Sam Newsome

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Playing Octaves: Another Way to Tame the Beast

Playing octaves on the soprano in tune can be very challenging—particularly from the notes C#2 – F#3. With the exception of C#2, all of the notes have different fingerings between the octaves. I often equate playing octaves with doing squats in the gym. No matter how many times you do them, and no matter how strong you get, it always feels difficult to do. But we do them. Why? Because they work. You can also equate octaves with being like riding a bike uphill.  Again, an activity that does not feel good while doing it, but proves beneficial.

All of these exercises should be practiced at slow tempos. I recommend between quarter = 40 to quarter note = 60. And even though there are no articulations noted on these exercises, it’s recommended that you slur them, whenever possible.

Slurring allows you to focus on:

  • ·      Breath support
  • ·      Embouchure control, 
  • ·      Oral cavity manipulation (speeding up and slowing down the air flow)
  •     And of course practice them with a chromatic tuner.

EXERCISE 1: (Half note ascending and descending octaves moving in half steps)

EXERCISE 2: (Quarter note descending and ascending octaves moving in half steps)

EXERCISE 3: (Half note descending octaves moving in half steps)

Benefits from these exercises:

Ø  Increased flexibility
Ø  Better pitch and tone quality control between the octaves
Ø  Strengthens embouchure
Ø  Increases breath support

Good luck taming the delicate beast!


  1. Thanks, Sam...I've always wondered if this is the technical concept Steve Lacy was working with in his piece "Revenue" - to force himself to come to terms with the octaves on open C#.

  2. Hi Veal, it's a little different. Of course, Revenue is all about the C#, this is a little more broad, focusing on the idiosyncrasies all over the horn. But that's an interesting observation. I might have to do a piece on that. Thanks!


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