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Discussion Starter #1
I am a newby on the SOTW Forum, so please bear with me. I have played for 30 of the past 45 years (my wife made me quit when my daughter was born). In the mid 90’s I got back into it and bought my 1ST tenor (alto, soprano & flute prior to that). I have never entertained the notion of playing professionally, but I did play wedding gigs throughout college and did a once-a-month church gig for several years as well as occasional blues clubs.

I would like to improve my chops by learning the altissimo range. I would appreciate any tips on how to best go about teaching myself, including how to procure a good fingering chart.

Also, I have a problem with my horn, which is a 1927, gold-plated Martin Handcraft that I dearly love, but which is poorly suited for altissimo, I believe. The key structure is far from modern (straight line with no high F key in front) so I am entertaining suggestions regarding the purchase of a horn that is suitable for altissimo. As you may have guessed, my funds are limited. ($1200 - $1400 currently).

Are there specific tenors that are better suited to altissimo than others? Not sure where I got the idea, but I had the impression Conn 10M’s were very well suited for this. Any information and/or opinions are welcome.
:cool:
 

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dunno much about the horn or its condition, but if its in decent shape with good pads its probably good for altissimo, although you might benefit from examining your current setup and considering a new mouthpiece and/or reeds. i would never buy a horn for altissimo. you can get great at altissimo on any decently set up horn of moderate quality (or better, ie student horns). I'm playing (just started) on a yamaha 275 student tenor. It has no leaks, and altissimo is awesome.


you might benefit from a book about learning altissimo (ie. top tones, there are so many others) if you like books and instructions and such. I personally found it much more fun to do it myself, as I do most things (probably to my disadvantage).


First I worked exclusively on overtones. Mind you, this was on alto. I just started tenor recently (altissimo came within no time). I played stuff like amazing grace using only low Bb and C fingerings and overtones. Hard at first, but it came. Eventually added some more notes like D#, added to the songs. Once you get overtones down on the low end, they come quickly on the higher end. Once they come on the higher end, they start coming on every and any note, and once they do that, playing into the altissimo register is nice and easy.

Then it was time to get a bit more serious. Play scales. All of em! major, minor, harmonic, melodic. Then go to other modes and such. Play them as high as you can go, and learn to tongue altissimo while controlling the notes. Choose a key or two a day and work on it and have fun. It gets much easier and much more fun as you get better at it.
 

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I haven't used Rascher's book, but various threads on here say he teaches the whole thing without recourse to Front F. His "Top Tones" would be the one to get, maybe.

Old horns like my '37 Martin need some adjustmest of front F keywork for those fingerings, but I agree that any decent well set-up sax should be great, and none better than a Martin. Apart from the legwork on overtones, etc, some experimentation with mouthpieces and expecially reeds can help a lot.
 

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altissimo is a difficult one to teach - I always find with people it is a matter of discovery.

I think the rascher book is a bit of a pain. Like it's good when you have a teacher to guide you. I just find it feels dry when you do it.

Harmonics is the best way to prepare yourself for altissimo. I always use this excercise, play the 1st harmonic off of Bb (so you get the octave up) then finger B - C - C# - D - E. Make sure they are clear, then when you go to E instead of going to F, finger low Bb but play F (so play the second harmonic) then continue going up to E and repeat. Go as High as you can go then go back. Make sure you're playing each note clearly!

The reason I use this exercise in supplement to the Rascher Book is because hearing a semi tone is a lot easier than hearing 4ths, and remember its not about tightening embouchure - its about good air (from the "bowels" of your lungs) and it's also about using your vocal chords! vocal chords are KEY!

Long tones are also another good way to approach harmonics! Long tones at the bottom of the horn. They help you learn to support the air to produce tone. i always say you can't have good high end without a good low end.

Then it's all about finding good fingerings that work for you.

also if you can get your hand on Dave Liebman's Sound Production Video that is a great way to get into stuff. Great exercises for any player at any level!

I played an old school martin from the 20's and it was a great horn and I could hit almost as High as I do with my alto. It's not all about the horn it comes down to good air and knowledge of altissimo. It takes a while to get altissimo clean - but it's rewarding.
Good Luck!
--Ben
 

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Discussion Starter #6
benbyrne said:
...its not about tightening embouchure - its about good air (from the "bowels" of your lungs) and it's also about using your vocal chords! vocal chords are KEY!
Thanks for the input. Obviously there's a lot more to consider than I had thought.

I always knew that breath support was the key, but how do the vocal chords come in play? Is altissimo enhanced by the use of a hum tone or something?

Also, I have the impression that mouthpiece and reed strength are also important. One player that I've talked to uses a moderately closed piece with extremely stiff reeds, whereas I use a fairly open piece and much softer reeds. I'm sure a lot of this is personal preference, but I am wondering if my preferred setup will be more difficult with altissimo. Have you any suggestions re: mpc & reed selections that might help?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
potiphar said:
Old horns like my '37 Martin need some adjustmest of front F keywork for those fingerings, but I agree that any decent well set-up sax should be great, and none better than a Martin.
I will have to concede the point that any decent sax should be useable for altissimo, but it seems intuitive that certain horns would be better than others. I have been drooling over a Yani T9930 currently on eBay. Seems like solid silver in a horn like that will resonate better and therefore lend itself better to altissimo. :cool:
 

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Bluesman0511 said:
I always knew that breath support was the key, but how do the vocal chords come in play? Is altissimo enhanced by the use of a hum tone or something?

Also, I have the impression that mouthpiece and reed strength are also important. One player that I've talked to uses a moderately closed piece with extremely stiff reeds, whereas I use a fairly open piece and much softer reeds. I'm sure a lot of this is personal preference, but I am wondering if my preferred setup will be more difficult with altissimo. Have you any suggestions re: mpc & reed selections that might help?
I'll answer the second question first - it's easier. As for mouthpiece combinations - medium openings and medium to high baffles - not so high you can't control it but high. Try a metal berg - I'm not good with facings on bergs, but find one you are comfortable with. Those mouthpieces let me squeal like a baby on speed! The higher Baffles encourage higher harmonics from you therefore it's easier to play altissimo. However remember changing mouthpieces also means change of tones. reeds are reeds I'm not a huge expert on reeds - I just buy what ever goes. I think V16s are probably the best vandoren reeds for altissimo - but it all depends on you - I know a guy who gets the best altissimo on playing just plain old Ricos. Just remember find the reed you are most comfortable in combination to what ever mouthpiece you are playing.

As for your first question. It's not a humm that is used to enhance your altissimo however humming may help you get a dirty sound if thats what you want. In short subconsciously when you want to produce a pitch (be it sung or by saxophone) your vocal chords should adjust to accommodate by stretching or shrinking horizontally or vertically. This is so that the air can be used in the most efficient way before hitting the reed on the saxophone. You should be able to change your tuning slightly by changing the position of the vocal chords.

Now (and I know all the jazz heads will tell me not to do this) we should take a singers approach to vocal chords ( I know anything a singer does is wrong :p ) In order for a singer to reach maximum tone and range in their voice, the vocal chords must be as loose as possible. To show this put your hand on your throat and move it from side to side. now look up and stretch your neck and do the same - you should feel that your throat is harder to move. So remember not to look up or to stretch your neck in anyway - playing saxophone should be comfortable. You can try the same test with just singing - instead of holding your throat try and sing while changing the position of your head. Also there should be no major uncomfortable movement in your vocal chords when you decide to produce any note - this is pitching with the root of your tongue - this too is bad - however I know I used to reach high notes (before I knew better) by changing the shape of my tongue)

While it maybe impossible for you to sing as high as you are aiming to play but your vocal chords will accommodate the air to help achieve that pitch. Remember playing saxophone should be about being as comfortable as possible - so don't do anything strenuous to get there!

hope this answered a few questions,
--Ben Byrne
 

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Discussion Starter #9
benbyrne said:
I'll answer the second question first - it's easier. As for mouthpiece combinations - medium openings and medium to high baffles - not so high you can't control it but high. Try a metal berg - I'm not good with facings on bergs, but find one you are comfortable with. Those mouthpieces let me squeal like a baby on speed! The higher Baffles encourage higher harmonics from you therefore it's easier to play altissimo. However remember changing mouthpieces also means change of tones. reeds are reeds I'm not a huge expert on reeds - I just buy what ever goes. I think V16s are probably the best vandoren reeds for altissimo - but it all depends on you - I know a guy who gets the best altissimo on playing just plain old Ricos. Just remember find the reed you are most comfortable in combination to what ever mouthpiece you are playing.

As for your first question. It's not a humm that is used to enhance your altissimo however humming may help you get a dirty sound if thats what you want. In short subconsciously when you want to produce a pitch (be it sung or by saxophone) your vocal chords should adjust to accommodate by stretching or shrinking horizontally or vertically. This is so that the air can be used in the most efficient way before hitting the reed on the saxophone. You should be able to change your tuning slightly by changing the position of the vocal chords.

Now (and I know all the jazz heads will tell me not to do this) we should take a singers approach to vocal chords ( I know anything a singer does is wrong :p ) In order for a singer to reach maximum tone and range in their voice, the vocal chords must be as loose as possible. To show this put your hand on your throat and move it from side to side. now look up and stretch your neck and do the same - you should feel that your throat is harder to move. So remember not to look up or to stretch your neck in anyway - playing saxophone should be comfortable. You can try the same test with just singing - instead of holding your throat try and sing while changing the position of your head. Also there should be no major uncomfortable movement in your vocal chords when you decide to produce any note - this is pitching with the root of your tongue - this too is bad - however I know I used to reach high notes (before I knew better) by changing the shape of my tongue)

While it maybe impossible for you to sing as high as you are aiming to play but your vocal chords will accommodate the air to help achieve that pitch. Remember playing saxophone should be about being as comfortable as possible - so don't do anything strenuous to get there!

hope this answered a few questions,
--Ben Byrne

Interesting stuff... thanks a lot!!! :cool:
 

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and probably hack a few people off but hey..
You sound like you're a good player. You want to "improve your chops". Why is altissimo the first thing you're thinking about? People are trying to get you to try all sorts of new "set ups". Why? What effect will that have on the rest of your playing? I'm just asking the questions I think you should be asking yourself. If you've answered them to your own satisfaction, fine. Ignore me. All the best.:)
 

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yeah.

altissimo will improve your range, because thats what it is. extended range. practicing harmonics and overtones will help your altissimo because altissimo builds directly on harmonics/overtones. it's the practicing of long tones with overtones and the additional control over your air and your sound that comes with practicing these types of things which will 'improve your chops'. not the altissimo in and of its self.


curious about the book/s not suggesting the front F.

i use front F for some of altissimo. hell, i use it a decent amount of the time for Es and Fs (and then F#s, no key on my sax), leading into the altissimo range, especially during scales and runs - although its great practice to try alternate fingerings to that kind of stuff.

front F is a great tool when you're comfortable with altissimo. front F on my alto means that I can lip altissimo D down (or lip up to it) without breaks and have loads of fun.

I find that using front F during the learning process was absolutely great for getting additional control. at first, front F = squeek, maybe an altissimo D, or some other ungodly sound. with practice, front F = nearly any altissimo note you want (although not necessarily at its best clarity or easiest) and just another key which you can use as you see fit.

still. overtones --> altissimo, long tones, embouchure improvement, etc.
scales + altissimo --> tonguing altissimo becomes easy (as well as slurred runs), faster fingers, and more range potential.

even if you become a pro at altissimo but never use a single note of it or overtones, the development and practice required to become more comfortable with altissimo will improve you in tonnes of other areas.
 

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MajinX said:
yeah.

even if you become a pro at altissimo but never use a single note of it or overtones, the development and practice required to become more comfortable with altissimo will improve you in tonnes of other areas.
ok. I agree with this much. But new mouthpieces etc.? Not sure about that. Do you ever think this question: "What part did altissimo practice play in Bird's development as a sax player?" I think i'm more in agreement with you than Bird would have been.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
RootyTootoot said:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and probably hack a few people off but hey..
You sound like you're a good player. You want to "improve your chops". Why is altissimo the first thing you're thinking about? People are trying to get you to try all sorts of new "set ups". Why? What effect will that have on the rest of your playing? I'm just asking the questions I think you should be asking yourself. If you've answered them to your own satisfaction, fine. Ignore me. All the best.:)
You have an excellent point and I think you are correct that I should try and fit my efforts into my existing goals and style of playing. Not good to go off half cocked switching everything around in order to learn something that won't fit my style.

In all honesty, I am a decent player, but I have always been lazy and never practiced diligently to improve my technique. My breath support is adequate but one or two earlier, aborted afforts at altissimo showed my limitations. I have always been able to improvise, but have shied away from jazz due to the necessity to woodshed on progressions and tunes.

Blues is my first love and the idea to finally add altissimo to my playing comes from one particular player that I have been listening to for years. Keith Klossen is the tenor player with the Tommy Castro Blues Band and he uses altissimo terrifically in his solos.

MajinX said:
even if you become a pro at altissimo but never use a single note of it or overtones, the development and practice required to become more comfortable with altissimo will improve you in tonnes of other areas.
This is an important point also. I think I should go ahead and make the effort to develop altissimo and keep my expectations in check. I'll just have to wait and see how it develops for me. And RootyToot's comments about "setups" are well worth keeping in mind. Best thing is probably to go ahead with my current rig and make changes when it becomes obvious that they are necessary.

I really do appreciate the input, guys. Thanks a bunch. :cool:
 

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RootyTootoot said:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and probably hack a few people off but hey..
You sound like you're a good player. You want to "improve your chops". Why is altissimo the first thing you're thinking about? People are trying to get you to try all sorts of new "set ups".
I didn't mean to sound like you should be getting a new set up - there are mpcs that endorse higher harmonics hence a brighter tone. However if I didn't emphasise it I agree with what other people are saying - your tone will change... if you like your sound stick with what you have! I learnt to play altissimo on a selmer s80 C* which is a terrible mpc for altissimo (I feel). Altissimo shouldn't be about mouthpieces - it should be about technique.

I personally like darker alto sounds so I play with a fairly dark mouthpiece - dark mouthpieces make altissimo harder - but yeah it shouldn't matter.

I will say that I agree with Rooty - altissimo isn't everything. Parker barely used altissimo. I can circular breathe and I can double tongue - I never ever do it though. I just don't need to.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
benbyrne said:
I didn't mean to sound like you should be getting a new set up...
I didn't take your earlier comments wrong and I appreciate your advice regarding mouthpieces.

Toledo, Ohio is not a great place for music stores and I spent a long time buying and trading mouthpieces on eBay when I first got my tenor. Took me nearly 6 months and probably 50 - 60 pieces before I landed on my current rig.

I understand that technique and equipment are only a part of what makes a good player, but that's no reason ignore them. I got the impression somehow that my Martin Handcraft would not be a good horn for altisimmo. Probably because the key design is so old-fashioned. Whatever the reason, I never tried altissimo thinking I would need another horn.

Thanks to the advice I have gotten on this thread I have decided to postpone changing my gear and dive into a practice program to teach myself altissimo. If needed, I can change moutpieces and/or horns later.
:cool:
 

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Bluesman0511 said:
...but it seems intuitive that certain horns would be better than others. I have been drooling over a Yani T9930 currently on eBay. Seems like solid silver in a horn like that will resonate better and therefore lend itself better to altissimo. :cool:
Not so.

I can play my altissimo just as well on my (still mostly) lacquered Yamaha YAS 23 student alto, as I can on my nickel plated Keilwerth SX90R. In fact, I find that even with the addition of a high F# key on my Keilwerth, I still play mostly with the front F, F#, and tend to not use my high F# key.

As long as the horn is in good working condition, i.e. no leaks, and all the keys work properly, it's all a matter of YOUR breath support and air stream manipulation (okay, MAYBE like 2.37% mouthpiece also). You may find it a bit easier to use a slightly harder reed for altissimo. I used to play V16 #5's on my C* on alto for classical work. But I wouldn't recomend switching until you have accomplished some degree of success in the altissimo. Once you figure it out, you will know wether you need to change reeds, and if so doing makes it easier or harder for you.

It's all about hearing the notes in your head, and being able to manipulate your air stream to over blow the fundamentals and get those overtones.

Try Eugene Rouseau's High Tones. That has been my Altissimo bible for many years.

The first exercise on the road to altissimo is to play a low Bb, and over blow the fundamental and be able to sound a middle Bb without changing your fingerings, then the F above that, and then the Bb above that. Get those three notes first and you will be well on your way to understanding how to produce altissimo.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
JCBigler said:
The first exercise on the road to altissimo is to play a low Bb, and over blow the fundamental and be able to sound a middle Bb without changing your fingerings, then the F above that, and then the Bb above that. Get those three notes first and you will be well on your way to understanding how to produce altissimo.
Guess I'll get started and postpone the new horn for awhile. It's good to have something to kickstart the learning process. Thanks...
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Starting practicing overtones...

So... I started practicing overtones on my tenor this week. Already it is obvious that this is valuable stuff to practice and whether or not I am ever able to successfully use altissimo, I expect my playing will improve if I keep this going.

I was always aware thet I was doing too much with my embouchure, but I never had a practice regimen to improve this. While trying to get the overtones to sound I am forced to confront this problem.

After 3 days practice on Bb, I can consistently get the 1st and 2nd overtones (middle Bb and F) but cannot get the 3rd overtone (high Bb). I think my horn setup is good, but its been awhile since my repair guy has done anything on it. I will have to take it in and let him overcharge me to make sure it is sealing.

:cool:
 

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Bluesman0511 said:
So... I started practicing overtones on my tenor this week. Already it is obvious that this is valuable stuff to practice and whether or not I am ever able to successfully use altissimo, I expect my playing will improve if I keep this going.

I was always aware thet I was doing too much with my embouchure, but I never had a practice regimen to improve this. While trying to get the overtones to sound I am forced to confront this problem.

After 3 days practice on Bb, I can consistently get the 1st and 2nd overtones (middle Bb and F) but cannot get the 3rd overtone (high Bb). I think my horn setup is good, but its been awhile since my repair guy has done anything on it. I will have to take it in and let him overcharge me to make sure it is sealing.

:cool:
You might try placing the back of your tongue more toward an ih (as in bit) or an eeee. The next overtone should pop out.
 

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I try to avoid changing much in the mouth because it may change your tone quality up there. that's a personal thing.

You may try hearing the note and singing it or even playing it first.

or another way to find your way through the harmonics is to play the first harmonic off Bb and continue just going up in semitones till you hit E then play the second harmonic from Bb which is an F and go up semitones until you get to the A off of the D fingering and finger Bb again from there and you should get Bb again then. Some people just keep going up to E and dropping to the Bb again..

Don't give up man! you'll get there soon!
 
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