Five top ways to Practise Saxophone on the GO GO.

By dan

Practise?  That der is a rather taboo subject in dees 'ere parts....

WHOOOAAAA. Practise?  Things are getting serious.  It will be of no surprise for me to tell you that Practise is the only way to improve.  There I said it: you have to practise to improve.  A little practise every day is far better than a mammoth session on Sunday morning once a week.  Now the main issue with practise is that, for most people at least, finding a regular spot every day for practise and therefore, building a routine, is extremely difficult.  In a hectic life with so much going on and little time for YOU time, here is a list of practise tips for you to do when you don't have your beloved Saxophone close to hand.

1. Active Listening

In the car, on the treadmill, on the office radio.  Listen to Music.  Active Listening is the ability to pick up various aspects from a piece of music whilst you listen to it.  This enables you to pick up the pulse and attach yourself to a beat, a MUST have skill for every Musician not only Saxophone players.  Next time you're listening to your favourite Girls Aloud track (Kidding :p)  see if you can FEEL a pulse?  Where is the emphasis? Is it every 2 beats? Every 4?  Is it swung or straight quavers (Eigth Notes)?  Next, see if you can decipher the Key.  Now by this I don't mean literally A Major for example.  Unless you have perfect pitch it is highly unlikely that you will be able to tell the exact key.  However, you can probably tell if it's Major or Minor.  What shades are used in the Music?  Light, Dark?  Does the music "sound" like a certain colour?  These are all questions that will help you bring life to your own playing.  Listen to melodic shapes in solo's.  Does the tune rise and fall?  Why does it sound so good?  Are there any little licks that you may want to "borrow" for your own playing? Make a note and get to transcribing it when you finally get chance to do some physical practise!

2.  Air Saxophone

Take some time to practise Air Saxophone.  It's not only Rock Guitarists that get all the fun!  

Air Saxophone is a useful tool to let your fingers get a workout without having to worry about embouchure and posture.  You can play scales, runs, licks, tunes by using your fingers to make the correct shapes without a saxophone.  When you're doing this make sure your finger movements are spot on.  No BIG movements. For example: Take three notes: B A G.  "Play" B A G over and over with 123 of your left hand, carefully and steadily build up the speed getting those tendons used to playing quickly.  Once you have that nailed move to other Saxophone movements how about D --> F# ---> Palm Key D? Play any movements that you find particularly tricky. It's all easy on air saxophone!

3. Improvisation, Singing and you

Singing? No way, that's why I took up Saxophone!  

You don't need to be Frank Sinatra to have a go at singing and you don't need an instrument to try out an improvisation.  Take a backing track with you in the car, stick it in the CD player and start whistling, singing or thinking the ideal head(main tune) and improvisation.  Many jazz courses get students to sing their improvisations before playing them on their Saxophone.  You should jump on this proven method too.  The trick to this is remembering what you actually sang that worked and then trying to imitate that on to the saxophone when it is to hand.  Of course, you don't need to use a backing track you could try singing either a harmony line to an existing song or improvised fills between lines.  There's no difference between doing it with your voice or via your Saxophone, well, there shouldn't be ;)

4. Theoretically Speaking

Dig out those mnemonics and start (re)learning your major scales, after all they are the pathway to all things modal and improvisational supremacy!

To remember the major scales I teach the following mnemonics:  

Ways to Remember all of your Major Scales
Charles - C Major - No # or b's Flat Major Scales
Goes - G Major - F# Farm - F Maj - Bb
Down - D Major - F# C# Boy - Bb Maj - Bb Eb
And - A Maj - F# C# G# Eats - Eb Maj - Bb Eb Ab
Ends - E Maj - F# C# G# D# Apple - Ab Maj - Bb Eb Ab Db
Battle - B Maj - F# C# G# D# A# During - Db Maj - Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
For  - F# Maj - F# C# G# D# A# E# Good - Gb Maj - Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb
Country - C# Maj - F# C# G# D# A# E# B# Christmas - Cb Maj - Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb

Start with a closed fist: Charles (C major - No #s or b's), Count on thumb (1# - Goes --> F#) and take this concept out and about with you, you'll soon have nailed all of your sharp and flat scales.  You could then combine this with air saxophone and practise them while waiting in the queue at your local supermarket :-)

To remember the order of the seven sharps found in key signatures remember this:  Father(F#) Charles, Goes, Down, And , Ends, Battle

To Remember the order of the seven flats found in key signatures :  Boy(Bb), Eats, Apple, During, Good, Christmas, Festivities

5. Note Reading / Memory Skills

Feeling like you have a little musical dyslexia?  No problem, I have a sure fire solution to your notation reading woes.

In order to improve your note reading and memory, I like to use the hand staff.  Take your left hand so that your palm is facing you and rotate your hand so that your fingers are horizontal.  Spread your fingers and "Hey Presto!" you have a perfectly workable Musical Stave.  Your little finger(Pinky) is the bottom line and then each of the fingers and gaps between them represents each of the musical lines and spaces.  

From lowest to highest the treble clef lines are:  E(very) G(ood) B(oy) D(eserves) F(ruit)

And to learn the spaces:  F (space between little finger and ring finger) A, C, E --> FACE.  

Have a look at your hand and imagine a note head bouncing around there.  Get used to reading the notes from your hand and you'll be sight reading like a pro in no time.


Although, these methods aren't a replacement for real practise (Why would they? Playing Saxophone is so much more FUN!!) they are useful for maintaining steady improvement even when you don't have time.  

Do you have any of your own ways or learning the major scales?

Do you have any other ways you practise when you don't have a sax to hand?  I'd love to hear them.

Happy Saxing.


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