Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Soprano de Africana: The Art of Slap Tonguing

One of the great things about the soprano saxophone is its ability sound like instruments from disparate parts of the world, mainly Asia and Africa. This is something I didn't discover until I started to explore inner layers of the instrument's sound.

My favorite sound to emulate, using the slap tongue technique, is that of a high-pitched balafon (a West African xylophone). Saxophonists often ask me how to slap tongue, but I never have a good answer--at least not one that enables  them to do it.

A great chapter about slap tonguing can be found in a book by Jay C. Easton: Writing for Saxophones: A Guide to the Tonal Palette of the Saxophone Family for Composers.  It's pretty thorough. I highly recommend it.

Here are the the four kinds of slap tonging techniques that he discusses in the book.

1. “melodic” slap or pizzicato (clearly pitched): melodic “plucking” sound entire keyed range of horn (but not altissimo) Maximum tempo: 240 beats per minute Possible from p to f dynamics

2. “slap tone” (clearly pitched): melodic slap attack followed by normal tone 
Maximum tempo: 200 beats per minute. Possible from p to f dynamics

3. “woodblock” slap (unpitched): soft, dry percussive sound
Maximum tempo: 200 beats per minute. Possible from p to mf dynamics

4. “explosive” slap or “open” slap (unpitched): loud percussive sound
Maximum tempo: 70 beats per minute Possible from mf to ff dynamics

In this clip from a duo gig I did with pianist Ethan Iverson at Cornelia Street Cafe back in March of 2012, I'm doing a cross between what Jay describes as a melodic slap and a woodblock slap.

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