Master saxophonist John Harle talks about how to create the perfect saxophone sound, by likening the sound creation to that of the human voice.
THE SAXOPHONE IS YOUR VOICE Thoughts for saxophonists and other wind instrumentalists 15 DAILY PRACTICE EXERCISES Most saxophonists say that their model for a perfect sound is the human voice and this is, of course, a worthy aim. by John Harle But exactly how to get that sound Essential – that techniques liquid, floating, for regular personal practice statement – has, in reality, evaded most of us, most of the time. We can get close sometimes, when all the conditions seem to be right, but how can we reproduce that ‘vocal sound’ that somehow seems to lift our playing time after time without a technical framework to rely on – without really knowing how we’re doing it? The sound of the voice in singing or speaking relies on three naturally interconnected processes – the air travelling from the lungs, the vocal folds producing vibrations, and those vibrations becoming louder in the open spaces and liquid resonating areas of the head before exiting the mouth. Substituting the vocal system with saxophone concepts, we do, of course, share the same breathing system as singers, but our vibration producer is a saxophone reed. The third element in the singer’s set-up – the resonators in the head – is the area saxophonists are least aware of, but this is the key to finding our ‘vocal saxophone sound’. By developing our knowledge of the resonators in the head, they may become a natural and integral part of our playing. Whatever the source of vibration – vocal folds or saxophone reed – the resonators are the key to the expansion of that vibration into musical sound, and if understood and used in the same way as singers, will produce a saxophone sound that is uncannily like the human voice. When the saxophone reed vibrations are resonating fully in the head, we sense a ‘letting go’ of tension and our sounds become more personal. What happens in these resonating areas is where the sound of the saxophone and reed changes into music – and where ‘technique’ has a true musical beginning. The sound becomes humanised, warmer and softer: a mirror of our thoughts and our individual physical construction. Two other extraordinary things happen: intonation issues are more or less completely solved and articulation becomes much easier, crisper and faster. 8 Faber Music wind & Brass Catalogue