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First steps

Hey everyone. This is the first entry in (hopefully) a series about some of my ideas on practicing and the saxophone. I could go in so many directions with this. But my main goal is to get some good information out on the web about saxophone gear, how to practice in a healthy and productive way, posture / breathing, thoughts / criticisms on how the saxophone is taught, and perhaps a suggested listening list for people wanting to dig into the rich history of jazz saxophonists. One thing I keep asking myself is: what is important to be practiced daily? What do I need to work on in that instant? I usually have a million thoughts shooting through my head at any given time, so I try to write down a list of specific exercises or concepts to practice before I jump into playing the horn. Usually the list spans large and small topics. "Play 10 choruses of a blues, being super melodic." "Play a middle D for 8 counts." "Don't bite the mouthpiece." Figure out how to play soft." "Coltrane?" It pays off to be super detailed and objective in your practicing. That being said, the most important thing to do - the FIRST thing you do when you pick up your horn / instrument / voice / sticks etc. - is to play something you like! Do this to remember the connection you have with your instrument. Be playful. Improvise something. Play what you had for breakfast or something, I don't know. Get out of your head before you get deep into it. Some people recommend doing long tones right away. I never could do that in the very beginning of my routine. If practicing your horn was going to track practice, you would definitely stretch and jog a bit before you take a campus lap (long tones.) I also can't get behind the philosophy of "fighting your way through" long tones. As if you're 'building stamina' or 'weight training.' When people talk like that I assume they mean build your body muscles up, but I think this mindset only encourages excess tension and strain. If you just listen to your body and do what comes naturally right away, you'll set yourself up for long term success and a healthier relationship between the horn and your body.


So, start with something you like. Then do some overtones. (if you are unfamiliar with them, just google search "Joe Allard" and dig into the overtone series.) Definitely do some long tones, but later on. Perhaps after you've played for 10-15 minutes. Play a note and see how long it lasts, it won't last forever. What does the end of the note feel like? What does the sustain feel like in your body or in the room where you're practicing? If you're a jazz player, these minutes can be crucial for you to find your melodic stream, to recall your improvisatory instinct, and to get things going.


Scales are also important. I think there is something to be said for playing through all 12 major keys every day ( don't forget all 12 minor keys too...) and remembering not just how the scale feels and sounds, but what a V-I feels like within the key. Gonna play that V7 chord? How about a diminished instead? Don't forget about diminished. If they were good enough for Bach they're good enough for you! (and me.)


If I only have a limited amount of time in the day to practice, I will play a few scales then try to play a tune in 12 keys, including the melody. Certain melodic moves are not so common and you might not play them everyday. So really isolate the tricky parts of a melody (SLOW to a metronome) and make sense of it. Keep the detail work as focused as possible, for example a tiny part of the melody.


These are just a few things off the top of my head. There is so much to practice in the world. Just think of how much fun Bird or Coltrane must've had when they practiced. We can do the same, right?

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