09/20/2013 (12 Moons Solo Project Day 263)

12 Moons Solo Saxophone Project Day 263

Date: 09/20/2013

Instrument: Tenor saxophone

Location: Home studio in Clinton, WA (Whidbey Island)


While on a break between students yesterday I flipped through a terrible coffee table book on the history of music.  There was a brief mentioning of the importance of Steve Reich’s music in the development of minimalism, particularly his use of the phasing technique; offsetting rhythmic cycles to create new sets of rhythms, harmony and melodicism–all in a near constant state of evolution.   Phasing is a compositional tool very important to me in my solo playing, and in today’s improvisation I worked on a new phasing technique using vibrato.  I selected a split tone fingering which has different pitch content depending on the octave the fingering is played in.  If I treat the fingering as though it were an overtone and adjust my embouchure and air flow, I can move between these groupings of pitch content with small moments of overlap.  It’s in these moments of overlap where I focus my energy in much of my solo playing.  I generally use a combination of mouth shape with alternate fingerings to create sound and rhythm cycles, again, often with some degree of phasing.  In today’s improvisation I used a continuous flow of vibrato to maintain a fairly static rhythmic pulse while phasing between octaves.  This vibrato not only maintained rhythm but as also use to blend one section of the horn into another.

This improvisation was extremely challenging, and specifically the split tone chord which begins the piece.  I needed a wide and very focused air flow to speak both pitches at once, and while doing vibrato it’s very challenging to find the core shape needed to allow the pitches to speak.  Another challenge was finding an overall mouth shape that could work in all registers.  I did adjust a bit to pull out the different sound regions in this piece, but I needed a core base of muscle control to build from.  

During this improvisation I primarily used a single fingering.  At about the mid point I began adding the octave key, which shifted some of the pitch content up a half step. I would then move between the original and this secondary fingering, all the while maintaining the wide vibrato.  Overall I heard the sound divided in Fingering 1between 3 sections, which are written below.  I did move a bit higher up the horn, but this area of the horn was only fleeting. The pitches and fingerings (in the tenor key of Bb) were as follows:

Fingering I  (primary fingering)

(Left Hand) 1-3, Low B // (Right Hand) F-E-D keys, Low C.  This fingering allowed for the following sound areas.  

-Ab/B  split tone (mid register)

-B.  (mid register.

-A (upper register) Ab/B (mid register).  Same as the first split tone grouping.

Fingering 2 (secondary fingering used sparingly)

(Left Hand) 1-3, Octave, Low B // (Right Hand) F-E-D keys, Low C.  Same fingering as above but with the octave key added.

-C (mid register).  This pitch moved ½ step up from the B (sound 1) in fingering 1.

-A (upper register) C (mid register).  This split tone maintained the same upper note voicing as the A (sound 3) from fingering 1.  However, the Ab in the bottom drops out and the B moves up a half step to become a C.


The image “Untitled” accompanying today’s post by Richard Diebenkorn (1950).