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…

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/

Resolved

The one word my other half uses most often to describe me is ambitious. I have big ideas and I always have a plan to set them in motion.

Storm Dynamics was one such idea, though this one was years in the making. I love music and have a knack for writing it. It turns out that I also have a knack for teaching people music so my family thought that my career was all set out. I would be a school music teacher. What’s not to like, I get to do what I love and get job security and good further career options. There was only one problem; I hate being around people who don’t want to learn. School music lessons we sheer torture for me as, not only did I already know the standard Key Stage bits and pieces but the vast majority of my class mates saw music as a ‘doss’ lesson and had no intention of learning. Whilst I was at Collingwood College this wasn’t too much of a problem as our teachers there had devised a system of keeping us instrumental learners challenged. Grammar School, however, was completely different. Despite having a class of only 8 students our teacher did his utmost to make classes routine and dull – that was if he turned up, his duties as Head of Lower School kept him very busy. He’d say the same thing to me every day: “Oh, Jo, you play piano and what else again?” I was first study saxophone, grade 8. I was also the only saxophonist in the entire school and the only grade 8, maybe I’m being egocentric but I’d have thought that would make me memorable. Two years under the tutelage of this man and I knew that if there was the slightest possibility of turning into anything remotely like him then I had to stay away.

So I resolved.

I was going to teach instruments, not classroom music. That way I could work with individuals who actually want to learn their instruments and I would get to work at creating music (particularly appealing at the time as I hadn’t developed my love of music theory yet.) So I began giving private instrumental lessons and that’s what brings me to last year’s resolution, which I kept.

I had two resolutions last year. The first was to try online dating and the second was to grow my client base. The first was easy to keep, I signed up to eHarmony and much to my surprise met Russell as my first match and we’ve now been together for nearly a year. The second was harder as I first had to learn some business acumen. Luckily for me that is something Russell has in abundance and he started pointing me in the right direction.

The first thing is to brand yourself and the easiest way to search out competition is to plug all your ideas into google and see if anyone else has thought of them first. Have you ever tried to come up with an original title using a musical term? If not try it now because I swear everything we thought of has already been captured by someone else. After three days (yes really) of both of us trying we found that there were very few companies using the word dynamics. So we put that into Facebook and twitter and anything else we could think of and it stayed, reasonably, free.

We now had a name: Storm Dynamics. Storm because it’s eye catching and Dynamics because it’s musical. Next came the logo, which was outsourced and after that the assault on social media and local advertising.

Six months later Storm Dynamics had tripled in size and I am now officially the Managing Director of my own company. Not bad for one resolution.

Links to free score downloads

I’ve spent the morning looking for free downloads and found some stuff I thought I would share. I should add that I have been looking for simple piano scores to popular songs rather than classical piano.  There are some fantastic free sites out there for piano music http://www.freesheetmusic.net been a good place to start.

Sites like the following promise a lot but are either hideously complicated, broken, or not what they advertise.

http://www.sheetmusicengine.com

www.8notes.com  – this site is just confusing. If you go in through the main web page and follow the free links you can access a limited number of free gif files. However, if you follow a google link for a specific song, you’ll end up playing for it.

http://www.free-scores.com – This one goes under the ‘hideously complicated’ heading. There seems to be a lot of content but finding something useful is very difficult.

My most useful site for popular music has been http://www.pianofiles.com/ The listing here isn’t huge but it is varied and comprehensive.

Just as an aside there is a fantasic(ish) blog called http://truepianotranscriptions.blogspot.com/ It contains full transcriptions of possibly many piano pieces. However, there is no index of blogs, no blogger info, no list of pieces. It’s like an idea almost realised.

But by far the most useful overall has been:

http://www.free-midi.org

There are hundreds of free Midi sites out there. True, you do need a MIDI player. I have been opening the files in Sibelius which instantly creates you a full score.

 

Obviously I’m not the only one to have this idea so here is a selection of other bloggers who have made lists of free sheet music sites:

http://truepianotranscriptions.blogspot.com/ – A blogger who started played in Januray 2010

http://thepianostudent.wordpress.com  – A brilliant resource directory

http://worship1.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/tough-times-small-budget/ – Links to a website for free Gospel sheet music

 

Today’s Musicians have to be Computer Nerds

I don’t consider myself to be computer illiterate; also I don’t consider myself to be a computer nerd. Recently I brought myself a new laptop. I installed Office, Sibelius, ITunes and all the other software I need with no help. I regularly create CD’s for my bands and students to use to learn from, so I am familiar with burning programmes. So why the hell can’t I get my own sample tracks to work?

I saved them to a multi-use CD off the old dinosaur laptop, thinking I could then simply add them to the new pc. Nope. They have converted to Audio CD Files and nothing wants to admit they exist or play them.  When I go on the net to convert them the downloadable converters don’t want to know as it’s a multi-use cd and the online converters all insist they don’t support that type of file.

This leaves me stuck.

It also got me thinking. Since when did I have to understand formatting in order to pick up a gig? I can’t imagine Mozart (or more likely one of his scribes) saying: “oh hang on a moment; this is written on the wrong type of paper, therefore I can’t go any further.” But, because my file is in the wrong format that is exactly what has happened to me.

Hopefully someone will read this post, think I’m a computer moron, and provide an answer. If you’re out there, please do that. If it reduces me to the rank of computer idiot, that’s fine. Usually I don’t need a pc in order to blow down a saxophone.

My Best Teaching Aid – Bonnie the dog

It’s all over You’ve Been Framed. Little Johnny gets out his recorder and the dog goes nuts. Or little Suzie picks up her violin and the cat runs a mile. I am, predominantly, a saxophone teacher which means that ever year I get new students who need to be taught which way to hold the thing and which end to blow in. Like everyone else (you and I included) the first few lessons tend to be evil honking affairs about as musical as a stepped on frog.  Through it all, though, Bonnie will sit in the corner of the music room and have a nice kip.

She’s not a small dog, being half Labrador and half Alsatian. I had worried that she would intimidate my students but, bless her, she’s so happy to see each and every one of them that she instantly puts them at ease. For the kids that don’t practice this must be great because they can come and see their teacher and get a big hug from Bonnie before confessing that they didn’t actually learn D minor this week.

One thing always confused me though. Bonnie kept silent all the time I was teaching but as soon as I started to practice she’d begin to sing. What the hell?? Is she self conscious of her singing ability? Does she not like my sax? Is she respecting my students? All these things and more were running through my head as I tried to play Harlem Nocturne – The Woof Chorus.

Then came Gustav. A mature student who’d been teaching himself for about two years and came to me to work out theory as much as anything. He had a nice tone, full range and a good feel for the music. Bonnie thought he was great but still sat in her corner watching the lesson, not a single howl escaping her furry muzzle.

Three months later Gustav had a break through. He arrived at the lesson keen to show me what he had achieved that week. I was impressed, he’d broadened his tone considerably in that time.

 Then Bonnie joined in. Gustav’s face fell a mile, “I thought I was doing so well,” he said “but now the dog is singing it must be awful.” But for me it all clicked into place. “No,” I said, “she only sings when she likes it.”

From then on that became a bench mark. Every student asks the same question; “when will I be able to play well?” and thanks to Bonnie I always had an answer. “When Bonnie sings you know you’re doing well.”

Sadly Bonnie has retired from teaching and gone to live on a farm with my parents (that’s not a metaphor, she really has.) Never again will I have a teaching aid quite as good as she was.

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.

 

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