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Today we are going to talk about how to play a fall on the saxophone.
Even though a fall is pretty easy to play, there are a few tricks to playing a fantastic sounding fall on the saxophone. These such a thing as fundamentals of good technique.
In summary, you need five things to play a fantastic fall off on the saxophone. First, master the chromatic scale. Second, play softer as you get lower. Third, the first note is the loudest note. Four, relax your embouchure as you get lower. And fifth, follow through with your fingering after the sound stops.
Let’s go over each of the elements individually.
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How to Play Fall Offs on the Saxophone
The term fall off equates to the sound of our voice when we progressively drop it in pitch. It simply implies that the pitch falls off to an undefined pitch.
When we say a syllable like “ao” with emphasis at the start, that’s what a fall off sounds like.
Fall offs can be very short, they can be medium in length with a medium pitch drop, and they can be really extended and slow.
When you imitate a siren sound, for instance, that is hundred of tiny micro-pitches down that siren. Our voices can easily produce a siren.
The pitch, volume and the amount of air were pushing out of our mouths decrease once we hit that first note.
This is a fundamental character of fall offs as we’ll see.
On the saxophone, however, there are no hundreds of micro-pitches. We can only produce the 12 notes of the chromatic scale.
That comes in at just about 2 ½ octaves on any saxophone in the normal range (without any trick fingerings).
Even though what we are trying to imitate with a fall on the saxophone is the sound of a fall on the human voice…
…we are not interested in the hundreds of micro-pitches…
…we are trying to imitate just the vocal effect, and the 12 notes of the chromatic scale more than suffices for that.
We just want to replicate the sound effect of falling of the edge of a cliff, musically.
Do not confuse a fall off with a slur between two predetermined notes.
It is not standing on Bflat, for instance, and sluring to F. That’s not it. Instead, all we are trying to do is lengthen the horn as we back off the air.
How to Play the Perfect Saxophone Fall Off Step-by-step (5 Easy Steps)
By far, the most common reason you cannot get a saxophone fall off to really pop is because you’re not combining all the right elements.
Here are the 5 steps you need to follow to play a good fall off. Almost any saxophonist can play, at least, a rubbish fall off. Here’s how to play a good convincing one.
You can think about each of these steps as the elements you need to make your fall off really pop.
#1 — Master the Chromatic Scale
The very first step or element to a good fall off is having good chromatic scale technique.
It should come as no surprise that the chromatic scale is the cornerstone of a good fall off. In fact, the chromatic scale is the cornerstone to good saxophone technique.
If you want to check out chromatic scales, I prepared a comprehensive note-by-note saxophone chromatic scale guide with all common fingerings, and some of the most popular alternate fingerings–that’s the workout you need.
Chromatic scales are indinspensible for keeping your technique in tip-top shape.
It what I use to keep my technique in tip-top shape. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s what most other players use as well. So you’ve got to check out that note-by-note fingering guide.
All we’re talking about here is going from one note to the next note a half step down (or a semitone down).
The core of perfecting chromatic scale technique is making sure that you can move smoothly and quickly up and down your saxophone without any hicccups, especially when we are going over the octave break.
If our fall off, for instance, starts from High B. The first step is to be able to hit that B, and then go smoothly down the chromatic scale.
If you can’t do tha yet, chromatic scale workouts are the way to go.
#2 — The Lower the Softer
Number two on our list is very important and really simple.
As we get lower, we need to get softer. Sound obvious, but if you are struggling with falls offs, you’re probably forgetting to do this.
So, again, starting on the High B, we’ve got to get softer and softer as we’re getting lower, and that means starting louder and then using less air to get the volume down as we get lower.
This leads into the next point.
#3 — The First Note is the Loudest
The first note is the loudest note in a fall off.
You’ve got to make sure that that very first note, which is the most important note, is also the loudest. It’s the money note in a fall off.
You must make that the loudest note in your fall off.
So, we’re getting softer as we’re going down, but we’re starting at our loudest point. The whole thing is coming down.
#4 — Relax Your Embouchure
This is what makes the difference between a really average fall off and a really good sounding fall off.
You need to relax your embouchure as you’re falling off.
So you’re hitting the first note, that’s the loudest, you’re getting softer as you’re going smoothly down your chromatic scale, and now, you’re relaxing your embouchure as you do that.
Relaxing the embouchure when doing a fall off is almost like bending a note. It has the effect of lowering the pitch.
Remember what we did when we we’re being notes?
You might need to check how to bend a note on the saxophone if you haven’t already to get an idea of what I’m talking about.
What you’re doing is, you’re holding the mouthpiece is a nice controlled manner. Not too loose, not too tight. It changes the pressure on the reed.
Lowering the pitch gives your fall off a nice rounded element that makes it sound just right–like a human voice fall off.
If you try all these four elements all together so far, you’ll see that you’re onto a winner.
#5 — Follow Through with Your Fingerings
The fifth element, the final peice of the fall off puzzle is following through.
When you’re going down the fall off, you’ve got to follow through with your fingerings.
Now, I’ve talked about getting softer as you’re going down. But, there’s going to be a point where you can’t hear the notes anymore.
To really make it sound amazing, you need to keep your fingerings going even past the point where the notes stop souding. This continuity to the fall off is what really makes it sound amazing.
I know this sound counter-intuitive but bear with me.
What you’re creating there is a follow through in the line of the fall off.
This, of course, makes more sense for a long fall off. There’s going to be instances where we are playing really short fall offs.
But if you get the long falls off right, the short ones are a piece of cake.
So, get in the habit of following through with your fingers even after the sound stops.
Saxophone Fall Off Exercise
When practicing fall offs, start by improvising—playing something out of your head—and then add some fall offs in there. Don’t think of doing them, instead just go on a musical journey.
Just about any great saxophone player down through thr history of time all incorporate fall offs as a natural part of their musical vocabulary.
One of the most famous sax solos of all time, in pop music, was played by the late Edgar Winter who was a great saxophone player. He is responsible for the all-time classic tenor sax solo in Tina Turner’s international smash hit Simply the Best.
You can simply for the original recording and have a listen.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because this tenor sax solo is loaded with fall offs. Now, Edgar Winter did not even read music when he played that solo.
He simply played it out of his head.
It’s only an 8 or 9 bar solo, yet it is a really famous signature landmark in pop tenor sax.
I strongly recommend you be able to play the sax solo to Simply the Best.
So get some practice.
You can, of course, transpose this to the alto, but, the spirit of Simply the Best is a tenor sax solo. Use this as a tenor exercise because in real life, you might be playing alto sax in a band and you’ll be asked to play songs where the original was done on the tenor sax.
You have to get good at playing solos that were played on a different member of the saxophone family.
For those of you who play Eflat alto saxophone or baritone sax, the transcribed solo sees you playing in the key that has four sharps. It also sees the altissimo note at the end of the solo being B above high C–that’s a very high note on a saxophone.
If you aren’t currently up to speed with altissimo notes, simply play that last note as it’s written. Don’t worry about taking it up an octave.
There is nothing to be gained by hurting yourself by premamaturely exapanding into the stratosphere on the saxophone.
I hope that helps. See you in the next one.