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Saxophone Lessons Learned ::
Saxophone Slurs and Note Bending

by John Laughter

Here are a few thoughts about note bending that can used to add expression to a solo. We tend to hear note bending a lot in blues and rock. This approach has also been very popular in ballad work for years and can help to turn an otherwise straight melody into one that seems to make a good impression on the listener's ears.

Slurs can cover from a half step up to as many notes upward or downward that you want to play. Although a glissando is used a lot with the slur, the slur tends to be the bending of the pitch of notes that can go in either direction. If you have ever noticed a trombone making a smooth slide from 1st position to 2nd, 3rd, etc. or from 7th to 5th or 1st, etc. this is another concept to keep in mind.

For example, play F # to a G above the staff and make the change without the noticeable lifting of the F# key. Play the F#. Just as you begin to lift the right middle finger, drop the jaw slightly so that you continue to sound the F# pitch while fingering G. Now, slowly lift the lower jaw and bring the G up to pitch. Now from F to G. Do the same exercise. You will find that you have to listen to the pitch as you lower the jaw and lift the finger to G. Do the same with D to E, D to F and D to G. You will find that it becomes a little more difficult as the note spread widens and you almost have to let the jaw drop way down to maintain the starting pitch when going up several notes.

To slur down we reverse the process. Play a G then slightly drop the jaw to an F# pitch and at the same ease the key down. However, be sure to work the bottom lip and finger at the same time to make it work well. For larger slurs such as G to D support the air stream while the jaw is dropping. Some players who use a lot of slur/bend technique find that a larger than average tip opening helps to exaggerate a smooth slur.

When you lift a note and want to make it pronounced, take your time in lifting the lip up to the pitch. For example, take the old standard "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. Starting at the beginning play Eb E G (I'm craz...zy) then to G# to A to C#. Let's take the A to C# and make the most out of it by dropping the jaw on A then VERY slowly lift the two left fingers to C# and at the same time draw more lower lip back over the teeth on A then let the lip out a little as you get to the C# pitch. This will add a little more tone color to the entire process. As you lift the two left fingers, keep them close to the keys and body of the sax so that your fingers will ease up slowly. And do the same with the subsequent F to A notes of the melody.

Some blues players will use wide and pronounced slurs along with the growl and gliss's to add some sleazy effects to the solo. This not only compliments the dancers but is also picked up by the listeners. Same holds true for something as simple as a solo on Mustang Sally. Will it send a message to the dancers?

One of the early fine jazz players who used a fair amount of slurs and gliss's was Eddie " Lockjaw" Davis. You might want to pick up a CD and take a listen to his style.

Lastly, if you get into a lot of slurs and gliss's you will soon realize that you must learn to be flexible with the embouchure. The more pronounced you want to get with this effect, the more embouchure changes. However, I have had some teachers totally disagree with the embouchure change suggestion but it works for me. Obviously I am not going to be as flexible in a sax quartet because it does not normally call for a lot of these effects so it depends on the style. What can't be explained very well on the message board are the many nuances, muscle changes, oral cavity size, tongue position and jaw positions that are being done by some performers. You do not want to loose sight of the common sense habits of good basic performance but you need to think outside of the box once in a while to see what can come out of the horn to add to expression!

Another web site that features an older book titled SAX-ACROBATIX that was scanned; http://rain.prohosting.com/mrchops/sax-acro/sax-acro.html

by John Laughter

John Laughter web sites :: AOL Site, Geocities Site

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


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