Playing in the Altissimo Register
Educational Articles by Jody Espina, Founder & President JodyJazz Inc.
I very often receive the same question from players which goes something like this: “I really want to play in the altissimo register but I’m having a hard time hitting those notes. Is it me, the mouthpiece or the reed or all of the above. Any suggestions?”
My advice about playing altissimo is as follows:
The most important thing in this equation is you and practice. A mouthpiece could help some and the harder the reed you play the easier altissimo is to a point. But you can’t play a reed that is too hard to the point that you can’t easily play your low notes and get the sound that you want. The key is to study harmonics first and not the altissimo notes with all of their complicated fingerings. You can achieve these harmonics when you finger some of the very lowest notes on the saxophone. Low Bb, B, C, and C# work the best.
When most people start trying to play altissimo they bite very hard on the reed and pinch out the notes. This is not the way. When you are doing harmonics or altissimo notes correctly, you are hearing the note that you want to produce in your head before you produce that note and then when you go to play the note your throat, embouchure, air speed and tongue all do the right thing and the note comes out perfectly in tune. It’s in tune because you heard it in your head.
Here is how to start and remember it’s all about hearing.
Play an F (fa) on the top line of the staff. Some people call this F2 on the saxophone. Play this note several times and listen very carefully to the pitch. Memorize the sound in your head. Now finger low Bb with no octave key. Do not play anything yet. Remember the sound of F2? While fingering low Bb with no octave key play the sound of F2. You can do it, make it happen. You have just begun the journey to altissimo notes. When you can control this very well you can then try the next partial in the harmonic series which will be Bb2.
Play Bb2 also known as the Bb one space above the staff. Again listen to the sound and memorize it. Now finger low Bb with no octave key. Do not play anything yet. Remember the sound of Bb2? Make it happen, play Bb2 with this fingering. This is just a little start on how to work on playing altissimo. When you have very good control of the harmonic series then you can start to learn fingerings for altissimo notes. But remember it’s always about hearing the note before you play it.
The best book that I know of for practicing harmonics and altissimo notes is called Top Tones for Saxophone, by SigurdRascher. But if you don’t have access to this book you can make many interesting discoveries on your own if you are patient, and willing to explore and experiment on your saxophone. Maybe you will discover new things on the saxophone that no one has ever played before. In my opinion this should be one of the goals of the artist. To find new ways to express him or herself in their art.
Music is a beautiful thing and I wish you happy playing.
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