All Things Saxophone

A short note on Baritone Sax and altissimo

Last modified 10/18/08


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Altissimo, harmonics, or “the high notes” as they are sometimes called, are a coveted technique amongst saxophonists.  Of course there are many points to proper embouchure, diaphragm, & throat placement that I will not go into in this article.  Perhaps I will address them in a future article, but perhaps not because I have yet to see a viable method for teaching these techniques that does not involve personal interaction between the student and the teacher.  This short article addresses some basic differences in altissimo for the baritone sax versus the other saxophones.

·  Some history

Baritone saxophone as an instrument has changed more over the last thirty years than any other saxophone due to the perfection of the low A (see my article on Baritone Sax and the low A).  The entire shape and bore of the instrument changed when this design was adopted, and as a result so did the behavior of altissimo notes.  On a vintage B flat Baritone sax, the harmonic note fingerings were more closely aligned to those of the other saxes, although there were still some differences.  To some extent, the differences were unique to each make and model of Baritone sax.  Having started out on Baritone sax, this was somewhat frustrating although it did drive me and other saxophonists to experiment with fingerings more than is done today.

· Fingering differences

Because the low A design is now the standard for Baritone saxes, this article will address only the differences for that design of Baritone sax.  Basically the baritone sax altissimo notes are 1/2 step lower than altissimo notes for other saxophones, with the exception of the F sharp, G, and G sharp.  For example, a B flat altissimo on Baritone sax plays like an altissimo A, a B plays as a B flat, a C plays as a B, etc.

In short, that’s it.  You will find there will be subtle differences between the makes of Baritone saxes, so you will need to try alternate fingerings for the altissimo notes to achieve proper intonation.  You will find the alternate fingerings on the altissimo fingering chart on this website.