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Saxophone Lessons Learned

Saxophone Growl - That Rock Sound

by SAXBOY

There are two basic Saxophone effects that have a similar sound; the Flutter Tongue and the Sax Growl. Anyone can learn to Growl but some will never be able to Flutter Tongue. I do understand being flutter-impaired. I canít roll my Rís and never have been able to so we will let someone else write about that one.

The Growl on Saxophone

My Growl sound comes from singing/humming/screaming while blowing into the Sax. The Growl effect is a pretty nasty sound caused by a little natural physics.

When 2 different notes sound, there are sum and difference tones that are created in addition to the played and sang notes. Itís the same type of thing you hear when tuning, that beat pattern between your pitch and the pitch you are tuning to Ė the closer you get to the other pitch Ė the slower the pulse of the beat, or difference tone. Itís also the effect that is created while singing into the Sax while blowing a note to get the Growl Sound.

If you sing the same note that you play there is little effect and the 2 seem to cancel each other out Ė Phase Cancellation. If you sing a note near the note you are playing on your Sax, the effect is a growl.

I canít growl while playing in the first octave on the Sax. This is when a flutter would be useful if I could actually do it.

Experiment in the upper octave. Play a high D or high A and practice trying to sing into the horn after you start blowing. You will hear the note you are playing, the note you are singing and a 3rd note that goes the opposite direction of the note you sing. If you doubt the sum/difference tone; start by blowing, then add your voice and try singing higher and then lower in the same breath. You will hear this weird third note that is neither the played or sung note. It is pretty cool too.

The tone of the Growl and amount of the Growl effect is altered by the clash of these notes. You want to create a clashing sound here. The goal is a nasty, aggressive sound. Once you can sing and blow, experiment with what you sing against the note you are playing. Play a long tone and try sliding around with the note you are creating at your vocal chords. You will hear the growl sound cool and pretty lame. Fortunately, the Growl sound I like sounds best when singing very off from the played notes, so no singing ability is required. The only ability needed is learning to sing and blow at the same time.

To be fair, I have no idea what note I am singing while blowing. I have just done this for so many years that I have a feel for when to try it and how the end product will sound. As I go up the Sax I do scream higher notes; it is not a static note since the sound needs to have a clash between the sung and played notes to growl.

It sounds pretty weird at first. I think it also depends on the range of your voice to some extent since the effect is including a sum or difference tone.

Also important to note; if someone is sitting next to you it will sound very weird to them. The sound that matters here is the sound coming out of the bell. If you are using a mic, this is even more obvious since the mic can not pick up the singing you are doing 2+ feet away from the mic.

I actually scream into the sax to get the effect to sound dramatic. For me, the Growl effect sounds great in the upper octave and altissimo on the sax.

How loud you sing or scream will bring up the amount of this growl effect. It does take some time to get a feel for it.

You can practice this while driving in your car. Just whistle a note and experiment with singing a note at the same time. It sounds like some Halloween, spooky thing. You know how to blow. Youíre just trying to get your vocal chords to vibrate at the same time. You can also practice singing while blowing on your finger.

Like so many tricks of the trade, this does not sound great at first but can be very useful in adding an edge to the peaks in a solo or help with more pop and rock and roll styles of playing Sax.

I growl on some songs, but never all night. Because I will sing and even scream, (you can go pretty horse screaming that much and it can get annoying if you do it all the time) I use this effect sparingly, but it is a cool effect to add to the arsenal.

by SAXBOY

Copyright (c)2005 SAXBOY


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