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  • Getting the Most out of Jam Sessions

    The importance of jam sessions to your education as a musician can not be emphasized enough! It is vital to attend, have gone to, held one of your own, thought about going to, etc. a jam session. Sit-ins or jam sessions truly give you a taste of what working professionally as a musician entails, they are essential to the development of your skills as a working musician.

    If you do not know what a jam session is:

    A jam session, in short, is pretty much karaoke night for jazz musicians. You go in to the club or where ever it is being held, sign your name on a list, and wait for your name to be called to go up and play. Once your name is called, you go up on the stage, call the tune you want to play (make sure it is a standard or the band won’t know it), and play. Very often, they call up groups of people to play, so you may have to negotiate a song with the group of people you are playing with.

    Here are a few things that you can do to make your jam session experience more enjoyable:
    1. You can bring copies of the song you want to play in the case that the band doesn’t know it (although they are more likely to ask you to play something other the musicians already know.
    2. Be flexible – things might not go as planned.
    3. Use your ears – once again, things might not go as planned, and;
    4. Pay attention to everyone else who is playing.

    The most important aspect of a jam session is (1) getting experience, but you also benefit by (2) getting out there to gain exposure and (3) starting to network. The more you play, the more people see you, and in result, the more people remember you. Then, when the band needs the instrument that you play, guess who they will call…

    Which brings me back to networking. There are a few things you should keep in mind when meeting other musicians and people in the music industry.

    You should buy or make your own business cards. It helps if there is a photo of you on the card, your name, your instrument(s), your phone number, and your email. When you go to a jam session, hand them out to everyone there who doesn’t already have one (or lost the one you already gave them). For every ten you hand out, you might get one call, so be persistent and keep handing them out.

    If you can, make a demo, even if it is just you playing with an Aebersold, and hand that out too. Make sure you put a lot of effort into your demo. It should be a good representation of your skill as a performer.

    How to get the full jam session experience:

    Learn new songs and play different ones every time you go to a jam session. Memorize them. Building up your repertoire really helps. Jam sessions are much better than practicing with an Aebersold, plus you have an audience so you are improving your stage skills. But, please please PLEASE practice the songs first before you get to the jam session or you might not get invited back up to play again (yes, hosts will do that).

    If you are a more advanced player, go and sit in on songs you don’t already know. Make sure to ask what key the song is in first, and use your ears. Sometimes people really don’t know what key the song is in, and they will tell you the wrong key. So, play a few notes off the microphone first to check before you start playing where everyone can hear. If you play something wrong, make sure you know you made a mistake so you don’t continue doing it. Do not be a stage hog or take really long solos – everyone hates when someone does this. Also, do not try to out-play other people. Those listening see right through what you are doing and will think you are impolite when you try to show someone up. Everyone there is doing the best that they can, and you should be respectful of that.

    Back to watching all the other performers; #4 on the list of making jam sessions more enjoyable. You can learn something from everyone. Let me say that again, YOU CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM EVERYONE. Even if you can play circles around another performer there, you can learn from them, even if it is what not to play. Ask someone to teach you a cool lick that they played, or ask someone for a chart to a song they played that you like, or maybe imitate the way someone stands on stage. You can even learn what not to do. For example, that this lick doesn’t work over that chord, or it looked really lame when this person did that, so you know what not to do. Bring a notebook and write down all the stuff that you learned (I suggest not using names or waiting until after, you know, just in case).

    If you can’t find any jam sessions in your area, start one. Invite some of your friends over to jam at your house. If you guys sound good, your neighbors might even enjoy the free concert. If you aren’t working professionally, jam sessions are an important part of getting there. Even if you are working as a professional musician, you should always be humble enough to go to a jam session. If you have students or friends, bring them to the jam session, even if it is just to watch you play. My band and friends and I still go to jam sessions all the time. Sometimes we go just to watch the other musicians, and sometimes we go to play. But it has been an important part of shaping us as musicians, so we continue to make it a part of what we do. If you haven’t started going to jam sessions, I highly encourage you to do so.

    Of course, keep in mind that there is an etiquette unique to jam sessions that you should be aware of.

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons, Music and Career Advice • Views: 1706

  • Saxophone Mouthpiece Buying Tips

    So you’re looking for a new mouthpiece and you’ve found the process to be overwhelming. The selection is enormous and you just don’t know where to start. If this sounds like you, then you are in the right place. This article is here to help you simplify and de-stress (as opposed to distress) the mouthpiece purchasing experience.

    There are a lot of things to consider when looking at a new mouthpiece – the tip opening, the tone chamber, the types of materials used to make the mouthpiece, the length of the lay, etc. – these are all important things to think about when choosing a mouthpiece.

    To start, the material the mouthpiece is made of changes the personality and response of the mouthpiece greatly. Mouthpieces are generally made out of plastic, hard rubber or metal, but you can sometimes find wood mouthpieces. Here are a few examples of how the material changes the sound:

    • Plastic mouthpieces tend to be the easiest to play or begin on because they are not very resistant.
    • Hard rubber mouthpieces tend to promote the fundamental sound of the saxophone, with a little bit more resistance than the plastic mouthpiece.
    • Metal mouthpieces create a kind of “laser tone” – the can enhance the power and volume of the instrument and also help achieve the overtone series.

    The bore size of the mouthpiece also changes the response of your mouthpiece. Bore sizes are usually defined as small, medium and large. Small bore mouthpieces enhance the higher frequencies of the sax, giving the player a brighter sound. Small bore mouthpieces are best used playing lead over other saxophones or soloing over a large group. Medium bore mouthpieces creates a sound that more easily blends with an ensemble than a small bore, but still allows the player the volume to solo with a group. A large bore mouthpiece gives the saxophone a darker sound which is best for classical saxophone ensembles.

    Although the design of the mouthpiece gives it its own characteristics, the most important part of mouthpiece selection is the player. No two saxophone players are exactly the same, so what works for one person might not work for you. Therefore, use what you are comfortable and happy with – don’t go get something because it is what someone else uses.

    It also helps to bring someone along with you when you’re trying out mouthpieces. Another musician and/or your teacher can offer their thoughts on your sound and the quality of the mouthpiece and their input can be invaluable when making that kind of investment.

    Some Popular Mouthpiece Companies:

    • Beechler Mouthpieces
    • Vandoren Mouthpieces
    • Yanagisawa Mouthpieces
    • Rousseau Mouthpieces
    • Jody Jazz Mouthpieces
    • Brancher Mouthpieces
    • Guardala Mouthpieces

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1346

  • Saxophone Playing Tips and Practice Suggestions

    Articulation and Style

    • When playing jazz, think of swung 8th notes as a triplet subdivision.
    • Accent downbeats (not heavily, but enough to help with the time and feel). With difficult passages, this will help you maintain a steady pulse.
    • Tongue with the middle of your tongue, not the very tip.

    Technique

    • Always touch the pearls on your keys with your fingertips; don’t let your fingers “fly” around.
    • Sit with proper posture (no slouching, crossed legs, or leaning back).
    • Take full breaths and control your air from your diaphragm not your chest.
    • Practice everyday (even if it is only for 15 minutes).

    Air

    • Blow Strong, constant, fast, full air.

    Embouchure and Mouth

    • Keep a firm embouchure and open your throat when you play (for jazz).
    • Think in terms of voicing the notes. Sing a high note and pay attention to the shape of your throat and mouth.
    • Sing a low note and do the same. Try to recreate those positions when you play low and high notes on your instrument.

    Saxophone Care

    • At least clean the inside of your saxophone after use if you don’t feel like cleaning the entire instrument.
    • Don’t leave reeds on your mouthpiece (it ruins your reeds and your mouthpiece).
    • Dry your neck and mouthpiece out after use. Wipe down the outside of your instrument, that is, unless you want the lacquer to wear.
    • Take your horn in to be checked by a professional repair person every six months.

    Reeds

    • Get too soft if used for too long.
    • You can soak your reeds in mouthwash to clean them after use.
    • Try rotating two or three reeds at a time to give them a longer life. It also ensures you always have a backup reed that’s already been broken in just in case.

    Music Listening

    • Listen to music as often as possible and to as many different performers as possible.
    • Steal ideas from everyone – it is how you build your music vocabulary (I am not endorsing copyright infringement).
    • Transcribe solos – technology now allows you to slow down songs so they are easier to learn. Take advantage of it!

    Time

    • Practice with a metronome. Time is a continuum – you can’t change it, stop it, or catch up to it – so don’t try. Just keep it.

    Practice Habits

    • Practice as often as possible.
    • Practice things you can’t do, not things you can do.
    • Practice scales – major, minor, pentatonic, blues, and chromatic (for beginners), whole tone, diminished, and augmented (for high school and college). Learn them one octave first, then play them full range and all 12 keys.
    • Practice with a metronome.
    • Practice arpeggios.
    • Learn etudes – they help your sight reading, technique, and musicality.

    Improving Your Sound

    • Mouthpiece exercises – try to create a consistent tone with just your mouthpiece. Soprano pitch is C for classical, Bb for jazz, alto pitch is A for classical and F# for jazz, tenor pitch is G for classical and E for jazz, bari pitch is D for classical and Bb for jazz.
    • Long tones – always play with a tuner and practice all ranges (low, high, middle).
    • Vibrato – done by moving your tongue as if saying “ya-ya”. Be careful not to overuse vibrato.
    • Overtones – are good for developing flexibility, voicing, intonation, and altissimo.

    For the More Advanced Player

    • Altissimo – initially practice this with long tones, then work it into scales, melodies and your soloing.
    • Scooping – this can be done with your jaw or fingers.
    • Ghosting Notes – this is when you put your tongue on the reed, but the note still speaks.
    • Learn music theory. Take a class or read a book.
    • Experiment with composition.

    Suggested Repertoire

    Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons, Music and Career Advice • Views: 2332

  • “Must Knows” for the Advanced Saxophonist

    We’ve compiled a short collection of tips for the advanced saxophonist (someone with two years or more of experience). If you feel anything is missing from this article, please feel free to let us know in the comments! You can also read our tips for the beginning saxophonist here.

    What should you keep in your saxophone case?

    The same goes for you as the beginning student, you need the same things in your case, and so you don’t have to go back and read that article again, I listed them here as well. Your saxophone (I know this sounds obvious, but I have known kids that forget parts of their saxophone at home or brought the wrong saxophone case and the sax was in the other case back at their house), your saxophone neck, a mouthpiece, a ligature, your ligature/mouthpiece cap, a neck strap, and 2.5 or size 3 reeds (aka medium or medium soft). But sometimes, by this stage, you have found that a harder reed has worked for you and you might want a 3 or 3.5 (medium hard). Make sure that you keep several GOOD reeds in your case. It is extremely frustrating for a band director when you break a reed and it was your only one.

    I also recommend that you keep a cleaning cloth in your case, something to store your reeds in, powder paper or a dollar bill to fix sticking pads, and something to dry out the inside of your neck and mouthpiece after you are done using them. I also keep electric tape in my sax case for quick fixes and to put on the top of my mouthpiece to make it more comfortable for my teeth instead of buying the little plastic stickers. Lastly, I recommend that you keep a small screwdriver in your case. At this stage, you should be able to start doing small repairs on your sax when screws and things begin coming loose. It might help to keep screwdrivers of a couple different sizes – and they should be flathead screwdrivers.

    Playing:

    When you play, you should sit up straight and play with your sax between your legs unless you play tenor or bari, then you should play with your sax off to right of your legs for support. You should know the circle of fourths or fifths. You should know your major, minor, blues, dominant or mixolydian, and dorian scales on the full range of your instrument at the least. As far as soloing, you should have a basic idea of what to play. You should know how to read chord changes, and know your scales. You should recognize blues in Concert F, Bb, and C (that is D, G, and A for Eb instruments and G, C, and D for Bb instruments). You should recognize rhythm changes. Also, you should be able to recognize several jazz standards and have a few standard melodies memorized. It also would help to own a Fake Book or Real Book.

    You should be able to read music, know basic and some more complex, syncopated rhythms, and how to tongue. Tonguing is a real issue with young players because they either do not know how to tongue and attack using just air, or tongue way too hard.

    You should be able to recognize that your saxophone is in Eb if you play alto or bari, and Bb if you play tenor or soprano. You should also begin being able to transpose from concert pitch to the key of your instrument and vice versa.

    As far as listening, you should listen to more jazz (if that’s the genre you’re interested in), and be able to recognize several musicians’ names, especially those who play your instrument. You should know names like Michael Brecker, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Wayne Shorter, Cannonball Adderley. As far as non sax players, you should know names like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. You should own a few if not several jazz CDs, and have a jazz radio station that you listen to regularly. In addition, you should have begun to start to try and play along with your recordings, and to transcribe some of your favorite solos.

    Practice:

    You should have a regular practice routine that includes scales, long tones and tuning, and working with a metronome. It also helps to have both classical and jazz etudes to help you with phrasing and technical ability. Books that I recommend are “Patterns for Jazz”, the Charlie Parker Omnibook, and the Neihaus etude books.

    I also think that you should study privately on a weekly basis and also follow the instructions that your teacher gives you for practice.

    Other:

    The last, but most important thing I recommend is to go out and see live musicians play jazz. It helps you to see what it is like playing as a professional musician, and you also get to hear great music. Usually, there are local venues and restaurants that have live jazz groups perform that you can go see as opposed to spending a fortune to go to a jazz concert at a theater. Both are great, but very different, so it is up to you to choose which you want to attend. I recommend both, and would go to both if you can.

    Want more tips on what it takes to be a great musician? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1112

  • “Must Knows” for the Beginning Saxophonist

    We’ve compiled a short collection of tips for the beginning saxophonist (someone with two years or less of experience). If you feel anything is missing from this article, please feel free to let us know in the comments! You can also read our tips for the advanced saxophonist here.

    What should you have in your case?

    Your saxophone (I know this sounds obvious, but I have known kids that forget parts of their saxophone at home or brought the wrong saxophone case and the sax was in the other case back at their house), your saxophone neck, a mouthpiece, a ligature, your ligature/mouthpiece cap, a neck strap, and 2.5 or size 3 reeds. Make sure that you keep several GOOD reeds in your case. It is extremely frustrating for a band director when you break your only reed.

    I also recommend that you keep a cleaning cloth in your case, something to store your reeds in (the plastic protectors they come in should be sufficient, just remember to put them back in after you play), powder paper or a dollar bill to fix sticky pads, and something to dry out the inside of your neck and mouthpiece after you are done using them. I also keep electric tape in my sax case for quick fixes and to put on the top of my mouthpiece to make it more comfortable for my teeth instead of buying the little plastic stickers.

    Playing:

    When you play, you should sit up straight and play with your sax between your legs unless you play tenor or bari, then you should play with your sax off to right of your legs for support.

    This also can depend on your height – if the alto is between your legs and your right wrist touches or is below your leg, you need to play off to the side until you grow a bit more!

    Some things you should research and start to learn:

    Learn your major and minor scales at least one octave, two if you’re ambitious. You should learn what the circle of fourths or fifths is (especially if you want to play jazz). It will help you learn key signatures as well.

    You should be able to read music, understand basic rhythms, and know the proper way to tongue (or at least be on the way to doing so). Tonguing is a real issue with young players because they either do not know how to tongue and attack using just air, or they tongue too hard.

    You should be able to recognize that your saxophone is in Eb if you play alto or bari, and Bb if you play tenor or soprano. Once you’ve been playing a year or two, you should also begin to learn how to transpose from concert pitch to the key of your instrument and vice versa.

    Research Adolf Sax, the man who invented the saxophone. Learn about and recognize names of famous sax players such as Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane. You should explore different types of music that feature the saxophone (jazz, blues, fusion, and even some pop). Listen to at least one jazz station or classical station occasionally if not regularly. You should also begin listening to professional saxophone players so that you can eventually try to emulate what they play and sound like. In addition, you should be able to recognize names of other important musicians such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1061

  • Touring, Studio, and Local Musicians | Music Career Choices Part I

    The Different Types of Performing Musicians

    There are really three main types of musicians – the local musician, the touring musician and the studio musician. More than ever, musicians are choosing to do a combination of both, but we’ll try to break down the two options for you anyway. The career that you choose is based on your future goals. Here I will explain the difference between the local musician and the solo musician as well as the different variables that affect the career path that you choose.

    The local musician is often what is sarcastically referred to as the “starving musician”. The local musician has regular gigs. They are in the bands that you find at weddings, parties, and they play in the same club every Friday night. Their gigs pay usually $50 to $200 on average, and the musicians usually work most nights of the week playing local gigs.

    The touring musician is rarer than the local musician. It can be really hard to make it as a touring musician, and if you plan on becoming one, make sure you really practice. The touring musician spends the majority of the year out on the road in different states, different countries, etc. with different groups and artists.

    If the touring musician has the opportunity to tour not only as a sideman, but as a headliner, they are always being featured and their names are the ones you see on headliners. Their schedules are always full and they are always getting called for bigger and better things.

    Becoming a studio musician is also incredibly difficult. To perform as a studio musician, you usually have to play a variety of instruments at a very high level. You also have to be an expert in a variety of musical genres – everything from pop music to classical.

    How to Choose What is Best for You

    Your music career choices are greatly affected by your personal choices. You have to consider what you most enjoy about music – is it being on stage performing in front of people, is it being in the studio or “behind the scenes” or just getting out and playing because you enjoy it (and it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you’re playing). Sometimes, the career you have isn’t what you expect or planned, but it is also important to keep your musical goals and dreams in the back of your mind.

    Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 962

  • Words of Wisdom from Phil Sobel

    We interviewed saxophonist and educator Phil Sobel a few years ago in partnership with Rheuben Allen Saxophones. Phil Sobel is a world-renowned saxophonist and educator and he has made a huge impact on a number of saxophonists all over the world. He kindly did an interview with us, answering several of our questions and as part of the interview he offered up and coming saxophonists the following advice:

    “Sax players don’t have same respect for their instrument as for example, oboe players, which is why a lot of saxophonists have such a bad reputation.”

    “Alto sax has the most complex sound of any instrument, which makes it one of the hardest instruments to sound good on.”

    “Violinists don’t think, ‘If you play my horn you’ll be a better player’ like sax players do with mouthpieces and setups. So don’t make a big issue out of stuff like that. It just doesn’t mean anything to anyone else but you. Everyone is unique in what will work for them.”

    “Professor is not a fathering (or mothering) relationship, so do not form this relationship with your students.”

    “Confident does not mean egotistical.”

    “Talent doesn’t mean you will reach your full potential, you have to work hard to get there. Skill really has nothing to do about talent, people really only use 6 to 8% of their potential if they just go off talent.”

    “Praise – every student is different – just be honest and don’t teach negatively. In other words, ‘Doing it better but not quite right.'”

    “You can be an accomplished musician, but not a good one. You have to be vulnerable to the audience to really get to that place.”

    “Work hard and be a scientist. Observe –the key to all knowledge is to be curious.”

    “Music is not made up of lines – it is made up of ovals and circles. Time is a continuum, circular.”

    “No one learns from imitating – you learn from listening and adding what you learn to your own vocabulary. Learn music in the same way you learn to speak. At first you copy the words your parents (other musicians) say, and over time, you eventually develop enough vocabulary to form your own thoughts into sentences.”

    “School education now is terrible – you have to reeducate kids when you get them as students. Take everything with a grain of salt and get a good private teacher who knows what they are talking about. In music education, Sax not really appreciated – with university students 75% have not had lessons.”

    as dictated by Phil Sobel March 07, 2007

    Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    August 30, 2012 • Interviews, Music and Career Advice • Views: 1038