Chapter 5: The Language of Music: Articulation and Intonation
Playing Short and Long Notes with Articulation and Phrasing
Ascending and Descending Scales
Getting Down with Dynamics
Bringing dynamics into play
Chapter 6: Have You Got Rhythm?
Feeling Rhythm in Your Body
Clapping yourself free
Going over ten rhythmic clapping exercises
Going from Notes to Songs
Playing a bit of the blues
Playing a pop ballad
Letting Yourself Go with Improvisation
How improvisation works
Improvising with pentatonics
Practicing improvisation exercises
Chapter 7: Scaling New Notes and Expanding Your Range
Discovering the Highs and Lows of the Saxophone
Descending into the low notes
Climbing up to the high notes
Getting Personal with Scales
Adapting your playing using scales
Getting to know the major scale
Examining the structure of major scales
Remembering flats and sharps
Conquering the Chromatic Scale
Chapter 8: Special Rhythms and Techniques
Getting Into the Swing of the Rhythm
Re-examining the eighth note
Playing with swing
Reaching New Rhythms: Syncopation, Offbeats, and 5/4 Time
Syncopation and offbeats
5/4 Time: “Take Me to 5th Avenue”
Having Fun with Sound Effects
Chapter 9: Getting Down with the Blues
Using the Sax to Play the Blues
The blues scale
The 12-bar blues
Playing the blues
Going from Blues Licks to Your Own Blues Solo
Playing blues licks
The Blues Lick Solo
Playing Your Own Blues Solo
Chapter 10: Jazz — Practice Makes Perfect
Swinging with “Walking Home”
Preliminary rhythmic exercises
Getting down to the song “Walking Home”
Improvising on “Jack the Mack”
The whole piece
Chapter 11: Rock ’n’ Roll and Rhythm and Blues
Rocking and Rolling to Rhythm and Blues
Getting a Rock ’n’ Roll Sound
Playing “Green Potatoes”
Chorus 1 and 4
Putting the whole song together
Catching a “Late Night Train”
Taking it chorus by chorus
Playing the whole song
Chapter 12: Getting Your Groove On: Soul and Funk
Getting to Know the Horn Section
Seeing how each horn section is unique
Playing in a horn section: Five tips
Playing the Quick Sixteenth
Doing the math of sixteenth notes
Playing sixteenth-note phrases
Getting Funky with “Brown Sax”
Grooving with “Crushed Ice”
Chapter 13: Latin Music
Diving Into the Diversity of Latin Music
Checking Out Clave
Rhythm exercise 1 — foundations for clave
Rhythm exercise 2 — clapping clave
Spicing Things Up with “Sax con Salsa”
Mastering melody and tones
Seeing the structure and rhythm
Blaming It On the Bossa Nova
Playing “Antonio’s Bossa”
Checking out the parts
Getting the fundamentals
Stars of the Latin Saxophone
Stan Getz (1927–1991)
Paquito D’ Rivera (1948)
Gato Barbieri (1934)
David Sanchez (1968)
Wayne Shorter (1933)
Joe Henderson (1937–2001)
Chapter 14: Pop Saxophone: To the Point and Straight to the Heart
Hitting the Highlights of Sax in Pop Music
“Sax on Baker Street”
Playing Around with Pop Techniques
Grace notes and ornamentation
Overtones and altissimo
Playing with Courage, Intensity . . . and Clichés
Decisiveness and courage
Intensity and emotion
Clichés, famous riffs, and originality
Standing in the Spotlight at Showtime!
Styling, outfits, and accessories
Moves and poses
Freedom with a transmitter mic
Feeling Starstruck: The Greatest Pop Saxophonists of All Time
Rudy Pompilli (1924–1976)
Sam Butera (1927–2009)
Phil Woods (1931)
David Sanborn (1945)
Branford Marsalis (1960)
Candy Dulfer (1969)
Clarence Clemons (1942–2011)
Kenny G (1956)
Pete Christlieb (1945)
Michael Brecker (1949–2007)
Chapter 15: Classical Music: The World of Bach, Ravel and Co.
Exploring the Big World of Classical Saxophone
Examining the Repertoire of Classical Saxophone Hits
Orchestral pieces for saxophone
Concert pieces for saxophone
Solo and chamber music for saxophone
Saxophone and . . . Bach?
Stars of classical saxophone
Great saxophone quartets
Getting Serious about Classical Sax
Ideal classical sound
Tuning, dynamics, and virtuosity
Pondering Playing Techniques in Classical and Contemporary Music
Top tones, upper register, and altissimo
Quarter tone technique
Selecting a Mouthpiece for Classical Music
Typical and traditional mouthpieces in classical music
The classical reed
Choosing a saxophone
Noticing the parts of the piece
Chapter 16: The Right Tools for the Job: Saxophone and Accessories
Selecting Your Saxophone
Looking at top manufacturers and models
Being wary of vintage
Looking at Mouthpieces, Reeds, and Ligatures
Considering mouthpiece manufacturers
Looking at ligatures
Finding the Right Support with Neck and Shoulder Straps
Protecting Your Sax with a Case
Types of cases
Selecting a case
Taking a (Musical) Stand
Meeting the Metronome and Tuner
Metronome for time and rhythm
Tuner for being in tune
Chapter 17: Cleaning and Maintenance
Keeping Your Saxophone Clean
Swabbing your saxophone dry
Caring for the mouthpiece and reeds
Fixing a Sticky G# Key
A well-oiled instrument
First aid for the saxophone
Storing and Reviving Reeds
Storing a saxophone reed
Adjusting a bad reed
Following Some Final Advice
Chapter 18: Practice Makes Perfect (Saxophonists)
The Nine Commandments of Practicing
Listen to yourself
Structure your practice
Use practice resources
Work on technical exercises
Practice with others and through others
Practice with joy
Approaching a New Song
Chapter 19: The Ten Greatest Saxophone Players You Should Know
Lester Young (1909–1959)
Charlie Parker (1920–1955)
Sonny Rollins (1930)
John Coltrane (1926–1967)
Dexter Gordon (1923–1990)
Stan Getz (1927–1991)
Maceo Parker (1943)
David Sanborn (1945)
Michael Brecker (1949–2007)
Jan Garbarek (1947)
Chapter 20: The Ten Most Important Sax Players and Their Best Recordings
Lester Young: “The Lester Young Trio” (1946)
Charlie Parker: “The Savoy and Dial Recordings” (1944–1948)
Sonny Rollins: “Saxophone Colossus” (1956)
Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley: “Kind Of Blue” (1959)
Dexter Gordon: “A Swinging Affair” (1962)
Stan Getz: “Getz/Gilberto” (1964)
Michael Brecker: “Michael Brecker” (1987)
Maceo Parker: “Life on Planet Groove” (1992)
David Sanborn: “Straight to the Heart” (1984)
Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek: “My Song” (1977)
Appendix A: Reading Music
Appendix B: Fingering Charts
Appendix C: About the CD
John Wiley and Sons Canada, Ltd. End-User License Agreement
Are you fascinated by the saxophone? Is it your dream instrument? Maybe you already know how to play this wonderful instrument or perhaps you want to try it out. Well, Saxophone For Dummies is exactly the right choice for beginners and anyone else looking to expand their skills and knowledge.
The saxophone has influenced many styles of music. Whether it’s in the big bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Bill Haley’s legendary rock ’n’ roll band, or the funk master James Brown, saxophonists have left their indelible mark on music. In the bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema,” the breathy saxophone is the icing on the cake.
Saxophone also plays an essential role in the so-called “serious music.” Maurice Ravel’s Boléro shows another side of the instrument. Here, it’s not about the roaring R&B sax that King Curtis played or what you might recall from the pop hit “Baker Street.” Instead, in Ravel’s piece, the saxophone has a fine, clear sound that’s a beautifully integral part of the classical orchestra.
The many faces and voices of the saxophone ensure that it remains a popular instrument. Whether as a solo instrument, as part of a horn section in a big band, or at home in your living room, the dynamic and rich sound is captivating!
About This Book
Saxophone For Dummies helps you to discover the world of the saxophone. This book provides you with everything you need — from help in selecting your instrument and accessories, to sounding out your first notes, to unlocking the secrets of the different musical styles including blues, jazz, pop, and classical. This is a comprehensive guide to playing and understanding the instrument.
We’ve combined our individual experiences, wisdom, and insights as saxophone players and teachers into this book. We have mixed manageable, short exercises and helpful background information in between the melodies and songs. And you can also let yourself be accompanied by the audio tracks that accompany the book. The philosophy of Saxophone For Dummies is a blend of profound knowledge, goal-oriented exercises, and musical applications for a variety of music styles.
You’ll discover, step by step, all the notes that the saxophone can produce. We provide a detailed fingering chart and example of how the note is written for each pitch. With our detailed descriptions, key charts, and notation, playing is easy. You can repeat each new note through exercises and actual music to cement your ability to play it. To help you develop an expressive musical language, we also explain useful techniques for good articulation, phrasing, and dynamics.
These skills help you play in a whole bunch of musical styles. Learn to play the blues, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, R&B, funk, soul, bossa nova, pop, and classical on your saxophone. Moreover, we familiarize you with the greatest saxophone players in music history and provide you with listening tips to fascinating recordings.
On the accompanying audio tracks, you can find multiple exercises and songs. When you use the playback versions, you have the opportunity to play with a band.
We assume a few things about you, the reader. We assume that you share our interest in the saxophone. Actually we assume that you share our enthusiasm for this instrument, its sound, and the music it can produce. And we assume that you really want to learn to play the saxophone yourself — and play it well!
We do not assume that you already own a saxophone. We don’t assume that you can read the sheet music for Rimsky-Korsakow’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” but we do assume that you’re slightly familiar with written music and that you want to take advantage of this tool to make great music.
And now, please excuse us if we make a bold assumption. We figure that regardless of whether you’re a beginner, an advanced saxophonist, or just an interested music lover, we believe you’ll benefit from Saxophone For Dummies.
What You Don’t Need To Read
To work successfully with this book, you don’t need to read the whole book from the beginning to the end. The sidebars (shaded boxes) provide additional and in-depth information to supplement the text. For the most part, these include musical jargon that you don’t necessarily need to know if you want to play. The icons also mark information that’s exciting but isn’t essential for you to know.
Conventions Used In This Book
This book uses certain conventions so you can follow along easily:
Track numbers that accompany the songs and exercises refer to the track numbers of audio tracks.
All tracks have two versions, one for the Esaxophones alto and baritone, and a second version for the Binstruments soprano and tenor.
Some songs feature chord symbols, which are roman numerals marked above the written music. Experienced sax teachers, pianists, or guitarists can play the chords to accompany you. Chapter 6 provides more detailed information on this.
Every section of the book is cross-referenced so that you can easily find all related sections about a particular topic. Additionally, the table of contents at the beginning of the book and the index at the end help you navigate with ease.
All notes and their corresponding fingerings are explained in detail in Chapters 4 and 7. A supplementary fingering chart is provided in Appendix B. You can quickly find the relevant fingering for each note.
How This Book Is Organized
Saxophone For Dummies is designed to accommodate your personal preference by allowing you to read any chapter in any order. So you can enjoy browsing at will. If you get stuck at any point, the cross-references and index can help you quickly get the appropriate answer to your questions. Of course, you can also read the book from the beginning to end in sequential order.
Part I: Basic Information about the Saxophone
In Part I we discuss the genius Adolphe Sax and what inspired him to build such a beautiful, admirable, and gorgeous instrument. And by the way, it’s an exciting story! You’ll also find out about all the different members of the saxophone family. In addition to the well-known alto and tenor saxophones, you’ll meet the small soprano and the large baritone sax.
Are you looking for your own saxophone? Then, in this section, you discover tips on how to find a good-fitting instrument, regardless of whether it’s new or used. We explain the basic functioning of a saxophone and how all of its parts fit together. And we discuss the foundations of playing, including the correct posture, the breathing technique, and the importance of the embouchure.
Part II: Getting Started: From First Notes to Special Effects
Part II starts to get juicy. This section provides plenty of good stuff regardless of whether you are sounding out your first notes, are interested in getting those challenging high and/or low notes, or just want to try out certain effects. All of the fingerings and notes are clearly explained and illustrated.
Chapter 5 discusses how you can use articulation to play expressively and to create excitement. Because music is a language, naturally the right intonation and pronunciation are essential. In Chapter 6 we serve up the first longer songs. And for dessert, an introduction to improvisation, but prepared so that it is easily digested.
Part III: A Variety of Styles: The Blues, Jazz, Pop, and Classical
In Part III we teach you about the various music styles you can play on the sax. The best part is that saxophone plays an important role in every genre! Each chapter in this section discusses the heroes of each respective style. We present technical details that you can practice with tailor-made exercises. Then you can release all of your energy into our songs by playing with the accompanying band on the audio tracks. Eventually you can invite friends, relatives, and neighbors over for a house concert.
Part IV: Saxophone Accessories, Maintenance, and Practice Tips
Part IV discusses different saxophone brands as well as important and useful equipment. In Chapter 16 we suggest many ideas. Fortunately, the market has the right saxophone for all needs and wallets. Using our advice, you’ll most certainly find a solution that fits your needs. No saxophone works without a mouthpiece, reed, or ligature. Here you can also get a helpful overview to assist in finding the right accessories.
We also discuss extras including the music stand, the saxophone stand, the metronome, and the tuner. These are the devices to sweeten the daily routine of a saxophonist. If you regularly follow our maintenance tips, you’ll be able to keep your saxophone in splendid condition. Good maintenance results in playing that is more fun and in the long run saves you money. Chapter 18 includes a list of gems and wisdom about practicing. You’ll definitely achieve your music and playing goals with the help of our advice.
Part V: The Part of Tens
No For Dummies book is complete without a Part of Tens. In Chapter 19 we introduce you to our ten Masters of the Saxophone. In Chapter 20, we list the top-ten recordings with of the most sax appeal. These saxophonists can serve as your role models and their recordings will inspire you. Through the recordings on this list, you’ll discover and enjoy the music and individual sounds of the best saxophonists of all time.
We also offer three appendixes: Appendix A itemizes the written notation. Using a song as a reference, we explain the most important elements of written music. This should make you comfortable reading music. Appendix B provides detailed fingering charts. Here, you can quickly look up a fingering for any note. Appendix C discusses the audio tracks. In addition to a complete track list, we provide guidance on how to use the exercises and songs most effectively.
Icons Used In This Book
In the margins of the book’s pages are icons that bring to your attention additional tips, in-depth explanations, and pitfalls to avoid. This is what these little helpers mean:
Expert advice in a nutshell. These icons show helpful pieces of information that provide pointed assistance.
Detailed and in-depth explanations about general saxophone or music topics. These icons answer the questions of “why?” and “what for?” so you can become an expert. (Feel free to skip over this background information if you’re more interested in learning the next song.)
Important information. These icons tell you what information to keep in the back of your mind.
Attention, be careful of this potential pitfall. Don’t step into this trap! This icons provide advice that will make your life as a saxophone player easier.
Where to Go from Here
Saxophone For Dummies is designed so you have several choices for how to approach the book. Of course you can read and use it from front to back in chronological order. All topics, chapters, and sections are structured so that this would be a good way to use it.
But you can also jump back and forth. If you already have some experience as a saxophonist, then you may just want to go straight to checking out how the sax fits into the blues or other musical styles. Or maybe you can’t wait to play with the accompanying band on the audio tracks? Then you may want to go straight to the songs in Part III. In this case, the history of the genius Adolphe Sax or information about the mouthpiece or other accessories might be interesting to you a little later.
Particularly for beginners, the systematic structure of Part I with its helpful chapters and sections will ensure that your first steps (or shall we say, notes?) are successful. And if you don’t yet have access to a saxophone, check out the section on what’s important to think about when buying one.
No matter how you use Saxophone For Dummies, the book gets you familiar with the saxophone and, step by step, assists you in becoming an excellent and versatile player.
Basic Information about the Saxophone
In this part . . .
So you’re about to have your first rendezvous with the saxophone. This part gets you ready to sound those first notes.
Chapter 1 introduces you to the genius Adolphe Sax. You find out about the origin of the saxophone and meet the entire sax family. You also get advice and tips to help you find the right saxophone for you. Chapter 2 explains how to put together a saxophone and everything else you need to start playing, including how to tune your sax. Chapter 3 describes the best posture for playing a saxophone and proper breathing technique. We also tell you how to position your mouth to make a beautiful saxophone sound.
In This Chapter
Saying hello to Adolphe Sax
Discovering the different parts of the saxophone
Meeting the saxophone family: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone
Buying or leasing your first saxophone
So your dream is to learn how to play the saxophone — one of the coolest musical instruments around. Picking up this book is a great start, but now comes your first big decision: Which type of saxophone do you want to play? Saxophones come in different sizes, make different sounds, and have different names. How do you choose?
Don’t get overwhelmed by choice. For beginners, an alto or tenor saxophone is probably best, because these two are of medium size and widely available. After you’ve mastered the instrument (which you no doubt will), you’ll have plenty of time to explore the high notes of the soprano sax or the low tones of the baritone.
Besides helping you answer the question “Which saxophone suits me best?” this chapter also introduces you to its inventor, Adolphe Sax. It gives you tips on buying a saxophone so you can make an informed choice, and helps you decide whether to lease your first saxophone or buy a used one. And so you can get to know the sax a little better, this chapter also gives an overview of the saxophone’s parts and what they do.
Meeting Mr. Sax
If Adolphe Sax, the nineteenth century Belgian thinker and inventor, could visit today’s world, he would be amazed at the saxophone’s popularity. This imaginative and risk-taking inventor was obsessed with the idea of attempting a kind of musical genetic engineering. He created his namesake instrument — the saxophone — to unify the best features of the trumpet and the clarinet.
The invention of the saxophone
The saxophone was born in 1842. Adolphe Sax, the father of this new wind instrument, was a clarinet and flute player. The son of an instrument maker, crafting and tinkering with musical instruments ran in his family. But Adolphe was also an inventive and imaginative guy. During his lifetime, he invented many wind instruments such as the sax horn, the sax tuba, and the sax trombone — remarkable hybrids that unfortunately did not survive into our millennium. And that’s not all. Mr. Sax also invented a steam organ, medical instruments, and even a cannon called the “saxocannon”! But the saxophone was his greatest and most enduring invention.
Rumor has it that when Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone, he wanted to create a wind instrument as flexible and light as the clarinet, for playing melodic structures, but that could also stand up to the power and assertiveness of brass instruments such as the trumpet and trombone. He brought his saxophone prototype to the royal court in his home country of Belgium and gave a persuasive performance. He suggested to the royals that his instrument be used in military music, and they accepted.
The saxophone’s inclusion in military music opened the door to many opportunities for other people to play and hear the new horn. The saxophone quickly became very popular among musicians. However, the saxophone sound also had its foes. Some instrument manufacturers resisted the saxophone, and they threatened to go to court to put a stop to Mr. Sax manufacturing the instrument. Even today, a saxophone is rarely part of a symphony orchestra.
Unfortunately, Adolphe Sax’s final days were rather sad. He died in Paris in 1894, completely bankrupt.
The saxophone goes mainstream
When Henri Selmer took over manufacturing the saxophone, things really took off. Dance bands established the sax in the field of light music. In the 1930s, many radio stations played the song “Petite Fleur,” by soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, who became the first world-renowned player.
Then came the big bands, led by famous bandleaders such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. They showed off their large sax sections with as many as five sax players, usually in the first row. Their sax sections set the air on fire!
Some of the early pioneers of the saxophone were Lester “Prez” Young, Charlie “Bird” Parker, and Coleman “Hawk” Hawkins. Jazz flourished, and even today the saxophone is a critical element of this style. The melody of one of the most famous jazz compositions, “Take Five,” was composed and played by Paul Desmond, with his lyrically magnificent alto sax sound.
Even rock ’n’ roll incorporated the saxophone. Can you imagine Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” or “See You Later, Alligator” without the sax parts?
Mr. Sax’s horn also became an essential part of pop music, including disco, funk, soul, and R&B. Saxophonist Maceo Parker enriched the sound of James Brown, and the hit “What a Difference a Day Makes” was shaped by the expressive sound of alto saxophonist David Sanborn. Thanks to Grover Washington’s tenor sax sound, “Just the Two of Us” became a skin-tingling love song. The famous songs “Baker Street” and “Careless Whisper” were blessed with musical immortality through their catchy saxophone phrases. Today the sax continues to strongly influence the sound of many musical styles.
Getting to Know the Sax’s Components and Their Functions
You might be surprised to know that the saxophone is a woodwind, not a brass, instrument. This fact can be hard to believe, because the saxophone is, after all, made mostly of brass. The saxophone is considered a woodwind instrument because the part that creates the actual sound, called the reed, is made out of wood, or more specifically, cane (similar to bamboo).
This section familiarizes you with the important components of the saxophone, by describing how they fit together and how the whole system works.
Parts of the saxophone
The saxophone is made up of the following parts (Figure 1-1 shows what they look like):
Reed: The sound generator, which has the same function as human vocal chords. It’s fixed onto the mouthpiece by a ligature.
Mouthpiece: When you blow into the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates. Without the aid of the other parts of the saxophone, it produces a high, shrill sound.
Neck: The mouthpiece is attached to the neck, which is the joint between the mouthpiece and the body. The sound generated by the vibrating reed enters the body through the neck. If you compare the saxophone’s neck with your own, and with your voice, the saxophone’s neck works the same way.
Body: This is the most important resonance chamber of the saxophone. The sound vibrates within the body and is amplified. By holding down the keys, which are located on the body, you change the length of the air column to create a different pitch or note. The longer the air column, the lower the corresponding note; the shorter the column, the higher the note.
Neck strap: More of an accessory, this is a strap that is looped through an eyelet on the back side of the horn and worn around the player’s neck. The neck strap lets the player carry the saxophone and supports the instrument so the fingers can move freely over the keys.
Thumb hook: The right thumb sits in the thumb hook, which is a hooked-shaped piece of metal or plastic, to balance the saxophone’s weight.
Thumb rest: The left thumb sits on the thumb rest (located below the octave key) to balance the saxophone.
Don’t be all thumbs! You support the saxophone’s weight using the neck strap, and you balance the saxophone using the thumb hook and thumb rest.
Figure 1-1: Front and back views of a saxophone and its parts.
How the saxophone sings
You produce language mainly through your mouth and by the position of your tongue, and chances are you do so without even thinking about it. With a saxophone, a smart system consisting of a resonance body, tone holes (the holes in the body of the saxophone), and keys (the mechanisms that open and close the tone holes to change notes) modulates the thin, and not necessarily gentle, sound of the reed into various deep and high tones.
So what’s the saxophone player’s role? You provide the controlled airflow and sound quality. Your mouth and neck, as well as your breathing and the resonant space within your whole body, determine the sound of each note. The notes are shaped by your embouchure, which is the position of your teeth, tongue, lips, jaw, and relevant muscles. (See Chapters 3 and 4 for more details.) This might sound dangerously complex, but with practice this will become a natural process. After all, the goal is to fuse player and instrument.
The saxophone produces the deepest tone when all the keys are held down to close all the tone holes. Inversely, if you open more and more keys, the air column becomes shorter and higher pitches are produced.
Finding the Right Sized Sax
An entire saxophone family exists, with members that differ mostly with respect to their sizes and sounds. A saxophone with more volume and a longer air column produces deeper notes, for instance. This, of course, has physical reasons. For example, you expect a deeper, fuller sound from a hippo than a hummingbird. (See Chapter 2 for more details.)
Think of pipe organs. To cover the necessary pitch range, they have many different sized pipes. The largest pipes produce the lowest notes. The lower the note should be, the larger the pipe. The inverse is also true: the higher the note, the smaller the pipe.
Meeting the saxophone family
The saxophone comes in nine different sizes. Here they are from smallest to largest, which corresponds with the highest pitch to the lowest pitch:
Saxophones are transposing instruments, meaning that a note played on the saxophone sounds different on the piano. That’s because instruments are made in different keys (systems of notes that are related to each other, based on a single main note). For example, if you play the written note C on a soprano or tenor saxophone, which are in the key of B, that note will sound as a Bon the piano. Or if you play a C on an alto or baritone saxophone, which are in the key of E, that note will sound as an Eon the piano. (Chapter 2 covers transposing in more detail.)
The fabulous four: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone
Soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones (see Figure 1-2, from left to right) were named according to the corresponding vocal register, and approximately match the pitch of the human voice:
Soprano saxophone: Usually built in a straight form, the soprano produces a light nasal sound and the highest pitch of the fabulous four.
Altoand tenor saxophones: These two have the typical U-shaped saxophone form. The alto saxophone often sounds lighter and brighter than the slightly larger tenor saxophone, which has a deeper, darker, fuller sound. Both are the most popular members of the saxophone family. They can produce a wide variety of sounds and are used for many musical styles and instrumentations.
Baritone saxophone: Due to its large size, its tone is deep and luscious. Starting at the mouthpiece, the upper part of the instrument initially makes four 90-degree turns — sort of like a musical roller coaster. Depending on the way it’s played, it can have a very special, slightly growly tone. Seldom played as a solo instrument, it has a fixed place in saxophone quartets and in the sax sections of the big bands.
The note range for all saxophones is almost identical. By using the regular playing technique, a saxophone can cover two and a half octaves.
Listen to the audio tracks that accompany this book to hear the difference between a soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. In precisely this order, you can listen to a short sound sample for the song “A Family Affair” on Track 2.
Figure 1-2: The four most popular saxophones: soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.
Other members of the saxophone clan
Other types of saxophones exist, but are rarely played:
Soprilloand sopranino: Similar to a soprano, these usually have a straight shape. They are smaller than a soprano and therefore their pitch range is higher. They never became popular and are still fairly rare.
Bass and contrabass saxophone: Nobody would voluntarily drag around these huge and bulky saxophones, especially those who walk to band practice. Apart from that, their sounds are seriously low, and very few of us have the lung capacity to fill these large instruments.
Subcontrabass saxophone: This is the lowest of the low and has never been produced in large quantities. That’s probably fortunate, because you’d need a trailer to transport it and the lungs of a horse to play it. Nonetheless, the subcontrabass saxophone is still sometimes used in concert.
Figure 3-1: Saxophone posture while seated: Hold the saxophone at the side or between the legs.
Place your feet on the floor, hip-width apart, and put some weight on the heels to encourage a general upright posture. Then, by rotating and rocking your pelvis back and forth, find a position that feels balanced. Keep your muscles engaged and don’t lean back. The previous section introduced a swinging exercise you can use for finding a balanced seated position. Simply replace the word “stand” with “sit.”
Both sitting straight up and balanced and standing tall with both feet firmly on the ground create the right amount of body tension for saxophone playing.
Practicing posture with the saxophone
When you feel that you have a good grasp of proper body posture, try adding the saxophone by following these steps:
1. Put the strap around your neck and fix the hook of the neck strap to the round eyelet of the saxophone.
2. Place your right and left hands in the playing position.
You use the right hand to operate the lower saxophone keys and the left to operate the upper keys. Place your right thumb under the thumb hook. Place your left thumb on the thumb rest so that you can use the tip of your thumb to operate the octave key with a light tilting motion. This way, you can comfortably hold the saxophone with the support of the neck strap. The neck strap, not the thumbs, carries the saxophone’s weight. The thumb hook and rest help to balance the saxophone so it doesn’t move around too much. Figure 3-2 illustrates thumb positions.
3. Place the fingers of the left and right hand lightly on the keys and keep in touch with the keys’ indentations as much as possible (see Figure 3-3).
Keep your fingers slightly rounded, as if you were holding a tennis ball.
4. Adjust the neck strap so the saxophone’s mouthpiece is directly at mouth level.
Keep your neck in a straight, neutral position. It shouldn’t be stretched in front of you like a turtle, or pulled back in surprise. See Figure 3-4.
Figure 3-2: The left thumb on the thumb rest and the right thumb in the thumb hook.
Figure 3-3: Placing fingers on the keys, from saxophonist’s perspective.
5. Take a firm but somewhat relaxed stand, as shown in Figure 3-5.
Your feet should be hip-width apart, so nothing can unbalance you.
Figure 3-4: (Left) The neck strap is too long. (Right) The neck strap is too short. (Below) The neck strap is adjusted properly.
Figure 3-5: Standing posture, front and side view.
6. Test whether you’d be even more balanced and comfortable by moving one foot forward slightly.
You can move either your left or right foot forward. Try them both to feel which one feels better for you. Then sway your hips a little to find a stable stance.
7. Pay attention to your shoulders: Are they down and relaxed or is your left shoulder moving up?
If your left shoulder is too high, relax your shoulders by pulling both shoulder blades up slightly and then slowly letting them slide down.