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…
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33 thoughts on “How to Play Altissimo on Saxophone”
Thanks for the trick. Betters ax. com is my first sax website i come across. I will keep coming bac fo more.
Thanks, I’ll keep making more content then!
Hi, I started learning alto sax for 1 year, and I am looking forward to play the altissimo G(but I couldn’t), can you give me some tips?
I am using a selmer Paris Concept Mouthpiece and an alto sax with high F# key. Please can you send your tips to me through email. Thanks!
The tips are in the video that’s in the post above. Follow the instructions there, practice it every day for a while, and eventually you will get the notes. It takes time…
I can’t get access to the worksheet
Thanks for helping me unveil this longtime hidden secret. I will never forget Jay Metcalf.
how can I play g octave on altosax
I’m trying to reduce the wrist movement needed to get from the D and Eb palm keys to the front E and F. Do you have any advice please, Jay?
Watch my video on making your own palm key risers. This will help with the excess movement quite a bit.
Good god this is hard. I’ve been playing for many years and I’ve never been able to get these notes. Now, I can hit the high G, but only by using my front key and the high f# key. Though this works, I can’t hit any other altissimo notes despite some of them being labeled as ‘easier’. I’m trying to relearn G using your method as I suspect it’s the better way to unlock access to the others. Or maybe I’ll just continue to try and shoot for higher notes using your methods. Will let you know when I’ve finally made it. I’ll be frustrated and insane until then. Wish me luck. In any case, thanks for this site. It’s great.
Rich, You’re not alone. Altissimo is frustrating for everyone. Like everything else difficult on the saxophone, it requires very strong fundamentals. Be sure to work on long tones and overtones everyday first, before working on the altissimo range.
I love your great HELP with everything you tell and show us, PLEASE KEEP IT UP, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.
Steve, I plan to. Thanks!
Everytime I try to play the altissimo G and I press the G key (right image), my octave key closes and it just goes back to a lower note, therefore I also can’t play a front E. Do you have a solution for this problem or is it supposed to be like this?
I cannot download the practice sheet for alltisimo. Can you send me please the file?
Thank you for your help
What is the key on top of the B key?
that’s the front F key
Thanks for the great info!
I’m primarily a keyboardist but really enjoy Alto, some soprano, tenor and occasionally Trumpet flugelhorn
I almost have to visualize these tips you have given
Like the singer/vocal cord thing along w the garden hose nozzle and with my own imagery of random things like geographic places that certain tunes make me think of…
Really dig your YouTube channel
Really good and generous, and passionate.
Please send me the altissimo work sheet.
I love your videos and as soon as I can afford, I will join!!
Your lessons are great! I find that practicing and trying to get altissimo notes makes my sound better across all notes. I suspect it’s improving embouchure strength. I make sure to try it for a few minutes every day. I encourage players to hunt around the internet for the fingering that works for them. There are many variations for the “g” and perhaps the best fingering is different due to the saxophone itself. Jay, can you post a link to the exercise for members? Thank you!
Thanks Terry. A few minutes a day on altissimo is perfect. If you spend too long, you are likely to tire out your embouchure and develop bad habits. If you are a member, all of the free downloads are available in the members area once you login.
I cannot at all get my high F# to come out without using my F sharp key, is this problematic? Also, I am having a lot of trouble with altissimo G, any fingering that makes use of the front F key does not come out at, just emits an airy gargling sound. Any tips or helpful information would be appreciated. This has been frustrating me for some time. Thankyou
Make sure you are not biting on the reed. Let the air do the work of getting the notes out. Watch my YouTube video on overtones for more help.
Hey, thanks for the tips! I’ll definetly be using the core essentials exercise to warm up and I’ll be using your tips to reach those altissimo notes. Thanks!
Thanks so much, I have gained a lots from here and I will be glad if can get that spread sheet to download and other books or write-ups that can help me on saxophone
Enthusiasm and desire can break through all difficulties
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Waoooo!! Great…. Thank You very much, this is so helpful
Great site Jay! Resuming alto sax playing at 64 after a 46 year break. Loving it!
Regarding altissimo, I play an old Buescher True Tone with no front-F key. When I was a kid I played altissimo A as the last note of a Harlem Nocturne piece for a recital. I am now working on that A again and the best fingerings for the other overtones.
Any additional tips for us front-F key limited players?
There are fingerings for altissimo G without the front F key. Try playing normal B first finger left hand and getting it to overblow to a high G. You can try bis B flat fingering to get the F#. The rest of them don’t use front F so you should be fine from there.
Please give tips for how to play even higher notes!