When it comes to music, the human voice is about as expressive as it gets. From expressing the highest highs to the lowest lows, its ability to express emotion in its truest sense is unparalleled. That said, with enough finesse and practice, the saxophone can become one of the most vocal sounding instruments out there. From bending notes to focusing on dynamics, here are a few skills to practice so when it comes time to express powerful emotions via the saxophone you’ll be as ready as you can be.
Bend Your Notes
The best saxophonists have mastered the art of bending and shaping their notes. There’s no doubt that bending notes adds excitement and emotion to any solo (heck, it even adds excitement to ensemble pieces!), but there’s a fine line between expressing emotion and scooping to the point where it’s distracting to your audience. The technique can be difficult to master, and it takes time and effort for newcomers to grasp. If you think you’re ready to try bending your notes to convey emotion through your playing, ask your teacher for a demonstration or check out how-to videos online–there’s a ton!
Learn the Lyrics
Although this only applies to music that was originally written for the voice, taking the time to read and understand the lyrics of a song can help you approach the rhythm and phrasing the right way. If the lyrics are about saying goodbye to a lover, you’ll want the song to sound sadder than it would if the song was about saying hello to an old friend. Think of the saxophone as an actor in a play, and approach your music the same way an actor would approach rehearsing for a performance. Of course you can completely ignore the lyrics and give the song your own twist, but knowing how to translate lyrics to a melody is important, especially if you want to be considered a great saxophonist.
Did you know that the best athletes, musicians, and actors in the world excel at their craft because they’re able to turn off everything else that’s going on in their life? If every time you sit down to play or practice the saxophone you’re thinking about what’s for dinner, you won’t be able to give your instrument the time and attention it deserves. Clear everything out of your mind before you start playing (some musicians find that meditation helps!), and you’ll notice a difference almost right away. If something bigger is bothering you, take care of whatever the issue is before you sit down to play.
Don’t Forget Dynamics
Those little p’s and f’s written throughout your music should be taken seriously–they aren’t there to be ignored, they’re there to add depth and drama to your playing. Although there are well-known saxophonists who don’t make much use of dynamics, focusing on dynamics is one of the easiest ways to make your playing more expressive. If you’re having a lot of trouble with dynamics, ask your teacher for some help. He or she may be able to add some dynamic-focused drills to your warm-up routine so you’ll have a chance to focus on dynamics every time you practice.
Experiment with Sound Effects
Sound effects go a long way when it comes to getting an audience to feel something, so it may be time for you to get some saxophone sound effects under your belt. From growling and flutter tonguing to overtones and altissimo, there are plenty of sound effects saxophone players can use to augment the natural expression of their instrument. While there are plenty of tutorials available online, things like this are usually best learned in-person from your teacher. If you don’t have a teacher yet, check out Music & Arts’ The Lesson Studio.
Want more info about playing the saxophone? Check out Six Tips for Playing the Saxophone and Saxophone Embouchure: Tips for Beginners.