Quiet Practice Sessions

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Have you ever cancelled a practice session because you didn’t want to disturb someone? This could include neighbors or family members. Or, maybe you’re on the road and you wish you could practice in your hotel room. What if you could practice so quietly that no one would ever be disturbed? This is not entirely possible, but there are some things we can do when quiet practicing is required. After reading this post you’ll know how to practice quietly (or silently) anytime you need to.

Saxophone Mutes

I think many beginning saxophone players (including my 12 year old self) have wondered if there’s such a thing as a saxophone mute. Mutes work for trumpets, so they must have them for saxophones, right? Unfortunately, the type of mute that works on a trumpet does not work on the saxophone. It would be nice, but we require a different solution.

Muting Products

There are a few companies out there that have heard the “muting” cry of the aspiring saxophonist and they are working to come up with a legitimate product. This post is not about these products, but I want to make you aware that they are available. If you have any experience with these products, feel free to share in the comment section.

Play Quietly (Tip #1)

One of the strengths of the saxophone is its ability to play quietly. If there are times when a quiet practice session is required, no problem. The saxophone is designed to play quietly- no mutes required. You can use a soft dynamic level for the duration of your session. However, this is not a good method to employ 100% of the time. As a musician we need to be comfortable playing all dynamic levels.

Announce Practice Times (Tip #2)

This approach doesn’t make the saxophone any quieter, but it may provide an opportunity for more “full volume” practice sessions.

Scheduling

If you set a schedule for your practice sessions and let people know, then there’s no need to be bashful about the saxophone’s volume. This not only works when living with family members, but prepares the neighbors as well.

Many times if we tell the people around us that we’re learning an instrument, they will support us (even neighbors you don’t know may support you. Who knows, maybe you’ll have a neighbor that is a musician; maybe they play trumpet, but they have a mute). With announcing practice times, people are less likely to be annoyed, and may even be supportive!

Still Not Comfortable?

If the options above don’t work for you, or you’re simply not comfortable with the idea that people can hear you, you’re not alone. Of course you do need to have “full volume” practice sessions to improve as you should. But for those days when someone comes home early (which may tempt you to forfeit your practice session for the day) I have an option that can be a huge benefit to your playing. And you won’t disturb anyone!

A Great Option (Tip #3)

This method of practicing does not require any tone to come out of the saxophone. Obviously we will not be practicing articulation, embouchure, warm air, or anything that is related to tone. We will focus on technique (fingers). You will not be putting air into the saxophone at all. In fact, you won’t even use a reed, mouthpiece, or neck. You’ll just use the main body of the saxophone.

Material

We will focus on notes, scales, and difficult passages in your music.

The Process

For this example let’s practice a difficult passage in your music. Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Choose 1-2 measures of difficult music
  2. Set your metronome to a very slow tempo
  3. Finger the passage to the click of the metronome
  4. Lock in the clicking of the keys with the metronome

Results

Through this process you’ll be training your fingers to play evenly and with good timing. Focusing on technique is something we need to do anyway. So, on the days where you need a quiet practice session, break out the metronome, choose your music or scale, and line up the clicks of the keys with the metronome. Your technique will improve faster, and your ability to play difficult passages quickly (and with accuracy), will increase.

Have you ever tried this method of practicing? What do you do when you need a quiet practice session? Please feel free to share in the comment section. Have fun playing!

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Comments 12

  1. Jeff. As usually you come up with innovative ideas for practising thr sax.Fingering practice without the mouth piece with metronome helps focus timing without worrying about embouchre muscles.
    I will try your suggestion.Thanks

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  2. Hi Jeff, I tried with your sugessions but am finding it not that comfortable since am not getting the total internal satisfaction that i am playing a Wonderful instrument. Yes while I was practising a couple of months ago my neighbours requested me very politely either to reduce the volume or to change my timings. As per their comfort I changed my practise timings. Now its not a problem since we have shifted to a new house where this problem is not at all there.
    best regards.

    sabnavis

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      I’m glad that communication helped you out with the neighbors. Even better if you’re in your own home now. As far as the rewarding aspect, I understand. The reward in this approach does not occur immediately (I agree it’s nice to hear the tone as you practice), but afterward. More specifically, after a session with the metronome and key clicks, you’ll notice that the section you practiced will be easier and more consistently played the next time you have a full practice session. Still rewarding, but at a different time. I hope it proves helpful if there is ever a time where “quiet practice” is required. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jeff,

    your topic generated some interest in asking you a question. I am a beginner, and I recently found a saxophone teacher, but after 2 lessons, decided that it wasn’t going to work out. The problem is this: When I practice, I concentrate on getting the proper fingering, as I’m just learning to read music fluently. I still have a long way to go, so it seems that my brain can only concentrate at one time on getting the note correct, but I have problems trying to make sure I play the proper note value. So………..I’ll learn a tune and practice the correct note……..as far as whether it’s an a, b, c…..etc. But, I don’t find myself being able to focus on whether I’m playing a whole note or a quarter note. Once I’m comfortable with the first thing, I then can come back and learn to play with the proper timing. My instructor on the first lesson gave me a few lines to learn, but never played them for me so I should know how it should sound. I learned the notes well as far as fingering the proper note, but was way off with respect to timing. So, he kept interrupting me to tell me “that was a half note” or something similar. I don’t know whether this is a problem with most students, but that seems to be the way my brain functions. As I become proficient with reading music fluently, I don’t think this will be as much of a problem. Is this common, or do you also subscribe to trying to get both things down at once right from the start?

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      Hi Larry,

      Yes, this can be an issue for anyone. It’s because we are thinking of doing multiple things at once- this can be difficult. The way to success is to get one thing comfortable and then add another. It sounds like the material you’ve tried to play has you thinking about too many things at once. Have you had a chance to try the free lessons? You can move at your own pace and we start from the beginning and work through things slowly. I think the free lessons may be a good match for you. To help you further, let me know how the free lessons work for you. If you have the same overwhelming feeling, let me know and we can make some adjustments. Bottom line: you can play the saxophone, and finding the right approach will help you succeed. I look forward to hearing about your experience with the free lessons. If you have any other questions, let me know.

  4. Must confess I had to use twice the “soundless practice” as I used to call it. One day I returned home late in the evening, around 9pm and I thought my neighbours wouldn’t have been too much friendly with me if I had decided to practice. So I applied Option #3, but with the sax fully set up, i.e. with the usual mp and reed… the only difference was that I did not blow in with the intention to sound. Only a relaxed (but correct) embouchure and puffing a slight airstream, weak enough not to make the reed vibrate. With this technique, I was even able to practice tongue articulation.

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      Good to hear from you Terrence; it’s been awhile. I hope all is going well. Thanks for sharing your experience, and let me know what you think after applying the metronome. Keep up the good work!

  5. The fingering exercise is a great productive tool for me as I live in an apartment. I am able to practice early to late afternoon and sometimes early evenings without any complaints but I never feel like it’s enough to get all that I want accomplished. Also I think it’ll be something good for me to do when I’m bored. I’m trying to get back into playing after not playing for over a decade I’ve been at it for a few months it’s been difficult because I have rheumatoid arthritis but I remembered most of the fingerings when I got back started and I still remembered how to read music. Do you have any other tips that might help?

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      Hi Ebony,

      Welcome back to the saxophone! I’m sorry to hear about the arthritis but I’m glad that you were able to remember most of the fingerings. What type of tips would you like: practice tips, quite practice, improving tone? Let me know and I can provide that information. I agree that playing without putting air in the saxophone is not a complete practice, but it’s good for our technique when we are not able to produce a tone, for one reason or another.

      I look forward to your response!

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