Fall-Off or Glissando on the saxophone


"Fall-offs" are a technique that can be used to great effect both for soloing and in horn sections (saxophone quartet, big band, music association, etc.). In effect, they are downward glissandos added to the end of important notes or at the end of a phrase.

The legendary American saxophone player Clarence Clemons"”of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band fame but also a session musician for Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and Lady Gaga"”was one of t

About The Technique

To come to grips with what a fall-off should sound like, think of a trombone that makes playing fall-off slides not only painless but also rather elegant. At the end of a note, the trombone player gradually pushes out the slide, thereby lowering that note’s pitch. Ideally, fall-offs played on a saxophone should sound like those continuous slides, which is only possible up to a point.

To emulate slides on a saxophone, you need to "drop" your fingers on the relevant keys: try to create a fast, balanced and relaxed downward run. That phrase doesn’t need to be in any particular key (i.e. use the notes of the chromatic scale, or the current major or minor scale). What really counts here is that you play the phrase in such a way as to "glue" subsequent notes together"”it should be impossible to distinguish the various semitone- and whole-tone-steps.

Breathing Out

Fall-offs sound best when the "glued notes" are "exhaled" rather than played at normal volume. This also means that the glissando needs to become increasingly softer until you no longer hear the notes you are playing. Rather than trying to say "ooooo" during the slide, try to make a the following sound: "oooohhhhhhh

Last Note

Even though the individual glissando notes will be almost imperceptible and despite the fact that the last note should be a whisper, it is always a good idea to end the slide on a note that belongs to the current key or melody.

When you play a fall-off that starts with a B for a tune in B minor, consider using a low D as your target note. For a tune in B major, on the other hand, heading for a low D# would be the musical way to go.

Saxophon Fall-Off Exercise 1

Fall-offs starting at a B are relatively easy to play, because there are enough notes below it that allow you to create long downward glissandos: consider, for instance, "dropping" your fingers on the keys used to play A, G, F, E, ending on the D. Obviously, you could also try the chromatic variant: B, A, Ab, G, F#, F, etc.

This will be much harder to play, though, and as stated above, the individual notes of a fall-off are of little consequence"”what really counts is that continuous "exhaling" noise

Saxophon Fall Off 1

Saxophon Fall-Off Exercise 2

Playing fall-offs starting from the D, E or F in the second octave is much harder, because there are not enough notes below them to "drop" your fingers on. After all, you need to change octaves at some point. Try to play your fall-off all the way to the C# or C and then to "exhale" towards a significantly lower note.

Saxophon Fall Off 2

Saxophon Fall-Off Exercise 3

Rather than ending certain notes with a fall-off, you can also use this technique to "slide" towards the "real" first note you wish to play. Depending on the key the tune is in, the usual starting point for such fall-offs is the fourth or fifth above the target note. This time, the fall-off begins with the soft note (a kind of fade-in) and reaches full strength once you get to the target note.

Saxophon Fall Off 3

Melodic Phrases

Below please find a number of licks I compiled to show you how to make effective use of the fall-off technique while playing melodies. Start by playing these melodies without the fall-offs and then try to add them one by one. You will probably notice the effect this technique has on the melody. Just remember to "exhale" the fall-off notes to make them sound convincing.


Saxophon Fall Off Licks

Usage In Horn Sections

The aforesaid Clarence Clemons is a perfect example of how to make effective use of fall-offs in solos. Now, imagine all saxophones, or an entire horn section (including the trumpets and trombones) playing identical fall-offs simultaneously.

Excellent examples of this are "Peter Gunn" by the Blues Brothers and "Watermelon Man" by Herbie Hancock. I am pretty sure that your ensemble plays a few funky rock songs that would benefit from the collective fall-off technique.

Have fun!

Dirko Juchem