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Altissimo

What is altissimo?


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Nick Wyver

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Notes above F/F#. Are they the realm of Satan or just normal stuff? Do you use them or just wish you could be bothered to practise them? For me they're just part of the range of the sax. They require more practice but that's all. Don't forget the 1st octave of altissimo on bari is only the same as the top octave on alto.
 

Colin the Bear

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I never use altissimo on any saxophone. I don't like playing it. I don't mind the odd note, when I'm listening, for effect, but it always sounds laboured to my ear. as if the player has run out of ideas and is looking for something.
 

jbtsax

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I can hit a lot of them, but I can't play them, if you know what I mean. I understand the mechanics, but I have never invested the time to become proficient. Besides, practicing notes in that range before I have attained any degree of control is musical torture to my sensitive, artistic ears.
 
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Sue

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Every now and then I think I want to play up there and start to practice but I'm rubbish at remembering the fingering without looking and give up after a few days. I think it should probably be left to those who can ☺️

I was just listening to James Carter Live At The Baker's Keyboard Lounge and man can he play altissimo.
 

thomsax

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I can just play a few tones above F/F#. Not able to play melody or scales up there.
 

BigMartin

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Made a couple of half-hearted attempts at learning. I think it's more of a priority for me to learn to play something musical in the normal range. But I think it can ber very effective and I intend to get there one day. Not sure where this puts me on the survey question.
 

jazzdoh

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It is just about extra learning just as you would learn growling or vibrato or sub tone and IMHO better skill to have than circular breathing which is more gimmicky than of any use.
I don't use the range so often now but can play up to D above palm D,never found i needed to go higher.
 

flamingoer

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Rumour has it that Charlie Parker hardly ever used altissimo -
something else we've got in common!?!
 
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rhysonsax

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I don't play altissimo because I haven't invested time to learn how to do it properly. Occasionally I scream on a held note or indeterminate pitch by putting teeth on the reed. Some punters seem to like that, and others can't work out which instrument it is that is playing way up there.

A couple of my favourite players who make altissimo sound musical are Junior Walker (tenor) and John Surman (baritone). I guess that altissimo works better on the lower saxes than the higher ones.

Rhys
 

Jules

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My own brand of loud tasteless R&B altissimo ‘A’s are relatively common, plus the odd ‘Bb’…. I’ve got those two notes pretty well down (hate G though and find G# doesn’t fall comfortably under my fingers). My introduction of altissimo freak-outs, as you’ll gather, has been a fairly unscientific affair in my case…
 

Colin the Bear

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Am I right in assuming the altissimo fingerings are different for bari, tenor, alto, & sop?
 

altissimo

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altissimo fingerings differ depending on which make of sax you have, never mind the size...
some fingerings will work better than others on alto or tenor Lower Altissimo - Alternate Fingering Chart for Saxophone - The Woodwind Fingering Guide, but once you get the idea of dividing the wavelength, the same basic principles apply and you still have to learn how to use your embouchure to get up there. Some mouthpieces are better than others - the accuracy of the facing curve is crucial and a higher baffle can help
Altissimo on the soprano is really hard work. I think John Surman pointed out that the longer the tube, the easier it is to get harmonics and that's generally the case for string instruments too..
seems like Low A bari responds a bit differently
 

Ivan

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I use the two altissimo notes I can reach (G and A on tenor) and whenever I think it would be a good idea to learn a few more fingerings, e.g. G# seems to want to be played, I cannae be ersed to put down the sax, go to learned tome or computer and look it up

I recently listened to a musician going over a (pink) Selmer MK VI for his own interest in the techs workshop. This chap played note-type notes but he also breathed sub-tones, spread harmonics, fashioned multitones, pushed altissimo notes and generally explored the nooks and crannies of the instruments abilities... I came away thinking that these skills do not just add seasoning to ones performance but may also improve the handling of the ordinary notes

Spurred by this and other sources (a member, name begins with a Zed (Zee), some time ago espoused the technique of reaching altissimo with ordinary fingering via harmonics) I've been experimenting with noises, sqeaks and notes with whatever technique occurs to me... it's fun and who knows might be useful?

I really should learn some fingerings though
 

jbtsax

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The acoustics of playing altissimo notes is fascinating. On a tone in the regular range of the instrument, the body tube sets up the "regime of oscillation" according to its length and the pitch that sounds is the fundamental or its 1st overtone. With an altissimo fingering, the resonance of the fundamental is weak allowing the resonance "upstream" inside the oral cavity to take charge.

An interesting side note I just learned is that using only the "oral cavity" one can bend pitches down on notes A2 and above. Below that the fundamental is too strong to allow the "oral cavity" to take over. This is why a palm D can be "bent" down several half steps without loosening the embouchure. This video by Randall Clark of Cannonball demonstrates this technique.

Inflections, Tone Bending, and Pitch
 

Nick Wyver

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I posted this list a while ago. It may be of some use to someone.
These are the fingerings I use normally for all these squeaky notes:

alto
G - alt front F oo/xoo side Bb
G# - xox/xoo side C
A - oxx/xxx
Bb - D oxx/xxx
B - D oox/ooo
C - DEb oox/ooo
C# - DEbE oox/ooo
D - DEbEF oox/ooo
D# - DEbEFF# oox/ooo

tenor
G - xoo/ooo side Bb side high F#
G# - xxx/ooo side C
A - oxx/ooo side C (or the same one as alto if I want to hit it really loud)
Bb -oox/ooo side C
B - D oox/ooo
C - DEb oox/ooo
C# - DEbE oox/ooo
D - DEbEF oox/ooo
D# - DEbEFF# oox/ooo
E - D ooo/ooo
F - DEb ooo/ooo
F# - DEbE ooo/ooo
G - DEbEF ooo/ooo

baritone (Yanag low A - I haven't really done much work with altissimo on the Conn Crossbar)

G - xoo/ooo side Bb side high F#
G# - xxx/ooo
A - oxx/ooo side C
Bb - D oxx/ooo
B - DEb oxx/ooo
C - DEbE oxx/ooo
C# - DEbEF oxx/ooo
D - DEbEFF# oxx/ooo
D# - ooo/ooo
E - D ooo/ooo
F - DEb ooo/ooo
F# - DEbE ooo/ooo
G - DEbEF ooo/ooo
G# - DEbEFF# ooo/ooo
A - D ooo/ooo
Bb - DEb ooo/ooo
B - DEbE ooo/ooo
C - DEbEF ooo/ooo

I have a top F# key on all my saxes and I use it (ok now I have an old Keilwerth tenor and a MkVI alto that don't so I use alt top F + side Bb)
The highest note in each case represents where I usually run out of steam.
I try and stick with these but I may use other fingerings depending on the circumstances.

For soprano I press some keys and hope. Update: I now have a sop with a top G key - a note that was always a pain. Above that it's the same as alto (if I'm lucky).
 

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