Multiphonics For Saxophone

A few years ago I became fascinated with the idea of playing more than 1 note at a time on my sax. I’m not sure exactly why that happened, but it did. (I suspect playing with guitar players who used distortion all the time, started me down the path.) Then while I was in the music store one day I happened to come across a book by John Gross.

The title: Multiphonics For The Saxophone: a practical guide 178 different note combinations diagrammed and explained by John Gross, really said all it needed to. I picked up the book, and was instantly struck by how the diagrams he used made sense to me, and seemed simple to understand. I bought the book, and that began my study of multiphonics.

Simply put, the term “Multiphonics” refers to two or more notes sounding simultaneously. All of us when we started out, produced multiphonics, but unintentionally! Our teachers, parents, and neighbours were all very glad when we got past that phase, learned how to control our horns, and produced only 1 note at a time.

With the study of multiphonics, the advancing or advanced player can work on a number of vital areas. In Gross’s words:

These multiphonics will help build strength, flexibility and endurance if used properly. Even if you never use any of these multiphonics in public I believe they are useful to your saxophone playing. I suggest you try different combination of dynamics (very soft to very loud), amount of mouthpiece in mouth and embouchure pressure (very loose to very tight). Suggested companion books are: TOP TONES FOR THE SAXOPHONE by Sigurd Rascher; HELLO! MR. SAX! By Jean-Marie Londeix; and, SCIENCE OF BREATH by Yogi Ramacharaka.

This is not a book for beginners, or really even intermediate players. You need to have good and stable chops, and a good grasp of overtones and harmonics.

I would be lying if I said I could do all the note combinations in the book. I can’t. But I use the book as tool, and pull out of it what I need.

As it turns out, I do play multiphonics in public. I continue to play with guitar players who love distortion, so for me, playing solo opposite the lead guitar player in an electric Blues band, I have 2 choices: Either use distortion pedals, or primarily use my throat and embouchure for the distortion effects. I choose the later, so multiphonics have become one of the tools that I use in creating my distortion.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2008 – 2012, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. @Helen
    It definitely helps to have access to an underground bunker or a college practice room after hours if you want to investigate these techniques.

    Multiphonics for flute and oboe have been fairly thoroughly worked out since the middle of the 20th century as an avant garde technique. The theory behind it is that certain fingering combinations can get the air column to vibrate in modes as if it were a third or more longer than the physical instrument, thus creating “false” harmonics. The undisputed master of this technique on soprano sax is Steve Lacy, and I highly recommend his recordings to anyone who wants to get an idea of just how expressive they can be. There are a number of concert pieces for unaccompanied alto sax available. Ken Dorn is of the opinion that they are most effective on tenor since they then fall within a range that is equally effective in ensembles as well as solo. He has some recordings available at his web site. For my part, I feel on baritone is where they really shine because they can blend better. I have a difficult time making a bass sax sound like anything other than some vague intestinal rumblings as it is, so I would leave that investigation to someone more competent than me :devil1:

    • I use multi-phonics sometimes on tenor combined with distortion effects—which are especially effective when you purposely get feedback through your monitor. Oh ya, I’m a rocker. (I guess you kinda’ figured that out by now.) 😉 Other than the occasional performance effect note, I use them for practice on embouchure and throat control. I find it’s also great for developing my ears.

      I’ve never bothered to try them on either baritone or bass, although it might be fun to experiment with them just for fun. For the smaller horns, I figure they sound bad enough playing just 1 note, why make them sound even worse by playing 2 or more notes simultaneously? 😯 :devil1:

      Large horn bias rearing its ugly head I’m afraid. 😆

  2. Does the Multiphonics book cover Soprano Sax?

    • @Ben

      The fingerings which John Gross suggests are applicable to any saxophone. His approach is very much along the lines of Rascher’s “Top Tones” which, as he suggests, makes an excellent complement.

      A more comprehensive collection was researched and published by Ken Dorn in 1975 (Where does the time go?) titled “Multiphonics – Saxophone Techinque”. This is useful for developing alternate fingerings to accomodate differences in bore among instruments as well as tone hole size and placement.

      You can find a review and comparison of the two here.

      • Thanks for answering that. I’ve been a little behind the last couple of days. 🙂

        I hadn’t heard about the Ken Dorn book. That sounds like an interesting resource. I wonder if it’s even still available anywhere?

        • Ken Dorn’s book is still available at his web site (, through which he also publishes the Saxophone Journal, as well as at .

          • Thanks for that link Paul! I had no idea that that resource even existed. Now I can really drive my neighbourhood cats crazy. :devil2:

  3. I am any interested in getting the book Multiphonics For The Saxophone: a practical guide note 178 Different Combinations diagrammed and Explained by John Gross

    • Hello Eduardo, welcome to my site.

      I don’t sell the book, and a search through some on-line book stores indicates that perhaps the book is out of print, since they no longer have any in stock.

      Through the magic of Google I did however find some copies here, at Sheet Music

      I hope that helps you.



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