Quarter Tone Technique for Saxophone

In the early 20th century, composers such as Alois Hába, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, and Charles Ives began composing quarter tone works for instruments such as piano, clarinet, and voice. In the mid 20th century, composers such as Dean Drummond and Easley Blackwood began composing in quarter tonality, as well as other microtonal systems. This style of composition was, and still is, experimental. There is not yet a standard notation system (though one is beginning to emerge) and there are not many references for performance and composition with quarter tones.

The goal of this technique book is to encourage saxophonists to learn this technique and to encourage composers to write for it. Quarter tonality presents new melodic and harmonic possibilities that can bring previously unexplored textures, colors, and atmospheres to music.

This book will contain fingerings of all quarter tones that exist throughout the continuous quarter tone region of the saxophone, which encompasses all notes from low G# to high F#, as well as a few quarter tones that exist elsewhere.

It will then delve into chord studies, scale studies, and ear training studies, each of which bring new tonalities, colors, and sounds to life. The book will end with a series of etudes designed to challenge the performer and explore the melodic and harmonic possibilities quarter tone music makes possible.

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One thing that came as a complete surprise was the idea that practicing quarter tones makes for a great tone exercise. The book hints at this when it suggests that students have already worked on overtones and altissimo and specifies that overtone technique is vital to playing quarter tones well. As I practiced quarter tones the first time, it quickly became apparent that they required some hefty voicing (subtle tongue position, vocal chord positioning, and other muscle movements that focus the oral cavity), and after a practice session my voicing was more fully engaged, my tone was more alive, and the horn felt easier to play, similar to the result of practicing overtones. It also appears that playing quarter tones uses voicing muscles in different variations than overtones making for new possibilities and fresh practice...

- Ben Britton, via Everything Saxophone.

However, other than a brief seven pages devoted to the subject by Londeix[4], and tangential to Ronald Caravan’s Paradigms I[5], the topic of quarter tones has seen a dearth of serious pedagogical attention. Brandon Dixon, in his excellent new Quarter Tone Technique for Saxophone[6], remedies this long-standing oversight in a very credible way.... Dixon presents the material in a logically-ordered and clearly-stated manner. After some introductory remarks, the bulk of the material is devoted to four broad sections: Fingerings for the Continuous Range, Scale Studies, Chord Studies, and Etudes. The methodical introduction of the fingerings is effectively presented, including at least four different fingerings for each note, providing options to accommodate different horns, players, and technical contexts... With each new exercise, the player is increasingly challenged from both technical and aural perspectives to successfully integrate these new sounds into the flow of music.

- James Romain, via TheSaxophonist.org.