Composing for Quarter Tone Saxophone
This page outlines the basics of composition for the saxophone using the quarter tone extended technique. Any composer can create saxophone pieces which use this technique with the information below.
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The saxophone is versatile enough to allow for quarter tones throughout most of the range. However, the saxophone cannot play the following notes:
- G semisharp in the staff.
- Any quarter tone below D at the bottom of the staff.
The most difficult quarter tone to produce on the saxophone is G semisharp on top of the staff. Composers should use caution when writing this note. The more time the performer has to sound the note, the more likely it will be produced without problems. If the note is a whole note, the performer will have time to sound and produce the note. Once produced, it is not as difficult to maintain. However, if the note is in a 16th note run, it will be very difficult for the performer to reliably sound this note.
Theoretically, these missing quarter tones can be played by fingering the note above and adjusting the embouchure to manually lower the pitch, or by "partially closing" certain keys. However, it is not practical to do this in almost all cases, as the note cannot be instantly sounded, it is not guaranteed that every saxophonist will be able to actually sound the intended note with support and good sound, and it is not guaranteed that every equipment setup will allow for this. Therefore, these notes are considered outside of the range of the saxophone.
Every other quarter tone note can be played on the saxophone. The full range of quarter tone notes is shown in the image below.
There is only one fingering for F sesquisharp in the bottom of the staff. This fingering lifts the right ring finger away from its normal position. If this note is written, the following notes cannot precede or supercede it:
- Any note below low E.
- D or Eb in the middle of the staff.
- F semisharp in the bottom of the staff.
Limitations of Each Saxophone in Concert Pitch
When composing for one or more saxophones, with or without accompaniment, the range limitations must be observed for all saxophones simultaneously. When considering the ranges of each instrument, the main problem that must be overcome is writing in a way that avoids the low G semisharps of all instruments. The ranges of each instrument in the quartet are shown below in concert pitch. The one immediately below outlines the natural ranges of each saxophone.
The diagram below shows the locations of low G semisharp, the continuous quarter tone region, and the lower quarter tone region on each kind of saxophone.
The diagram below shows the locations of low F sesquisharp and the notes that cannot precede or supercede it on each kind of saxophone.
The above limitations will make voice leading and orchestration difficult in certain situations. In these situations, the following solutions may be considered:
- Cross voices with one of the neighboring saxophones.
- Change the chord quality (a quarter tone adjustment can constitute a change in chord quality).
- Change the harmony.
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