Sam Newsome

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

The 55 Bar - Thursday, July 25, 2019

A Noise From The Deep: A Greenleaf Music Podcast with Dave Douglas

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Four Ways to Prepare the Saxophone

Before the release of my new CD, I wrote a post about the four ways I prepared the soprano on the recording. At the time, I didn't have the sound files available, so now,  I'm re-submitting a revised version of that post with sound files so that you can get a better idea of what these prepared concepts sound like, as well as how they can be used in musical context.

I know that typically preparing a musical instrument is associated with the piano, but this concept can also be applied to the soprano. 

First, here's my working definition of prepared soprano, one that provided much of the inspiration behind the creation of these pieces: 
"The process through which alterations are made to the soprano that distorts how air enters the instrument, how it exists, and by attaching external vibrating sources to the soprano that are set in motion by the movement or sound of the instrument."

Now, below are four methods of prepared soprano that I have employed on this recording.

Prepared Soprano #1 (Scotch tape): Here, the sound was altered by me placing Scotch tape over the neck opening and then puncturing small holes in it so that air can pass through when you blow through the mouthpiece. Due to the air obstructions, instead of producing a steady stream of air, random bursts of air traveled through the instrument, creating a jagged column of air that allowed me to present a fresher perspective to familiar ideas. 

Prepared Soprano # 2 (aluminum foil): Here, I prepared the soprano by placing aluminum foil at the end of the bell. And by blowing through the instrument, most effectively in the lower register, I was able to create rattling-effects that sound similar to a trumpet Harmon mute. On this track,  there are three sopranos heard prepared with aluminum foil.

Prepared Soprano #3 (reed straw): Here, I made a reed out of a plastic straw by cutting the corners into a triangular shape which allowed me to create a double reed like vibrating mechanism. I then blew through this reed in place of my regular mouthpiece. In doing so, I was able to create a sound comparable to double-reed folk instruments, such as the shehnai and the Chinese musette. Here, there are three sopranos heard using the reed straw. 

Prepared Soprano #4 (sax with a dangling sound source): Here, I hung a dangling sound source (typically a set of chimes) from the neck strap holder and I responded musically to the random melodic and rhythmic occurrences set in motion by the movement of the soprano.

I realize this is not for everyone--not that anything should be. But the point here to open ourselves up to non-linear approaches to sound production. Much of my creative endeavors are governed by the notion that if you want to arrive at conventional outcomes, the process through which you create must also be unconventional.

I'll be holding some workshops over the summer discussing some of these ideas and approaches, so please stay tuned!


  1. I especially like #4. I imagine the chimes are made of wood. I appreciate the naturalness and warmth of this one.

    1. Hi Nate - I agree. These chimes have a nice sound. Here's the link. Check it out.

      And thanks for reading!

  2. Thanks, Liz Gatto. I can't wait to hear you try some of these things.


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