The ability to play notes in the altissimo register is a highly desirable skill for most saxophonists. This skill allows performers to play more exciting, expressive solos by extending the upper range of saxophone by one octave or more. However, learning this skill can be very frustrating since many saxophonists simply look up the fingerings for altissimo notes in a fingering chart and attempt to play them with no idea of what changes are necessary in the tongue position and air stream. When this strategy does not work, some saxophonists give up, never realizing that there are exercises, when properly practiced, that will develop the skills necessary to play in the altissimo register.

Overtone Exercise for Developing the Altissimo Register

One exercise that will develop the altissimo register requires the playing of overtones. Overtones are harmonic notes that are played over a low fundamental note by adjusting the tongue position and air stream instead of using different fingerings. Learning to play different pitches by only changing the tongue position and air stream are precisely the skills needed to play in the altissimo register. To begin the altissimo overtone exercise, the saxophonist first plays a low Bb below the staff. Then the Bb an octave above located on the third line of the staff is played using the same fingering as low Bb. The new note is played only by adjusting the back of the tongue to a higher position in the oral cavity. This tongue adjustment will feel like saying the word “he” or “her”. Each note should also be started with a breath attack and not tongued since this will cause additional movement of the tongue. Next, the F on the fifth line of the staff is played only by moving the tongue to a higher position.  This process continues playing the entire overtone series by adjusting the tongue to a higher position but using the low Bb fingering.

Overtone Exercise #1

Use Low Bb Fingering for All Notes

This exercise should also be performed with low B and low C as fundamental notes. By playing additional overtones based on low B and low C, the saxophonist will cover a greater range of altissimo notes developing greater control and flexibility.

Overtone Exercise #2

Use Low B Fingering for All Notes

Overtone Exercise #3

Use Low C Fingering for All Notes

By learning to play the above overtone exercises, the saxophonist will discover how to manipulate the tongue and throat position, which is the fundamental requirement for playing the altissimo register. Once these exercises have been mastered, it will be relatively easy for the saxophonist to play in the altissimo register.

For each altissimo note, there are several possible fingering choices. Some fingerings may produce a better tone while others are easier to play technically. Initially, saxophonists should try various fingering combinations to see which ones they prefer the most. Eventually, they will develop a set of fingering combinations that work best for them in almost every performance situation.

Altissimo Speed Fingerings

Since altissimo fingerings are somewhat more difficult to perform when compared to other note fingerings, saxophonists are sometimes limited in their ability to play quickly in this register. The following set of altissimo fingerings are designed for speed and will give the saxophonist the agility that is sometimes lacking when playing in the altissimo register.

Altissimo Exercises

Once the tongue position, air stream, and note fingerings have been established, saxophonists should practice to develop speed and agility in the altissimo register. There are many ways to develop this technique, but several of the most common exercises are detailed below. One exercise to develop fluency in the altissimo register is to play all the major scales and arpeggi into this range. This means that a C major scale and arpeggio that is normally played two octaves should now be played three octaves. The saxophonist should use Forked E and F fingerings when playing scales into the altissimo register when appropriate, as these fingerings prepare the performer’s tongue position and air stream for this register. The chromatic scale can also be practiced with this extended range.

C Major Scale Three Octaves

C Major Arpeggio Three Octaves

C Chromatic Scale Three Octaves

Another exercise is to play the same note in all available octaves. An example would be to play low C, then C on the third space of the staff, then high C above the staff and finally altissimo C.

Playing C in All Registers

Other exercises are to play simple folk or children’s tunes first in a lower octave and then in the altissimo register. This can be done by writing the tunes out or by playing them by ear.

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary Had a Little Lamb in the Altissimo Register

By practicing the above-listed altissimo speed fingerings, scales, and arpeggi, playing notes in all registers, and playing children’s tunes in the lower octave and then in the altissimo register, saxophonists will soon be able to master the altissimo register.