Saxophone Overtones; How to play them and why we use them

How many times has someone said to you, practice your saxophone overtones?

So you go to attempt to play them, but immediately get stuck.

Certain pitches come out great but others are impossible.

And then you start wondering why you are practicing them in the first place, other than you were told to do so.

Playing saxophone overtones correctly will fill up your tone, strengthen your embouchure and expand your range, but only if done correctly.

In the following two video lessons, you will discover:

  • why overtone practice is extremely important for saxophone players
  • what NOT to do when attempting overtones
  • why certain pitches are really hard to play and how to get past those trouble spots 
  • at what stage should you be starting overtone practice
  • the #1 resource every saxophone player must have
  • and answers to some common questions from saxophone players like you!

Saxophone Overtones, Part 1

In this lesson, you will find out how to get past those trouble spots using Donna's system for practicing.


Saxophone Overtones, Part 2

In this lesson, Donna answers subscriber questions about why we practice overtones and she gives more tips for playing them correctly.


Resource: Sigard Rascher's Top Tones book

What was one point that really helped you play overtones more consistently? Let me know in the Comments below…

(If you are still struggling, let me know in the Comments also)


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  1. Doug Coffman says

    Watched a you tube video that you posted and was impressed. I collect saxophones and have played professionally for a vary short time, but I still have much to learn. Could you please tell me why all the left hand pinky keys engage the G# on the late model horns. I just bought a Chinese C melody in bare brass. I love this thing, but it has too much spring pressure on the low B and Bb. I am considering performing surgery on it. I’ve already brazzed a penny to the octave key to make it work right. My favorite horn is a Conn Chu Berry tenor from the late 20s it is bare brass with the body to bell twisted 15 degrees so that it is comfortable to play straight ahead standing up.
    I have owned 2 Selmer mkVI tenors and was not crazy about either. I still own a Yamaha YTS 61 that is basically the same thing.
    Thanks for the info on overtones and altissimo, I’ll try it on my old Conn,
    Doug Coffman

    • Hi Doug, I think the best person to answer your question is either a repair person or instrument designer. Steve Goodson knows a ton about instrument design – check him out at

    • Doug, the reason the G# key engages is so you can go to that note easily from low Bb, B, C or C#, and vice versa. This feature is known as the “articulated G#.”

  2. James Kennedy says

    Hi Donna,

    I play trumpet as well, and am not great, but can get fairly high on the harmonic series. Sax was actually my first instrument as a kid, but no one ever taught me anything about overtones other than that you could get an octave. I’ve tried this a bit on my sax and I have managed to get the octave and the fifth sometimes. I’m surprised at how difficult it is to get above that, though. Is there a big difference in how the overtones are isolated on woodwinds than on brass? It seems like so few people who play one play the other, at least that talk about it publicly. What do you do with your tongue, also? On the trumpet, I can fairly easily arch my tongue since the mouthpiece doesn’t go in my my mouth, but the sax mouthpiece actually goes in my mouth a fair amount, so it gets in the way.

    • Hi James,
      Great questions. The concept of overtones is very similar for both brass and saxophones. It all stems from hearing the pitch you want to play before you play it. Then sing it. Focus on those steps first before focusing on altering your tongue level. Vince Penzarella would always say to me, feed your brain good information and let it do the work for you.

  3. HI and thank you for this video, Im working on but I cannot play the low Bb to first Bb(middle of the staff) but I can play the other 7 or 8 no problem, I can co c – C and c# – C# and higher so just the B and Bb…thanks for any thoughts!

    • The C and C# are usually easier to get. The Bb and B take time, so be patient.
      Also make sure there are no leaks in the instrument.
      I would suggest getting the help of a teacher to observe you – you could be doing something you are not aware of that could be causing the problem

  4. I’ve found that the easiest way to get overtones on sax and trumpet is to learn how to tighten your throat muscles. THINK of singing a high “eee” sound, and feel what is going on in your throat. Do not make a sound with your throat, just set up your throat as if you were making a sound. This also works with brass instruments…

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