adding saxophone with keyboard

I need a jump start please. I want to add Jazz saxophone (tenor) to my recording. I am looking for a way to do this and make it sound as if it were the real thing (grin). I just upgraded to Cubase 8.5 and have a bunch of sax instruments in my arsenal. please point me in the right direction!

thanks and blessings


Sax is one of the hardest instruments to mimic using synth/samples, because the instrument has an infinite variety of tonal variations from note to note, and as each note evolves, so the ear hears immediately when the same tone is repeated. My advice is find a good sax player!

Or get Chris Hein Horns, preferably the volume with the solo instruments!
Prepare for a steep learning curve, since the instrument is VERY deep, but it gives fantastic results. Do NOT expect to play something on the keyboard and hear a perfect sax, you’ll deal with huge expression maps and all kinds of other things, but the end result will be worth it!


Saxophone is the one instrument that is closest to human voice and that means it has endless variations of dynamics and color. So it’s next to impossible to imitate that on a keyboard. In the past I managed to lay down a pretty convincing part using a Korg 01/W. The secret is in being able to control pitch bend, modulation and expression at the same time and use aftertouch to trigger the color of the sound. I could only do this with the ‘joystick’ like the 01/W has because it works 4 ways (left/right is pitch bend, up/down is assignable. I have up – Modulation / Down - expression). I have tried it with the more common separate wheels (pitch bend/modulation) but never did get a satisfactory result out of this. Maybe you can achieve something similar with an added expression pedal? If one thing…it took me a lot of practice to be able to feel the flow of the instrument and translate that into controllers that can simulate it. So don’t expect instant results!

So my advice to you is, if you want to be able to play a ‘fairly’ convincing real-time saxophone? Learn to control pitch bend, modulation and expression at the same time in conjunction with aftertouch (coloring).
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but in my case I could only get the feel with the 4-way joystick. But expect to put in some serious time mastering this.

Otherwise you will have to dig into the wondrous world of midi controllers and need to have the extreme patients of editing your ‘line’ note by note.

…Or get your hands on an EWI and learn to play it…
There are some great EWI players out there if you google about and expression wise it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing at the moment, you can generally tell when a piece has been played with one rather than from a keyboard.
Personally i’m not a fan of synth/rompler saxes, they make my teeth hurt :frowning:

That’s the ultimate way of course! But that involves learning to play a Saxophone first and then ultimately an EWI Steiner. Wind instruments demand a totally different technique than what is needed for keyboard players? Learning to play a saxophone will take years (given you have the talent!) and then you will still have to master an EWI. I think for us keyboard players that’s a somewhat out of scope? We just want to press a key and have it sound like any instrument we want? :smiley: That’s our challenge! Not to learn how to play all the instruments we want to reproduce? But how we can reproduce the instruments we want on a keyboard?

another option is to get some of the many sample/loop packs out there and a copy of melodyne… quite surprising what you can do as i’ve found out :wink:

I got a EWI on a whim a couple of years ago, having never played any kind of wind instrument before.

I must say, it wasn’t that difficult to learn - I still can’t pick it up and play any tune, but the song I did had a simple melody intro and after an hour or two of practicing, I was able to get a decent take. Of course, since doing that, it’s gathering dust.

I must admit I was using clarinet and oboe settings, which I imagine are easier to play than sax. Must dig it out to try sax in the future.

The hard part is using the transpose selector on the underside - you need to shift up and down with your thumb, which is a challenge to get right.

Depends on the material your working on. I myself always have the feeling I’m steeling someone else’s work even if it’s royalty free? Also the danger in using these sample/loop packs is that you tend to make your composition work with the sample rather than make it work with your own composition.

But that’s just my 2 cents…Analyse the situation and make up your own mind!

I’m a sax player and most, if not all virtual saxophones always sound fake to me, again for the reasons stated by others. You can get good results if you write for the strength of the samples, but this will obviously dictate what is written. Ideally you would write what you want and then hire someone to play it and add inflections / performance elements around what you have written, or simply hire a guy to improvise / solo (we love to do that!) but this isn’t always feasible.

The best virtual saxophone I’ve heard is from sample modeling but you cannot play it like a keyboard, you must play it like a woodwind instrument, which means lots of midi CC control for breath, pitch bend, modulation, etc. this means on the keyboard you will be playing notes with one hand and riding midi CC faders with the other for your inflections. Takes some practice, but this is the only way to achieve realistic results, as unlike a keyboard, woodwind instruments are constantly changing volume, pitch, inflection / vibrato - especially while a note is being sustained. The notes are always moving, evolving, never static, which is what makes sample modeling preferable to static sample playback.

That being said, you can get good results from straight samples if you are willing to write around them. The best sounding sample libraries I’ve heard are from VSL, though they tend to work best for more “Straight” playing:

Then there are numerous big band saxophone libraries, pop brass libraries, and even this sexy sax man library It really come down to what style of music you are going for and finding the best too for the job, though in all honesty its always much easier & you’ll get better results simply hiring a real player, which is why I still get calls to record. :slight_smile:

If you do not wish to purchase more libraries, a good thing to do is to listen to saxophones playing in a style similar to what you want and really analyze whats going on. You may even consider transcribing from the recording and try to play they same thing on you keyboard and analyze what the recording is doing vs what you are doing and where you are falling short vs the real thing. Trial and error is really an awesome teacher, especially when using reference materials. Again, the only short cut I know of is to hire an actual player. :slight_smile:

BTW, you dont need to learn an EWI to get breath control. You can get one of these and still play your keyboard for note input, but breath control for dynamics like a real wind player: