Saxophone Effects

Special Effects on the Saxophone

The saxophone is an incredibly versatile instrument, the effects demonstrated in this section here can be used for expression, humour, surprise or just to extend the boundaries of the instrument. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with some experimentation you can probably make up some of your own effects.

There are a lot more saxophone effects than I have time to cover here, and new ones are being invented all the time. I have not yet had a chance to cover all the thousands of options available with multiphonics (playing more than one tone simultaneously) but we have a few of those in this section.

In addition to my own introductory exercises to the crazy world of saxophone effects in this section, I have included some extracts from Sax Acrobatix by Henri Weber from 1926, which includes such gems as the Meow, the Moan, the Auto Horn and the Dog Bark:

There are many special effects on the saxophone that are all but forgotten about (see below), I remember once having a very old saxophone tutor called “Eby’s Scientific Saxophone Method”, which included some real gems.

I have just started a series of short video tutorials on Youtube. The first one is not strictly speaking an “effect”, but is a little trick that allows you to play an otherwise impossible trill, from low Bb (A#) to B. There is also a tutorial on how to do the famous Adderley Trill.

Electronic Effects on the Saxophone

For years now electronic effects have not been the sole domain of the electric gutar, you can hear an example of the soprano saxophone with wah wah and fuzz box here:

Wah Wah Soprano

Wah Wah Soprano

In the Saxophone Effects Section

  • Saxophone Growl

    How to Growl on the saxophone and get that really dirty, raw, gruff tone – it’s not as difficult as you think if you follow these guidelines. We start off listening to how some of the saxophone greats use the growl. Read more…
  • Saxophone Note Bending

    How do you bend a note on the saxophone? Bending notes on the saxophone usually involves starting the note at the correct pitch and bending it downwards, or starting at a lower pitch and bending it upwards. (This is the opposite of the guitar which bends a note upwards from pitch or downwards into pitch). The vibrato exercise starts off with note bending, ... Read more…
  • Saxophone Wobble

    AKA Bb Wobble or Texas Shake This is a stunning effect used by many of the greats including Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet, Earl Bostic, Arnett Cobb to name but a few. It is really very simple if you know the fingering: basically you finger an upper register Eb but without the LH 3 G key: You then need to blow quite hard with an ... Read more…
  • Slaptongue & Smacktongue

    Smacktongue (non-pitched) Example: Smacktongue The slaptongue effect can be categorised as two different types, pitched and non-pitched. I think the best term for the more percussive non-pitched variety that has more of an indefinite pitch like a smack or clap is smacktongue.  This effect works very well on a low Bb. Place the surface of your tongue flat against the reed and finger a ... Read more…
  • Saxophone Dooden Tonguing

    AKA “Ghost Tonguing”, “La-la Tonguing” or “Half Tonguing” Example: Dooden Tonguing I have also heard this referred to as doodle tonguing, however I believe that is incorrect as this is a trombone and trumpet technique very similar to legato tonguing. This technique has probably got more names than any other. In his book on jazz articulation, Miles Osland refers to it as subtonguing. This ... Read more…
  • Saxophone Laugh

    First try to laugh This means laughing for real. Obviously you do it spontaneously when something funny happens, but can you do a convincing laugh as if you are an actor having to react even though you’ve heard the joke many times? As well as trying it yourself, it’s a good idea to listen to other people laughing to really get ... Read more…
  • Saxophone Flutter Tongue

    Flutter tongue  has been in use for all woodwinds and brass instruments for centuries, and there are two main methods to achieve this effect. It was initially a classical effect which has not been used much in mainstream jazz, but has been used in R & B saxophone playing, notably by King Curtis, Junior Walker and Lee Allen. In classical ... Read more…
  • The Adderley Trill

    How to do it The Adderley Trill I’m not sure if this is the official term for this effect – it could just as easily have been called the Curtis tremolo – it was used by the great bebop and soul alto player Cannonball Adderley, but also King Curtis and many other players, especially in the Texas style of R & B. I used ... Read more…
  • False Fingerings

    AKA. Fake Fingerings or Double Densities Example 1 It’s easy to confuse these with alternate or alternative fingerings. For alternative fingerings see the alternative saxophone fingering chart False Fingerings are when two (and sometimes more) fingerings produce notes which have a slight or even quite marked difference in timbre and/or pitch. These can be used for an effect. Some are based on the overtones (harmonics) and ... Read more…
  • Saxophone Multiphonics

    Multiphonics (Playing more than one note at once) It is not possible to play a complete set of chords on the saxophone, but there are a few fingerings that you can use to play what we call “multiphonics,” more than one note at once. These are mostly useful as a strange sounding effect rather than to play conventional harmonies or chord ... Read more…
  • Flick-tonguing

    Flick tonguing involves flicking your tongue very quickly up and down across the tip of the reed. It can be used as an effect or ornamentation or else as a very fast actual articulation technique if you are able to play it in time with the notes you are fingering. However this is extremely difficult to coordinate with fingering several notes, ... Read more…
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