Unlike amateurs, professional sax players can play notes in the very high altissimo sound register by tuning their vocal tract to assist the instrument, according to UNSW research published in the journal Science.
The finding resolves a 25 year-old debate among scientists and players of reed instruments, such as the saxophone and clarinet.
It means that a player's vocal tract is sometimes more important than the instrument itself.
The longevity of the debate is due to the technical difficulty of making non-perturbing, precise, acoustical measurements inside the mouth during playing - that is, in a variable, humid environment with very high sound levels.
Australian scientists at the University of New South Wales demonstrated that professional players achieve this effect by systematically tuning their vocal tracts to resonate at a frequency close to that of the desired note. This tuning adds the tract's resonance to that of the saxophone, which allows the instrument to play above its normal range.
For more on this story, visit the Faculty of Science website.