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I'm currently practicing my overtone series and trying to get a play some altissimo. Right now, I've been able to play up to a D7 using Sigurd Rascher's Top Tones for the Saxophone, but the notes are incredibly sharp to the ear and unpleasant.

Is this something more long tone practice will help, or is it the overtone practice because I can only really get to the 4th or 5th overtone on Bb, B, C, etc? I'm concerned because I don't want start a habit wrong because it does seem like I'm straining a lot on the higher notes such as C7 and I can never go above D7, which seems like an overtone issue. What is the more efficient way of practicing to increase my tone and make sure I'm not practicing my altissimo wrong, and would you suggest I get more done on my overtones before transitioning to altissimo?

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I am not sure if this helps, but when I play harmonics on saxophone, I really focus on how my tongue and soft palate are shaped. Curving them more or less really changes how the air is entering the mouthpiece. Besides the normal stuff like throat openness, air support, and embouchure tightness, I think that makes the most difference in pitch and tone. Perhaps you need to raise or lower your tongue/palate to get the sound you want.

  • Thanks for the reply. I've read that arching your tongue at the back of your mouth and opening your throat can make it easier for overtones to sound (and it has worked for me), but I can't say the same for my altissimo register. Could it have something to do with my hardware, i.e. mouthpiece tip opening? I'm currently on a Selmer C* (with a 1.7 opening) but many other mouthpieces I see claim to give an easier altissimo register (with <1.0 openings). Is this something to look into? I started out on classical sax, but am looking to transition to jazz. – Andrew Li Jun 25 '18 at 13:46
  • @AndrewLi, the mouthpieces for classical and jazz saxophone are very different, differences in both aperture and bore size/shape. You should go to a store that has several for you to try out. It might be worth it to travel to one. I made an appointment at a store 3hrs away once that had several mouthpieces in stock so I could try them all. At the time, I was just looking for a new classical mouthpiece, but I was amazed at how they affected my pitch differently. Reeds are also designed differently for different styles. Try new ligatures, too. It all contributes to what you're trying to do. – Heather S. Jun 25 '18 at 20:39
  • Thanks again for the (timely!) reply. I've transitioned over to jazz reeds and saw a large difference. I was planning to go to some stores and try out some jazz mouthpieces but haven't gotten around to it, I will do that asap now. – Andrew Li Jun 25 '18 at 20:42
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Any sort of regular tone work that you do helps.

  • Matching overtones.
  • Long tones
  • Trying to copy another saxophonist

To go into more on the last one, this is a great way to develop your tone in any range. As a jazz musician, I have spent lots of time playing along with my favorite saxophonists, trying my best to mimic their tone.

If you want to try this last method, listen to Gerald Albright. He's a funk/R&B alto saxophonist with the cleanest altissimo and largest range I've ever heard in my life. His tone is the unchanging from his very bottom note to his highest.

Even if you don't like his tone, still try this exercise. Find some songs he's playing (preferably slower ones), and maybe transcribe it so you can play along, or at least find a short section where he goes up high. Play along with him and all the while, think about his tone in the altissimo range. Listen to this section of music over and over and over again until you can hear his tone in your head anywhere. Then, when you go to play your instrument, imagine yourself making this tone and let your mouth move on it's own. Then play. Over time you will match this tone more clearly.

Then, once you have more control over the tone of your altissimo range, you are free to shape your tone while keeping the clarity of it.

And if you don't like Gerald Albright, feel free to find any other saxophonist whose altissimo you enjoy.

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