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 tones. As an example here is a multiphonic sound played John Coltrane:

Harmonique – John Coltrane
Harmonique by John Coltrane

Some Examples of Multiphonics on Tenor saxophone

In order to play multiphonics you need to have a very flexible embouchure, what works for one sound may not work for others. Before attempting multiphonics on the saxophone, it’s a good idea to practise overtones and altissimo, as these help you to learn how to adjust your embouchure. +When playing altissimo or overtones, it always helps to visualise or “hear” the sound and pitch of the note in your head, however this is not so easy with multiphonics as the chord that comes out is usually very random and hard to say what pitches are involved so it’s often a process of trial and error

Here are some things to try:

  • Take in more or less mouthpiece
  • Angle the mouthpiece up or down
  • Move your lip in or out
  • Tighten or relax your jaw
  • Experiment with tongue position: forward, backward, arched, flat
  • Blow harder or softer
  • Anything else you can think of

As this is a relatively unorthodox technique, you can break a few rules of normal saxophone embouchure: if you are using these sounds creatively, then the end justifies the means.

Below are some examples as played on my Rampone & Cazzani tenor, along with my attempts to analyse the pitches. This is not easy as some are very close together and are not tuned regularly: in some cases they are up to a quarter tone out, ie “between the cracks”. The chord symbols are a rough guide as to how the multiphonics might be used in a chord sequence, but they are not completely accurate as in some cases it’s not possible to organise the pitches into conventional chord nomenclature. If you can hear any real inaccuracies or something I’ve missed, please contact me. Please note that these fingerings may behave differently on different saxophones.

Fingering
Notes/Chord
Performance
Saxophone Multiphonics 1 (D) (G#) F B C# Eb GF# E G Chord: C#7 b9 #11 Angle mouthpiece down. Easier to play without tonguing.

1

Saxophone Multiphonics 2 A Bb F D
Chord: A11 b9 b13
This is quite easy without adjusting from a “normal” embouchure.

2

Saxophone Multiphonics 3 C Eb F# D Ab A DChord: Cm13 #11 Can work better with more mouthpiece taken in.

3

Saxophone Multiphonics 4 A E Bb C#Chord A7 b9 Add a low B for an alternate fingering.

4

Saxophone Multiphonics5 Eb C Gb Ab D F (Db)Chord: Ebm9 ?7 11 Push lower jaw slightly forward.

5

Saxophone Multiphonics 6 Bb F C#/D G Db F Gb G B DbChord:Bb 13 b9 Push lower jaw forward.

6

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