Back on the Sax Part 3: Practicing Overtones

Yes, yes, I know, I’ve been droning on and on about overtones lately. But I’ve really been having a good time practicing the exercises from part 3 of the Intro to Overtones series and isolating some of the muscles that haven’t really developed to the extent I’d like to develop them.

One thing I discovered the other day which really helped me was the use of the tongue in moving between overtones. To get more specific, I was working on the first exercise that Ricky Sweum laid out in the article which works as follows:

  1. Finger a low F (the one at the bottom of the staff with no octave key).
  2. With your thumb still off of the octave key, begin playing, but start right in on the note one octave higher, so that you’re hearing the same pitch you’d hear if you were playing the middle F (the one with the octave key).
  3. Hold that middle F for a few seconds, and then drop back down to the low F.
  4. Repeat the same exercise moving down in half steps until you reach the low Bb.

However, I wanted to try adding another step between #3 and 4. The goal was to jump back up to the middle F after the drop down to the low F. But this was not as simple as I would have imagined.

Easier Said than Done

No matter how hard I tried to hear that upper partial (ie: the middle F) in my head and try to adjust my throat, that middle F would just not come out without me clamping up with my lower lip. As you might know, making changes to the pressure from the lower lip is a big no-no that defeats the entire purpose of practicing overtones.

I had read somewhere that trying to make a “K” sound while holding out a note would help it to pop up an octave. But that wasn’t working for me either. RATS!

Finally, I stumbled upon a new “hack.” I found that the trick was to move the tongue SLOWLY into that “K” position. After trying to slowly and gently move into that K sound, I was able to pop back up to that 2nd partial every time I tried.

Once I get some more practice doing this, maybe I won’t need to move the tongue so quite as slowly into the “K” – but for now, it’s working like a charm. More importantly, it’s helping me to develop those muscles that we have to develop to shape, chisel, and manhandle that saxophone sound to our every whim.

So give it a try and let me know if it works for you!