This is a guest post by saxophonist, arranger, and educator Brad Carman of BradCarmanMusic.com.
We all know that some notes on the saxophone are tougher to hit than others, especially as we begin to delve into the altissimo register. While there is a great deal of information out there about the art of altissimo as a whole, I thought that it would be good to hone in on a specific note in the altissimo register that seems to give folks a bit of a tougher time than some of the others above it.
My suggestion is that you read everything here then try the things that you think will enhance your abilities in this area.
Keep in mind that different fingerings apply depending on whether you’re on alto or tenor, but similar concepts should apply in either case.
1) Make sure you’re always using plenty of air.
Some notes allow you to push them through with very little air support. The altissimo G is not one of them, so make sure that you’re blowing a solid stream of air from the diaphragm.
2) Make sure your fingers are doing what you think they’re doing.
Sometimes our problems occur when fingers lift up slightly or bump other keys. Be deliberate in what you play!
3) During your initial practice sessions, walk up to G from “vent” or “front” E.
Of course, you must be prepared to hit the altissimo G from any other note on the horn, but this will serve as a sort of “training wheels” since you’re not making the big shift in the throat and mouth as you would were you coming from a bigger interval. The palm key notes lay the foundation for creeping up just a bit higher to the G.
4) “Think down”
If F# cracks up, simply think of blowing the air downwards with ample diaphragm support and as you move into the G.
5) Experiment with a different fingering.
As soon as you can play the front G reasonably well, try the other standard G fingering which is 1st and 3rd fingers of both hands plus the thumb/octave key. Note: first finger of left hand is on the B key – not the vent or fork key. This is a handy fingering that I use about half the time depending on the context. Some students find this one easier as well.
Another fingering you can try if F# is fine but G cracks involves adding the first finger of your right hand then releasing the second finger of your left hand.
6) Apply dynamics and vibrato.
Once you’ve hit the note, hold it as long as you can and crescendo. Eventually, you can try using vibrato to “test the boundaries” of what your control of the altissimo G can withstand.
7) Practice hitting the note with a breath attack.
Once you’ve achieved a bit of control, walk up to the note as described in step 3, let it go, and try to re-start it with a breath attack. When you let it go, keep your mouth and tongue in the same shape.
8) Take rests on the way up.
Practice walking up the chromatic scale From E to G but with rests between each note. This is something you can do once you’ve attained some more control over the altissimo register, but a great way to take your high G skills to the next level.
9) Hold down the low Bb Key
Adding low Bb to the G can stabilize things if you feel like you’re “close” or if you’re getting a noisy sound. This fattens up the sound as well. However, it is a big reach down there with the pinky finger, so you’ll have to give it a try and see how it works for you.
10) Try taking in a little bit more mouthpiece.
Nearly all beginner and intermediate students tend to play with too little mouthpiece. If you’re having trouble with both high and low notes speaking and projecting, there is a chance you can improve things immediately by taking in just a little more mouthpiece. Never drift towards the tip of the mouthpiece when going after altissimo notes. Sometimes it will seem like it helps or makes things easier, but it is a dead-end road!
11) Relax your left shoulder!
It’s tense isn’t it? Let it drop.
12) Try a chromatic exercise to improve your high G skills.
If you’re handy with your chromatic scale I would recommend this quick exercise to get the “feel” of the altissimo notes necessary to consistently achieve the high G.
- First, overblow low D up an octave. This is easy to do, just play 4th line D but remove your thumb from the fingering.
- Then walk up the chromatic scale as high as you can go. Your fingers move up starting on low D with everything coming out an octave up. Start slowly but increase the speed as you get the feel for it.
- Go up as high as you possibly can. In order to hang on as you go up, the shape of your mouth and tongue will have to change. This is the shape of altissimo. Remember to use a lot of air, never let up on your air, and don’t bite.
Quattro Formaggi Saxophone Quartet
Quattro Formaggi Saxophone Quartet was founded by Brad Carman in 2005 and has become one of Wisconsin’s most popular and versatile chamber ensembles. Check out their latest CD, Sidecar [Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this article] which includes several premier recordings and unpublished works. Also visit QF’s informal MySpace page where they have connected with close to 200 other saxophone quartets from around the world.
Brad Carman and QFSQ are available for performances, residencies, masterclasses, and ensemble work-shops. Contact Brad Carman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by takomabibelot