The famous saxophone growl...

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
To achieve the famous saxophone growl just hum or sing as out of tune as possible whilst playing – finally, something I naturally do becomes an advantage!

Easy, no problem I had my copy of HL ‘Vol. 105 - Soulful Jazz’ opened at Harlem Nocturne, I checked for the glow of the blue lights on the back of my 75W bi-amped monitors and then hit play in iTunes, the backing track thumped out with reassuring authority and I prepared myself for the much anticipated sleaziest and most raucous of tones to ensue like liquid out of my beloved tenor…

…What I got sounded like a spluttering of lumpy gravy crossed with an angry duck and I was left wondering where all my air had gone. Teething problems I assured myself. I did a quick hum without the saxophone and was mightily impressed with just how out of tune it was, and so it was with renewed enthusiasm I tried again, and fared little better.

What gives? I have the ideal tune to perfect this most desirable of saxophone tones and yet it seems elusive, the humming mechanism seems to get bypassed as soon as I have a mouthpiece in my mouth!
 

Taz

Busking Oracle
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3,626
Location
Rugby UK
One thing I can do quite nicely (to my ear anyway) is to growl.
Chris, you are on the right track, coughing, spluttering and almost choking are all par for the learning curve. Suddenly realising that your air stream is apparently traveling in the wrong direction is only natural. Keep at it. To start with it'll sound awful, after a few weeks, you should have the start of something a tad more useful. After about a month, you should be able to give the great Earl Bostic a run for his money!
 

rudjarl

Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM
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Løten, Norway
…What I got sounded like a spluttering of lumpy gravy crossed with an angry duck and I was left wondering where all my air had gone. Teething problems I assured myself. I did a quick hum without the saxophone and was mightily impressed with just how out of tune it was, and so it was with renewed enthusiasm I tried again, and fared little better.

What gives? I have the ideal tune to perfect this most desirable of saxophone tones and yet it seems elusive, the humming mechanism seems to get bypassed as soon as I have a mouthpiece in my mouth!
Hi Chris,
I think you actually may have had a good start at it. If the sound changed, then (at least) something happened. I have tried to achieve the growl for a while now, but I get nothing. Just a plain unchanged tone. I think that all you need to do is (sorry for using the boring word here) practice it a few days.
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
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447
Location
Leeds
Hi Chris,
... practice it a few days.
More like months TBH. I could never do it via humming. The one day an alto player I was working with said "just growl". Works better for me -- not humming, just a growl deep in the throat. In any case, it took weeks of working on it some every day before it clicked, now I can turn it on all day or on just one note in a phrase. At first it will be uncomfortable and the pitch will really drop, but you'll figure it out if you keep at it.
 

dooce

Well-Known Member
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Daventry
As I understand it, the "growl" is the result of the harmonic interference patterns between the sound waves coming from your throat and the vibrations of the reed - or I might be completely wrong, but that's how it feels to me. When I started doing it I thought it would be the same as humming into a flute, where you follow the melody with your humming a la Ian Anderson etc, but the sax works completely differently - I just keep a low hum going, somewhere round low E or D. When you are playing close to those notes though, there is little difference in the 2 sets of vibrations so the growl gets much weaker. The answer is to pitch the hum even lower, or higher, to re-establsh the difference in wavelengths.

I may have just written the definitive insight into saxophone growling technique, or more likely, a load of unscientific and unsubstantiated tosh..........

:))):)))
 

AlanB

Member
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170
Location
Vientiane, Laos
Just while we're on the topic of physics. I have noticed something funny. When you are in rehearsal and tuning up with another sax, have you noticed that as you come closer in to tune you can hear a wavy, kind of rising and falling in volume asthe wavelengths or frequencies come close to matching. With my rather poor tonal ear, I find this quite useful. Has anyone else experienced this, or am I imagining it.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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It's a well established tuning method. E.g. for pianos, organs. You're imagining nothing. Continental organs are tuned with a little of this beat left in and so sound quite different to organs tuned with English methods, where the beat is eliminated.

Related to this is the old way of teaching 'perfect' pitch. People learn to recognise an internal resonance frequency, the difference from that to an official note, and then the othe notes from knowing intervals.
 

Martin

Member
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Location
Grenada, West Indies
Just while we're on the topic of physics. I have noticed something funny. When you are in rehearsal and tuning up with another sax, have you noticed that as you come closer in to tune you can hear a wavy, kind of rising and falling in volume asthe wavelengths or frequencies come close to matching. With my rather poor tonal ear, I find this quite useful. Has anyone else experienced this, or am I imagining it.
Hi Al,

It's a fact. The physics is simple. When close to being in tune, the sound waves produced by the two instruments will alternate between being 'in phase' and 'out of phase', due to their slightly different wave lengths. When they are 'in phase', the peaks of each wave add together, creating a bigger sound wave. When they are 'out of phase' the peak of one wave is aligned with the trough of the other wave, which reduces it, causing a smaller sound wave.

It's rather like waves at sea sometimes adding to form a bigger wave or sometimes cancelling to make a slightly smaller waves.

As two instruments come closer to being in tune, the frequency of the rising and falling in volume reduces, until it stops altogether when they are absolutely in tune.

Have fun....Martin
 

Young Col

Well-Known Member
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Coulsdon, London/Surrey
Yes, I thought it was phase difference, but couldn't express it as clearly as Martin. Yes, sometimes aircraft as well (oh dear, re-awakened childhood memories for OG - not sure if it was the JU88 or DO17 that was particularly prone to it).
Interesting that our brains cannot detect phase difference on a single note, but we hear the additive/subtractive effect of two or more in/out of phase as increase/decrease in volume.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Interesting that our brains cannot detect phase difference on a single note, but we hear the additive/subtractive effect of two or more in/out of phase as increase/decrease in volume.
A single note has a sound that's many cycles per second (Hz). But as it's a single note, there's nothing else to compare it with, so it can't be in/out of phase. If you mean which part of the cycle we're at in the note, think of the very low notes on an organ, there you can hear the pressure pulses, although I don't think we can tell positive from negative. .

What you actually hear when two pure different notes are played at the same time is a further note - at the frequency of in/out of phase variations - the beats - which is why the 'difference note' rises/falls as the frequency difference between the notes changes. And it's the reason chords sound consonant when there's an exact simple ratio between the not frequencies (e.g. 3:2) and dissonant when there isn't a simple ratio like this. Picture's a lot more complex with an instrument like a sax, where every note we play is a mix of the fundamental and it's harmonics, but the effect is the same.
 
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AlistairD

Member
Messages
158
On a similar vein... have you noticed that two saxes can resonate off each other when your playing closely esp. in the low notes? I know when I am playing with an open throat 'cause I can feel it in the keys. It's even more noticeable when someone else is playing close to you. It can be strange when the pair of you are playing in harmony.... Resonant frequencies and all that from my Uni days, but it's great to 'feel' the reality....
 

AlanB

Member
Messages
170
Location
Vientiane, Laos
I think this phenomenon is used in "noise cancellation" technology. If you have a device which has an input of ambient noise and then send the same noise back out again through a loudspeaker but 180 degrees out of phase you get ....silence....cool eh. I once flew to the States and in my headrest there was such a noise cancellation device. It was amazingly.....well, quiet.
 
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