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Saxophone Lessons Learned ::
The Growl for Saxophone

by John Laughter

I have used the “hum” technique to produce the growl since 1956. Both the growl and the “flutter tongue”, were very popular techniques used by sax players in Rock & Roll and R&B music which was hitting the airwaves in the late 50s. For those of us who had joined that local school band, we were asking the band director what this new sound was that we were hearing on the Top 40 hits featuring Lee Allen and Grady Gaines on tenor and Earl Bostic on alto. Obviously these effects were around long before the 50s and still continue today in many forms of music. A 1985 hit that has a lot of growl is “Rockin' At Midnight” by The Honeydrippers. Keith Evans uses a lot of this technique in his tenor solo.

There are apparently one or two other ways to achieve the same results from what I have read on the NET over the years but I have only used the method of humming along with the note that I want to change to a growl tone.

I also suggest that the best way to learn to produce the growl on the sax is to start with just the mouthpiece attached to the neck. Using the entire horn can be a problem at first due to the coordination involved. Play a long note on the neck then starting “humming” a note that is higher or lower than the tone that is coming out of the neck. Some players think in terms of singing falsetto because that is the octave area that you will be in to get above the note that is produced by the neckpiece. Some will sing/hum a lower note. For example, when I play a G above the staff on tenor I find that I usually hum the pitch that is close to D below the G. If you hum the same note that is coming out of the N/P the effect will be cancelled.

You will soon begin to realize that it is taking a lot of air to play and hum at the same time on the neckpiece. This is natural because you will probably open your throat and let too much air out because of your efforts to sing and exhale at the same time. Easier said than done at first! In time you will be able to control the amount of hum and the coordination will become natural. Now put the horn together and see what happens.

Many of us use the growl in the middle and high range, especially from high A above the staff to high F#. I have found that the most effective area for the growl is starting on 2nd space A and up. Once you go below 2nd line G it becomes somewhat garbled.

Now about the “hum.” I have read some articles that suggest that you hum a 3rd above the note being produced on the horn. I can’t hear the note that I am humming due to the stage volume and I have never thought about the “3rd above” concept so I can’t comment on it. I hum in range that is below the notes being played and it works for me. Hopefully you will get more advice from other players. There is always more than one way to approach certain effects.

Other links for the growl:

Pete Thomas - Growl

Wireless Data Systems on Growling

Bob RK on Growl Effect

Jody Jazz on the Growl

Hal Leonard - John Laughter

by John Laughter

John Laughter web sites :: AOL Site, Geocities Site

“The History of Top 40 Saxophone Solos-1955-2004”


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