29, 2019 at 12:13

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