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Saxophone Altissimo – Are You Ready?

by Neal

To play in the altissimo, you need to understand the physics of your instrument.”
- Lenny Pickett pg 16 (Saxophone Masterclasses)

Altissimo refers to notes above high F# (the one above the staff).  Which is the highest note on most fingering charts.

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Altissimo requires special embouchure, listening, and control.

Players like Lenny Pickett throw in a lot of altissimo range and most professional (non-classical) sax players will hold out that screaming high note at least occasionally.

Lenny Pickett has also written about it in several articles in a couple of other books.

It’s a matter of developing your throat and being able to ‘hear’ the note in your head that you want to play.

Working on playing harmonics will help.  ie, fingering a low Bb and without changing your fingering, use your throat to play the Bb above that and then a G and and then the Bb two octaves above, then D, etc.

However,

“It takes time to acquire, but you don’t want to sacrifice the rest of your instrument for the sake of the altissimo.”
-Lenny Pickett pg 17 (Saxophone Masterclasses)

So go ahead and develop it for part of your practice if you’re ready, but don’t focus too much on it if you’re going to neglect other elements of your practice.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Cortina March 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Hey Neil:
Great to see your site growing ! Interesting stuff .
You know, I remember reading not too long ago that Lenny Picket used the Berg Larsen MP, but used A BARITONE REED ! I got to try this, I love Lenny`s playing, but then I`d have to say goodbye to my soft whispering soft notes….or…¿ is there a way to have the best of both worlds??)))))

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Neal March 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Hey Mike,
Thanks. Good to see you on here. Yep, I heard stories that he had used a bass clarinet reed too.

Maybe if you have enough control you can do it……

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Ted Dennis October 1, 2010 at 8:58 am

I’ve never been able to completely control my altissimo. I’m going to try Lenny’s mouthpiece and reed combination.

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Neal October 4, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Hey Ted,
That might work, you know that the combination at least physically can do what Lenny does, so try it out and see if you like it.

That being said, you are different than Lenny, your embouchure, etc, so the equipment won’t automatically give you that edge. Test it and then experiment to see what works for you.
-Neal

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John Caito December 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I play a Berg-Larson mouthpiece with a fibro-cell reed,because I like the combo for ease of playing. I recently met the most incredible saxophonist (Smokin Joe Escriba) and picked his brain on Altissimo. He got me to buy a “Guardala Super King Tenor” mouthpiece. They come in gold and silver. Get the gold. It’s a high baffle mouthpiece and after you practice with it you should find an easier time performing altissimo notes. I haven’t practiced enough yet but I will soon. The mouthpiece started at about $700.00 but has came down to the low $200.00 mark. Woodwinds & Brass.com I think was the site of purchase.

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Neal December 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Hey John,
Yeah, it seems like fibracell works pretty easily with metal pieces for some reason, not sure why. I used them in the past a little bit, still keep a couple in my case for emergencies.
Hope you like the new piece.

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John Caito December 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Neal,thanks for the reply. Good to find this site. I’ll dig deeper into this site. By the way, the fantastic Joe Escriba is the one who turned me onto this site.

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John Caito December 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Altissimo champion? Marc Russo Listen to a song by the “Yellow Jackets” its off of the Politics CD and its called “Foreign Correspondent” insane altissimo on alto sax. Another incredible altissimo player is Joe Escriba, go to facebook and find his profile page, click on his videos, especially the SNL song. Wow, will you be blow away.

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Neal December 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hey John, thanks for the suggestions. Found Joe Escriba. Didn’t see the videos though…. Are they on a fan page?

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John Caito December 14, 2010 at 11:36 am

Attention Neal : Joe Esriba is on Facebook! Click on his videos I think there are four. Click on the : theme song with the Lon Bronson all-star band which is an incredible band playing in the Las Vegas area.

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John Caito December 14, 2010 at 11:38 am

Neal that is the SNL: theme song with the Lon Bronson All-Star band.

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Neal December 16, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Thanks John, found that video, sounds good!

Andrew February 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Thanks for the info on Lenny and the link to Kirk Whalum. These are my absolute most favorite players and I try to get my sound closest to them. I do not know the altissimo register aside from a note 2 octaves above high d. That note comes easy to me. I play on a Berg Larsen 95/0 medium and a Rico Royal 3. Someday when I retire from my day job I will go back to playing full time and vow to learn the altissimo. Fortunately I can play along with many of Kirk’s songs as he does not hang in the altissimo as Lenny does.

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Robert Blea October 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

Trying to talk to Lenny Pickett or rep for Lenny about a show in NM..

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Neal October 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Hey Robert, I don’t officially represent Lenny Pickett, just appreciate his music. Seems like his myspace page might be a way to contact him – http://www.myspace.com/lennypickett

Good luck

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