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In SOTW Blues, R&B, Rock n' Roll Saxophone Teaching Resource series:

Sound Effects for Saxophone - Part III

by John Laughter

The term subtone refers to the technique of playing with soft tone on slow songs andis a technique used mainly in the lower register.

If you are familiar with Plas Johnson’s tenorsolo on The Pink Panther theme, youwill hear this tone in the beginning when he plays the low notes. Stan Getz wasalso noted for his beautiful subtone approach on tunes such as Girlfrom Ipenema and Here’s that RainyDay. Other classics include Danny Boyby Sil Austin, Pete Christleib’s tenor solo in Unforgettableby Natalie Cole, and Boots Randolph’s version of The Shadow of Your Smile. Paul Desmond also had what some refer toas a fuller subtone approach on alto. Indeed an excellent saxophonist with aclassic tone. Another outstanding master of this technique on tenor was Eddie“Lockjaw” Davis.

I do not know when this technique was developed, but it was very popular in thebig band era, remained popular during the 50s and 60s, especially on the slowTop 40 hits, and still can be heard today in many forms of sax music.

We are all familiar with what I refer to as the “marching band” sax sound inthe lower register when the player produces a rather loud honking tone. Thesubtone, on the other hand, is usually a soft, warm, whisper type tone althoughit can be used with a lot of volume. The subtone concept can be used in allregisters of the horn and in up tempo music but is generally associated with thelow register of slower tunes.

A few suggestions to get started:
1. Assuming that all of the pads are leak proof, play a low G.

2. Bring the lower lip back over the bottom teeth so that more upper skin belowthe lip line area is pressing gently against the reed. Depending on the widthand thickness of your lip, you may need more, or less, of the skin below the lipline against the reed. If you have a wide lower lip, this can work to yourbenefit. If you have a thin lower lip, more meat on the reed from the area belowthe lip line may be needed for a cushion.

3. Take a little more m/p into the mouth and relax the jaw more than you wouldnormally do in your standard embouchure setting. However, keep in mind that someteachers disagree about “relaxing the jaw.” It works for some us but perhapsnot for others so keep an open mind.

4. Play the G. Relax and do not blow hard. Play a soft, yet full tone. Keepadjusting the lower lip until you are getting a little mix of air around thecorners of the mouth with the tone. Not a lot of air (which is optional), butjust enough to make the lower jaw and corners of the mouth relax. If you can’tproduce a little air around the corners, do not be concerned because it is notneeded to produce the subtone. In place of that, you can add some air in yourtone which is fine since many players prefer a mix of air and sound to make itsound sweet for the general effect.

5. Play G to F and hold the note long. Keep adjusting and think “whisper.”

6. Now G to F to E and so on.

7. When you get to low D and C, the note may crack and jump an octave. Thistells you that you need more lip over the teeth and to relax the jaw. Someplayers will “lift” the horn slightly on low D and below to take thepressure off the lower jaw. It all depends on what works best for you.

8. Repeat this over and over. G to F to E to D to low C holding and maintaininga soft whisper tone.

9. Once you began to get good control of it, you can adjust the volume, cornersof the mouth, amount of lip in the mouth, amount of air/tone mix, etc. todevelop your own subtone quality.

This is, by no means, the only way to approach the subtone. Some players will take less mouthpieceinto the mouth for subtone. It may take a bit of experimenting to see what worksbest for you.

Subtoneis a technique that that is well worth learning. These notes will help you toget started. It is a technique. If you need more info about a CD that covers thesubject please send an email to [emailprotected]

Links for the subtone:
John Laughter: Rock & Soll Saxophone

Alternate Fingering

Alternatefingering can be used to obtain a "double tone" (trumpet like soundeffect with the mute on and off the bell) effect that is popular in a lot ofsolos. It also is called the "doo-wah" sound.

Some examples:

1. Play a 3rd space C then finger a Low C with or without the octave key backand forth.
2. Play a high A then close and open the right hand D, E and F keys at the sametime.
3. Play a 4th line D and maintain the fingering while opening/closing the left Dpalm key.
4. Play a 3rd line bis Bb then finger a low Bb with or without the octave keyback and forth.
5. Play a 3rd space C# then to the low C# fingering with or without the octavekey back and forth.

The small variance of intonation between the two notes make the effect morepronounced. (You can also get a little split octave on C, C#, D and Bb withoutthe octave key by relaxing the jaw.) Add some “ghosting” (gently layportions of the tongue on and off a lot of the reed while producing a note) asyou go back and forth to add color.

Alternate fingerings can be used to help when speed and clean fingerings isneeded, especially in classical or fast jazz passages;

To play a first space or fifth line F to F# trill, finger F then press thealternate F# key that is located under the right palm with the 3rd finger. Or,to play F to F# to G real fast or G to F# to F, use the F# alt. key with the 3rdfinger. This will help stop the “crossing noise” that is usually produced byuneven fingering that is common with fast F to F# to F fingering. The same keycan be used to play E to F to F# in a fast passage.

Four Basic Fingerings for Bb

1. B and A keys withthe bottom side key of the 3 keys under the right palm.
2. The first finger of both hands, B and F.
3. The B key with the bis key (pearl key between the B and A keys) both pressedwith the left pointing finger.
4. Low Bb fingering with the octave key.

To make a smooth and quick change from F to Bb, use the bis key. Finger Fthen release all fingers except the B key and bis key. Or go from F to Bb byfingering Bb with the first finger of each hand. Play F then raise the G and Afinger. To go from B to C and stop the “crossing noise” play B then pressthe middle key of the 3 palm keys under the right hand, i.e. the side key abovethe side Bb key.

Middle C to D can also present a problem with crossing noise if you have a rapidpassage back and forth. Some players will leave the right hand D, E and F keysdown when going back and forth from D to C real quick. This eliminates a lot ofkey action and noise.

Another link for alternate notes;
John Laughter: Rock & Soll Saxophone

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