Do you have trouble getting altissimo notes to come out reliably or even at all on your saxophone?
Every saxophone player has struggled with this.
I’d like to share with you the trick that helped me finally overcome the barriers to playing altissimo.
If you practice what I’m about to show you, over time you’ll be able to play with consistency and confidence in the altissimo range.
At the end of this post you can sign up to download the accompanying lesson worksheet with altissimo fingerings as well as some exercises to practice.
Before We Begin
Here are the some important things to keep in mind:
- You have to practice a lot to get any consistency and fluidity in the altissimo range. In this lesson I’m going to show you what to do though.
- The best saxophone players miss altissimo notes frequently, you hear it on recordings all the time. If you don’t always nail the altissimo notes, you’re not alone.
- With the amount of work needed to get good at altissimo, you may need to ask yourself if this is the best way for you to spend your practice time right now. You might do better to focus on other things first.
First Things First
If you haven’t yet developed a good sound, clean technique, solid rhythm and a thorough knowledge of your scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys, you should really focus on those aspects of your playing first.
My Core Essentials program is a great place to start working on all of the fundamentals I just mentioned.In the Core Essentials program I show you the three main sound exercises I do every day that allow me to get the altissimo range on my saxophone. If you’re taking Core Essentials already, this lesson will help you apply those exercises to getting these notes to sound reliably.
Here’s the Trick…
Approach the altissimo range using your front E and F key fingerings.
I learned this from Donald Sinta in a master class a long time ago, and when I started doing this, it unlocked these notes for me.
So first make sure you know your front E and F fingerings and start practicing some basic exercises using them instead of the palm key fingerings.
The fingerings for front E and front F are identical for all saxophones. The elongated oval shape represents the front F key. The shape of this key varies from one brand of saxophone to another so yours may me a different shape.
Yes, Overtones Help
Everyone says you must practice overtones in order to get altissimo notes out. This is unquestionably true, but we are not going to get into that in this lesson.
My favorite overtones exercises are also in the Core Essentials Program and they will definitely help with altissimo, a lot.
It’s difficult to describe voicing in words. The best I can do is equate it to singing. If I sing the same syllable ahh but change the note, the change I make in my throat is similar to what I’m doing when I’m playing the different overtones with the same fingering.
Pretend as though the reed is part of your body like your vocal chords. Just as your vocal chords vibrate as you sing or speak pushing air past them, the reed also vibrates in a similar manner.
It helps me to imagine the reed on the mouthpiece vibrating as though it were a part of my own body that I can control just like when singing or speaking. When I force air (blow) past the reed it’s as though I’m singing through the mouthpiece and reed.
One Altissimo Note at a Time
Start by learning 1 note at a time. The note you should begin with is High F#. I know you probably have a high F# key on your horn. I do too, but I haven’t used mine in about 10 years.
Lot’s of people start by trying to play high G. This is one of the hardest altissimo notes.
F# is one of the easiest and if you’ve gotten yourself comfortable with front E and F, playing high F# will be very easy.
- For alto sax, just add the side Bb key and it should pop right out effortlessly.
- On tenor I put down 1st finger right hand and lift up middle finger left hand and put down side Bb.
- All of these fingerings are on the downloadable worksheet.
No need to force or bite. Just play nice and relaxed with a firm embouchure and good air support pushing from your diaphragm.
If you’re doing all those things right, the note should just pop right out. Think of just sliding from front F into altissimo F#.
Altissimo F# Fingerings for Alto and Tenor Sax
A Note on Fingerings
Fingerings don’t matter so much. On the worksheet you can download, I give you the fingerings that I use. Start with these, but don’t be afraid to try other fingerings you find elsewhere.
Altissimo fingerings are slightly different on alto and tenor and they even vary from one saxophone to the next.
What’s important is that you practice using these front fingerings for E, F and F#. I know you are used to playing those notes with the palm keys, but you will see that it’s much easier to connect into the altissimo range if you pass through the front F fingerings.
Watch my video on how to play altissimo on the saxophone.
Altissimo G on Sax
Once you’ve worked on Front E, F and F# for a while playing long tones and these exercises and can get those notes out consistently and with confidence, you’re ready to try an altissimo G.
I play these notes using the first of the two examples given. The second is a common alternative. See which works best for you.
You should now be able to slide right into a high G by lifting up 1 or 2 fingers depending on the fingering you use.
I’ll let you go ahead and download the worksheet so you can get to practicing the exercises on your own. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page.)
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below…
The BetterSax Shed has access to the Altissimo Fingering worksheet and lots of other great resources. The best part is, everything in the Shed is free! Sign up here to access the Altissimo Fingering worksheet in the BetterSax Shed.