Toot Your Horn

What a great prompt for a music teacher, especially one who teaches the saxophone! I of course like to think that music in general is what I excel at. I think I’m a good sax player and pianist and I hope that my students get as much from their lessons ass I do teaching them.

I wonder sometimes though, if anyone else finds they tend to go a bit over board on what they excel at? Take the other day, a new student called and mentioned that he was buying a sax. I was immediately intrigued asking what he planned to get and happily sharing expertise on which saxes play well and which, in my opinion don’t. Before I knew it I’d been on the phone forty five minutes and hadn’t got around to booking a lesson time. Fortunately my new student didn’t show any signs of being worried and I hope found the discussion helpful. I was rewarded a few days later when he called again for more information.

So maybe besides the playing and teaching I can add ‘useful opinions regarding saxophones’ to my list of musical things I excel at. Of course it could just be that I excel at talking…

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Saxophone confidence. Playing the Blues

Here’s a good way to gain loads of confidence playing the sax after only a few lessons.

Have you started your scales yet? If not don’t worry just try a C major scale now, it’s quite easy, all you have to do is play C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C on your saxophone. It is often easier to start on the C in the middle of your sax (3rd finger, right hand) and work backwards descending down the sax.

Now a little music theory. Try think of your scale like this:

C = 1

D = 2

E = 3

F = 4

G = 5

A = 6

B = 7

C = 8

Why do this? Because numbering your notes will not only help you remember where you are in blues, but it can then be applied to any key signature whilst playing blues. To apply it to another scale just remember that if you are in the key of C then the note C is the first one you play and so becomes note 1. If you were in the key of F then F would be the first note you play and so F becomes note one, G note two, A note three etc.

Next question; what is the twelve bar blues progression? This is a series of chords which form a style of music used in many jazz and rock n roll numbers. You’ve probably heard it and not realised, but if not then YouTube it and you’ll find thousands of examples. A good place to start is C Jam Blues by Duke Ellington. The original videos of this are a little difficult to follow so look for a school jazz band version.

You’ll notice the same melody being played interspersed with solos. Now listen to the rhythm section (Piano, guitar, bass and drums) even during the other instrumental solos they’ll be playing the same thing, again and again. That’s the twelve bar blues progression and it goes like this:

Bar Number

Chord Number

one

1

two

1

three

1

four

1

five

4

six

4

seven

1

eight

1

nine

5

ten

4

eleven

1

twelve

1

 

Now compare that to the way we numbered the notes in the C major scale and you have a key for playing the beginnings of a blues progression.

In bar one you need chord number one. Chord number one is based on the first note in the C major scale so in bar one you begin by playing C. Skip to bar five; in this bar you need chord number four in the C major scale. Chord number 4 is based on the 4th note so in bar five you play an F.

Using this guide you can try and play along to many blues based songs using the basic notes of the progression. Be aware though that saxophones are transposing instruments. To keep things nice and simple we need to find songs that let you play in the key of C major so if you are playing an alto you want to search for blues in Eb and if you are playing a tenor, blues in Bb.

(Eb and Bb are the concert keys or the notes as they would sound on a piano. Because a saxophone has a different range than other instruments we have to play in different key signatures in order to sound correct with everyone else.)

If you have any question please leave a comment and I will answer you/

Quick Lessons – Don’t Be Good, Be Lucky

It’s the most obvious part of being a gigging musician, especially if you’re a soloist.

ALWAYS SIGN A CONTRACT!

Whilst I was in Africa I set up my own solo act. I’ve been doing it for three years and I have always drawn up my own contract. If the client doesn’t sign it, then there’s no sax at their wedding. So how did I manage to forget that this time?

Now it looks like the gig will be cancelled, meaning hours of practice and music hunting have gone to waste. I cannot emphasise just how much I was kicking myself. Until I got a little email from my client.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience.  We will, of course, forward you a cancellation fee of 50%”

It helps to be good at what you do. It also helps to be a jammy little bugger.

 

So, take my advice, and remember that contract!

Disinfecting a Saxophone – Part 2

Thanks to everyone who responded via facebook or twitter.  There were some great ideas and a few unusual ones (I’m not sure Listerine would have really worked but thanks for the thought.)  The overwhelming response was one that, now I think about it, makes perfect sense, but it’s something I never would have thought of. Milton baby bottle steriliser.  However, it wasn’t a one hundred per cent success.  I am sure that my saxophones have been cleared of flu so in that regard (which is really the only important one) everything is good. But, it did have the rather unfortunate side effect of dying my Vandoren T75 Jumbo an alarming shade of snot green.  This looks particularly stupid with its still back mouth piece cap.  It must be something to do with the resin composite because the Keilwerth Jazz I use on my alto stayed back.  It hasn’t effected the tone, though, so its not the end of the world.

So here’s my brief ‘To Do’ list for disinfecting your saxophone after an illness.

  • By baby bottle steriliser.
  • Boil kettle and allow to cool to luke warm.
  • Remove any mouth piece pads and throw them away and decide whether to keep or throw the reeds.
  • Using a mouth piece brush scrub the mouth piece and ligature (if metal).
  • Add steriliser to kettle water and submerge the mouthpiece, ligature, cap and reeds for the length of time recommended on the bottle (usually around 15 mins.)
  • Take all equipment out and rinse under the tap.
  • Dry and replace mouth piece pad and reads.
You probably don’t have to but I also sterilised all my pull-throughs and other general cleaning equipment.

My Keilwerth Needs A Name

Why is it that giving your instrument a name is seen as blisteringly un-cool? I’ve seen people shy away from me when I call me sax by its name, like they think they might catch un-cool vibes just by being near me. But I really don’t understand why.

A professional musician builds up a relationship with their instrument. You spend hours alone with it, the pads wear according to how you play and you even hundreds of pounds modifying it to your specifications. You worry about it if it gets to hot or too cold and most of us wouldn’t contemplate leaving it in the car. Some pets don’t get treated this well (poor things.)

I’m quite happy to tell people that my tenor is called Sam, my back-up is called Dean, my bari’s name is monster and my flute is called Castiel. (I know there is a theme here but it actually wasn’t intentional until Castiel came along.) The only instrument with a name that hasn’t stuck is my clarinet and that’s probably because I haven’t spent enough time with it.

Now I have a problem because I traded my lovely Selmer alto ‘Tatty’ for a Keilwerth alto and I can’t find it a fitting name. It’s actually a bizarre reason to practice more because only by getting to know the sax better will I find it the perfect name. Bet you haven’t tried that one on your students have you?

“That’s right kids; if you do a lot of practice you’ll be able to give your sax a really good name.”

(And I wonder why people think I’m strange.)