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How to Get that ‘Spanish’ Sound on Saxophone

Chick Corea wrote a song called ‘Spain’.  I like it, fun to play.  Little bit challenging to get it up to speed on top of getting the phrasing and articulation right.  Articulation is actually very similar to phrasing when you get faster…. but that could be another post!

When he plays it live, he often does an intro to it that’s based on the ‘Concerto de Aranjuez’.

It’s played ‘rubato’ – that means fluidly with your own sense of time, you can speed up or slow down as you feel makes it sound good.

Thought it sounded cool, so I tried playing it as an intro for Spain a couple years back.

Was thinking about it again and about what gives it that ‘Spanish’ sound.

Part of it is the phrasing and articulation.  Those things you need to learn by listening and playing around.

Part of it is pretty simple to learn though.  That part is the notes.

If you know the major scale you can play the ‘Spanish’ sounding intro to Spain.

You won’t start the major scale on the root of the major scale though.

If you play the notes of the major scale, but start on notes other than the root, you’re playing what are called the ‘modes’.

There are seven modes.

Ionion | Dorian| Lydian| Phrygian| Mixolydian| Aeolian| Locrian

If you’re in C major, the ‘Ionian’ mode starts on C, the ‘Dorian’ mode starts on D, the ‘Lydian’ mode starts on E, etc.

The key signature of Spain is two sharps which would be D major (E major for tenor/soprano and B major for alto/bari) if it was major.  But the melody isn’t major.

If you play D major starting on different notes, it could become a minor scale.

The notes from D major are the only notes used in the intro to the song.

The chords are centered around B minor though.  And it’s B minor using the notes of D major, that corresponds to the B ‘Aeolian’ scale for the intro, based on where things are centered and the chords.

The ‘Phrygian’ mode is also characteristic of Spanish music and is pretty similar to the Aeolian mode.

Try playing around with the Phrygian and Aeolian modes.  If you can play a major scale, you can play these modes.

In the key of C

Phyrigian Mode:

E | F | G | A | B | C | D

Aeolian Mode:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G

Towards the bottom of the page you can hear me play this introduction and Spain on saxophone.

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  1. Neal,
    Love the clip of you playing!
    Would you recommend listening to a recording of Chick Corea playing “Spain” as a way to learn the style? If so, is there a ‘live’ event recording you would recommend?

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