Sam Newsome

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



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Overtone Madness Will Prevent Sound Sadness

When saxophonists ask for suggestions on how to gain more sound flexibility--especially in the altissimo register--I often recommend the book Top-Tones for the Saxophone: Four-Octave Range by Siguard Rascher. And as great as this book is, it can be a little dry as far as melodic content--which could present a challenge to the less disciplined student--and I’m speaking from experience. When I was in in my late teens and early twenties, I definitely did not have the discipline to practice overtone exercises everyday.

And here are a couple of reasons why:

1. They’re difficult to play in the beginning, so you never feel like you’re benefitting from your efforts. As a matter of fact, many students have difficulty getting pass the third overtone when playing the overtone series. 

2. Since there is not much melodic content when just playing the overtones series, it gets kind of boring, and becomes difficult to continue playing them for any amount of time for you to reap the benefits from practicing them.

That’s when I discovered that practicing bugle calls could be a practical solution. The bugle is a valve-less brass instrument that looks similar to the trumpet, and they’re commonly played during military-related ceremonial events. Because the instrument has no valves, it is limited to the notes from the overtone series, and the only way to play the notes from the overtone series is by varying the embouchure and the airflow in the oral cavity. So I figured the repertoire written for the bugle would be ideal for the saxophone, especially the soprano.


The five note scale on which bugle calls are written is called the bugle scale, which is the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th partial of the overtone series. See Example 1: the bugle scale in the register of the bugle below.




Example 1: The bugle scale in the register of bugle



Now if you look at Example 2, you’ll see that the overtone for the saxophone is one octave above.




Example 2: The bugle scale in the register of the saxophone



Bugle Calls for Saxophone

The following are three bugles adapted for the saxophone: Taps, Assembly, and Reveille. And there are four versions of each, starting on the fundamental tones Bb1, B1, C1, and C#1. These bugle calls are fun and effective ways of working on breath support, oral cavity manipulation (speeding up and slowing down the air flow) and embouchure control (flexibility and muscles).


Taps (Exercises 1 - 4)

1. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone Bb1 (or low Bb)



2. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone B1 (or low B)



3. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone C1 (or low C)


4. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone C#1 (or low C#)




Assembly (Exercises 1 - 4)


1. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone Bb1 (or low Bb)



2. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone B1 (or low B)



3. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone C1 (or low C)




4. Play entire song starting on the fundamental tone C#1 (or low C#)





Overtone Repetition Etudes 1 – 4


1. Play entire etude starting on the fundamental tone Bb1 (or low Bb)



2. Play entire etude starting on the fundamental tone B1 (or low B)



3. Play entire etude starting on the fundamental tone C1 (or low C)



4. Play entire etude starting on the fundamental tone C#1 (or low C#)

  

Overtone Triplets (Parts A and B)

The note names at the bottom of each stave represents the notes used to play the melodic content shown above. For example, measures 1 and 2 of Letter A should be played using the fingering for the low Bb, etc.






Some of these exercises might be too difficult for players with little experience in playing overtones. So I have included a few preliminary exercises that will help you in gaining a better understanding of the process on how overtones are produced. As you become more comfortable with these easier  preliminary exercises, the more difficult ones presented in the beginning of the article will become less and less daunting.


 Preliminary Exercise #1: Play all examples fingering only the fundamental tone in parenthesis.




Preliminary Exercise #2: Play all examples fingering only the fundamental tone in parenthesis.




Benefits of practicing these exercises:



  • Playing in the altissimo becomes easier
  • Increased flexibility
  • Heightened oral cavity awareness
  • A sound more rich in harmonics and overtones
  • Strengthens embouchure
  • Breath support
  • Increased endurance

And keep in mind that playing these exercises is not an exact science, so in the beginning, just even attempting them will prove beneficial. So don't get too bogged down with trying to play them perfectly. Fine tune them over time. Right now, just do what you capable of. 


One last thing: Here's a performance I did recently with vocalist Fay Victor and drummer Reggie Nicholson for the Art for Art: In Gardens Series, which features creative and improvised music around New York City.

This performance demonstrates some of the flexibility and extended range that can be achieved through mastering these exercises.  Let me know what you think.

And thanks for reading!

- Sam






7 comments:

  1. Sounds great and thanx for the info!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Sam, at which nuance do you practice these exercices? Loud or soft? mp or mf? pp or ff? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Etienne, Great question. My dynamic range with overtones is limited. My goal is to just get them to sound. So the volume I play them is usually mezzo forte. But if you're able to practice at more dynamic levels, I'm sure it will only help. I'd love to hear it, too.

    Thanks for reading. - Sam

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, I usually practice loud (I love to blow!), but the higher harmonics (from high D) only come out if I play piano or pp. Also, for these high harmonics I noticed that most of the work comes from the stomach area, not much the throat or oral cavity, what do you think about all that?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I see them more of an abdomen, oral cavity and embouchure workout. But they do require more lower support.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Abdomen, yes that's what I mean by "stomach area". And what about the embouchure? It seems that harmonics come out more freely with less mouthpiece/reed in the mouth. What do you think?

    ReplyDelete

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