As is common for a lot of instruments from the saxophone family, the upper register (notes played with the octave key pressed) on mine is a bit high (by about 10-15 cents). I practise a lot with a tuner to make sure that everything is within range. I have recently discovered that I can fix the misalignment by simply changing airflow direction: if I blow downwards by about 15 degrees as opposed to blowing straight whenever I play a note requiring the octave key, the 10-15 cents sharpness goes away.

What I am curious about is whether it is a good practice that I should adhere to. I am making no embouchure changes whatsoever, simply changing the airflow's direction. How does it fare in the long run? If I change instruments, if I use a different instrument from the saxophone family?


It is common for saxophones to go sharp in the higher register because of the conical shape of the instrument. Saxophonists do learn to adjust their embouchure to up for this. (Changing the airflow IS changing the embouchure. You must change the position of your soft palate and tongue in order to change air direction.) However, it is important to make sure there is not an inherent problem with your saxophone, so I would first take it to a shop.

Additionally, a different mouthpiece can do wonders. I was having problems with intonation with my saxophone. I went shopping for a new mouthpiece and bingo, the problem was solved and I had to do no more than the minor adjustments for pitch. Some saxophonists find they need a different neck, but whether this is an option for you depends on the brand/model of saxophone you are using.

Also make sure you have a good quality reed and ligature, and that the reed strength is appropriate for you. All of these things contribute to intonation.

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  • Thank you, Heather, as always. I did not know the notion of embouchure encompassed airflow. I thought embouchure was the positioning of the muscles, the jaw and the throat (the physicalities). This is a professional-level instrument that is 1.5 years old and has recently been serviced. It's in great condition. I do not want this to become a shopping question, but for curiosity's sake I will mention the components in a separate comment (running short here). – Pyromonk Sep 1 '19 at 13:45
  • I am playing classical and jazz on an unlacquered Trevor James Signature Custom. The mouthpiece in use is 10MFAN Merlot (8*), the reeds are Rigotti Jazz Cut (3.5), and the ligature is a silver-plated François Louis. I haven't had any trouble with intonation or anything with this setup. The slight deviation in the upper register only came about around 1 year ago. There might've been some change to my embouchure since then as well. – Pyromonk Sep 1 '19 at 13:49
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    @Pyromonk, no one can tell you whether or not your set-up works for you. Each person is unique and will respond differently to different reeds, mouthpiece bores and apertures, etc. One reason there are so many to choose from! You can't decide from looking at a picture or knowing a name. These things must be tried out. If you have any questions, make an appointment with a good shop and try out some things. Do you have a teacher? Someone watching you play may know if there is something that changes in your physical playing to cause notes to go out of tune. – Heather S. Sep 1 '19 at 16:39
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    Also, saxophones are extremely sensitive to being bumped. It could be that a key is no longer covering a hole exactly right. – Heather S. Sep 1 '19 at 16:39
  • Thank you very much, Heather! Yeah, I know. I just mentioned the exact brands and sizes in case you happened to have tried them out. I do have a teacher, and he couldn't find any problems with my playing or the instrument during the last lesson. – Pyromonk Sep 2 '19 at 0:51

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