11/09/2013 (12 Moons Solo Project Day 313)

12 Moons Solo Saxophone Project Day 313

Date: 11/09/2013

Instrument: Tenor saxophone

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


During my practice session this afternoon I worked out of my favorite saxophone book, “Top-Tones for the Saxophone” by Sigurd Rascher.  This book has been a constant companion nearly every day of my professional life, but I’ve taken the last month or so off from it.  It felt fresh and new to be using it again, and I quickly gravitated towards some of my favorite exercises.  My improvisation today was truly the outcome of having focused heavily on these areas in my practicing today.

Pages 8-9 fundamentally changed the way I thought about the saxophone when I started working with them several years ago.  These two pages include one very brief exercise on Rascher’s term “Tone Imagination."  His aim is for the saxophonist to play a pitch, and in their mind hear a second tone, and then move to this new tone.  This is an incredible exercise, because it forces the player to "hear” harmony without it’s actual existence.  This brings imagination to the music, but also draws attention to perfect intonation and harmony as something of the mind which can secondarily be fulfilled in reality.  This opened my up to so many possibilities inherent in textural playing.

I then moved on to pages 10-11, which focus on the intervals of the octave, perfect fourth and perfect fifth.  The player, again using imagination and careful control over their mind, is to play the exercise, but simultaneously aim for 5 areas: Perfect Intonation, Balanced Dynamics, Smooth Legato, Uniform Tone Quality, and Continuous Vibrato.  Before working out of this book, I thought I had the ability to focus on more than one musical area at once, say for example the melody I was playing, and intonation.  These are both of fundamental importance, and our teachers have always told us to mediation of these areas constantly while playing.  It wasn’t until I began working out of this book that I realized there were only fleeting moments where I could actually focus on both in equal measure.  In reality, it was predominantly one or the other, with little moments of overlapping.  I am still not able to focus on all 5 of Rascher’s musical areas at once, but I am able to isolate about 3-4 in almost equal balance, depending on my level of focus.  

Finally, I worked through pages 10-13, which begin the main thesis of the book–the overtone series.  The work in the book that precedes these pages helps the musician to strengthen their embouchure muscles and air flow, but more importantly their mind.

After finishing with this book, I began improvisation and quickly came to zone in on what would become today’s improvisation.  I recorded this piece at an extremely low level of volume.  I used two multiphonic fingerings and worked to balance melodicism with steady tempo, lower octave drones, and eventually an increase in tempo.  The first fingering had an ascending melodic shape in triplets with the pitches Eb, Bb, Db, all in the alstissimo register of the horn.  The second fingering used sixteenth notes with a subdivision of 4, the last of which accented a Db in the altissimo register.  As the piece evolved, I began slowly increasing the tempo in the second fingering with each return to it.  I kept the triplet melody in the first fingering at the original tempo.  In the last minute or so of the improvisation, I finally began increasing the tempo of the first fingering, while continuing to increase the tempo of the second.  With the steadfast focus on balanced recurring elements in this improvisation, I wanted this small of area of tempo imbalance to compliment it.  

Fingering 1 had a C (quarter step sharp) pitch articulated constantly in the mid register.  Fingering 2 had a Bb pitch articulated constantly in the mid register.  The fingerings were as follows:

Fingering 1 (triplet figure with ascending pitches Eb, Bb, Db)

(Left Hand) 1-2, Low B // (Right Hand) 1-2, Low C, High F

Fingering 2 (sixteenth note figure with every fourth pitch articulated with a Db)

(Left Hand) 2-3 // (Right Hand) 2, Low C


The image “The Inside Story of the New York-New Jersey Vehicular [Holland] Tunnel” accompanying today’s post by Fotograms (1924).