How to Growl on Saxophone: The Dirty 4-Step Formula

Here's the 4-step formula to getting a dirty, vicious growl on saxophone. Growling is one of those techniques that adds a fair bit of color to your playing, and it pretty easy to do once you get the hang of it.

Today we are going to talk about how to growl on the saxophone.

For me, one of my favorite thing about playing the saxophone is the sheer range of sounds and color we can get from this great instrument.

When I first heard the dirty growling rock-and-rock kinda wailing sound on the saxophone, I was hooked. I had to learn it right away.

It turns out that growling is one of those techniques that's pretty easy to do but it's a little difficult to teach because you have to do some things that are really unnatural to playing the saxophone.

There are three ways growl on saxophone, you can either ROLL YOUR R's (like a horse) whilst blowing out on a very loose embouchure, you can HUM or SING whilst blowing out, marry these two together and you get the ultimate growl. But if neither of these is for you, the third technique is almost like GURGLING whilst playing a note. It hurts your head because your head is full of sound, but it's a vicious growl.

Let's explore each of these approaches.

How to Growl on Saxophone

How to Get a Vicious Growl on Saxophone

When you growl on saxophone, it sounds as if you are actually splitting your pitch, and then those two pitches are fighting to bring out that dissonant sound.

We have a note that we are singing with a dirty, raspy tone and the actual note that you are fingering on the saxophone. Those are the two notes that are clashing to create the dissonance.

We are going to do this on concert pitch C, which is an A on the alto or bari (that would be a D on the tenor or soprano). This is the note we are going to finger on saxophone.

Saxophone transposition for middle C on tenor, baritone, soprano and alto saxophones

Here's the fingering chart on alto sax:

Middle C fingering on alto sax

Here's the fingering chart on tenor sax:

Middle C fingering on tenor sax

Here's the fingering chart on bari sax:

Middle C fingering on baritone sax

And here's the fingering chart on soprano sax:

Middle C fingering on soprano sax

If you are having a problem with transposition, or need a little more background, I made this saxophone transposition guide for you, and there is a simple transposition chart at the start for quick reference.

So we have to figure out how to get a growled A.

Step #1 — Lower Your Tongue

When you lower your tongue, obviously that will make the pitch flat but because we have these dissonant fighting notes, it doesn't really matter. When you play it won't sound flat.

You can practice your note, A in my case, with your tongue lowered. That will get your tongue in the right position for the growl to start.

Lowering your tongue is what makes everything work way better. If you have your tongue a little bit deeper and further down in your mouth, it's just going to make all the growling and all the crazy stuff you are doing way easier to function on your saxophone.

Step #2 — Hum, Gurgle or Sing whilst Blowing

The next thing you're going to do is make is hum into the back of your throat and blowing at the same time. Do not blow your saxophone yet, just air from your mouth.

The two common techniques here are: one is almost like gurgling, to produce a throaty sound, and the other is singing a note throatily.

You will notice that this will form a note that has a pitch to it.

When first do it, it will probably feel really strained, it might even hurt a little bit and feel hoarse in your throat. But that's what you need, that raspy growly sound.

It will take a little while to get used to that raspy humming going while you are blowing air through your saxophone. But once you get used to it, using that functionally in your playing will get really really easy.

I have never particularly worried whether the pitch of my growl matches the note that I'm going to play—it doesn't work like that.

Just hit the growl in one pitch and then blow your note.

If you find yourself struggling, try just humming at the back of your throat without blowing, then get the air going, and then finally put the rasp on it.

I would say to you that it's harder to get the growl and to sustain the growl, the lower than you go. Fortunately, the higher you go, the more effective your growl sounds, so feel free to experiment with something a little higher if you can't get anything going at all.

You want to be able to hear the raspy note and feel the air coming out.

The harder and raspier you get that hum in your throat, the growlier everything's going to sound.

Step #3 — Turn Your Growl in an "O" Sound

When we play the saxophone, we will need air coming along with that raspy sound.

What you want to do now is that make that dirty, raspy sound and then position your lips and tongue to make an "O" sound.

As you are making that "O" sound, you should feel the air blowing out at the same time. Place your hand in front of your mouth to see if you can feel air blowing past.

When you make the "O" sound, obviously your lips will move a little bit forward, yet when you playing the saxophone your lips shouldn't move forward (because that will mess up your embouchure and pitch). To solve this, when you move your lips forward, your tongue should come out just a little bit and that's what gets the air going for you.

And that's pretty much how your growl is created.

I know all this sounds crazy but we are trying to make a crazy on the saxophone we have to make those sounds in order for these to work.

Step #4 — Growl into Your Saxophone

So now, let's put that together on the saxophone.

Put the saxophone in your mouth and finger A, or whatever note you chose, and make the raspy sound.

Now make that raspy sound into your saxophone again. Once you get it going strong, move into the "O" position and get air moving through your saxophone.

As soon as you get enough air moving through your saxophone to vibrate the reed and make a note, you're going to get the beginning of your growl.

You won't get the best sound growl, but this will be the way to start if plan on ending up with a vicious growl.

Once you get that growl sound, really concentrate on your tone while keeping it going.

When you first get started, you need to work on straightening your tone out to make your growl nice and even.

Now obviously, every time you growl, you don't have to repeat all these steps to get it started, but after you learn how to do it, starting right on the growl will be really easy.

But before you can do that, you have to get used to that throat movement.

Practice getting the growling sound through your saxophone first before blowing and you will be able to start the note right on the growl with no problem at all.

Growling is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

It gets quite important that you listen to players and you try and pinpoint and become aware of the different types of growls as you learn the technique.

I hope that helps. Bye for now.

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DuckingBeast

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I've played the alto and then the tenor saxophone for close to a decade now. I gig with several bands around the world for most months in a year. I created SqueakingSax to share with you some interesting tips and techniques I've picked up along the way.

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