Altissimo Resources for Saxophone Lessons
Post by: David Bernot
Ever since I began really practicing the saxophone in middle school, one of my biggest goals was to be able to play altissimo like my favorite saxophonist at the time Michael Brecker. Michael Brecker’s technical abilities on the instrument astounded me from the first time I listened to him playing with his brother Randy Brecker on the classic jazz fusion composition “Some Skunk Funk.” This recording was the first I’d heard a saxophone play in the extended register.
If you ask seasoned saxophone pedagogues for advice on what method books to try for getting into the altissimo register, the first book many will recommend is Sigurd Raschèr’s Top-Tones For The Saxophone. This book is incredibly thorough and can be an excellent resource to work through with an instructor. It can be a little daunting and tough to get through on your own however, Raschèr is one of the most well known and appreciated original classical saxophone pedagogues. Most newer altissimo methods pull from his idea that the way of attaining ultimate control of tone production on the saxophone is by mastering playing “overtones.”
A newer method that I’ve found bridges the gap between Raschèr’s ideas and the more antiquated style of Top-Tones For The Saxophone, is a 2021 release called Path To Altissimo written by one of today’s younger jazz saxophone innovators, Ben Wendel. Wendel first made his debut with the forward thinking modern jazz group Kneebody, and has since put out several releases under his own name and even dipped his toes into online education courses available at his website, https://benwendel.com. This book is his first contribution to the world of saxophone method books and it is an impressive and easy to follow method to extend the inspired saxophonist’s range into the altissimo register. Ben Wendel was invited to do an interview with the YouTuber who runs a prominent saxophone based channel Better Sax, where the host asks Wendel pointed questions on his method, and how to practice through his book. This interview is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_1z785FDA8.
Altissimo has become a commonly used extended technique by saxophonists of all genres over the years. Not only does altissimo serve as an excellent way to build energy or create contrast in music, but it provides more possibilities to the instrument than were ever intended when the saxophone was first invented. As more and more players continue to innovate the use of the extended register on the saxophone, it is exciting to think about what techniques could be left to learn.