Choosing the best saxophone tuner is no easy task. Most musical instrument retailers sell electronic chromatic tuners, tuning forks and pitch pipes, and within these categories, the features of each item can vary. There also are virtual tuners available for download or use online. To select the best saxophone tuner for your needs, think about your ability to match pitches, why you need the tuner, where you'll be using it and any additional features that you require, such as a metronome or backlit screen.
Pitch pipes and tuning forks require you to play a pitch on the tuner and match it to the pitch of your instrument. Each tuning fork vibrates at a specific frequency, creating a single note. By contrast, many pitch pipes allow you to play several notes by blowing into different mouthpieces. To use these tuners effectively, you must be able to match pitches accurately, which might be difficult if you are a new musician. Unlike pitch pipes and tuning forks, electronic tuners and some virtual tuners don't require you to match pitches by ear; they display the tuning information on a screen.
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Musicians typically use a saxophone tuner for two reasons: to adjust the location of the mouthpiece, which affects the tuning of the instrument, and to ensure that they are playing the correct notes. If you require a tuner only for adjusting the mouthpiece and have the ability to match pitches by ear, tuning forks or pitch pipes work well. Select a tuning fork or pitch pipe based on the type of saxophone you have, because it is much easier to tune an E-flat alto sax with a tuner that emits an E-flat note, for example. If you can't find a tuning fork or pitch pipe for your saxophone's tuning, you can play the matching note by holding down the correct key on your saxophone. To monitor the pitch of your saxophone as you play, you'll need an electronic or virtual chromatic tuner that displays the full range of notes down to the cent so you can check whether you're flat, sharp or right on the note.
Before buying a saxophone tuner, think about where you'll be playing your saxophone and how loud those locations are. It might be very difficult, for example, to adjust your mouthpiece properly using a tuning fork or pitch pipe in a loud setting, because you won't be able to hear the note clearly. For loud settings, an electronic tuner is best.
Some electronic tuners clip onto your instrument or come with stands, so you can use them without holding them. If you play in dark venues, choose an electronic tuner with a backlit screen. Virtual tuners are useful only in locations where you have access to your computer and the computer's microphone can pick up the sound of your instrument clearly.
If you want to save money and need a metronome, an electronic tuner with a built-in metronome is best. These tuners usually don't cost any more than electronic tuners that don't have metronomes. Woodwind instruments are loud, so you should purchase a tuner that has a headphone output. Some virtual tuners also include metronomes. Alternatively, you can use a virtual tuner and a separate virtual metronome at the same time on most computers.