We all understand learning to play the saxophone takes consistent practice, which makes it challenging and rewarding. You may also see ads stating the opposite, that you can learn the saxophone in a few months, rather than a few years
There isn’t a secret formula for learning the saxophone, but there is some truth behind statements such as, “Use this 1 tip used by pros and accelerate how quickly you learn the saxophone”. In fact, that sounds very familiar… I may have even used that statement.
Learning from Pros
I have learned from many pros and made a career, myself, out of saxophone performance and pedagogy. Some teachers helped me progress faster than others, because all teachers are not equal.
Through my experiences, I have collected many pro tips over the years and codified my own. In this week’s post I will share a pro tip that I use (and many other pros do as well) every time I practice.
It really does speed up learning the saxophone compared to the way we naturally want to practice (see A Bad Habit below).
When beginners practice, they tend to make the same errors over and over again. This can be frustrating because the error continues to be part of our playing, and seems to never be resolved.
For example, you may be playing a high C# and the next note is a middle D. No matter how many times you play the exercise, the middle D doesn’t respond, or it doesn’t sound the way you hoped it would.
A Bad Habit
Usually students will play an exercise from the beginning and hope when they get to the measure with the C# to the middle D, that the note will speak. If it doesn’t, they keep on playing to the end of the exercise.
Next, they’ll start at the beginning again, and play through the entire exercise and hope they can get the middle D to speak when they arrive at the measure. No matter what the result was, they will continue to play to the end of the exercise.
This process will slow down your learning.
The 1 Thing
Here’s the 1 thing that will help you fix this: we’re going to make up a personalized exercise for each error in our playing (don’t worry; we won’t work on all of them at once). We’ll use isolation and repetition to speed up the learning curve. Here’s how we’ll do it.
Here’s the process for fixing the middle D (as discussed above). Take a piece of paper and write, “High C# to middle D”. Then follow this pattern:
- Play high C# to middle D- ten times.
- Stop, and move on to the next part of your practice session
- The next day, begin your practice session by repeating step 1
- Continue this process daily, until the issue is resolved
I know this sounds simple, but by taking the issue out of the exercise, isolating it, and repeating, your ability to fix the issue increases drastically.
Don’t Be Perfect
When trying to fix a weakness in our playing, often we try to solve it in one session. When you try to fix it in one day, it can become frustrating, exhausting, and discouraging. We don’t want to think this way about the saxophone.
Instead, play the issue (C# to D) ten times each day. You won’t solve the problem in one session but you’ll begin making progress. Additionally, you’ll feel motivated because you’re reaching your goal every day (repeating ten times). Notice our goal is set on a daily number and not eliminating the problem.
The Real Goal
As you follow this daily, you’ll have daily success, but you’ll also reach the real goal of solving the issue. This process is used by many pros, because it gets the job done without discouragement.
Just think, every time you sit down to practice, you’ll have confidence that you’re improving!
My guess is that an issue like C# to D could be resolved in as little time as a week. Of course we’re assuming that the embouchure is correct, among other things.
For every weakness you have in your playing, turn it into an exercise. Some other issues that may surface include:
- Changing from one note to another
- Get one note to speak (like the low notes)
- Certain fingerings
- Starting notes (with their full tone)
- Ending notes at the right time
When you come across an error in your playing, write down the problem on the sheet mentioned above. Soon you could have as many as ten items on that list.
You’ve now created a personalized warm-up list that you’ll work on every day. Start each practice session with this list, and then you’ll go to the main part of your practice session.
As you follow this process, many of the little nagging things in your playing will eventually disappear. By isolating the issue, and repeating on a daily basis, you’ll be on your way to solving many issues and playing in a mature style.
Here’s a challenge for the week. Share one of your issues in the comment section below and try this approach for seven days. Come back after seven days and let us know how you did! Enjoy playing and have fun getting better every day.
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