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/

Altissimo – Not for the faint hearted

Its loud, screechy and bloody hard to do.  It will take hours of practice until you feel like your back to the days when you first started to learn to play the sax – you remember those days right?  When the cat refused to come home and the dog wailed constantly.

You can buy any number of books telling you how to perfect this skill.  There are thousands of webpages dedicated to it.

http://tamingthesaxophone.com/saxophone-altissimo.html is a good one to get you started.

Every article I have come across has four main points to it.

  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Strengthen your embouchure
  • Learn the fingerings
  • Hear the notes you want to play
I first came across this last point at a masterclass by Snake Davis.  He advocates a teaching game which increases your awareness of what you’re actually playing and develops your ear tonally.  It’s surprisingly simple as well.  All you have to do it sing something random then try to play it on the sax.  Easy right? Well, yes if you have perfect pitch but just getting the notes right is not the point of the game.  You have to get the intonation right, you have to duplicate the way the notes bend or slurr and you have to play with real feeling.
So, how does that help with altissimo? Once you can hear the note you want to play in your mind you will have a much more stable bench mark than the usual woolly “I’d like it to be high” that we all start with.  So they say.  I play sax professionally and I still struggle with this, I have a real mental block over it.  So, I’m going to stop writing now and go practice.

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.

 

MusicConnex

This is a quick post with a very important link

http://uk.music-jobs.com/blog/

If, for whatever reason, the link doesn’t take you to the UK Music Jobs blog about the MusicConnex event this link will.

http://www.musicconnex.co.uk/

The events is designed to help self employed musicians connect with other musicians and use social networking to its best advantage.

Tuesday 19th – Thursday 21st April

Kings Place

London

BUT

Tickets start at £199.00 each

(No you didn’t read that wrong.)

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