How to Growl on Saxophone. Step-by-step guide

How to Growl on Saxophone

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

In this lesson you will learn how to growl on Saxophone. This saxophone effect is commonly used in Rock and pop music. However, the growling sax effect can also be useful in other types of music to add some extra flavor to your saxophone sound. And as you'll see in this lesson it doesn't take much to get started.

2 ways of growling on saxophone

There are two main ways of growling on saxophone. In the first section of this article you will learn the easiest and by far the most popular way of growling on your sax. In the second section you will learn about method nr 2 for growling on the saxophone. It does take a bit more practice so let's get you started with the easiest growling method for sax first.

The Easy Growling saxophone technique

The first method of growling on saxophone requires you to play as you normally would while humming at the same time. It may sound easy enough to do, but from my experience as a saxophone teacher it can take some time getting used to.

Some notes are easier for growling on saxophone so in order to get you started you can use the video lesson above and these steps to find your ideal pitch where you achieve the best growling effect on your sax.

  1. Play the G note with octave key (Often notated as G2 or G*)
  2. Without playing, make a humming noise with our mouth in the back of your throat.
  3. Repeat that humming noise with the same pitch as you put the saxophone mouthpiece into your mouth
  4. Play the G note with octave key while continuing the humming with the same pitch inside your mouth

Note from the saxophone teacher: A common misunderstanding among beginners is that you should sing the same notes as you are playing. This is not true. In fact, you will get a better sax growl if you hum the same note in your throat while playing.  

How do you get the best saxophone growl?

After learning the basic saxophone growling technique (see above) you can refine your growl sound by making a few adjustment. But in order to do that you need to know how the saxophone embouchure and throat humming work together.

How To Growl on Saxophone beginners guide, step-by-step.

Growling on sax works like this:

  • The humming (or singing) while playing your saxophone interfere the air stream that you blow into the saxophone mouthpiece. Instead of a steady and smooth air stream it gets chopped up which gives you that harsh growling sound. 
  • If you hum a low note the vibrations from your vocal chords are slower and that translates to the speed of growl you will get on your saxophone.
  • If you hum a higher pitched note your vocal chords move faster which will make your growl more intense and faster. 

Finding the perfect growl on your saxophone will require some trial and error, but now you know how you can adjust and change the amount of growl on your horn.

The amount of growling can also be adjusted depending on the style of music you are playing.

How to growl on saxophone – Rock sax

For instance, for an epic sax rock solo like you can here in the song Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen you probably want to add a thick and heavy sax growl like this:

(Clarence Clemons with Bruce Springsteen and the E street Band)

He's playing a tenor saxophone and drives the air through his horn at a high velocity while humming (singing) a single note at the same time. Powerful stuff!

Growling sax technique for pop songs

For a epic sax pop solo like David Sandborn plays on the Chicago Song he uses a faster and more intense growl by singing a higher pitched note at the same time as he is playing.

The good news is that once you've learned the basic technique for growling it's going to be an easy fix to make the adjustments you need to fit the music genre.

Growling with rolling Rs on Saxophone

This growling technique is a bit different and isn't as commonly used. However, that can also be a reason to learn it as it will make your sax sound stand out even more from the crowd of other players.

The basic idea with the Rolling R growl on sax is that your tongue is moving fast onto the tip of the sax reed which will give you that rolling R sound. 

To get started with the Rolling Rs you can look to the Spanish language and try it out without your saxophone. Your tongue should be flickering onto the backside of your upper teeth as you can see in this video:

Translating that into your saxophone simply by making the same rolling Rs in your mouth with the sax mouthpiece in place. Your tongue will be bouncing of the tip of the saxophone reed.

Euge Groove incorporates this in his saxophone playing a lot and it has become part of his signature sound. 

Final thoughts on saxophone growl

Learning the growl technique on saxophone gives you yet another tool in your saxophone toolbox when you are playing a sax solo. The two different styles of growling gives you more options to choose from. However, the first method that you learn in the saxophone lesson in the beginning of this article, is the easiest and most common growling technique. 

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher and musician from Sweden.

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