At the beginning of this research, my altissimo register was extremely inconsistent and something I really wasn’t sure how to improve upon. Having looked at this register with one teacher, listened to a lecture on the ‘mechanics’ behind how it worked, much trial and error and scanning through a few books I wanted to delve much further into how to play the register and why I found it so difficult. Reflecting on the little research I had taken into the subject before, I wanted to know:

-       What are the different approaches to teaching the saxophones altissimo register?

-       Can a combination of these approaches lead to a confident and comfortable use of this register?

I created a questionnaire which gained insights from successful players of the altissimo register and composed six studies, each with a reference to a piece of classical saxophone repertoire. Studies that directly quote standard repertoire are few and the study book I have created is aimed at that gap in method books. This book would be useful to use in conjunction with whichever method book the individual is able to gain the most from.  


1.    From my results, it is clear that you don’t necessarily need a teacher to learn the altissimo, this can be seen most clearly from the teaching tree on the Mule side. Although this is true, the individual would require unwavering determination, motivation and lots of conscious practise, where every movement is analysed and deliberate. For many however this requires a teacher and several method books to keep progress on the register moving.

As something that is played much more today than in the 1950’s when Hemke and Rousseau belonged to the handful of names who were masters of this register, performers nowadays have a tendency to maybe expect too much too quickly. This is something which in a ‘now generation’ can be hard to accept. Cutting corners to achieve results is not possible with this register for example using a tense poor embouchure to squeeze out these top tones wont produce the desired results and will have a negative effect on playing in the future.   


2.    The register should be considered as a continuation of the saxophones range and so should be taught as such. When it is considered as something difficult before it has been approached in a students learning then negative connotations about the success of it could hinder pupils progress before work has begun. Fundamental exercises such as overtones should be incorporated in learning before the stage at which altissimo will be encountered in repertoire. Similarly when players pick up the instrument and make squeaks, these shouldn’t be admonished but explored as interesting possibilites of the saxophone.


3.    Some students do pick up the register quickly but for those that don’t, it isn’t enough to rely on one source of knowledge. All the method books have different approaches to the register and it is important to explore these until a pupil is really convinced about what they are trying to achieve. Donald Sintas book had never been suggested directly to me, but through this research it was the book which really helped me understand what I was trying to achieve and made me feel like I had suddenly progressed in the right direction.   


4. Through my own practise during this research period, I have found that my register has developed through conscious trial and error and the reading of the method books and the ideas collected from my questionnaire. The method books provided me with ideas about what I should be looking for when searching in the unknown and exercises based around the principles of altissimo playing without playing the top tones themselves. Prior to this research, I knew that being able to sound the overtones of the saxophone was a step to producing the altissimo notes. I was not able to play the overtones but I disregarded this as an unnecessary step as they were rarely written into any piece, I just wanted to play the top tones that were in my repertoire. I now understand that being able to produce the overtones means that you are able to select the note you want to play and ‘magically’ pull it from thin air – this is down to using the same fingering for each series. The quicker you can producer it and move through the series is proof of your muscle memory at work. I am now able to produce the whole of the series starting on Bb and many of the notes in the other series too. I have not consciously put lots of time into working on this, but through having this idea of an aural imagination its made me more aware that its not just having the correct tongue position which is, I think, what I used to believe. As I originally learnt the saxophone as a hobby through someone who had not recieved professional teaching themselves, I had a very poor embouchure until my second year of music college. It took a lot of time to correct this and I think that it slightly hindered my altissimo progression along with other techniques that require a lot of throat flexibility. This was due to far too much tension in not only the lips but in my throat as well. I find that some days my altissimo is better than other but I am aware that it is a long-term journey.


There is more research to undertake following on from this paper. I would definitely want to have more answers to compare. There has been research into looking at the movements in the throat and mouth while playing, with performers having a camera in their mouth while they play to track throat and tongue movement. This could be an interesting development that could be added to teaching method books., as another visual explanation. I would also want to tackle more repertoire in my study book including pieces for soprano, tenor and baritone which would continue to bridge the gap between method books and repertoire.


This research has given me a solid foundation with the register and it’s something I am now using more comfortably and beginning to enjoy in my playing. I have plans to use it significantly in my final recital, something I didn’t think I would chose to do 18 months ago. For me to begin to control my altissimo register it required new approaches to the same exercises  and inspiration so that I didn’t lose my will power, especially when it felt like I had been on the edge of the register for several months without much progression.