Composing for Saxophone Composing for a Specific Instruments >

Guidance on composing for saxophone. BCMG saxophonist Kyle Horch talks on video about composing for oboe: the range, traditional and extended techniques and composing idiomatically for the instrument. 

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BCMG saxophonist Kyle Horch talks about composing for saxophone


Eb Alto Saxophone Range

Sax range and altissimo in Eb

Sax range and altissimo in C


Extended techniques on the saxophone and how to notate them 1

The suggested extended technique notations below are only suggestions. Please feel free to invent your own or just write in the part what you would like the musician to do. All the note heads we have used can be found in the Sibelius software.

Key clicks

This is simply the noise of the keys and can be pitched or unpitched.

Flute pitched key clicks Flute unpitched key clicks


This is a very quick succession of notes that start at one pitch and end at another. A glissando can move up or down but the notes in the middle follow in order like a scale between the start and end notes. 

Sax glissando

Pitch bend

This is when the musician moves up or down to a note through a sliding sound.  It is similar to a glissando but smooth and controlled by the mouth rather than the fingers. There are a few variations: scoop - rising up to the depicted note; plop - dropping down to the depicted note; fall - dropping off from the depicted note; doit - rising up from the depicted note.

Sax pitch bend


This is similar to pitch bend but is a continuously oscillating sound.  

Sax vibrato

Breathy tone

The musician plays in such a way as to make a lot of breathy, whispering sounds on top of the note or with no note at all.

Sax breath tone



The musician plays above the usual register of the instrument through special fingers and embouchure. (Written as normal notation).

Extended techniques on the saxophone and how to notate them 2


The musician vibrates the back of the throat whilst playing to make a pitched growling sound.

Sax growl

Flutter tonguing

The musician uses the tongue to create a fast vibrating sound like a buzz or ‘flutter’. 

Sax flutter tongue

Sing and play

The musician plays two or more notes at once by singing one part whilst playing the other. When using this bear in mind the complexity and range of the singing part i.e. individual musicians will have different vocal ranges.

Flute play and sing



The musician plays intervals smaller than a semitone such as quarter tones (4 divisions of a tone) and even smaller. This is done using different fingerings or with the embouchure (mouth).

Sax quartertones

Slap tonguing (also called sax pizzicato)

This is a percussive popping sound created by laying the tongue on the reed and pulling it away. The suction creates the popping sound. There are several different styles of slap tongue sound – open slap, woodblock slap, slap tone..

Sax slap tongue all techniques block


Suggested listening

To listen to the following tracks you need to have Spotify open on your computer.