Glissando – how to make it look easy…

Thanks to Lewis for sending me this a while back, and for his suggestion to share it with you all.

This is Dean Hilson, from Oz, making it look oh so simple 🙂 – he’s using a 10* Link, so please don’t try this on a Selmer C*…

I’ll leave the rest to Dean, remember, this is glissando’ing into the altissimo stratosphere !


I’ll just go and shoot my saxophones 😆 Beautiful – Thanks Dean !

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12 Responses to Glissando – how to make it look easy…

  1. Mal-2 says:

    Yikes, my use of altissimo is pretty “plastic”, but this is just way beyond. I can do the siren thing off an altissimo D fingering, which is exactly what makes it so hard to nail. The same fingering will easily produce anything from C to F depending on how I work it. The fingerings from F# to C are not so touchy, but I think what I’m doing (and what he’s doing) is getting to a point where the horn is essentially not locking in on anything and it’s all reed-driven. Needless to say, he is absolutely right that you have to hear the note you’re aiming for or you stand little chance of finding it.

    Oh well, it’s good fun for hooliganism and driving the neighbors nuts. I’ll make sure to do my fair bit of screaming at the next Improv Lab (as if I didn’t the last time), since the way those things run it’s never certain whether anything is deliberate or accidental. 😈

  2. Lewis Pelham says:

    I also think that the 10* tip is a distraction & not necessary. It is the tip/reed strength relationship which is the most important.  Neither is a hard reed essential; as I learned the other day, most of it is in your head. It is even possible to attain several consecutive harmonic notes with the same fingering.
    One wonders however how essential is this skill, as none of the Old Masters found the need to exploit it; in fact it reinforces the belief in some that the saxophone is a circus instrument.  😀 . Apart from the odd screamer as a show off last note, most of the greats could say all they needed to say in the standard 2.5 octaves….with far more eloquence.
    It is probably significant also that Dean Hilson is clearly Australian….he has thousands of square miles of Outback in which to practice; it would not be possible to learn that living in a block of flats.

  3. Lewis Pelham says:

    I notice that he is using a single screw Lebayle ligature.
    I have one of those somewhere….perhaps I should dig it out!

  4. alan says:

    Lewis I think Dean lives and plays in and around Melbourne (population 4 milliom +), so maybe neighbours to annoy, and not a ‘roo in sight.  I think he’s explaining that you need to use ‘natural’ harmonics (overtones) so that you can then use non-harmonic fingering (i.e. normal chromatic scales) to produce the high/harmonic glisses…

    Pete Thomas has a page about it.  I think that’s why keyless saxophones were made, to practise harmonics/overtones like trumpet/tronbone players.

    I was only semi-joking about “don’t try this on a C*  😆  – but as always, a reasonable tip size is needed for harmonics, which are now an essential part of saxophone playing in some styles.

  5. Lewis Pelham says:

    Alan’s quote:-
    needed for harmonics, which are now an essential part of saxophone playing in some styles.
    Yes Alan….usually found on the soprano score!    😀

  6. alan says:

    I was thinking more of the ‘unwritten’ stuff, that both you and I are fond of…  😆

  7. Mal-2 says:

    It is VERY possible to get multiple notes from the same fingering, which is where the “hearing it in your head first” part becomes so critical. For example, my fingering for F#3 can also generate C4. My fingering for A3 can also generate Eb4 — it’s actually my preferred fingering for Eb4 on the rare occasions I wander higher than D4. I try not to, but when I find myself bumping into the self-imposed ceiling and am not willing to back away, well, it just happens. I do find it odd that the harmonics seem to be a tritone apart, as this is just about the most unnatural interval possible. But they are, and I can’t exactly argue with a saxophone.

    If a sax player is trying to learn to play in altissimo, I think it might not be an entirely bad idea to hand him a trumpet and let him screw around with it a few days, then point out that the partials of the trumpet are exactly the same in principle as the harmonics of a saxophone. In practice the intonation tendencies will be considerably different, but the idea is exactly the same. There is no way to play a trumpet at even a moderate proficiency level without “pre-hearing” the notes (horns and trombones are even worse). Brasses use a “lip reed” sound generator, and saxes use an actual reed, but the physics work out very similarly either way. They’re both considered cones closed at the small end, driven by a reed.

    If the student is not amenable to screwing around with a trumpet, then maybe overtone exercises on a flute are in order. The physics of a cone closed at the small end are quite different in theory from those of a cylinder open at both ends, but oddly enough, they work out to be almost identical in practice.

    All this won’t get to the glissando technique, but it WILL cover the prerequisites. I tried to apply the exact technique shown in the video (overblowing D#2 to A#3), but I can’t sustain it beyond the first couple notes without opening vent keys, which slows the process down so much it defeats the purpose. Also, what he is doing is a glissando at the beginning but a portamento at the end — a glissando consists of rapid-fire chromatic notes that may be somewhat smeared, but a total pitch glide is a portamento. This distinction is strictly maintained by string players, but woodwind players have been blurring the line since (at least) the clarinet solo intro to “Rhapsody in Blue”, where it is generally performed as a glissando through [written] fourth line D, then a portamento the rest of the way up to [written] high C. Gershwin was undoubtedly aware that a portamento across the break and through the pinky keys is damn near impossible, and that this is how it would actually be performed.

  8. Lewis Pelham says:

    After much practice I can carry out a seamless gliss between 3rd line D and palm key D on tenor….much more musical and usable, I believe, than an octave above. This is one of my requirements of a mouthpiece as not all will do it. It was  this procedure that provoked my Lawton squeak.
    Extreme altissimo is perhaps useful for embouchure development but it can become obsessive , rather like slap tonguing;  OK provided that it is not over used.
    Personally I would prefer to spend the majority of my practice time emulating Stan Getz  &  Ben Webster rather than attempting to sound like a scalded cat

  9. alan says:

    Lewis – it’s always been my criteria (?)  that high harmonics should be used very sparingly, but when they are it should (hopefully) be with devastating effect.  It’s just a shame that so much practise has to go into something that is used (by me) infrequently.

    But, I’ve always tried to use the ‘low harmonics’ to give me an extra half-octave of natural sounding notes (especially on the tenor) to make the that sax far more flexible – i.e to cover up to the ‘natural’ alto ceiling.   As such, I always try and play scales and arpeggio’s on the tenor up to B4 (alto high F#)  or C4 whenever possible.

    The Orpheo tenor seems to make that easier than almost any other tenor I’ve ever owned or played, considering I play/practise less these days…   A similar excursion into low harmonics on alto can however tend to get a little too “squealy”   🙄  and on soprano, be down-right anti-social.  I’m sure Stan and Ben would approve of those sentiments.

  10. Mal-2 says:

    The bigger the horn, the more useful altissimo is. I think this is a large part of why tenor is so much more common in pop music than alto is. When altissimo is factored in, the alto loses notes at the bottom and doesn’t really gain any at the top. I can reach D4 on alto almost as easily as I can on C-mel, but it’s a lot less pleasant to listen to. (Then again, I think my alto is generally less pleasant to listen to than is the C-mel, no matter what range.)

    I don’t think the tone quality of the primary range is the determining factor, since it can be hard to tell alto and tenor apart if the player is shooting for the sound of the other. For the most part, I don’t think the choice of horn is being dictated to the player either. It would be in a band that has a horn SECTION, since that generally calls for written charts. For single-horn work, the requests made of me are probably typical — “This is how the song goes, can you play some sax with it?” Half the time they don’t know there even is more than one common size. I used to use alto for these situations because I’ve never been all that comfortable with tenor. That is changing, but only because I’ve become so fond of the Buescher C-mel and find that the tenor isn’t all that different.

    Now that I’ve got all that hooligan stuff worked out and worked up, the next thing I want to work on is transposing on sight, whether from alto or tenor parts. Tenor to C-mel is obviously the easier of the two, as a second down is a lot easier to figure on the fly than a minor third up, but I want to get both to the point where I’m not thinking about it at all. Then when someone asks what part I should be given I can answer with “alto or tenor, whichever one you need covered”. Unless they drop lead alto in front of me, the difference should be easily masked by being part of a section.

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