Playing Altissimo On The Saxophone
In this series of videos, we look at some exercises that will help you get started on the road to playing altissimo, then how to incorporate the high notes into your playing and some very cool advanced techniques.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Getting Started
In this video, we look at how to get started playing altissimo on the saxophone.
Discuss this tutorial here.
timestamp 0:31  Mistakes people often make when they first start trying to play altissimo:
  • Doing it too early in their development as a saxophonist, before they have the strength and control over their throat, airstream and embouchure.
  • Doing too early in their development as a musician. You have to be able to play well in the normal register before you can do it the upper reigster!
  • Thinking that it's about fingerings. Playing altissimo is about much more than where you put your fingers!
timestamp 1:07   What you need to be able to play altissimo well:
  • Control over your throat and mouth.
  • Control over your airstream.
  • Control over your embouchure.
  • Ear-training. You must be able to hear the notes in your head before you play them.
  • Confidence! If you are hesitant when playing the notes, they won't come sad
timestamp 1:53  It's important to understand what's happening inside your horn when you play. Each different fingering reconfigures the horn so that when air is blown through it, the air vibrates at different frequencies, causing different notes to sound. By changing the shape of your throat, airstream and embouchure, you can make the air vibrate at different frequencies (know as overtones or harmonics), causing other notes to sound.

We want to play the saxophone like a trumpet.

timestamp 2:39   Remember all that squeaking you did when you were learning to play? smile Your body eventually learned what it needed to do to make each note sound cleanly and so to play altissimo, we want to go back to squeaking, just in a more controlled way.

timestamp 3:27  To get the first overtone, play a low Bb and then use your throat, airstream and embouchure to get the Bb an octave up. It's important to have the sound of this second note in your head before you try to play it, so play it using the normal fingering first before trying to get it with the low Bb fingering.

timestamp 4:22  Then try to get the second overtone (F), third (Bb), etc.

timestamp 4:37  Once you get the hang of things, you can go straight to each overtone without having to play each note using the normal fingerings first.

timestamp 4:46  Then try playing the overtone series straight up and down.

timestamp 5:17  It's very important to use the correct technique when trying to get each overtone:
  • Don't use the octave key.
  • Don't overblow.
  • Don't bite down on the reed.
Use only your throat, airstream and embouchure to make each overtone. It will take time, but a good sign that you are doing it right is if you can do it quietly.
These might make it easier to make the notes sound but it will hurt your long-term development!

Don't go overboard practicing your overtones! A few minutes a day is plenty.