What Do These 6 Great Saxophone Solos Have in Common?
Some might say these are some of the best saxophone solos in rock. They’re all tenor saxophone solos except The Logical Song which is played on an alto. They are all played using the pentatonic scale. A pentatonic scale has only 5 notes. The first four songs are in a minor so the scale is a pentatonic minor. Born To Run is in a major key and the last song The Wanderer is in a major key and so the scale used there is the pentatonic major.
Below are 2 examples of the C pentatonic scales. You can figure out the pentatonic scale from any regular major scale, simply take the 1,2,3,4, and 5th notes from it and you have the pentatonic major of that scale.
To figure out the minor, simply take the 1,2, b3rd, 4, and b7 notes of any regular major scale and you have the minor pentatonic of that scale.
C Major Pentatonic Scale ( 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 )
C Minor Pentatonic Scale ( 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 )
The Pentatonic Scale
The pentatonic scale is something that should get you very excited! Why? Because it’s the easiest and perhaps the most commonly used scale musicians use to solo over just about any music.
Why does the pentatonic scale work over just about any song or type of music?
If you look at the notes and their relationship to the major scale you’ll see that 3 of the 5 notes are actually the chordal notes, so of course each of these 3 notes are the most important and perfect-sounding. The other two notes are “scale-friendly” notes, meaning they blend in nicely and are not a scale note with any tension or one that sounds like it must be resolved right away.
I thought it would be interesting and possibly inspiring for some to hear solos you’ve probably heard countless times and not even realized this.
When you do realize it, and then discover that these scales are very easy to play and theoretically simple to understand, then you are a lot closer to being able to play them, plus many others yourself.
The truth is, if I had the time I could sit here all day long and make a list of songs with saxophone solos as long as my arm that fit into this category, but I’m sure you’ll get the picture with these 5 quite varied solos that I picked at random.
What is the most popular type of sax played in songs that have saxophone solos in them?
I can think of many songs with alto and tenor sax solos in them. Songs like Jerry Raferty’s Baker Street which has an alto sax. The sax part is not an actual solo but rather repeated riff lines throughout it. Also George Michael’s Careless Whisper has an alto playing the sax riffs, also not an actual solo. Year of the Cat has an alto solo. A great one is Just The Way You Are by Billy Joel with the great jazz saxophonist Phil Woods on alto.
The most used type of sax in pop songs is the tenor. Just about everything that came out of the 50’s and 60’s usually had the tenor.
Not so many with baritone though. An obvious song with a bari solo is Take a Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed. Also check out the great band Tower of Power with Doc Kupka, one of the co-creators and bandleaders on bari.
For the soprano sax not so much, Listen to What the Man Said by Paul McCartney comes to mind. Also from the 70’s Fool If You Think It’s Over.
If you can think of more songs with saxophone solos in them please leave them in the comment box below…
What is the “Beginning Improvisation Mini-Course”?
- a practical, hands on series of step-by-step tutorials
- we’ll be keeping it simple using only one scale
- play-along exercises starting with only one note