How to Growl on the Saxophone (Natural Distortion Pedal)

YouTube video

When I finally learned to growl on the saxophone I was growling on everything.

In this video I’m going to show you how to growl on the saxophone. But first, I want you to promise you won’t overdo it. You promise? Okay good. Now we can get started.

How to Growl

I remember asking my teacher how to growl on the saxophone when I was probably about 14 or 15-years-old.

He told me to hum a note while playing and that would produce the growl.

So I tried that, and… nothing.

I would start humming and then go to play a note, but every time the note just came out normal.

What was happening is I would naturally stop humming when starting a note since my muscle memory was already well programed at that point.

So you will want to first practice combining a sung note with your normal saxophone playing airstream.

If I just sing a note, there’s not really a lot of air coming out of me.

The trick is going to be to learn how to combine blowing more air with singing. Just pretend you’re playing the saxophone while you hum or sing

Once you can do that, put the mouthpiece in your mouth and repeat.

Now you may notice that your embouchure feels a bit weird when doing this. That’s to be expected at first just practice it for a while.

Now I have heard people say that they are thinking about the note they are humming and how it relates to the pitch they are playing.

I am not doing this. I find that it doesn’t really matter too much which note I’m humming and my throat makes the necessary adjustments on it’s own as I play different notes throughout the range.

As with any extended technique on the saxophone it’s going to take some practice.

Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts don’t get good results. That is normal.

Be ready to experiment with what’s happening in your throat until you find what works. Once you get it, it’s the sort of thing that is easy and doesn’t really take a lot of practice. 

The thing you really want to avoid is over using this technique or using it in spots where it’s not really appropriate stylistically. 

We work so hard to get a beautiful saxophone sound, it would be a pity to have our natural distortion pedal always on.

One other thing to mention…

After growling for a bit, I notice that my throat gets a bit irritated. It’s nothing serious, but I used to be in a band where I did quite a lot of singing, and after taking a solo where I might have done a lot of growling into my saxophone I would have a real hard time singing. 

It was like I lost my voice temporarily.

Let me know in the comments below if you have another technique for growling that works for you.

Want more saxophone lessons? Check out “The Last Altissimo Lesson You’ll Ever Need.”

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