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Exploring and Understanding Altissimo on the Tenor

There are so many fingering charts, books and different options for playing altissimo on the saxophone that it can often be confusing on where to start! The purpose of this blog is not to rehash common fingerings, but understand why they work and then look at some uncommon fingerings based on the same principals.

Before we dive in, I have to give a shout out to Mark Sterbank, a fabulous saxophone player and musician, that introduced me to the minor 9th fingerings below and started this discussion with me one night after a gig. We've since had more discussions and hope to work on more altissimo stuff together. :) Also, I'd like to thank Tom Sobel, another great saxophone player, for pushing me to take this and develop it into the blog and an up coming video!

The 6th Interval

Almost all the common altissimo fingerings we use as saxophonists are based on "overblowing" a minor or major 6th. For example, a lot of altissimo G fingerings are based on B. You can play altissimo G fairly easily by using only the B fingering, but most players will either vent the high F, side Bb or both for stability and clarity. No matter what you add/vent, it is still based on "overblowing" B.

A list of what the common altissimo fingerings are based on starting with the "front" E fingering.

High E - "overblowing" a G

High F - "overblowing" an A

High F# - "overblowing" an A#/Bb

High G - "overblowing" a B

High G# - "overblowing" a C - press your right index finger down for stability if "overblowing" the C doesn't come out well for you.

High A - "overblowing" C# - we add fingers for tuning and stability.

High Bb - "overblowing" C# with added side C

High B - "overblowing" palm D

High C - "overblowing" palm Eb

High C# - "overblowing" palm E

High D - "overblowing" palm F

If you analyze common altissimo fingerings you will see that they are based on "overblowing" the notes I've listed above with keys added for tuning, stability and clarity.

The Minor 9th Interval

The principle here is identical to the above except we are now going to use a minor 9th. I have found that this works INCREDIBLY well for F - G#, but above that begins to suffer. It could be that I just haven't found the right fingerings yet, however.

High F - "overblowing" an E - Finger E with the octave key and then lift your left ring finger. L1, L2 | R1, R2 + Octave

High F# - "overblowing" an F - Finger F with the octave key and lift your left middle finger. L1, L3 | R1 + Octave

High G - "overblowing" an F# - This is based on flute F# ... play F# with your right ring finger (instead of the middle) and lift your left middle finger. L1, L3 | R3 + Octave

High G# - "overblowing" a G - little more convoluted/manipulated to get the intended result. You basically use the same fingering as the G above, but also add side C. The R3 and side C act as a stabilizer/tuner etc.

I haven't experimented much above here as they aren't as useful. "Overblowing" a 6th from A up really leads to nice fingerings that are easy to play, whereas I haven't always had the same ease from F up to A. These minor 9th fingerings have changed that a lot for me.

If you have fingerings or tricks that work great for you and aren't listed here, let us know in the comments! Look out for a future video about these fingerings with a demonstration!


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