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High G or altissimo G is a hard note to play.
The thing with the saxophone is that once you’ve played for a while, and have gotten a full command of the range of the horn, you’ll want to get into the altissimo range.
Usually you’ll start with F sharp, and then skip butter note (the high G), and go into high A which a little easier to pop out.
Judging by the number of people I had complain over the years — students, fellow musicians, teachers, other people I’ve spoken to, my own experience — high G is a real pain in the you know what to play.
In this guide, I want to talk about, not just the standard way of approaching the high G, but I want to introduce you to a concept that I picked up from playing the trumpet.
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How to Play High G on Alto, Tenor Saxophone
I grew up playing the trumpet, and I still play the trumpet to this day.
I’ve studied the trumpet with phenomenal teachers, and what they taught applies to playing an high G on the tenor, alto saxophone or any of the saxophones.
Let me get the basic stuff out of the way.
You need to have a mouthpiece and a reed combination that can handle playing the altissimo register. That’s unique for each person. I can’t truthfully say that the softer the reed the higher the notes — everybody’s different.
If you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t be trying to play high G, or the altissimo range. Your efforts are, simply, better expended elsewhere. You need to come into this with a full command of the range of the horn from low B♭ to the high F♯.
You need to be playing solidly on your mouthpiece, reed and setup first. Make sure you are comfortable with, and have proper command of, your current setup, whatever that may be.
Every horn is different.
This idea that every horn is different comes with a lot of variables. With each different brand name (or no-name brand), and even within a brand name depending on how old or new they are, you may have a different fingering to play some of the altissimo notes.
You may even find that you are getting strange altissimo notes coming out with different fingerings than what you would expect, from the same brand.
If you are already having a problem with getting some of your other notes out, maybe figure those out first.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables here, but this concept that I want to teach you stays the same.
The saxophone is really a brass instrument. The only thing that makes it a woodwind is the wooden reed, even if you play one of those synthetic reeds. It is a woodwind instrument made out of brass.
The above idea is really important because we want to treat the saxophone like a brass instrument; in the way that we warm up, in the way that we warm down, in the way that we stretch our technique and flexibility.
One of the things that you want to think about with that concept is if you put your horn in your mouth and blow with no fingerings, and expect a C♯ to come out, sometimes it will be in tune, sometimes it will be out of tune.
If you have no concept of what that C♯ sounds like, you don’t know what’s going to come out of the bell. You’re just expecting the horn to take care of the work.
You should really be thinking of the horn, mouthpiece, and your entire setup as an amplification of what’s going on in your mind. What you know and expect a note to sound like.
So the concept is very simple, there are two points to it.
You have to hear the pitch first. And here’s the key that no-one does — you’ve got to sing it, even if you can’t stand your singing voice.
The logic here is simple, you don’t know if you are really hearing the pitch until you can replicate it by singing it.
The open C♯ on the saxophone, for instance, is what you should get when you hit B on the piano. You can get a chromatic tuner to play this.
If you can find the tuner that will play the note that you want, that will give you the pitch to match, the pitch to hear in your head, the pitch to sing.
You will have more success with the note if you are able to hear the note screaming in your head, as you play it.
Getting back to high G, you need to hear the note before you can play it, and you need a tuner to help you with this.
High G Fingering Chart on the Tenor and Alto Sax
The most common fingering for high G on the tenor is the front f as follows:
This is the main fingering and it should work quite well.
Another fingering that you can use is with the F♯ trill key.
For my horn, this alternate fingering sometimes comes out flat. I have to manipulate it inside my mouth to make it in tune. Sometimes it goes sharp.
So, as I said earlier, you have to know the pitch tendencies of your horn.
Another additional step you can take is singing the note into the mouthpiece before playing it. This helps you imitate the embouchure you used when singing the note after listening to in on your chromatic tuner.