John Coltrane tutorial: Harmonique


In 1959 John Coltrane documented one of the first examples of saxophone multiphonics on a jazz recording. The track was Harmonique, a masterfully played Bb blues in 3/4 time. On this tune, Coltrane created multiphonic chords on the saxophone over the melody and his first chorus of soloing. Building on the rich tradition of effecting the saxophone’s tone characteristics, such as overblowing, creating false fingerings and timbre manipulations, in Harmonique Coltrane achieved the next great leap forward in sound-sculpting by playing actual chords on the saxophone within a tonal framework.

In the tutorial video below, I break down Coltrane’s use of 3 multiphonic chords, demonstrate his use of these multiphonics over the melody and first chorus of soloing, and describe how to play these chords. I believe that Harmonique is a masterpiece deserving wider recognition. It is my hope that this tutorial is used as one small contribution towards helping saxophonists build skills in multiphonic playing, and shed yet more light on the extraordinary legacy of Coltrane’s technical achievements on the horn. Below I’ve included a few detailed transcriptions, including:

History: More about Harmonique

Harmonique was the first track on the B side of the album Coltrane Jazz. This album was released on the Atlantic music label in 1961 but was recorded throughout 1959-60. Historically, this record has been overshadowed by the two albums that were released on other side of it: Giant Steps and My Favorite Things. However, Coltrane Jazz itself is a masterful record. This is in many ways a transitional album for Trane. On this record, Coltrane asserts himself as a master improviser and composer, exploring a variety of textures and styles from track to track. Coltrane Jazz debuted several original compositions, many of which point towards the groundbreaking work yet to come in his explorations of world music, soloing over longer modal forms and the use of extended techniques such as multiphonics. The track Village Blues from this record also includes the first documentation of Coltrane with Elvin Jones (drums), and McCoy Tyner (piano). Jimmy Garrison would later join them to create the great John Coltrane Quartet.