Saxophone Acoustics

A site dedicated to understanding the saxophone and saxophonists

Where to start

Introduction to saxophone acoustics is just that, and a good place to start. There's also a non-technical article on the acoustics of woodwind instruments and a multimedia background to waves and sound. If you strike a term or idea you don't know, try the Basics list on the navigation bar.

We have recently been studying articulation on single reeds. There's also a page on our research on what happens inside the vocal tract of sax players.

Data for each note: Acoustic response, Spectra, Sound files and Fingering

We have measured these for standard fingerings on Bb tenor and soprano saxophones: just click on the image above (written pitch). The acoustic response tells us how easily the saxophone responds to every frequency. For explanations, see What is acoustic response and why is it important? See also What is a sound spectrum?


For normal fingerings (table above) and for low notes, the frequencies of the peaks are in harmonic ratios (f, 2f, 3f ...). For the note with frequency f, its harmonics are supported by these peaks (giving it a bright timbre). In muliphonic fingerings, suppose two peaks have approximately equal magnitudes and frequencies g and f. With suitable embouchure, it is often possible to sound the two notes with frequencies g and f simultaneously. Usually it is easier to play them softly, so the reed-bore interaction is in a more linear part of its range. The table below gives examples.

Multiphonic 1 Multiphonic 2 Multiphonic 3
Multiphonic 4 Multiphonic 5 Multiphonic 6
Multiphonic 7 Multiphonic 8  


The way in which these measurements were made is given in this paper. The impedance measurements Z(f) are available here for soprano: Download file; here for tenor: Download file. The top row lists the fingering names, following the nomenclature used in the graphical displays linked above for notes and multiphonics. Column 1 is always frequency. Columns 2, 3 etc are the different notes or multiphonics. Z is complex and the spreadsheet has four sheets. In the downloading Excel file, sheets 1, 2, 3 and 4 give respectively |Z|, arg(Z), Re(Z) and Im(z). The graphs linked above include the compliance of a typical reed in parallel with the measurement (see the paper). Reed compliance is not included in the download files.

Explanatory notes

This site includes research by Chen Jer Ming, a student completing his PhD in Music Acoustics, with contributions from Stefanie Orlik and Joe Wolfe.

You can hear Sandy Evans play the soprano saxophone.

Research and scholarship possibilities in music acoustics at UNSW

Our research work on saxophones is supported by the Australian Research Council and Yamaha Music Australia. This data base includes some of the PhD research of Jer Ming Chen.


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