This is a killer sax solo, and it’s a great one to learn at Christmas time.
“Santa Claus is Coming To Town” features a classic 80’s “down and dirty” sax solo by Clarence Clemons playing with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Awesome!
In this lesson I’ll show you how to play the solo. Make sure you download the transcription below the video.
Download the solo transcription here:
Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Learning the solo
We’re going to do learn this solo on a tenor saxophone in the original key. And that puts us in the key of D major, which means you’re going to see some F sharps and some C sharps throughout the tune.
So Clarence Clemons has got that really big, dirty sound. He’s a big guy and he had a big fat sound.
So you want to use quite a loose embouchure, with lots of volume and lots of air to get a really big fat sound.
The first phrase
It starts on A with the octave key on, so it’s a high A.
And the notes are these:
A, A, F sharp, A, A, F sharp, A, A, B, high D. (High D is that first palm key over here with the octave key on).
B, D, D, B, D.
That’s high isn’t it?
Style que: Lazy Quavers
Now a couple of things. First of all, those first two As are quite lazy. They’re actually like the second and third notes are a triplet. So it’s like lazy quavers, or if you understand about triplets, you can think about it as the second and third note of a 3 quarter-note triplet.
Style cue: Fall-Off
The second thing is that high D at the end has actually got a fall-off at the end of it. Now, Clarence Clemons does this a lot. So, you hit that D and then you run your fingers down. You also relax your embouchure to give that sort of sighing sound at the end of it. So I’m running down with my fingers and I’m also relaxing my embouchure.
Style cue: Relaxed Air
And the third thing I’m doing is I’m relaxing my air. So it’s like, ah, If you’re sighing, you do those three things as well. You relax your voice, you relax your air and the pitch goes down. So think about coordinating all those three things to try and get that.
Style cue: Growl
And one other thing I’m doing in there as well as I’m doing a little bit of growling. It’s a bit like I’m singing while I’m playing. Listen to the difference when I add the growl.
The second phrase
For the second phrase you’re going to start on the F sharp, but we’re going to do a sneaky E first.
So the main line is:
F sharp, A, F sharp, A, F sharp, A, A, A, B, A, G, G.
But before all those F sharps, you can play a little sneaky E. So E, F sharp, A, E, F Sharp, A, E, F Sharp, AA, AB, AGG.
Listen to how this sounds.
I’m making that sound a bit smoother by tonguing the E. So your tongue the E then slurring up to the F sharp and up to the A.
There’s a fall-off at the end of that G too. Listen as I play this phrase – getting my tongue in the right, doing the fall at the end, and a bit of growling.
Then listen as I put these 2 phrases together.
Now, the next note is a high F sharp.
There are a couple of different ways to play high F sharp.
- You could use all three of your Palm keys and your octave key, and the top key with your right index finger and your F sharp key down here with your right hand.
- Or if you’re comfortable with your front F sharp, use a C key, your front F, and then the F sharp key.
So it’s up to you. Choose the fingering you feel more comfortable with.
We’re going to hit that high F sharp with a bit of a run-up to it.
So for this phrase the notes are:
F sharp, F Sharp, E, D, D, E.
E is the two side keys – the octave key and this one on the side with your right index finger the down to D (which is just one key) D, D, E.
Listen as I put that all together.
We’ve got a scoop up to that high F sharp, where I’m running my fingers up to the F sharp, and then we’ve got a fall-off from the last E going down.
By the way, I’m using the side F sharp, not the front. I find it easier in this instance because we’re running up to it. So we’ve got to run up to that F sharp.
The next line is almost the same. We’ve got to run up the F sharp again. F sharp, F sharp… But this time we go D, B, D, A, D, B, D, E.
Let’s put those 2 lines together.
We’re almost at the end. Now the next phrase is F sharp again, and we’ve got an F sharp, F sharp, D, D, D, and then B, D, B, D, D, B, D, D.
Now, remember we did those extra sneaky notes before? The same thing happens here. Before the B’s we’re going to put an A sharp or a B flat.
Listen as I play it slowly so you can see how this phrase fits together.
Now there are a couple of ways you can do that sneaky A sharp or B flat.
- You can do it like that I’m doing with your one finger, which probably technically isn’t the best way to do it.
- You could do it using your long B flat fingering. So if you press your B down and your F sharp or F key, you also get B flat.
- And the third way is using your normal B flat fingering, which is two keys for A and the bottom side key here.
Now I suspect that Clarence Clemons didn’t use this first one. And he may have used either of the other two options.
So whichever one you choose, you’ve got to make sure that you can coordinate your fingers so that you can move very smoothly around between the two notes.
This is the very last bit of this solo.
This is a little twiddle at the end. So the notes are:
B, sneaky A sharp to B, A, B, F natural, D, E, D, down to B (with the octave key off now), A, A.
Listen to this really slowly.
All phrases together
Right. So let’s try putting the whole “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” solo together. We’ll play it a little bit slower than the full speed. And then let’s see if we can make it flow all the way through.
- Think about your growling.
- Think about your scoops up.
- Think about your fall off.
See if you can get all those elements together.
Alright. Awesome. Let’s finish up. I’ll play it one more time at full speed this time.
By the way, when I did A sharp to B that time, I actually used all three of these keys. And I think that’s quite a nice little sneaky trick to use actually, because not only does it give you the A sharp to the B, but it also kind of bends the note a little bit.
Final thoughts on this solo
I hope you enjoyed working through this lesson.
You know, these solos are a great challenge. It doesn’t matter what style of playing you’re into, working through a solo is fantastic. Because you can learn some different notes, and some things that challenge you technically. But also going back and listening to the original recordings can give you a lot of inspiration about the things you can add to your own playing.
So it’s a great idea to go back and listen to Clarence Clemons. Even if you’re not a Clarence Clemons fan, listen to what he’s doing. See if you can isolate those little extra things – the way he scoops, the way he falls-off, his growling, his tonguing, and incorporate some of those elements into your playing. Because trust me, it really help you to develop your own style – whatever your style happens to be, and also improve your listening skills. It’ll help you in so many different ways.
Don’t forget to get your PDF from our Locker. Enjoy playing this solo!
If you want to learn more great solos like this one, as well as the techniques you need to get some awesome style into your sax playing, check out Sax School Online here.