For saxophone

Review Nicholas May

Ever since I began playing the saxophone I have loved playing duets. I have fond memories of private lessons, reading duets with my teachers  and as a teacher I have used many of the “standard” instructional saxophone duets such as those by Rubank and Cragun. However, I have found a lack of quality duets that bridge the gap between instructional duets and the more difficult concert literature for two saxophones.  

Other issues abound. Typically, with those works that are available, there is an inequality between the voices, with one part being more musically or technically developed then the other.  Then there is the age-old problem of needing a second player to fully realize the music. In the past I have taken time to enter parts into a notation program. However the quality of the midi-based saxophone sounds do not allow for quality music-making.  Recording myself, playing the alternate part, leaves gaps in tempo and doesn’t allow for issues such as rests or page turns.  Dr. Rami El-Farrah, Professor of Saxophone at the University of Texas - San Antonio, has recognized these issue and has ingeniously created a solution in his two volume set, Dynamic Duos for Saxophone.  

In these duets Dr. El-Farrah compiled and arranged music that is refreshingly challenging for performer, yet accessible for the developing saxophonist. Both books include a link to a library of digital downloads that provide the user with  audio tracks. Much like Greg Fishman’s jazz duet series, the Dynamic Duo series offers audio renditions of the entire duet and as well single “music minus one” tracks that allow the player to perform along with the recording.   

All of the recorded examples are performed by Dr. El-Farrah who is an outstanding musician. The sample tracks serve the user not only as a quality aural example of how to play the saxophone but as a musical and stylistic guide as well.  The tracks are beautifully  recorded and make assimilation to the overall work quite easy. The attention to detail is evident. How often have you performed a duet only to have to stop at a page turn?  El-Farrah recognized this issue and built time for page turns right into the practice tracks. This allows a smoother, more seamless transition, allowing for greater music-making. 

The source material is taken from common-practice classical music from the 17-19th centuries with works from Loeillet, Köhler, Aubert, Bach and others. There is a wonderful assortment of French, Germanic and Italian music that one can easily research. As you might expect Book 1 begins with easier, more accessible pieces finishing with a challenging Bach double violin concerto in Book 2. 

I used these duets in my private studio and one student commented, “This music is way better. Both lines have equal melodic weight compared to the other book [Rubank].” Additionally, a number of my students said they preferred these duets to other books that I have used. If I have any criticism it would be that Book 1 starts at a slightly more advanced point than where Selected Duets ends, and progresses at a slightly faster rate technically. 

I would not assign these duets to a beginning saxophonist. However, a proficient middle school or high school student will easily benefit from these books. I appreciate that these duets both challenge and encourage the player. I have noticed a greater sense of independence from my students since using them.

Visually, these books are very well designed. Each is spiral-bound allowing the pages to lay flat on the stand. The printing is crisp and clear and the accompanying recordings are beautifully recorded and mastered. It seems that no stone was left unturned and all the details have been well thought out. 

Each book in the Dynamic Duo series retails for $19.95 and can be obtained through many music suppliers, Amazon, and from  

I can say I have enjoyed these books and have found success with this series. From a playing standpoint these are musically fulfilling duets that will give even the seasoned professional a sense of accomplishment from playing them. All in all these duos are a dynamic addition the resources available to the modern saxophonist.-Nicholas May