I recently heard an old Motown hit on the radio called "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker and the Allstars and the Sax part tore me up. It sounds to me like it's seriously overblown, but I don't play sax so I really don't know what I'm talking about. I would like to know if there is a term for this technique and how it is actually accomplished, anyone?

  • Are you asking about the "growl" effect specifically, the overall tone of the sax generally, or something else...?
    – Aaron
    Oct 30, 2020 at 17:09
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    @ Aaron- Yes, that 'growl', I hear it occasionally in other music too, and I'd like to know how it is done. Oct 30, 2020 at 17:15
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    If you want to hear “growl” on steroids check out some Gato Barbieri! Oct 31, 2020 at 4:41

1 Answer 1


This effect is usually called a "growl". There are two techniques (as explained in the linked video). The one in "Shotgun" is most likely the "'growl' in the back of your throat while playing" technique. The other technique is to hum while playing. When humming, the more consonant the hummed and played pitches, the smoother the growl; the more dissonant, the "growlier".

I suggest you consider one of the many YouTube instructional videos. Like this one, for example (chosen because it's short)...

Websites like TamingTheSaxophone also include instructions and practice tips (humming in this particular case).

These techniques work on most, if not all, wind instruments. (I can personally attest to the trumpet.)


Growling is an example of a larger set of extended techniques called multiphonics. Wikipedia has a very good article introducing the subject, describing its application to winds, brass, strings, and voice, and providing some history of its use, including a list of composers and musicians who employed the techniques. Based on the article, here are a few historically important uses (videos are timed to an appearance of the technique).

  • Luciano Berio was a major influence in incorporating multiphonics into twentieth-century Western Classical music. "Sequenza IX" (1980) for clarinet solo.

  • D'you reckon some trumpeters cheat by growling when they're supposed to flutter-tongue? Oct 31, 2020 at 1:23
  • @OldBrixtonian Interesting. I've never encountered it, but I have encountered players who find one or the other quite easy or near impossible. The sounds are pretty different, though. Flutter-tonguing is louder and harsher.
    – Aaron
    Oct 31, 2020 at 2:16
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    @OldBrixtonian You've heard sax flutter-tongue, and you've probably heard Clarinet growl. But I can't find flute growling. I did find this, though: youtube.com/watch?v=g8RRwsro9Gg
    – Aaron
    Oct 31, 2020 at 8:35
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    You're right, I HAD heard sax flutterz. (Shorthand!) I had forgotten how different it was from growling, with which I'm very familiar. I've never sax flutterz. Thanks. And that's a fantastic example. That Klezmer growl seems a bit weak. If that's Wil Offermans himself playing I guess that voice staff must be sounding an octave lower, like a tenor's stave. When Jethro Tull sang into his flute it was in tune. I wonder what Offermans does differently. Oct 31, 2020 at 12:07
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    Fifty years ago wind-players lived in fear of composers who had read Bartolozzi's New Sounds for Woodwind. Perhaps it's the same since Offermans! TVM for the links. Oct 31, 2020 at 12:07

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