Since becoming a soprano saxophone specialist over 20 years ago, to say that I’m sound-focused is a significant understatement. As a tenor saxophonist, I was overly concerned with what came out of my horn. Now, I’m more concerned with how it comes out.
Regarding sound production, I’ve discovered that there are basically three layers to playing a note. Each with a specific function. I call it "The Note Onion Theory."
Layer 1. Making the note sound (simply making it audible).
Layer 2. Making the note ring (having it have a strong presence).
Layer 3. Making the note sing (having it move the listener).
Layer 1: Making the note audible. Pretty basic stuff. Move sound through the instrument. Make the reed vibrate. Voila!
Layer 2: Making the note ring. This requires more thought, more effort, and more purpose. This is like taking a blank sheet of paper and drawing a picture on it—or at least decorating it. Layer 1 lets the listener know what the instrument sounds like, Layer 2 enables the listener to hear what you sound like.
Layer 3: Making the note sing. This is similar to Layer 2, except on a deeper level. Here, not only do you let folks know who you are, but the note can take on a new purpose, depending on the impact it has on the person who encounters it. It goes from being about the INSTRUMENT to being about YOU to being about the LISTENER.
I know this can sound like some pretty heady stuff. But we experience it all the time. We’ve probably just never compartmentalized in such a way.
The bigger picture with all of this is to remember that no we’re doing, there’s always another layer. You might say life, like sound, really is like an onion!