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/

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!

Where in the world do you go if you are a musician?

I’ve come to the conclusion recently that the adage ‘the grass is always greener’ is totally inescapable.  No matter where you go or what you do there is always something better just over the horizon.  There is always someone better than you as a player and always a better venue you could have picked.

So where is the best place in the world to live if you are a musician?  I suppose it depend on what kind of musician you are.  If you are a didgeridoo player then you might not find a lot of work in New Orleans. Or if you are a serious classical musician then Lincolnshire is probably not the county for you to live in.

But what if you don’t know?  Is there a way to pick when you can’t honestly say what kind of a musician you are?  My current theory is that if you don’t know take to a Big City where you can have a go at everything until you’re sure. (Or if you’re a student go to uni.)  The only problem with that is that it will take you longer to build a reputation.  Actually, thinking about it, maybe its better that a lot of people know you a little bit rather than having a few people know you well.  Take my cousin’s death metal band, in the death metal circles they are very well known and in Switzerland there are adored, but elsewhere in the world they’re completely unknown.

Is there a perfect town, city or area to live in if you are a musician? I’d seriously like to know.  Just what is it that you as a musician are looking for in a city? And what are the things you hate to see?

2011 Saxophone Congress

How I wish I was in England for this one.  Having participated in the Single Reed Festival I know just how much you can get out of an event like this one!  And the scale here is so much bigger (no pun intended.)

The congress will be held from the 19th-20th Feb 2011 and hosted by Trinity College of Music at Blackheath Halls.

http://www.cassgb.org/news.php?id=61

And for those interested here is a page on the Musical Director Gerard McChrystal

http://www.saxsaxsax.com/