Sam Newsome

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

Video Feature: Sam Newsome, Ben Stapp, and Joanna Mattrey

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Eight Ways to Give Your Soprano Sound More Presence

1. Develop your lower register: 
Without a developed lower register your soprano sound will never have much range nor depth. It’s comparable to listening to your stereo system with no bass, only treble; It always feels like there’s something missing. The lower register is the most masculine and the warmest part of the horn. So by not utilizing it, your voice on the instrument ends up being somewhat incomplete.  And I think a lot of this stems from the instrument being viewed and played as an extension of a much larger horn.

2. Integrate multi-phinics into your sonic vocabulary:
Playing multi-phonics is a great way to give weight to your notes. Keeping in mind, of course, that the brashness and harshness of the multi-phonic is not always suitable for more delicate musical settings. It may not always be pretty, but it’s presence will definitely be felt.

3. Alternate between extreme registers:
When you alternate between high and low registers during your solos, you not only play different levels of intensity, but different timbres. And this also keeps you from sounding predictable and monotonous. It can seem somewhat “schizo” in the beginning, but it’s very effective.

4. Utilize the Doppler Effect:
The Doppler effect is a technique where you sway the horn from side to side, or up and down to change the direction in which the listener is hearing the sound.  Doing this while sustaining notes in the lower register, especially from Bb1 –D1, helps the notes to sing in an almost surreal like manner. Jane Ira Bloom popularized this technique .

5. Listen to and emulate exotic wind instruments:
Checking out exotic instruments like the ney, musette, or shenai teaches you how to maximize each note.  Too often we only play notes as straight tones, not really exploring all of the nuances and timbres available within each note.  Since the aforemnentioned instruments are folk instruments, playing chromatic melodies and fast lines aren’t really applicable, which makes timbre exploration even more important.

6. Play without the octave key:
If you play without the octave key from D2 – C3, you can get more harmonics resonating in those notes. The sound, however, becomes a bit more raunchy, so it doesn’t work in every setting. When I'm going for something a bit more raw and organic, I often use this. When I hear Keith Jarrett play the soprano, it sounds like he's doing a lot. 

7. Substitute conventional notes with ones from the overtone series:
Practicing your scales using the overtone series is a great way to learn how to use the overtones in a melodic context. Not to mention, it’s great for sound control and intonation.. On the tenor saxophone, Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker used this technique quite a bit, and quite effectively, I might add.

8. Utilize the growl effect:
This is probably one of the first techniques I used when I first started playing the soprano. I think it had to do with the fact that my sound was so squeaky clean, and I desperately wanted to find a way to dirty it up a bit.  And since you’re actually growling through the instrument while playing, your sound becomes very intense, which is great for creating drama. I first heard Pharoah Sanders do this on soprano, and I said to myself, “Man, I gotta learn how to do that!”

Check out this track where I'm utilizing numbers 3 and 5.

 Blue Monk from Sam Newsome's Blue Soliloquy by Sam Newsome 


  1. I really like the changes in color and timbre you are getting here. You are making music, not just playing acrobatics, or patterns, or changes. Sounds like you are really talking!

  2. Thanks, Gee! One of the great qualities of the soprano is that it allows you to be lyrical, and not always have to fall back on "playing acrobatics, or patterns, or changes" just to make a statement. This is something I have to constantly remind myself when I'm find that I'm running on automatic.


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