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/

Free Jazz Lessons

We all know that the best way to learn a musical discipline is to have a tutor.  You learn at your own pace, the lessons are tailored to you and having to play in front of a tutor each week is a fantastic practice incentive.  Unfortunately though, tutors cost money and we don’t always have it to spare.

 

I have searched for a long time for a website that will offer free lessons in music theory.  Usually what I find is basic (Wikipedia for example) and often difficult to apply to the real world.  Today, however, I found one that I just had to share.

 

http://www.outsideshore.com/primer/primer

 

It looks dry and uninviting and like you have to pay to download it.  But be patient, scroll down and you will find some of the best free advice on jazz theory (including implementation) that I have ever come across.  There is everything here from a history of jazz to an explanation of scales and chords (which you can find anywhere but not usually this well done) though to applying theory to practice in improvisation and problem solving whilst accompanying other musicians.

 

Other good resource I found was www.jazzdatabase.com

I like the idea of this website; you write an article and post it here for free.  So the idea is you enjoy all the free advice and contribute as well.  Unfortunately there aren’t many contributors but that doesn’t mean some of the links aren’t fab.

 

For instance if you follow the menu to Jazz Theory then Miscellaneous you will be able to download a PDF by Bert Lion which is a great read if you are a theory nerd (like me.)  It also has a link to his website where you can download – for free – a whole range of transcriptions. Some even come with annotations to give you a batter idea of what is going on.

 

Staying with the jazz database website if you click on Transcriptions then Saxophone you will be also to follow a link to the www.saxsolos.com website.  Music here is not free to download but you can stream backtracks. You can then download the relevant PDF from the jazz database.

 

Now you have a great practice aid for free and a fantastic website explaining what you need to be working on.

 

What to do with my Baritone Sax – Part Four

It survived!

My good friend Gustav gave me a hand to pack it.  The secret, he said, was to make sure it was completely immobile inside the case.  So, naturally, we stuffed it full of clothes and put a paperback book between the bell and the case.  Next came the bubble wrap inside the case.  As I said in a previous blog I used suitcase straps to hold it closed due to the busted zip. Then the case got covered completely in bubble wrap and about as much packaging tape.

It does sound like overkill now that I write it out but the upside is that the bari has arrived unharmed.

So, there you go.  My tip of the week of you have to travel with an instrument is to immobilized it inside the case.  It seemed to do the trick.

 

Prelude to ‘An Evening with Snake Davis.’

I can stress enough how happy I am to be back in England.  Barely five minutes in the country and one of my favourite sax players is hosting a ridiculously cheap master-class.  It’s on Wednesday 30th March at The Spice of Life, Cambridge Circus, London.

 

Here are some of the subjects he will be covering:

  • How to form an individual sound.

 

  • How to achieve more expression, better sound, more control, more dynamics, better intonation.

 

  • An in-depth look at vibrato.

 

  • Adopting a less jazz and more pop/rock approach to the short solo.

 

But best of all is the open Q&A, so you’ll literally have the chance to ask him anything you want!

 

What more could you ask for for £5?

Here’s the link

http://www.sax.co.uk/snakemasterclass.html

An Evening of Jazz to Say Goodbye

I don’t think there can be a better way to say thank you and goodbye to South Africa than the concert I was in today. The Stellenbosch University Jazz department put on their first informal concert today and I was there filling in on tenor 2. (That’s thanks to a call at midnight two days previously from Felicia who had just been abandoned by her other tenor players.)  Even better, it was a fund raiser to try and get the band back to the Graham’s Town Jazz Festival, something I fully support.

The evening was glorious, if a little breezy. We had a small and regrettably underused outdoor amphitheatre with the various ensembles of the Jazz department taking turns centre stage. It was a chance for the new ensembles to play for a real, paying audience and for the new jazz band singers to strut their stuff.

But for me it was more than that. It was a chance to say goodbye to a lot of very good people, whom I like to count as friends, and it was a chance to have one last go through some scores I genuinely love. It also made me realise something. As we were playing though our last piece, a number with an Afrikaans title I haven’t a hope in hell of remembering (If you read this Felicia please tell me what it is!) I realised that although I am inherently British my time in South Africa had shown me something very important. I have a feel that I didn’t have before for rhythm and groove and it’s a feel that you can only get by coming here and playing this music with the people who are born with it in their veins. I’ll be the first to admit that when I first attempted to solo over it I stuck out like a sore thumb. You might as well have put a sticker on my forehead that said ‘European.’ But that got better with time and that feel something that I will take with me, when I return to England on Monday.

So thank you South Africa, Felicia and everyone in the Stellenbosch University Jazz band and every other ensemble I have played in since I came here. You have all given me something very special and I will never forget it. And if there is one thing that the Jazz Band has taught me, it’s that avocado’s make your hair curly!