Evan Tate's SaxTips eZine

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Practicing Overtones

The practice of overtones on any wind instrument is an important practice not only for the improvement of one's tone and intonation on the instrument but also serves as the foundation for extending the playing range of the instrument (i.e. altissimo).

To start out, let's ask the first obvious question: What are overtones? In music, with every tone there are additional tones produced that sound above the fundamental tone. These follow a certain mathematical sequence. This can be easily demonstrated when one plays a low tone on the piano while holding down the sustain pedal with your foot.

Example: C - C' (an octave higher) - G' ( a perfect fifth above C') - C''(two octaves above the fundamental tone) - E''(two octaves and a major third above the fundamental tone) - G''(two octaves and a perfect fifth above the fundamental tone) - Bb'''(two octaves and a dominant seventh above the fundamental tone) - C'''(three octaves above the fundamental tone) - D'''(three octaves and a major second above the fundamental tone) - F#'''(three octaves and an augmented fourth above) - G''''(three octaves and a perfect fifth above).

Each tone above the fundamental tone is referred to as a partial. According to the "Well-tempered scale"(a system of tuning established by the mathematician Pythagoras of Samos in the middle ages and a system still in use today) the 5th Partial (Bb''') and tones above that are slightly flat, so for our purposes we will not really use these tones for now.

[More on Pythagoras of Samos at: http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Pythagoras.html]

So, on the saxophone we first use low Bb as the fundamental tone and produce the following partials by slightly applying pressure from the lower jaw and constricting the airflow.

Bb - Bb’ (one octave above) - F’ (one octave and a perfect fifth above) - Bb'' (two octaves above) - D''(two octaves and a major third above) - F'' (two octaves and a perfect fifth above: High F).

One major pitfall we saxophonists face is that often we are taught to first practice overtones by starting on the low Bb and tightening our embouchure to produce the above mentioned partials. This unfortunately causes the unpleasant side effect of developing a too tight embouchure over a short period time which will affect our playing in a negative way. Our high notes become too thin and too high(intonation-wise) and we often have trouble producing our low tones softly. I'd like to suggest a method that will give us the same desired benefits of the overtones without the negative side effects.

We'll start with the 'middle' F and let the tone 'fall down' to the low F.

[Note: All tones are to be played without the octave key!] If the tone takes more than a few seconds to fall, it may well be an indication that your embouchure is too tight. Repeat this exercise with the tones 'middle' E to low E, 'middle' Eb to low Eb, 'middle' D to low D. Now, we'll continue by fingering low Db(C#) and producing it's upper octave first and letting the tone 'fall' down to the fundamental tone low Db. Do the same with low C, low B and low Bb. Practice only this exercise until it feels comfortable.

The next exercise has us start on the low Bb and first producing the 'middle' F (2nd partial on low Bb), letting it 'fall' down to the octave Bb (1st partial on low Bb) and then finally 'falling' down to the fundamental low Bb tone. Repeat this exercise with Low B, low C and low C#.

The final exercise here will start like the last one, fingering low Bb and producing the ‘middle’ F (2nd partial on low Bb) and then ‘falling’ down to the Bb fundamental tone skipping’ the Bb octave (1st partial on low Bb). Repeat this exercise on low B, low C and low C#.

So, what are we doing? We're applying the overtone technique in the opposite direction in order to attain the benefits of the overtone practice without developing a tighter embouchure. What are the benefits? Among them are; playing in tune better within the instrument and with others. Improving your tone and your ear. I’ll have more exercises in the next issues that will concentrate more on ear training.

You can download this exercise for FREE here at: http://www.evantatede/media/Overtones.pdf. Remember, you'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader (at least version 4) in order to read and print out this exercise. – The Abode Acrobat Reader is FREE!

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.

http://www.evantate.de/ or mailto:evan@evantate.de


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