It has been a while since my last post and I can confirm this is not because I haven’t been playing. To the contrary the pain of practice has continued uninterrupted with just a few days set back from the holiday season. The main reason for my blogging absence has been the lack of content to write about in part due to the lack of progress. After the initial six months of highly charged enthusiasm, more than a few negative thoughts have started to creep into my musical psyche. The main one being the deep concern that after almost half a year of playing my alto, I still haven’t managed to master all the notes and I’m not talking about the harmonics or the altissimo range. The other just as deeply upsetting fact is that even the notes I have managed to master sound a bit…well…shit!
Nothing good can ever come out of negativity
I figured the first thing to do in this situation is to look at the positive gains. There must be some somewhere. So here’s what I noted
- Well my posture was great! My back straighter than a plumb line
- I have learned to read music and can site read to a reasonable level
- I can play a few of my favourite things (jazz standards) – this makes me very happy
- My teacher is very happy with my progress (she knows I say to myself)
What’s not so good
So here the rub or rather the opportunity for improvement
- Struggling to play from the bottom B flat to the top F – 3 ways to play the same note – really?
- The tone is not great specially at the extreme ends
- Struggling to take air in at the right places. Gasping for air does not look cool
- A bit of a stranger to scales and arpeggios (there’s 12 majors just for starters)
- The above means, can’t improvise – unless I quickly learn a blues pentatonic. I’ll get my court.
There’s only the long way
There’s a helluva lot of stuff to take in when playing the sax, but the the most critical factor in the sound of a sax is not the fingering or the mouthpiece or even the saxophone. It is you. Yep there’s the secret ingredient. And getting you to produce the sound takes a whole lot of practice. Not just playing regularly but focussed and relentless attention to those things which will eventually drive your neighbours to despair, otherwise known as the long note. This basically involves playing from the bottom b flat to the top F holding down each note for at least two bars at a very slow beat. Rinse and repeat. To provide a bit of structure, on the advice of my teacher, I got the book Creative Saxophone – Techniques for intermediate saxophonists & jazz improvisers by Kellie Santin.
While you don’t need this just to practice long notes, it has everything from harmonics, alternative fingering, the altissimo range to all the scales and arpeggios to shake a stick at. It also lays out the order of scales and arpeggios based on the cycle of fifths which is a nice touch. But does’t bother to explain this rather important fact which is a real shame. I have been using this now for about 3 weeks, and the result is I’m spending about 80% of my practice sessions using this book. It has made what is otherwise a very tedious practice session into something bearable and even fun. There I said it. I will write about my typical practice session using this book at another time. But I really would recommend getting this or another one with a similar depth to sort your tone and learn all those pesky scales and arpeggios you’ll need.