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/

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.

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

The Better Practice Routine?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the practice thing. Everyone seems to have an opinion on just how to go about it. Do you do 10mins of scales then 10mins of sight reading then 15mins per piece? Or do you take the time you have and then divide it into equal parts?

The more I’ve been thinking about it the more I have to ask, does it really matter? Do you have to do scales every single day in order to progress ‘on track?’ It definitely helps but what if you get into such a mind numbingly dull routine that by the sixth day you want to give up all together?

And what if you need to practice Sight Reading? The dreaded part of an examination. Hated by all except for those who can do it easily. What then?

Personally I warm up with a group of scales (majors, minors, melodics etc) then move onto a piece that I like and can do. Why? Because if you don’t want to play then what on earth are you practicing for? Then onto sight reading and finally onto the tricky passages in whatever piece I am working on. It takes from 45mins to an hour if I don’t have a show coming up.

But is it enough? I’d love to hear from you. Which camp are you in? Do you prefer and rely on a regimented practice routine or do you prefer something more flexible such as my style? Have you tried one and found it doesn’t work?

What do you think?