Want to play with more expression? Here are 5 tips for playing your saxophone more soulfully
An incredibly popular instrument, the saxophone is played by millions of musicians the world over. Best known for its role in jazz, blues, R&B, and even some pop music, the saxophone has a unique, instantly recognisable and distinctive sound that’s also wonderfully varied.
However, as exciting as playing the saxophone can be, like anything, it does have its challenges and, particularly when you’re a beginner and/or just starting out on your saxophone journey, you may be wondering how to play with more expression and more ‘soul’.
So, to help you, we’ve put together these 5 tips for playing your saxophone more soulfully.
5 tips for playing your saxophone more soulfully
- Dynamics: dynamics are essential when adding expression, depth, and therefore soul to your playing; and layering dynamics, even more so! If you’re as yet unfamiliar with the term ‘dynamics’, it simply means playing at differing volumes - where ‘layering dynamics’ therefore means travelling from quiet to loud in any given passage or piece of music.
Dynamics are an incredibly fun thing to experiment with if you haven’t done so before, with volume easily controlled by changing the amount of air you blow down your saxophone.
It’s also worth noting that the most expressive and soulful saxophone players around switch between dynamics in order to add depth and ‘colour’ to their playing.
- Auxiliary high F key (alternate fingering): using alternate fingering can be a really effective way to add more expression to your music; particularly making use of that auxiliary high F key. This key typically sits at the top of the left hand finger board of your saxophone and, if you have a modern instrument, you may find that the key in question looks like a teardrop.
Experiment with using the auxiliary high F key as an alternative to a conventional high F to give the transition between notes a smoother, more blended sound.
- Experiment with sound effects: when we talk about adding ‘soul’ and ‘expression’ to your saxophone playing, what we’re really talking about is adding layers of texture and personality to the music; steering away from flat or monotone playing, and playing with emotion.
One way to bring all of this added texture, colour and personality to your playing is by experimenting with sound effects such as growling, fluttering and overtones.
Most commonly heard in rhythm & blues, growling is a distinct technique achieved in one of two ways -
- Gurgling with your tonsils whilst playing a note
- Singing through your saxophone whilst playing a note (the note you sing doesn’t always matter!)
Fluttering, on the other hand, involves rolling your tongue whilst you play in order to achieve a sound that somewhat resembles the purring of a cat. In order to achieve this, though, remember to pull your tongue back so that it’s not blocked by the mouthpiece.
- Bending notes: bending is a technique for changing the pitch of a note at half step intervals. Also known by some as ‘sliding’, bending notes involves moving the pitch up or down with your tongue, just like you do when you whistle. Pro (extra!) tip for successfully bending notes: approach the bend slowly, both with the action of your tongue and your fingering.
- Have fun: especially with so many new techniques to experiment with and so much to concentrate on, it may be difficult to remember to have fun whilst you’re playing. But this really is so important when achieving more expression and soul within your music; simply allowing yourself the space to enjoy what you’re playing, understand it and embrace it will transform it. Have fun and let the music guide you!