Like everything else on saxophone, playing in the altissimo range is really hard until one day it’s not so hard.
Today I’m going to show you all of my fingerings from high F-sharp up through high C in the altissimo range for alto saxophone and tenor saxophone.
But more importantly, I’m going to show you what I practice everyday that allows me to get these notes out when I need them.
Click below to watch the video version of this post:
Everyone’s always asking for altissimo fingerings, but the truth is it’s not the fingerings that you need, it’s the preparatory work. It’s the sound work like the long tones and overtone exercises that really make a difference.
Those are the things that are going to get the altissimo notes to come out for you consistently, in tune and with a good sound.
I’ve got a link for you to download all of my altissimo fingerings on alto and tenor saxophone, but if you think that just putting your fingers in the right spot is going to get these notes out for you, you’re wrong.
Why Altissimo Fingerings Don’t Matter That Much
Most altissimo notes have several different possible fingerings. Why is that? It’s because the fingerings don’t really matter so much.
It’s what you’re doing in your throat and what you’re doing with your embouchure and what’s going on in your head that’s going to help you get those notes out.
What You Do (and Don’t) Need to Play in the Altissimo Range
It’s also important to note you don’t need some special mouthpiece to play altissimo notes. With a well-balanced reed I can get all of my altissimo notes out on any of my mouthpieces and they’re all different — metal, hard rubber, large chamber, small chamber, baffle, no baffle.
It doesn’t matter, so before we get into the fingerings, check out these warm-ups that I’m doing every day.
And you need to understand that if you don’t put in the preparatory warm-up work on a very regular basis, you’re not going to have success in the altissimo range regardless of fingerings.
Altissimo Warm-Up Exercises
I start off all of my practice sessions with long tones and I play long tones over the entire range of my saxophone.
I like to start in the middle, like middle C, and play a long tone on every note all the way down chromatically to low B-flat. Then I go back to the middle and do the same thing all the way up to my highest altissimo note until I don’t have any more notes.
Once I’m done with that I take my mouthpiece off and I practice with just the mouthpiece on its own. I just do some simple exercises. I play a major scale and some arpeggios.
Really I’m on the mouthpiece for about a minute or so. Then I put my mouthpiece back and I get into playing my overtones.
How to Play Overtones
Overtones are when you finger one note, like low B-flat, on your saxophone, and you’re able to play several different notes in partials above the note with the same fingering. (It’s similar to how trumpet players get several different notes out of the same fingering.)
If you don’t yet know what overtones are then you really shouldn’t be working on your altissimo yet.
I play my overtones over about three octaves on low B-flat, B and C and sometimes I go up to C-sharp and D.
I play a couple exercises and a couple melodies just with overtones. Again, I’m only spending a few minutes on these exercises, but I’m doing it every day. You don’t need to spend half an hour on this every day.
You just spend a few minutes working on overtones, but if you do it every single day, overtime you’re really going to reap the benefits. It’s playing long tones, on the mouthpiece all by itself and overtone work.
Click below to find out if you’re practicing the right things:
Why It’s Important to Practice These Fundamentals
If I don’t do that warm-up I’m going to get into all sorts of bad habits where I’m trying to force notes out with my embouchure by squeezing really hard.
My throat is going to be closing off. I’m going to be dropping my jaw to get the low notes out. All of those things are typical bad habits and ways we cheat to try to get the extreme registers out.
You want your air to be doing the work. Not your mouth, not your jaw, not your lips, your air stream does all the work.
Click below for a video to make sure your embouchure is solid:
How to Keep Your Throat Open and Relaxed
While you’re working on all these sound exercises, you want to pay careful attention to the shape of your throat. You want it to be open and relaxed.
Also pay attention to the position of your tongue. You don’t want your tongue to be closing off your throat. Try to get your tongue to relax and lay down flat.
Altissimo Fingerings for the Saxophone
Now let’s get into the fingerings. It’s important that we start out by using our front E, front F and front F-sharp fingerings first. Then we’ll be ready to slide on into altissimo G.
For a refresher, check out my first introductory lesson to the altissimo range below:
You can download a PDF version of the altissimo fingerings here. If you’ve got other altissimo fingerings that work for you for any of these notes, please put them in the comments below so everyone else can try them out and see if they work for them.
High Front E and Front F on Alto and Tenor Sax
All of these front fingerings and altissimo fingerings are with the octave key. We’re going to start with the note E, your high front E.
Then we go on to the front F.
Altissimo F-sharp and G on Alto Sax
Now we get into our first altissimo note, F-sharp. On the alto saxophone you leave your F-natural down, add your bottom side-kick, your B-flat side key. That gives you F-sharp.
Then to get to G we put our first finger down in the right hand and lift up the middle finger so now it’s just front F, first finger right hand and the B-flat side key.
Altissimo F-sharp and G on Tenor Sax
F-sharp is different on tenor and alto saxophone. Sometimes I just add the side B-flat key as with the alto. This works on some tenors.
But normally on tenor I add that side key, lift up my second finger and put down my first finger in the right hand.
To get to G from here I lift up the first finger. So G is the front F key plus the B-flat side key.
Altissimo G-sharp on Alto and Tenor Sax
On alto sax, G-sharp is one, three, one plus the side C key (the middle right hand side key).
The fingering I use on tenor is two, three and the middle finger on your right hand, (F-sharp key).
Altissimo A for Alto and Tenor Sax
For the altissimo note A I use the same fingerings on both alto and tenor sax — two and three on the left hand, and optionally, one, two and three in the right hand.
Altissimo B-flat for Alto and Tenor Sax
B-flat is also the same on both saxophones. I use the third finger, middle side key in your right hand, and one, two and three.
Altissimo B for Alto and Tenor Sax
To get to B natural for both tenor and alto, I add the D palm key and I lift up two and three.
Altissimo C for Alto and Tenor Sax
The note C is the same on both alto and tenor — one, three, and one, three, E-flat pinkie key.
Finding the Altissimo Fingerings That Work for You
These are my altissimo fingerings that I use. They work on my Yanagisawa saxophones. They also work on my Selmer Mark VI If you are using a different fingering or you find a different fingering that you prefer by all means use that one.
When you’re testing different fingerings, sometimes you have to compromise as well. You want a good sound and you want the note to be in tune but you also want something that’s relatively easy to get to from other notes.
Maybe you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of intonation for a certain fingering in order to get the notes to come out easier so you can play something a bit faster.
Click below for some tips on how to play the saxophone in tune:
Taking Your Altissimo Notes From the Practice Room to Performance
Another thing to keep in mind is that once you start getting these altissimo notes coming out in the practice room about 99 percent of the time, when you then go and try to use those notes in a performance at first they probably aren’t going to be coming out.
You have to miss about 100 altissimo notes before they start coming out onstage when you want them to.
So that’s it, all the altissimo fingerings for alto and tenor saxophone. Don’t forget to download the free altissimo saxophone fingerings, and let us know how it goes in the comments!