Sometimes I am asked about holding notes longer on saxophone. It’s a somewhat common question. And I was curious about how long I actually could play notes. So I did an experiment to find out how long I can play different notes. Middle D, G w/ octave key, G w/o octave key, low Bb.
G with octave key: 22.0 seconds
Middle D: 18.8 seconds
G without octave key: 15.6 seconds
Low Bb: 8.3 seconds
To put these note lengths in perspective, 60 bpm, beats per minute would be a fairly slow tempo. In 4/4 time, I played the Bb for a little more than two measures.
120 bpm would be a more common tempo. That would mean I played the low Bb for four measures.
You’re unlikely to need to play a note for more than four bars continuously. And if you do, generally it wouldn’t be on a low Bb. If a composer/arranger set something like that up, chances are they are unfamiliar with the saxophone.
I also played these notes on tenor, on alto, I could play them a bit longer, might try that out actually since I’m curious.
On bari, I would likely play them a little shorter.
Mouthpiece/reed and even saxophone are another consideration. So I may change the variables and try this experiment for a few more rounds.
Circular breathing is necessary for a few instruments – oboe and didjeridoo among the list, but I don’t think it is for saxophone. If you have a good reason why you think it is necessary, I would like to hear about it though.
What do you think of this experiment? What questions do you have? Leave a comment!