There are a handful of questions I get asked more often than not and "How do I play altissimo?" is pretty high up there.
The altissimo register includes anything above a high F/F# above the staff in the saxophone's written key. In my opinion there are 3 levels of skill:
- Beginner- The player can squeeze out the odd high note when they are lucky and do so for effect. The note is often out of tune and not what the player was aiming for.
- Intermediate/Advanced- The player has a strong grasp of the extended range and can play specific notes at will as well as pre-practiced "licks". Most advanced saxophonists who have studied and worked on their altissimo fall into this level.
- Master- The player demonstrates no difference in skill and proficiency between the normal and extended range. There are few who attain this level.
But where to begin?
It's pretty much accepted by everyone I've ever talked to that you start with Sigurd M. Rascher's "Top-Tones for the Saxophone, Four - Octave Range". This book is not really a book on altissimo as much as the gateway to changing the way you will approach your tone concept. Rascher's overtone approach is a must for any saxophonist looking to extend their range, but will also broaden and deepen your sound by teaching you to better control your air and embouchure. It is a must read. It takes time, but his method will propel you towards and through Intermediate and Advanced levels of altissimo skill.
The second book I would recommend will take you to mastery if you let it. You could buy it at the same time as the first, but know that working through Racher's overtone studies only makes this book easier to use. Rosemary Lang's "Beginning Studies in the Altissimo Register for Saxophone" was long out of print, but recently revised and re-released by Gail B. Levinsky. This is an amazing book that takes you through the upper range of the instrument a half-step at a time with scales, arpeggios and (most importantly) easy melodies. Working through this book one etude at a time will gradually raise the top of your range by extending the skills you already posses in the normal register.
I keep both of these books in my practice rotation and have found them invaluable on my altissimo journey.
If you have other books or exercises you have found helpful please add them in the comments!
PS- Can't really talk about extended range without mentioning Lenny. He throws down at 0:40. Enjoy!