The Saxophonist's Anatomy

Welcome to The Saxophonist’s Anatomy website. This site includes video and still images of the anatomy of the vocal tract during performance of many standard and extended techniques on the alto saxophone. The examination of the vocal tract in saxophone performance was a project of the saxophone studio of Steven Jordheim at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in 2008 and 2009.

Project Purpose and Design

•Date: January, 2008 – June, 2009

•Purpose: To increase understanding of the involvement of the vocal mechanism in the performance of standard and extended saxophone techniques and to provide direction for future research

•Participants: Six saxophonists – one female and five males – drawn from faculty, alumni, and students of the Lawrence University Conservatory Saxophone Studio

•Location: Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Appleton, Wisconsin

•Procedure: An otolaryngologist transnasally placed a fiber-optic camera into the throat of each saxophonist, providing a view of the base of the tongue and epiglottis, the structures of the larynx, and the muscular wall of the pharynx; the saxophonist performed a series of standard and extended techniques while the otolaryngologist recorded the movements of the anatomical structures. The camera was removed, and another camera was placed in the corner of the mouth to provide a view of the tongue and palate, and the mouthpiece and reed; the saxophonist repeated the series of performance techniques while the otolaryngologist recorded the movements of the anatomical structures.

•Videostroboscopy Equipment: Kay Elemetics videostroboscopy system with DVD recorder using a flexible Machida ENT-3L No. 84190 nasopharyngoscope

•Performance Equipment: Medium faced alto saxophone mouthpieces including the Selmer C* and Vandoren AL3

•Results: Video and audio clips that reveal the involvement of the anatomical structures of the vocal tract in a survey of standard and extended saxophone techniques. The recorded data was analyzed and interpreted by faculty of the Lawrence Conservatory and speech pathologists at University of Wisconsin Hospitals.

The recordings revealed that the action of the vocal mechanism was nearly identical across the group of participants for nearly all techniques performed in the project. Consequently, those video images which most clearly reveal the action of the vocal mechanism were selected for presentation on this website. For any specified technique, the video and still images of the throat and mouth are of the same saxophonist, though multiple saxophonists are represented on this website.

The design of this website allows the viewer to access video and still images in the order of the viewer’s choosing. However, it is beneficial to study the "Illustrations of the Anatomy" and "Endoscopy" pages prior to viewing any of the pages devoted to specific performance techniques and to view all of the pages in the order presented when first viewing the contents of this website. Doing so provides the viewer with a more clear understanding of the anatomical structures of the vocal tract and their function in the performance of saxophone techniques.

All pitches referenced on this website are written in transposed form for the alto saxophone. For example, Bb3 refers to the lowest Bb of the alto saxophone; Bb6 refers to the Bb in the altissimo register.


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