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/

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Daily Prompt: Call Me Ishmael

‘Prince Rupert rode his unicorn into the Tanglewood, peering balefully through the drizzling rain as he searched half-heartedly for the flea hiding somewhere under his breastplate.’

This is the first line from Blue Moon Rising by Simon. R. Green which has been my favourite book ever since the first time I read it aged about twelve. Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t a kids book. It isn’t even a teenage fiction; it would probably give the average Twilight reader nightmares. This is a dark fantasy but with all the trappings of a typical girlie fantasy book.

You have a prince on a white horse, a princess in need of rescuing from a dragon and a kingdom calling out for a hero to save them. Only in this book the white horse is a unicorn (they can only be ridden by virgins in case you don’t know your mythology) leading to a lot of sniggers for our valiant prince. The dragon ends up being rescued from an over bearing princess most people want to be rid of and the hero the kingdom is calling out for is not Prince Rupert but his older brother Harold. All this happens in chapter one. A few chapters later demons come spilling out of the dark wood intent on slaughtering the people of the first kingdom fuelled by the magic of the evil Blue Moon.

I suppose I should have realised earlier that power metal would be the form of ‘heavy’ music I’d be most attracted to, going by this book anyway. I once heard power metal described as:
“The protagonist arrives riding a white unicorn, escapes from the dragon, saves the princess and makes love to her in an enchanted forest.”
Which sounds very saccharine until you realise that you can apply that to my favourite book which is anything but.
Some of the other metaphoric definitions -which can be found here – don’t fit all all. For example:
HEAVY METAL: The protagonist arrives on a Harley, kills the dragon, drinks a few beers and f***s the princess
This doesn’t really appeal at all, though I admit it isn’t exactly a true definition of heavy metal music, which appeals greatly to listen to. But when it comes to actually playing the music heavy metal just isn’t as fun as power metal.

The obvious and most egotistical reason for this is that a lot of heavy metal bands don’t employ a keyboard player and I’m fairly untalented on the guitar. Like most people I enjoy the things that I am good at. But also it doesn’t matter what effects pedal you drive your guitar through you just can’t create the wall of sound you can with a keyboard. You can play the same chords in the same rhythm as the guitarists but you can do so much more with them. Inversions, for instance. By changing the inversion of a chord you not only change the overall sound but you give yourself far more options for where to progress to next.

There are also instances where the keyboard player can change the tonality of a chord, in this case whether it is major or minor, despite the fact that there are (in Draegon’s case) three other guitarists in the band. This is because guitarists like to play power chords which consist of open fifths. As they’re not playing the third this leaves the chord’s tonality ambiguous and it is the keyboard player who fills it in. I should point out that if you have a guitar soloing it is a good idea to tell him which chord you are using or you could end up in a mess. You also have the option of playing an awesome solo as well as the wall of sound which you can alter to your hearts content.

All in all it’s a bit like my book. There you have a book pretending to be a bright sparkly fantasy which contains elements of horror and a wicked since of humour. With a keyboard you have the task of being labeled ‘rhythm section’ and keeping the song flowing, but you also have options coming out of your ears.