You’ll notice there’s an image at the top of this post that hints of a good story. Part of this post is a story, which I hope you’ll find revealing and interesting.
However, the point of the story is to help you learn a little more about me and my saxophone journey as well as the importance of one saxophone skill. This skill can change the way you play the saxophone, like it did for me.
The Best Have this Skill
When we think of the best saxophone players we know, we can easily point out characteristics that we want to copy or emulate. Some of these characteristics may include tone, style, note choice, or the ability to play quickly.
However, there’s one characteristic that is not glamorous and is rarely at the top of the list of desired skills. If you don’t do this one thing well, you’ll never reach your potential. The skill is articulation (when the tongue touches the reed. Also known as tongueing).
Don’t Skip This!
As a teacher, I can see when people check out and stop listening because of a certain topic. This is one of those topics. Don’t check out! This skill is a defining characteristic for all the best saxophone players. I’m not only talking about speed and clarity, but how articulation is a significant part of style.
For example, if you want to play jazz, you need the knowledge and ability to articulate in that style. In short, having the freedom and skill to articulate in multiple ways will be a defining characteristic on your ability to play the saxophone well.
My Defining Moment
I want to share a story that was my defining moment for understanding the importance of articulation. Keep in mind that I already had a degree in jazz studies and I already knew the importance of articulation in jazz and in other styles as well. However, there are defining moments that help us understand a topic at a deeper level, which in turn, allows for further progression.
At this particular time in my career, I was beginning work on my masters degree. It was here that I learned a valuable lesson from a doctoral student that was attending the same university. The funny thing is, the doctoral student didn’t even know that he gave me a lesson that day. This lesson was so valuable, that it changed my perception and understanding of how the saxophone should be played.
Here’s what happened. At the beginning of the year, there are auditions for the different performing groups. I set up a time to have my audition and the person who went before me was the doctoral student I just mentioned. Keep in mind, that all of us had a good tone, we could play quickly, and our time was solid (even though all of us would admit to our continued pursuit for improving our time).
With this in mind, the doctoral student went into the professor’s office, shut the door and began to play the selected music. Even with the door closed, I could hear the clarity of his articulation. He separated himself from all the other saxophone players because of the way he articulated. It was amazing. It was a revelation to me that the best players have this one skill, and I was going to get it.
I began to focus on articulation and reached beyond what I thought was possible with speed, clarity, consistency, and style. Because I went through this learning curve (as it did not come naturally) I have multiple exercises, methods, and approaches for improving articulation, and I want to share them with you. As I always say, with the right direction anyone can learn and add this characteristic to their playing.
Next week, we’ll dive into what some of these exercises and provide a plan so you know exactly what to do. It’s not difficult either. It just takes a short amount of time on a consistent basis. The more consistent you are, the faster this will come. You won’t be sorry and you’ll be amazed how articulation boosts your playing to the next level.
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