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Why is Middle D on Saxophone so Stuffy? And What Can You Do About It?

by Neal

Saxophone Fingering Chart - Middle D

Saxophone Fingering Chart - Middle D

Got a question about the middle D on saxophone and stuffiness.  How the note seems to be harder to get out than notes around it and doesn’t quite sound the same, with the same tone & power you want to be able to get.  Thought it was a great question that many saxophone players have likely experienced.

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I also would like to ask you about one thing, I have a SKY Concert Keilwerth alto saxophone. Is it normal to feel greater resistance in blowing while playing D note, especially the one in middle register, with octave key pressed.
Thank you for your help
Regards
Krzysiek
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My response:
About the D and resistance, that’s a good question and cool you noticed it.  The D has a LOT more resistance than most notes.  So it sounds ‘stuffy’ often times.  Especially compared with the note a half step below (middle C#).  It just doesn’t seem to come out as easily as even a whole step above (E) either.

On some saxophones, the adjustment and fine tuning was done so well, that the middle D is not as much of a problem.  But that tends to be the exception rather than the rule in my experiences.

If we think about the physics of what’s happening, The air has to travel much farther in the tube before getting out and because of the way the keys are positioned, the middle D happens to have a lot of resistance.  The air stream has to go through a long section of tube and exits in a somewhat strange position on the bell.  You may have to use more air on that note to compensate.

Also, depending on the adjustment of your saxophone, you might want to get pads above the holes on the bell raised a little bit, that can help may the D less stuffy.  But be very careful with that, you probably want to get it done by a professional, basically don’t try it unless you know what you’re doing.

Curious to get some input about this since I have only played so many saxophones myself.  How does your middle D sound on your saxophone?  Leave a comment!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Arundo Donax August 2, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Middle D does sound stuffy :(

But NOT low D !! while the air stream has to go through the same length !!
Even low B is not stuffy while the air stream has to go through even more length !!!

Stuffyness only comes in middle D when the octave key is pressed… any explanation to that?

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Arundo Donax August 3, 2011 at 6:14 am

Middle D does sound stuffy…
But low D does not, while air goes through the same length… Moreover, low B for which air goes even farther does not sound stuffy…

The problem is somewhere to be found in the octave key… but why only for D???

Reply

Neal August 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Hey Arundo,
Yep, that’s a good point.

The shape of the wave of the saxophone is different between middle D and low D. My guess is that for some reason the shape of the wave for middle D is not optimal for the saxophone compared to other notes. Maybe I’ll ask some other sax players about why they think that is. But really, it’s probably more of an acoustics question.

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Andy Tovar August 30, 2011 at 12:24 am

Hi Neal, Concerning the stuffy ‘D’. The reason has to do with the physics of where that ‘D’ is placed. A great sax teacher out here in Los Angeles, Dr. Bruce Eskovitz, suggested that when you finger the ‘D’ also play the side key ‘D’ this will give you the correct sound. You can also just finger the side key ‘D’ without the octive key and you will also get close to the correct sound though not as good sounding as the other position. The problem has to do with vents that should have been placed there according to Steve Goodman ‘The Sax Gourmet’. The idea is to try to match the sound of the stuffy ‘D’ fingering to the alternate ‘D’ fingering. By hearing the correct sound with some practice that stuffy ‘D’ will start to sound better. The principle being that if you can hear it, you can play it. This really works but it takes some work. The alternative is if your fast enough you can just play the alternate ‘D’ fingering at all times. Thanks enjoy your site, Andy

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Neal August 30, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Hey Andy,
Thanks for your input. Yep, there’s a large section of tube below the D before the next opening in the saxophone, makes it a little awkward.

Fingering the palm D key is an option, but not always practical. That’s an interesting idea about playing it with the side key to hear what it should sound like when it’s not as stuffy. I have used a similar technique to hear notes that should be coming out as overtones. Thanks for sharing

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Erskine Gordon August 30, 2011 at 6:17 am

Yes, the middle D is stuffy on my tenor,but if I’m playing fast passage it’s not so bad….

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Neal August 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm

It’s something to be aware of. May need more air, etc. Minor adjustments of the horn can help too, but just be careful.

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garland ball December 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm

The stuffy D is a venting issue possibly because it is the last key before the curve of the bow (air having to change direction creates resistance) and the closest available vent is the low C, with the next available vent being the bell keys which are quite a distance further on.

All other notes have multiple venting openings directly below them, while the D has only one close (low C).

Some improvement can be gained with increasing the height of the low C key, but not much. If you, in your particular playing style or setting, are not prone to playing below the low D, the stuffy middle D can be fixed by slightly venting the low C# (too much will make it sharp). If you do raise the C#, you will most likely have to create some slack in the respective spatula keys to keep the G# closed.

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Neal January 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hey Garland,
Thanks for you input. That seems to be a pretty good way of explaining why it happens.

I did that adjustment of the low C key, and it made my D less stuffy, it’s not too hard, but you do have to be careful. Thanks for the note about how it can affect the G# key.

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Chris December 23, 2011 at 6:58 pm

When sounding mid D, also press the pinky C# key. i.e. include the C#key in the D fingering. World of difference on my tenor.

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Neal January 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Thanks Chris, that can be a good trick in some situations, ie when you hold out the middle D. Probably wouldn’t do it in fast passages though.

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Chelsea February 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I’ve been playing the Bari sax for 3 years now, and every Bari I’ve ever played with, the low D has always been sharp. My music instructor said that’s normal for most Bari’s but is there any way I can adjust my mouth or air flow, etc to fix that?

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Michael August 28, 2013 at 2:22 pm

The middle D is especially susceptible to a poorly fitting neck. See my article on this at http://www.woodwindshop.com/techinfo/

Hope this is helpful, Michael

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johnny brock November 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I’ve noticed that the mouthpiece can make a difference. Same player, same horn, but different mouthpiece. More notable with the switch to a metal mouthpiece, open tip, strong reed, that sort of thing.

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Neal November 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Thanks Johnny,
Good point. I tried a metal Berg Larsen in my first few years of playing, borrowed it from another kid, but really couldn’t control it at that time.

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