Photo from Cyberslayer
In the 5 months I’ve been playing the saxophone, so far I have managed to avoid playing those pesky high notes. No not the altissimo range which are played by pure thought I think, but the ones played by the palm keys. They take you from D3 to F#3. I did try them a couple of times a few months ago when my teacher gave me some exercises, but soon decided my neighbours have enough to contend with. Besides, my mouth started to really hurt after a short time, my ears hurt worse. Recently I’ve started to murder I mean play some jazz standards and the high notes have become unavoidable. Though I must admit these old tunes are so great they are driving me to extend my range.
So here’s a quick review of what I’ve learnt about playing the high notes on the alto.
1. A harder reed can help. I’m using a Rico Jazz Select 2 Hard
2. Work your way up to the high keys from a note you can play, like a B2 (B with the octave key).
3. The mouth piece has to be far enough inside your mouth to allow the reed to vibrate fully.
4. The embouchure needs to be fairly firm but relaxed (yeah I know)
5. Mess about till you get a sound
6. Once you do get a sound, hold that note for as long as possible. The idea I believe here is to get your mouth muscles to remember how you got there.
7. Practice a lot not just on the high notes, but in general. A big drawback of being a beginner is your ‘chops’ (which I believe is the technical term) are not developed enough. If anyone know any short cuts to developing these please don’t be shy.
I would highly recommend finding a piece of music you really like that has a couple of the high notes, so you are driven by the music and enjoy the ride.
Something I still haven’t mastered is how to lose that uneasy feeling of physically loosing control of my sax when I come off the say C3 finger keys to just using the palm keys. Pressing the octave key and the palm key just feels odd like I’ve let go of the saxophone. I’m guessing this feeling will go once I’ve played up there a bit more.