With new repertoire now being played in our Saxophone exams, we asked our syllabus consultants, Beverley Calland and Melanie Henry, to share their thoughts on some favourites.
A2 (E flat & B flat): Handel, March (from Scipio)
ABRSM Saxophone Exam Pieces, Grade 1This is an excellent first piece to play in a Grade 1 exam. The performer can start with a very confident forte, accenting the minims and using a firm tongue. Use plenty of air support and enjoy making a big, warm sound. The quieter playing in the middle section is in a good range to control but really work on maintaining the mp and don’t increase the volume until the crescendo starts. Young players will like this triumphal march and will be able to imagine being down at the port at New Carthage as the victorious Roman conqueror Scipio arrives.
B7 (E flat & B flat): R & R Sherman, Truly Scrumptious (from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
Winner Scores All for Saxophone (Brass Wind)
It is always nice to learn a mixture of music that is completely new to you, as well as some tunes you know and love. Representing breadth and variety in the syllabus, there are two choices from classic film scores on Grades 1 and 2.
A very appealing choice at Grade 1 is Truly Scrumptious. There is a bold piano introduction which is easy to count and will give the saxophonist confidence to make a positive start. The rhythm is very straightforward so concentrate on clear articulation and shaping the pretty melodic line. Make sure the dynamic volume is well-controlled so that there is something left for the glorious finish.
At Grade 2, from the same book is The Bare Necessities. This well-known song from The Jungle Book is great fun to practise and perform.
A4 (E flat & B flat): Anon, Mr Scoolding’s Minuet
Sounds Classical for Alto/Tenor Saxophone (Anglo Music)
A great new book on the syllabus is Sounds Classical by Philip Sparke. It features on Grades 1 to 5 on the E flat and B flat lists, so will be a useful volume for players and teachers.
Mr Scoolding’s Minuet is a joyful dance that needs to be played with grace and elegance. It lies in a comfortable and attractive sounding range and the articulation detail helps the direction of the dance. Breath control is really important as there are some long phrases. It helps to plan the breathing and mark it on the part. Plenty of air support is needed when crossing the break in the lengthy slurred passages to keep the melodic line as smooth as possible.
B7 (E flat), B6 (B flat): Alan Bullard, Waltzing to Wembley
Final Whistle! for E flat/B flat Saxophone (Gumbles Publications)
This expressive waltz is from a new book of football-themed pieces written by three of our most popular composers for the saxophone at this level: Chris Gumbley, James Rae and Alan Bullard.
There are pieces from the book at Grades 1 to 5, featuring each of the composers. (The Grade 1 James Rae piece appears in ABRSM’s Saxophone Exam Pieces in the syllabus list, rather than the original book.) Waltzing to Wembley contains uplifting phrases full of optimism and direction. It gives the impression of a football fan being ‘on cloud nine’ or in a dream as his team miraculously defeats all opposition and makes it to the final.
A1 (E flat & B flat): Delibes, Flower Duet (from Lakmé)
ABRSM Saxophone Exam Pieces, Grade 3
This must sound effortless, but a lot of effort must go into it to achieve that result! The sinuous melody needs to be played without any bumps and this means very precise finger coordination, particularly on the rising and falling leaping slur patterns. There is a lot of detail in the dynamics and possible intonation problems on top notes, where plenty of air support helps.
Try to work more than once with the accompanist before the exam as the right hand of the piano is playing the harmonising duet part and the ensemble is important. It’s worth the work – the end result is beautiful.
A9 (E flat), A 10 (B flat): Trad. English, The Miller of the Dee or The trees they do grow so high
Folk Roots For Alto/Tenor Saxophone (Boosey & Hawkes)
Folk Roots is an attractive collection of fresh arrangements of traditional British folk tunes and is set at Grades 3 and 4 (E flat and B). (A piece from this book also appears in ABRSM’s Grade 2 Saxophone Exam Pieces.) There are two choices at Grade 3. Both feature a melodic line that falls nicely under the fingers with plenty of detail and dynamic shaping to help deliver an authentic performance. There are really useful historical notes about the songs at the back of the saxophone part.
The Miller of the Dee is written in brisk 6/8 in D minor. Students could imagine singing the lyrics and telling the listener a story. Care is needed when crossing the break so that the C sharp does not stick out and matches the dynamic and tonal quality of the rest of the phrase.
The trees they do grow so high is also in 6/8 but slower and needs to be played with a melancholy lilt. Written in the Dorian mode, attention should be paid to the intonation on the middle and high D, especially when playing quietly.
B1 (E flat & B flat): Steven Edis, Foxglove Swing
ABRSM Saxophone Exam Pieces, Grade 4
Simply delightful, with a guarantee that you will be whistling the melody all day, is this ABRSM commission by Steve Edis. Steve is a busy composer and musical director who writes musicals and incidental music, and Foxglove Swing would not be out of place in a London West End theatre production.
This a jaunty yet relaxed number with a jazz feel and needs to be delivered with a swagger and a sense of cheekiness. Stylistically, it has a lovely retro quality harking back to the 1930s. Take note of the well-detailed articulation and dynamic shaping which will help project the style and character. There are a number of extra accidentals throughout so don’t let B sharps and E sharps catch your students out!
B5 (E flat & B flat): Gershwin, Summertime (from Porgy and Bess)
The Jazz Sax Collection for Alto or Baritone/Tenor or Soprano Saxophone (Faber)
Not new to the syllabus, but an excellent arrangement by Ned Bennett of Summertime from Gershwin’s fabulous opera, Porgy and Bess. Gershwin uses a saxophone section in several of his orchestral works, most notably An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue, and they feature in the opera too.
Summertime is always a favourite and this arrangement is a joy to play and listen to. It begins simply and quietly with the theme plus a few embellishments. The second section is improvisatory in character but while appearing to be free must remain very rhythmic. It’s in a comfortable range for the sax and lends itself to some individualistic playing.
The arrangement comes from the highly recommended The Jazz Sax Collection. It is set at Grades 4 to 7, with a piece also in ABRSM’s Saxophone Exam Pieces for Grade 3.
A1 (E flat & B flat): Alain Crépin, Céline Mandarine
ABRSM Saxophone Exam Pieces, Grade 5
This is a lovely introduction to repertoire that usually features more in the upper grades. We are lucky that the publisher, Lemoine, agreed to make a B flat version of this piece, which is usually for E flat saxophone. Crépin is a saxophone player and knows the strengths of the instrument, making this little gem a delight to play.
The Adagio is slow but in a comfortable range for quiet playing, although make sure there is plenty of air support here. The tone needs to increase as the section become expressive. The playful Allegretto falls easily under the fingers and is rhythmic but graceful. When the Adagio returns it is forte and the player can explore changes of tone and sonority compared to the beginning. Save the quietest playing for the end, holding the last note as long as possible!
C10 (E flat & B flat): Jeffrey Wilson, Pres (from Jazz Paraphrase)
Jazz Paraphrase is a set of nine studies in the style of various famous jazz saxophonists and features on Grades 5, 6 and 7. This book is a must for anyone who plays in their local jazz band and loves listening to this genre of music. Jeffery Wilson is a knowledgeable composer, saxophonist and educator and has carefully analysed the traits of each player. The saxophonists featured are Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Sidney Bechet, Sonny Rollins, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker.
Our Grade 5 selection, Pres, is a relaxed swing in the style of Lester Young. At Grade 6 we have Take Desmond, with melodic references and the 5/4 time signature of the favourite Brubeck/Desmond collaboration Take Five. Fly Bird is our Grade 7 choice, written at a fast bebop tempo and a must for Charlie Parker fans. It’s a good idea for students to listen to a recording of the musicians that inspired these pieces and try to learn from the playing while adding their own interpretation. Always adhere to the detailed articulation and dynamics, and let the interesting melodic lines sing out.
A1 (E flat): Damase, Vacances
If ever a piece suited the cantabile nature of the alto saxophone then this is it. Vacances has an attractive lyrical melody line which soars over a lilting 12/8 accompaniment, building to a glorious climax then retreating to a reflective finale. Written mainly in the higher register, it lies nicely under the fingers but great care is needed with intonation, especially when playing softly.
An illusion of effortlessness and simplicity is required, yet counting is tricky and subdivision to quavers in some bars is essential. This would be a good piece to develop and explore vibrato.
A2 (E flat), A6 (B flat): Guilhaud, Andante religieux (from Trois Pièces
We were very pleased to receive this new, previously unpublished repertoire for List A. The Trois Pièces are set at Grades 6 to 8 for E flat and B flat instruments and, although not originally written for the sax, work very well. The Andante religieux uses the instrument’s natural lyrical qualities and is a gentle melody in C major, where attention to articulation, intonation and tone are paramount.
The Madrigal at Grade 7 is again lyrical but more elaborate and chromatic. Finally, the Polonaise at Grade 8 is rhythmic and virtuosic over the range of the sax, with a slower middle section and cadenza, making it a substantial but rewarding piece to learn.
A2 (B flat): Balay, Andante et Allegretto
(Editions Marc Reift)
Guillaume Balay was a cornet player who wrote several works for cornet and trumpet, including a cornet method. Beverley first encountered this piece while accompanying her trumpet-playing son and thought it would suit the saxophone. We were delighted to see that Colette Mourey thought so too and created this arrangement.
The Andante in 12/8 has plenty of scope for rubato with its rhapsodic semiquavers. The music is sonorous with a wide dynamic range where a warm vibrato approach can be used. The use of piano (non-vibrato) at the end would be effective. The Allegretto is a straightforward movement, focusing on clean, light articulation.
B5 (E flat): Roberto Pintos, Calle abajo (from Tangos for Alto Saxophone)
This book is a new find and features on Grades 6 and 7. This is dramatic, characterful, dark tango music that suits the beguiling, persuasive tone of the alto saxophone so well. Calle abajo is a brisk dance which comes alive with nifty finger work, a brave approach to dynamics and sparkling articulation. Rhythmic integrity is crucial as the sax and piano parts dance around each other heightening the excitement and tension.
At Grade 6, Balada nocturna has a strong, powerful opening leading into an expressive slower section with possibilities for freedom of expression and rubato. Both would be impressive recital pieces and are satisfying to practise too!
A4 (B flat): Devienne, Rondo (from Sonata No. 4)
Adagio and Rondo for Tenor Saxophone (Southern Music)
A favourite new entry on the Grade 8 B flat list is this Rondo. A transcription from the Classical period, this stylish and flamboyant work has all the elements of a contest piece and gives the player a real chance to demonstrate their skills.
When starting to learn this piece, it is important to understand rondo form as this will really help the characterisation of the contrasting themes. Players could experiment by attaching a mood, colour and personality to emphasise the difference. A broad tonal palette aided by interesting use of vibrato, light articulation, well-controlled finger fluency and elegant phrasing are all crucial.
Coupled with the Adagio from the same sonata, at Grade 7, this is a piece that the serious tenor saxophonist really needs to include in their repertoire.
C5 (E flat & B flat): Karg-Elert, Preambolo
More Graded Studies for Saxophone, Book 2 (Faber)
Preambolo comes from More Graded Studies for Saxophone, edited by Paul Harris – two new volumes which appear at Grades 1 to 5 and 6 to 8. Karg-Elert wrote Preambolo as the first of his 25 Caprices for saxophone. They are studies for advanced players,challenging musically and technically, although not showy in a virtuosic style. The saxophone was a favourite instrument of Karg-Elert and he devoted much time to composing these pieces.
Preambolo is written in the moto perpetuo style and the performer should aim to achieve an uninterrupted, continuous, uniform speed, while communicating the expressive, musical phrasing and nuance. The breath marks must work musically and be thoroughly practised and not left to chance.
We’ve used other Karg-Elert Caprices (Cubana and Giga) from the same book at Grade 6 – both are wonderful to play.
Beverley Calland was a founder member of The Fairer Sax and has played in orchestras, ensembles, shows and opera. She teaches saxophone and piano and has published several books.
Melanie Henry has performed and recorded as a soloist, ensemble player and orchestral musician. She teaches at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance.
Learn more about the 2018-2021 Saxophone syllabus along with information about supporting books, recordings and apps.