Saxless Practice #1

Some things to practise when you don’t have your sax (but not like the guy above) …

Relaxed posture: shoulders at rest, back straight, long neck, head up and forward.

Dynamic breathing: shoulders remain at rest and upper chest is static; lungs and lower ribs move smoothly outwards and inwards, forward and side.

Tongue position: breathe in gently through your nose, half filling your lungs, and out through your mouth; with your tongue at rest, exhale slowly and smoothly to create a snake-like hiss (an ‘aah’ sound indicates that your tongue is not at rest and your mouth is open too wide).



Saxes stolen in the UK may end up abroad

…  a list of instruments stolen this month from Dawkes, and also the saxophones stolen from Sax.Co back in April/May – SEE BELOW

In the early hours of July 12th we were victims of a break-in at the shop. The gang of thieves forced their way into our Sax Suite and stole 40 saxophones that were on display (full list below). The police arrived on scene and are investigating the matter further. Sadly this is the most recent in a spate of Music Industry related break-ins with the thieves clearly targeting certain locations and stock types. It is unlikely these instruments will appear in the UK marketplace but we have listed a full inventory below of what has been stolen, please be aware or on guard for any 3rd party re-selling or auction sites offering these models. Any info can be passed to us or Thames Valley Police (Ref: 43170204724)

Read more

Saxophone technique

If you’re serious about saxophone technique, and willing to question much of what you think you already know, study John Harle’s brilliant new book. The really significant chapters are taking me 2-3 weeks to get my head (and the rest of my upper body) around, so it’s value for money. Chapter 1 alone has made playing more comfortable, power breathing more natural; it’s improved my stamina, tone and intonation, thus allowing me to concentrate on the wider issues of expressive performance.

This book is not a set of ‘quick fixes’, so you have to persevere with each chapter, until the detailed instruction, copious diagrams and carefully selected exercises finally sink into your greater understanding of how lips, tongue, throat, lungs and head resonance work together. Your existing technique has to be challenged, changes made consciously and then, after sufficient practice, your improved technique will become intuitive.

Jazz and pop saxophonists may find themselves sounding a bit ‘classical’ at first, but once these techniques are fully embodied, they can be adapted to any style of playing. One caveat, however: several exercises are best suited to alto and soprano saxophone (Harle’s preferred instruments), so adaptation will be required by tenor, baritone, bass and sopranino players, specifically over issues of head resonance and the relationship of saxophone registers to the singing voice. This may seem a deterrent for some of you at first, but Harle’s philosophy is all about understanding how YOUR body works when playing, so self-analysis is essential to players of all saxophones, under Harle’s expert guidance.

Here’s a page from volume 1 (© 2017 Faber Music Ltd):

00 Power Startup


Sax Harmonics

Here’s an exercise on harmonics, from Earl Bostic’s alto playing, bars 9-11 of ‘Bugle Call Rag’ (1956). Alternate upper register G with normal fingering and the same note produced as a harmonic of low C (no octave key). Start slow, then see if you can match Bostic’s virtuosity. This is a way of making repeated notes more interesting and a useful exercise to build up altissimo technique.

bostic harmonics 1

Bostic hits a super high B near the end of this recording, which is really a little over the top for most players.

Chord-Tone Practice

In an earlier blog I noted the potential un-musicality of the popular chord–scale approach to jazz improvising. But there is an additional issue about this approach: i.e. the need to build skills from firm foundations, which this quote from Berklee makes clear:

‘… for beginner and intermediate-level players, the chord-scale approach has a potential downside. Many students begin studying chord scales early in their musical education and attempt to apply the knowledge acquired immediately on their instruments. Unfortunately, this often happens too soon in the student’s development as an improviser–before he or she has learned how to shape an appealing improvised melody by ear on a chord or chord progression using only, or mainly, chord tones.’ source

As a precursor (and possible antidote) to chord-scale theory, try improvising on chord tones instead, then incorporate this approach into your improvisations, as many great players do. Here’s an initial exercise to try:

Chord tone practice 01