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John Laughter

John Laughter is one of the most talented rock'n roll saxophonists in Georgia, USA and a regular contributor to Sax on the Web's Discussion Forum. He began playing sax during the "golden" era of rock and roll and grew up with Little Richard, Fats Domino, James Brown,The Champs, Johnny and the Hurricanes, Supremes, Elvis, Chuck Berry and all of those "TOP 40 HIT MAKERS" of the 50's and 60's era. He is the author of Rock & Roll Saxophone and Contemporary Saxophone (published by Hal Leonard) and co-author of The History of Top 40 Saxophone Solos 1955-2005.

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Sound Effects for Saxophone - part 1

The Flutter Tongue/Tone

by John Laughter

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Here are a few "effects" to get you started by John Laughter, author of several Rock & Roll Saxophone books.
This is the first part of this series including also: The Growl, Subtone, Alternate Fingering, Slap Tongue plus Slurs and Note Bending.
We also acknowledge members of Sax On The Web for their contributions in helping others gain a basic understanding of these techniques.

I do not know when the flutter effect started being used on the saxophone. An explanation of the technique appears in a 1926 publication titled SAX-ACROBATIX by Henri Weber.

I first became aware of it in 1956 when I heard Honky Tonk Part 2 by Bill Doggett. Clifford Scott used it in his 4th solo. It was also featured on the 1958 recording of Tequila when Chuck Rio used it while repeating the main melody. In 1965 Jr. Walker performed the effect on his high C in Shotgun. Joel C. Peskin added it to his solo on a more recent 1989 Top 40 hit titled With Every Beat of My Heart by Taylor Dayne. Also listen to the second phrase of Bobby Keys' solo on Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones (1971).

Perhaps it was developed and introduced by blues artists when they wanted to play a real "down and dirty" sounding solo. It really lends itself well to blues and rock music. A combination of the growl, flutter tone and note bending will put you well on your way to playing some very suggestive sounds!

This technique produces the same sound that is made by singing close to a desk fan. It causes the tone to flutter by separating the air stream.

To learn this effect, I suggest that you use only the neckpiece and mouthpiece in the beginning to get control of it, then attach the neck to the horn.

Before you play the neckpiece, try to make the sound that is similar to a small motorboat engine by blowing lightly and at the same time raising the tip of the tongue gently against the front portion of the roof of your mouth just behind the front teeth. Although you can lightly touch the roof area do not press the tongue into the roof. Just raise it enough to make a rapid flutter between the tip and the skin of the roof. The effect is also similar to the sound of a "cat purr." However, there is no need to make a sound or hum anything while fluttering the tongue. Once you learn to develop this sound it will transfer to the mouthpiece.

Courtesy of a SOTW member; "A 'HEEEEEE' formation of the tongue shape puts your tongue in a high arch and will draw the tip of your tongue away from the mouthpiece (m/p). Many players consider variations on the 'EEE' vowel shape to be preferable for general tone production. Vowel shapes such as 'Uhh' and 'Ooooh' leave the tongue in a low position that does bad things for your air stream."

With the m/p in the mouth do the same thing as above but DO NOT TOUCH THE REED while the tongue flutters back and forth towards the roof of the mouth. The tip portion of the tongue should flutter in the roof area in front of the tip of the m/p. If your tongue touches the m/p tip opening it will stop the effect.

If you continue to have a problem getting the sound, try doing the flutter without using the m/p. Get a good strong sound then use just the m/p with the neck without the horn attached. Remember that the tongue does not go up and down. It is normally very close to the roof of the mouth and the upper side of the tongue (just behind the tip) is making the motions which indent the air stream to make the flutter sound. And you can do this with a small amount of m/p in the mouth. It may take time to find the physical action that works best for you. You may also experience a problem in loosing too much air while blowing. This is normal because some people have to exhale very fast to get the flutter effect. This causes a quick loss of air. However, in time you will develop more control and will use less air.

Everyone has a different jaw structure and tongue shape. What works for me my not work for you. Experiment with all of the basic ideas and the technique will eventually develop depending on your own physical structure.

Several examples:

Rebel Rouser - Duane Eddy -  Gil Bernal - Tenor
The Stroll - Diamonds  -  King Curtis - Tenor
Twistin' The Night Away - Sam Cooke  -  Jackie Kelso - Tenor
Urgent - Foreigner  -  Jr. Walker - Tenor

Other links for the flutter tone:

More from John Laughter:

o Sound Effects for Saxophone - part 2 The Growl
o The Middle Aged Rock&Roll Sax Player
o John's bands: Celebration, The Grapevine band

Sax on the Web Resources:
o Rock & Roll
o John Barrow An interview by Neil Sharpe
SOTWF SOTW Forum: Rock'n Roll Discussion
Created: March 31, 2006
Update: September 4, 2006
© 2006, Harri Rautiainen and respective authors
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