Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fast air, slow fingers

While practicing the opening of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza IXb today, I relearned for the hundredth time a concept I should have shared on here long ago: fast air, slow fingers.


Berio’s opening passage is made difficult by the need to slur large intervals into awkward registers at delicate dynamics—all with a spooky ease and panache. In particular, one must connect to a low B at a piano or pianissimo dynamic, both slurred and articulated.

Intervals are disturbed and made unstable by turbulence, especially the kind that involves even fractional movement of the saxophone mouthpiece in the oral cavity. It is extremely easy to slam down those pesky pinky keys, especially when bridging large intervals, causing that turbulence. The fix: start depressing the low-note pinky keys right away after the prior note. If the slur is F down to B, then the instant I arrive at the F I start moving my fingers to close the other keys, even though there is a duration to the F which is relatively long. The fingers have to move slowly, sneakily, and then there is this amazing sensation of the low B popping right out with ease, with the proper affekt even of the delicate dynamic. Although this particular passage is a good place to learn this technique, it is an effective approach to almost all areas of saxophone playing, especially the altissimo register.

To get an initial sense of this feeling, do a portamento slur from F# up to G using the key only. When that is smooth, try F up to G, doubling the interval. Soon, you will approach saxophone technique with a sensitive awareness of how far you let the keys open, and in what subtle timing multiple keys have to close in order to make one interval sound smooth and clean.

NASA 2014 Biennial Conference / UIUC Percussion Ensemble

This year’s North American Saxophone Alliance 2014 Biennial Conference—held at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign—was a smashing success, thanks to the heroic efforts of saxophonists and educators Dr. Debra Richtmeyer and Dr. Michael Holmes. It attracted more performances, more saxophonists, and more diversity of styles than any saxophone event I have ever been to.

I had the distinct honor of performing Baljinder Sekhon’s Gradient 2.0 with the UIUC Percussion Ensemble at the event’s final concert, directed by Professor William Moersch, including a repeat performance of the work at their April 17 percussion ensemble concert. They are truly an exciting ensemble to work with; what a pleasure it was to discover the fantastic music program and world-class performance venues at UIUC.

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