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In this guide we’re going to look at just five simple fingerings you need to get started with multiphonics on the saxophone, which is a very common extended technique that sax players, and other monophonics instrument players, often use.
John Coltrane’s Harmonique is one of the earliest examples of using multiphonics on a saxophone in a jazz setting.
The problem with multiphonics is that there are just too many fingerings. You try a bunch of them and don’t remember any!
What are Multiphonics?
Multiphonics is where an instrument that is used to play one note at a time (single note instrument) creates an effect of playing multiple notes at the same time.
What is really happening, is that you are doing a very atypical fingering on the horn to bring about the effect. We will expand on this in a second.
You are, in a sense, disrupting the airflow that creates this very rapid alternation between two or more notes of the horn to give the appearance (because it is so fast) that multiple notes are being played.
Multiphonics create acoustic chords on the saxophone using fingering systems and mouth shapes.
A caveat with this, because of that rapid alternation, there is a sort of a growl sound that goes along with it.
In fact, multiphonics are, phonetically, very similar to growling on the saxophone. That’s another fantastic guide I wrote a while back. Have a look at it if you want to add growling to your repetoire.
Also most of the fingerings that are out there for multiphonics are with very dissonant intervals like with minor 9th's or minor 2nd's or maybe 7th's mixed together.
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Multiphonics in John Coltrane’s Harmonique
When John Coltrane recorded Harmonique in 1959, there were certainly other players using techniques such as overblowing the saxophone, or using false fingerings to create affected sounds but Coltrane put true chords into the tune.
In Harmonique he uses three different chords (in concert key):
- B♭ Major Chord
- B Major Chord
- E♭ Major Chord
The jazz chords and jazz chord symbols I discussed what chords are and how we play chords on the saxophone. Have a look at that if you want to understand chords and chord symbols for the saxophone.
Multiphonics Fingerings — How to Play Multiphonics on the Saxophone
There are a couple of very good books you need to get your hands on to form a well rounded view of multiphonics on the saxophone. And I encourage you to check the following out, but there’s lots of great stuff out there:
- Multiphonics for the Saxophone by John Gross.
- Multiphonics for Saxophone by Ken Dorn.
Multiphonics on the saxophone will not sound as nice as on something like a guitar or piano — that’s not what we are going for here. We are looking for more of a percussive effect.
But to get a start with some multiphonics I’ll just show you a couple of fingerings that I use (these are some of my favorites).
#1 — Side B♭ w/ Low E
Adding the Side B♭ to the E gets you an interesting multiphonic sound. There are actually four tones being sounded in there, you get dissonant intervals.
#2 — Low C w/out Right First Finger
For some people it comes out naturally but you might have to experiment with voicing to get this multiphonic to out right.
#3 — Low B w/out Right First Finger
The same concept as the previous one goes here, we play a Low B and then raise the right first finger to get the multiphonic.
#4 — Low B♭ w/out Right Second Finger
Next, we play a low B♭ but raise the right second finger to get the multiphonic. This is a little bit harder to control and wants to take off but you’ll get it working with a little bit of practice.
#5 — E w/ High E♭ Palm Key
This is about as consonant as you are going to get with multiphonics. Here’s where you can most easily notice that rapid back and forth alternation between the notes.
Multiphonics has a growly effect, so, experiment with that and see what you like.
There’s are many more fingerings that you find the books I referred to before but this five should be enough to get you started.
You only need to find one or two multiphonics that work really well for you and you’re set. Don’t overwhelm yourself — that’s one of the problems with these books, there’s just so many complicated fingerings.
The problem with trying to learn too many fingerings is that you play a bunch and then you don’t remember any of them.
Try to start with just one or two and see how that goes.