Sax Practice Notes

Well, I’m still doing those exercises Phil Barone gave me to do. I’m pretty happy with the result, and I’m finding that taking more mouthpiece is making a big difference, and that overtone exercises are also helping a lot. Maybe it’s just that I’m recovering my embouchure, I’m not sure–that must be part of it–but I have begun to develop a largeness of tone that I remember wanting and needing, but not knowing how to get, back when I was playing in Dabang Band.

This, of course, also brings me to a couple of problems:

First, I think I’ve truly been bitten by the bug. I am content to leave my practice at an hour a day (approximately), or maybe expand it a bit more. But I’m getting hungry to play better now. One of the things I am doing now, that I didn’t do in the past, is that I’m working on making the most of my practice time. I run tunes, but I also make sure when I’m doing scales, that when I get one form solid, I try another. I have been buiding up scalar patterns that I have to transpose diatonically as I play each scale, like:

Simple scalar pattern

I transpose the pattern in my head, for now, throughout all keys. This is the one I’m working currently, which I think of as doing it in fourths; I plan on doing the scales in other, similar patterns in fifths, sixths, sevenths, octaves, ninths, and so on.

The above pattern has gotten easier–I can do it in a lot of keys without difficulty (though I’m also still retraining myself to use not just bis-Bb but also side Bb, and that causes a fair number of flubs as my muscles don’t quite remember the proper coordination). Therefore, I’ve started adding little bits of ornamentation–a snippet of arpeggio here, a grace note there… things like that, just to keep it interesting and remind myself that this is music I’m working on.

Ultimately, I would like to level up my rhythmic thinking, so that I could spontaneously be throwing triplets into these patterns semi-randomly without screwing myself up:

Same pattern with triplets

… and then ultimately doing things like regular musical phrases, with all kinds of rhythmic patterns, but only using the notes in sequence. That is, I’d like these scalar patterns to become second nature so I can work on other things while running them.

Finally, I’d want to be able to mix and match chunks of different patterns together spontaneously, using the rhythms of an actual musical improvsation… and I imagine it’ll sound more like real jazz music if I can do that right. Not that I want to be constantly relying on those patterns — I plan on learning other patterns, transposed across all twelve keys, and improving my skills at spontaneous chromatic and diatonic transposition.

I’m doing this with an eye to developing the connection between digging out licks and working them across all keys, something I never felt the inclination to do when I was younger and more convinced of my own musical “brilliance.” Now, I’m content to find the gems others have polished and add them to my bag of tricks.

But I don’t want merely to be running licks. I want the link between licks and music and scales to be more explicit in my head, and I want to practice scales in a way   that helps me, during improvisation, to do more than just play familiar little expressions (which I’m doing incessantly, to my own dismay) or scale patterns (which I also do all too often these days).

I’ve in fact been thinking of setting aside the running of tunes save for one tune a day, and focusing on scalar patterns for a while, since I’m getting more bang for my buck working through patterns like the above.

(There’s stuff I want to work on mentally as well: understanding harmony so that I’m not constantly flailing behind chord changes, and so on. I’m guessing John Elliot’s Insights in Jazz (available on his website, along with a ton of podcasts and supporting material) is the book I need to dig into to help me get a better handle on that.)

The cool thing about all of this is that, being older and more disciplined, I’m doing a lot of things I resisted doing when I was younger. I feel like I’m filling in blanks I foolishly left open–things I thought I could bluster my way past not doing.

Hard work. And it feels good.

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