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Topic: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

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  1. #1

    Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    I can't remember where I read this, but I am wondering if it is true: It is said that rapid repetitions of the same note are not suited to the saxophone. Is it that they are difficult to play? Or difficult to play in tune? Or is there some other factor involved?

    I am re-working my orchestrations for a finale, which requires rapid, stabbing repetitions of a chord (8th notes at a fast tempo), brass with an oboe on top in its upper register. The notes are all the same until the last chord, which is different.

    If I could have scored this for three or four trumpets, I would have done so, but I am limited to 2 trumpets and I have an extra reed player free (who plays soprano sax on another number). If the sax can handle it, I'd like to have the sax on the bottom, the trumpets in the middle, and the oboe on top. This sounds okay in JABB, but that quip about saxes has me worried that it might not be playable in real life.

    (Oh, one other thing -in case this makes a difference - I am doubling these whole chords with one of the organs from GPO, at the unison, to make it fuller and smooth out the differences in timbre.)

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  2. #2

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    It all depends on the player, really, but since double-tonguing on a sax (or clarinet, and possibly oboe and bassoon) is sloppy at best, speed tonguing should be generally avoided. (I've been playing sax for 13 years, so this is from playing experience, not from composing experience.)

    It's not for intonation, but for timing sake.

  3. #3

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    Hi...if the sax (I'm assuming soprano from your situation description) is in a low register and you have open trumpets in the middle at anything over mp or so, chances are the oboe will be covered up, and it will not balance the chord as the lead voice.
    Low registers of saxes really honk. It would likely be tougher to play p or pp in the low register of soprano or alto than it would be to single-tongue even eighth notes at quarter=144 or so. Dave, any comment there?

    This issue of inherent volume balance is one area in which use of ANY sampled instruments for mockups can lead to unintended consequences when played live.

    Dave's point on double-tonguing a sax is, of course, well taken, but eighth notes at, say, q=144, isn't a double-tongue tempo.
    I am a low brass player with an average single tongue, and I'm OK with sixteenths at around 112 or so single-tongued. I'll let a sax player chime in with sax info. Dave?

    PS--What you might have heard is that when block-voicing a section (sax or otherwise), it's useful wherever possible to avoid repeated notes in voices below the lead (or in the lead, for that matter).
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    N9EJR
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  4. #4

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    Thanks for the input. What I read was that repeated notes are not good for sax players and I assumed that, the faster the tempo, the worse it gets.

    The bottom note of the chord is a Bb above middle C. I had it assigned to the soprano sax, with 2 trumpets over it and the oboe on top. Based on the feedback I have gotten here, I re-assigned the parts to the trombone player (who I expect will have to play tenor to reach that Bb), followed by the trumpets, and the flute and piccolo in unison on the top note. Either way sounds okay in Sonar; I'm just trying to find the best way to do it when played live with real wind instruments (which I hope it eventually will be).

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  5. #5

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    Thanks for the input. What I read was that repeated notes are not good for sax players and I assumed that, the faster the tempo, the worse it gets.

    The bottom note of the chord is a Bb above middle C. I had it assigned to the soprano sax, with 2 trumpets over it and the oboe on top. Based on the feedback I have gotten here, I re-assigned the parts to the trombone player (who I expect will have to play tenor to reach that Bb), followed by the trumpets, and the flute and piccolo in unison on the top note. Either way sounds okay in Sonar; I'm just trying to find the best way to do it when played live with real wind instruments (which I hope it eventually will be).
    In this case, the Bb in the trombone will be strong--it's an upper register note. A good player can play it mp or p but shouldn't have to. That register in the bone will cut, and that's what it's for.
    If you have a flute and a picc, you might have the picc an octave on top of the flute rather than in unison, especially if the passage is a big ending, as it seems to be from your description. Picc in the lower register won't cut as well as it will in the upper register, where it can cover almost anything when written in the extreme upper register!

    One disadvantage of sequencers is that any combination can be made to sound ok, but there may be unintended consequences when things that have been engineered in Sonar are played by live players.

    Have you seen resources that describe "volume curves" for instruments? Gary Lindsay's book would be a valuable resource in that light: When is a given instrument's tone piercing? mellow? Reedy? Honking? Strident? Unusable? etc... Several orchestration/arranging texts offer this valuable information. Since I am a brass player, I am familiar with those issues for brasses, much less so for WW, so I have used these sources extensively, as well as feedback from WW player friends.
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    N9EJR
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  6. #6

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    I have Dave Black & Tom Gerou's book "Essential Dictionary of Orchestration", which does give what they call the "dynamic contour" for wind instruments. It's helpful.

    I assume that good players will compensate for the ranges, making them louder or softer, to blend as needed . . . and, of course, I know that there are limits to what they can do in this regard. It's just hard to know what is reasonable to ask of them, in some situations. If I could get away with it anywhere, I figured it would be in the finale to the first act (loud, with the organ doubling the brass and ww voices in unison).

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  7. #7

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    Okay. I've re-voiced these chords, using the old trick for string sections (drop second voice of the horn triad one octave). That gives me open harmony in the horns (2 trumpets, followed by trombone just above the staff). But it gives me a problem with my fourth and highest voice, which will be played by the flute and/or piccolo. If I leave it as is, it's a third above the first trumpet, which I think might kill the open voicing effect. If I go up an octave, there's a big gap between it and the 1s trumpet. One seems too small and interval, the other too great. What do I do? Some sort of inversion, I presume.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  8. #8
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    Hi EJR,

    The best way to assure a decent blend when your voicings are played live w/ a "real" pit, is to try and write reasonably complete voicings within each section.

    At mf or louder, the brass are going to predominate (as Snorlax already mentioned). Voice the brass chord where you want it ... 2 trumpets, trombone, and I believe you also have a horn? Make sure it sounds good all by itself.

    Then, add the reeds to the affair. I think you mentioned you have other reeds (clarinet, oboe?). Voice the flute/oboe/clarinet in a strong register and don't worry if they are slightly above the brass (you were concerned that unison was too low w/ top trumpet and 8va was too high ... just set the reed's top voice (flute) a third, forth, or fifth above the top trumpet and voice the remaining reeds down from the flute the way you would if you didn't have any brass in the chord) ... just ensure the reeds sound good when played by themselves.

    Trying to blend your reeds AND brass into a single voicing where all the important tones are back and forth between the two groups is going to take really, really sensitive musicians to pull off ... more likely to be successful in a studio than in a pit. Optimizing each section independently and then overlapping the two sections will be easier to play and should provide a nicer live blend.

    What I just mentioned is if you are NOT just directly doubling the brass voices w/ reed tones (direct coupling ... top flute in unison w/ top trumpet; etc.)

    Hope this helps,

    Regards,

    Frank

  9. #9

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    Yes. I have been doing that throughout the score. I was just hoping to make it sound like a larger brass section, for the finale. (The reed added on top of the trumpets, making 4-part harmony.) I guess I'll just have to play around with this a bit more and see what sounds best. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  10. #10

    Re: Rapid Repeating notes on Saxophone

    I'm still having trouble with these two chords that end my first act finale. There are a series of rapid repetitions of the first chord, followed by a single hit of the next chord. I have removed the sax from the equation and opened up the chord voicing a bit by dropping the second note an octave and giving it to the trombone. But it still doesn't sound right. I'm thinking it's more a problem with my voicing than the instrumentation (my minimal theory training rearing its ugly head again - compounded by the fact that I have only a small number of instruments to work with).

    Here's what I've got so far:

    The repeated chord begins with the D just above middle C on the treble staff, followed by the Bb, F and A, going up the scale. These are played by the trombone, two trumpets and the oboe, respectively.

    (I know I shouldn't use the oboe, but I have tried the flute and piccolo on the A, an octave above, and both instruments in octaves ... but every combination of them just sounds wrong. It changes the character of the chord which should sound tight and tense -- even though I have had to resort to open harmony to keep the brass instruments in a comfortable range).

    Above this chord, I have a xylophone part (played by the second MIDI keyboard). Here, too, I am having a lot of trouble voicing it. I feel like doubling the oboe part should work (either unison or in octaves) but is sounds too thin. I have two violin parts (with three players on each) providing a background tremelo on the D and F above the staff. This helps a little. But I can't work out the voicing for the xylophone part. It shouldn't sound too sparce or two crowded.

    Ideally, I'd like to save the flute and piccolo to add them in on the final chord, which goes like this: Bb-D-F-Bb, with all or most of the voices doubled and spread out over the treble staff and above it.

    There is an energetic rhythm part under all this, using the piano, string bass, and percussion as well as long sustained roots of the repeated chord on the BC.

    The whole thing ends with a short percussion riff, immediately after the second chord above.

    That's the best way to describe it.

    I am trying to do orchestrally what I initially wrote on the piano. It has a kind of stride piano feel, alternating between big, punchy leaps down from the center of the keyboard and equally punchy high chords on the right hand side. It works, musically, on the piano. But it lost something when I fully orchestrated it and I'm not sure what to do to fix it. If I had two extra trumpets and two more flutes, I think I could work it out. But I don't, so I'm stuck with trying to make this work. I also have a french horn that I'm not using. But It speaks a little too slowly for this passage. The best use I could put it to is doubling the sustained bass clarinet and octave higher, but I really don't need any more weight on the lower end.

    I'm open to any ideas and suggestions at this point.

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