quarter-tone fingerings for saxophone

Sax Quarter-Tone and Multiphonic Fingerings

The image above is a fingering chart of just some of these alternative fingerings, organized ‘chromatically’ from lowest to highest sounding tone. Note: Shaded in keys indicate half-pressed keys.
Saxophone fingering font created by Tristan Durie.

Using quarter-tone fingerings for saxophone to your advantage:

The saxophone can be used to alter the pitch and timbre of many tones.  This is accomplished by venting the air differently through the horn, which requires us to adopt some alternative fingerings.

Generally speaking, these altered fingerings are generally referred to as ‘quarter-tone fingerings’.  Please take this labeling with a grain of salt because even at its best, quarter-tonality on the saxophone is very much approximated since there are only a few “pure” quarter-tone fingerings available, and the faintest adjustment of embouchure can render a quarter-tone fingering into something else entirely—something that I believe to be very rewarding.

Interestingly, many of these fingerings also double as multiphonic fingerings with the proper adjustment in embouchure and airspeed. I encourage you to try them out for yourself to see what resonates best.

Here are more links to other useful saxophone quarter-tone fingering charts for further reference:

The Woodwind Fingering Guide
Klaus Gesing’s Quarter-Tone Fingerings

For the curious, I talk more about saxophone technique in my book:
Introducing Extended Saxophone Techniques” published by Mel Bay.

Posted Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Edgar Cayce on Memory

Edgar Cayce

Edgar Cayce (1877 – 1945) was an American psychic who helped others by reading their karmic history. I recently found a book on his readings in my mother’s basement and later learned it belonged to my grandparents who were curious about reincarnation. As I read through the pages, I began to realize that Edgar Cayce conveyed a deep wisdom that very much applies today in the same way it did in the past.

“‘Why don’t we remember our past lives?’ ‘We do not have to remember’, he said in effect. ‘We are the sum total of all our memories.’ We manifest them in our habits, our idiosyncrasies, our likes and dislikes, or talents and blind-spots, our physical and emotional strengths and vulnerabilities.”

A music student once asked me about the difference was between an amateur and a professional musician.  My answer was that a professional reminds themselves of more, more often, and I believe that each time you pick up your instrument you are essentially learning everything again from the beginning, but it all happens in an instant. In the dialogues of Phaedo, Plato taught us that “learning is remembering”, memory being the crux of education and knowledge. Another quote from Edgar Cayce:

“But above all, let the mind be of constructive influence, ever. Be not only good, but good FOR something. In each contact, in each activity every day, make those acquaintances, those activities, BETTER by thy association with same!”

Memories are delicate and subtle, and sometimes we can trace a memory back to the original thought or action that stored it in the first place. Pythagoras, one of the great, famed teachers in recorded history was said to have remembered all the details of his past lives, and his disciples claimed that he could even listen to the ‘harmony of the spheres’—the very vibration of the planets orbiting in our solar system. Truly this is a sign of an advanced wisdom Pythagoras possessed, the very thing he dedicated his life to teach.

Here’s a simple practice to help make the karmic law of cause and effect practical: Ask yourself several times a day, is what I’m doing relationship-building, or relationship-destroying? If you’re a musician, you may also practice asking, is what I’m doing music-creating, or music-destroying? I believe that by simply pondering this question throughout the day one can summon an ancient and powerful cure that will eliminate all stubborn and subtle negative tendencies towards self and others. Please let me know how it goes. More advice from Edgar Cayce:

“See in others the good. Do not deny or try to cover up those things that are of a detrimental or an evil influence; just encourage in self and in others the good – and the good for a purposefulness.”

“We are given only two eyes, two ears, but we should hear and see—nay, four times—as much as we speak! Never be boastful, but never attempt to be ‘just as the other boys, and do what people say lest you may be thought different.'”

Photo of Edgar Cayce above taken by Gladys Davis in 1940. All quotes taken from “Edgar Cayce on Reincarnation.

Posted Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Introducing Extended Saxophone Techniques

Mel Bay has published a book I authored, entitled “Introducing Extended Saxophone Techniques“.

Introducing Extended Saxophone Techniques by Curtis Macdonald

From the Preface of “Introducing Extended Saxophone Techniques”

“The saxophone, like all wind instruments, is inspired and influenced by the human voice. As such, there lies an enormous potential for the production of sound, and a great responsibility falls upon the instrumentalist to fully master the nuances of his or her instrument. By studying the extended techniques of the saxophone, we open ourselves to a very subtle and delicate process of fine-tuning our instrumental abilities, which results in the discovery of new resonances and sonic prowess.

It is not necessary to perform any extended techniques in order to benefit from them. Think of these techniques as a form of cross training for the saxophone. Most importantly, the practice of extended techniques is a practice of focus, balance and patience. These exercises are designed to help cultivate the subtle skills of refining saxophone sound, and do not exclude any particular musical style or aesthetic. The exercises do not come from any one particular methodology or school of thought. Instead, the ideas presented here are designed to help unlock a deeply unique and personal approach to saxophone practice. Therefore, these practices can be viewed as a holistic and yet a practical approach to developing an advanced instrumental proficiency, while at the same time building a very intimate, individualized sonic palette for creative use. Cultivating this internal, introspective practice is key to developing the highest musical expression through the saxophone.”

This book is designed to help intermediate saxophone students

– Gain greater nuance and control over saxophone sound and performance,
– Harness the subtle and expressive qualities of timbre and resonance, and;
– Develop a multifaceted practice that helps cultivate a unique instrumental proficiency.

Click Here to purchase the book online from Mel Bay.

Table of Contents

3 Preface
3 Prerequisites
4 Keep your chin up
4 The Secret
5 Breathing
6 The Chin Push-Up Exercise
7 Throat Shape, Tongue Positioning, and Sounding the Vowels
8 Portamento Exercise
8 Fingerings that Alter Pitch and Timbre
11 Rhythmic Vibrato
13 Articulation
15 The Sub-Tone Effect
16 Overtones, Part I
18 Multiphonics, Part I
19 Overtones, Part II
22 Multiphonics, Part II
24 Vocalizations
27 ‘Crow’ pitches
29 Rhythmic Key Clicks
30 Circular Breathing
32 Preparations
33 Low A
34 Epilogue
35 Blank Manuscript

Other Resources for Additional Study

“The Art of Saxophone Playing”
by Larry Teal

“Top Tones for the Saxophone”
by Sigurd Rascher

“Hello! Mr. Sax, or Parameters of the Saxophone”
by Jean-Marie Londeix

“Los Armonicos en el Saxophon” (The Harmonics of the Saxophone)
by Pedro Iturralde

“Les Sons Multiples Aux Saxophones” (Multiple Sounds in Saxophones)
by Daniel Kientzy

“Multiphonics for the Saxophone”
by John Gross

“Harmonic Experience”
by W.A. Mathieu

“The Music of Life”
by Hazrat Inayat Khan

“The Mysticism of Sound and Music”
by Hazrat Inayat Khan

“Techniques of Saxophone Playing”
by Marcus Weiss

“Syncopation for the Modern Drummer”
by Ted Reed

“23 Caprices” by S. Karg-Elert, Arranged for Saxophone
by Robert J. Ford

“48 Studies By Ferling For All Saxophones”
by Marcel Mule

“30 Great Exercises or Studies for All Saxophones”
by Marcel Mule

“Méthode Compléte pour tous les Saxophones” (Complete Method for All Saxophones)
by Hyacinthe Klosé

Also, this online store has many other great saxophone études and studies.

Posted Monday, January 13th, 2014

the mysterious barricades

I love this.

The piece is Les Baricades Mistérieuses“, composed in 1717 for harpsichord by François Couperin. Re-blogged from Caroline Shaw.

Posted Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

listening to silence

Words of insight from esteemed music producer Rick Rubin.  (Re-blogged from Nowness.com).

Posted Saturday, July 20th, 2013


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