My university saxophone students are anxious to tackle the altissimo register, and it’s not at all uncommon for them to show up to their first lessons clutching the Sigurd Raschèr Top-Tones for the Saxophone book and wearing a hopeful expression. I also see the Raschèr book frequently and glibly recommended on online forums. With the greatest respect for Raschèr, I think this is a mistake.
Don’t get me wrong: the Raschèr book is a classic and contains a great deal of wisdom. It is a must-have for the well-read saxophonist. But I think most saxophonists would do better to start with Eugene Rousseau’s Saxophone High Tones, and have the Raschèr on hand for supplementary exercises and instruction.
I’m going to make the following point first, not because I think it’s necessarily the most important, but because it’s the one that will click with those of you who are hoping to “learn altissimo” in an afternoon by looking at a fingering chart: Rousseau’s fingering charts are much better. They are better suited to “modern” (Mark VI and beyond) instruments and more complete (in the sense of providing many more options for each note, though Raschèr’s chart does go a little higher). Rousseau also provides separate fingering charts for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, while Raschèr provides only one chart, which he indicates in the first-edition foreword is intended for “E-flat saxophones”—altos, that is. (I do have a few issues with the visual layout of Rousseau’s charts, and Raschèr’s too, but that’s another rant.)
Rousseau also addresses the issue of selecting from among the provided fingerings for each note using his “mode” system to develop patterns of fingerings that are well-suited to certain sequences of notes. Raschèr’s approach is to provide one or two fingerings for each note, which by comparison is refreshingly simple. But most saxophonists who are prepared to successfully develop altissimo technique are comfortable with the idea of multiple fingerings for each note and will be able to use the additional possibilities to their advantage. And of course saxophonists are not required to use all of Rousseau’s fingerings—he walks saxophonists through the most useful ones, and the others are available for experimentation.
Perhaps more important than the fingering charts themselves are the pedagogical materials and exercises each author provides to help prepare saxophonists for success in the altissimo register. Both Raschèr and Rousseau stress the importance of proper altissimo tone production, developed largely using overtone exercises. Both are worth reading, but Rousseau’s approach is clearer and more focused. I don’t really recommend that young saxophonists attempt to teach themselves altissimo from a book—there’s no substitute for good in-person instruction—but Rousseau’s would be a much better choice for saxophonists taking that path. The Raschèr book leaves more gaps that really require a private teacher to fill in.
I can’t help but wonder if the Raschèr book has a bit of an edge sales-wise because of its lower price. The Raschèr is cheap, but the Rousseau is affordable—currently “only” about the cost of a box of reeds. Get the Rousseau first.