Mastering the Saxophone’s High Notes

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Jeff Coffin

Playing the saxophone’s high notes—from high C to high F (or F#)—can be challenging, but you can bring them more under control with these practical tips.

Voicing

Maybe you have heard about “voicing” the notes, or maybe you haven’t. Basically, we are talking about the placement of the tongue in the mouth while playing. The tongue position varies the air stream and has a lot to do with the intonation and timbre of the note.

Without your instrument, say the letter E and move to the letter O with a continuous sound. See what kind of change your tongue goes through. Likely, it will be highly placed and in the back of your mouth for the E, and then it will drop and move slightly forward for the O. That’s the idea of voicing!

With the instrument, go slowly from high A up to high F or F# with no articulation to see if you can get the notes to speak. Be sure not to push upward (no pinching) with the bottom part of your jaw. The focus of sound and air should be coming from inside the oral cavity.

Long Tones

You need to do long tones. Hate it, love it, doesn’t matter. You gotta do them.

For the higher notes on the horn, you can put a metronome on 60 beats per minute and try doing five beats per note. Start on your high A and move up chromatically from there. Pay close attention to what’s going on in your mouth and with your tongue. While practicing long tones, try moving the tongue like you did when pronouncing E to O and see what happens. You will certainly notice a difference.

Remember that your embouchure is primarily meant to encircle the mouthpiece to keep air from leaking out. The good stuff goes on inside where all the air is moving!

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