- Practice Log: 4–10 February 2024 (Sunday–Saturday)
- Horn Acquired! and Practice Log: 1–3 February 2024 (Thursday–Saturday)
This is my regularly updated practice log, mostly for accountability with my saxophone practice. Below you can see my practice for the week. If you’d like to check it out, here’s my goal list of tunes for the year.
This week, it seems I’m working on two tunes: “Lonnie’s Lament” and “Misty.” There are reference examples I’m working off and listening to linked from the list of goal tunes.
Below, you can see a log of my practice sessions for the week.
This week is going to be a weird one, practice-wise, since my wife’s away for a few days and I’ll be parenting solo from Tuesday to Friday, which makes going to the practice room a catch-as-catch-can kind of a thing. I’ll still try to go almost every day (except Tuesday, when I have plans in the morning), but how much time I’ll be able to put in depends on when I get there and how easily I can book the time.
(For days when I can’t get to the practice room, I’ll still try put in some time on my Aerophone with scales and with a couple of tunes. On the bright side, because Aerophones include an audio-through system, playing along with Aebersold style play-alongs is easy. I don’t love the saxophone sounds on mine, but the trumpet and flute sounds are pretty good, so I can work with those.)
This was a longish session of two hours on my alto. It went well although there are some problem areas, outlined below. The practice included:
- Long Tones: both ascending/descending minor seconds crescendo/descrescendoing, and chromatic ascending and descending octaves with a full crescendo, up to altissimo high G (kind of)
- Scales/Modes: Major scales (Ionian mode), all 12 keys, in 5ths (ascending/descending)
- Tunes: I did a bunch:
- “Lonnie’s Lament” (from a lead sheet)
- “Misty” (from a lead sheet)
- “Doxy” (from memory)
- “Nature Boy” (from a lead sheet): I played this at a recital ages ago, and can certainly fake it, but I’ve forgotten the harmony somewhat and have never played it on the key it’s in for alto.
- “Mercy Mercy Mercy” (from a lead sheet): a very basic jam tune with little going on harmonically. I just wanted to know the head on alto, because it’s a popular choice at fusion/electric jam sessions.
Problem areas: At the bottom of my alto, I’m having trouble getting low C# to speak properly. Everything else is pretty easy. I suspect it’s a breath support issue, as it improved over the session and because I’m also having trouble subtoning the way I’d like. Something to work on, but I’ll ask the repairman to check for leaks on the bottom end.
The session ended in mini-disaster: I used the cleaning cloth that I was given when I bought it, and it got stuck in the neck. I eventually got it out using a flute cleaning stick, carefully avoiding damage to the octave pip, but by the end of it the swab was cut up into three pieces. So now I need to get new cleaning swabs for my alto, baritone, and soprano, as well as a new neck swab for my tenor (with which I had a somewhat similar incident a few years ago). At least I can make do with the decent old “shove it” style insert for the soprano for now, though.
I made the most of today, since my wife leaves on a trip tomorrow and practicing according to any clear schedule is going to be challenging till Saturday. After my doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, I dropped by the instrument tech’s shop and he put my bari through its paces. No leaks aside from the loose neck cork, was his verdict. He sorted that out and when I tried to horn before leaving, it was sounding really good. Couldn’t find a suitable neckstrap to use with bari in his shop, unfortunately, but I discovered that I can put my bari on top of my case and it’s almost in a good position to play if I do that. It’ll do until I have something better.
In the evening, I hit the practice room for an hour while my wife was packing for her trip. Then I forgot to validate my parking, and forgot the door code for the practice space, and one thing led to another until I arrived home almost two hours after I left. Ooops!
- Long Tones: Ascending minor seconds <>
- Scales/Modes: Lydian dominant mode scales in 4ths, ascending/descending.
- Tunes: Lonnie’s Lament, Misty, Epistrophy.
Problems: Still struggling to get the low end to speak. It’d be nice if I had a regular hard rubber Selmer C* type mouthpiece to compare with the Theo Wanne Durga I’m playing on it, but anyway I suspect I’m fighting an over-hard reed for this mouthpiece (which is surprising, since I’m fine with a Vandoren 3 on my tenor Theo Wanne Durga, and yet the bari 3 reeds feel hard to me). Maybe it’s just a matter of air supply plus positioning?
Because I had something scheduled for Tuesday morning, I couldn’t get to the practice room today. I’d planned to make up for it with some time on my Aerophone at home, but alas, it was not to be. I did do some listening to versions of the tunes I’m working on, but that’s about it. What can I say, parenting solo is time-consuming sometimes. I also managed to order myself an ErgoSax Bari/Bass, which I hope will arrive soon as it’ll help me a lot with playing the bari.
I put in almost 2 hours at the practice room. I started with my soprano, doing some long tones and comparing how the tuning differs between my Theo Wanne Earth and my Selmer C*, but had issues and, to avoid wasting time when maybe servicing would sort them, I moved to alto.
- Long Tones: ascending/descending chromatic scale, single pitch <> (on both soprano and alto)
- Scales/Modes: Major scales in ascending/descending thirds on soprano. Major scales in ascending/descending 4ths on alto. Lydian mode in ascending/descending scales (2nds) on alto.
- Tunes: Misty, Epistrophy (the latter on alto only).
Problems: Weirdly, the tuning is more affected than the tone when I put on the Theo Wanne. The main issue on the soprano is that the low C is flaaaat… but it’s also warbly, so I suspect some kind of leak.) Then again, the low C on the alto also warbles, and it does it less when I’m supporting the air better. But on the soprano, no amount of support fixes it, so I suspect a leak. Then again, the soprano has all kinda of issues I want to get sorted out sometime… and only put it off because I fear the issues are so far-ranging that fixing them might be beyond the abilities of the local tech I know.
(Long ago, the soprano was bent, and though it’s been bent back to straight, some of the keywork is a little messed up. Sigh. I’m not sure whether it’s more affordable to get it fixed, or pick up a used Yamaha soprano. It’s a shame, though, this Selmer Super-Action 80 being a pretty nice horn originally, and being a gift from my parents.)
All of that said, it could be I’m just not supporting my airstream enough, so I guess we’ll see. (But I don’t have this issue on tenor, for whatever it’s worth.)
Today was interesting! There were some booking issues at the practice room, so my practice was split into two one-hour blocks between which I had to switch rooms. I practiced alto today, focusing on getting my tone and tuning solid, using some tips I picked up from stuff posted to the Technique section of Ben Britton’s site Everything Saxophone.
- Long Tones: Ascending/descending from middle G chromatically <> ; strong focus on air support, tongue position, and voicing. The lower-end warble is mostly gone from low C, because I pushed in the mouthpiece more than usual, and then slowly edged it out to what I think was the ideal spot. (See Tuning and Your Ideal Sound.)
- Scales/Modes: I did Mixolydian mode in 4ths up and down in all keys, again with a tuner and focusing on tuning, tone, and voicing/tongue position. I spent a fair bit of time on it, because while I can do most of it without difficulty, once I get into the palm keys things get a little messy, especially in keys with lots of sharps/flats. I was also able to include a much more reliable altissimo G because of Britton’s tip about using the G# pinky key to stabilize it. (I’ve never needed to do that on tenor, but on my alto it seems to help a lot.)
Hour 2: Tunes:
- “Misty” took up about 75% of this second hour. Played the head and embellished it. Then I played the bass line, then bass and thirds, then 7th chord arpeggios. Then I played through it by ear quite a lot.
- “Lonnie’s Lament”: I tried the head—I haven’t played it much on alto—but not much more. The prospect of playing a vamp solo on A- alone in a practice room, without even a backing track, isn’t appealing.
- “Straight, No Chaser” from memory, which isn’t hard: it’s just a G blues on alto. Took me a minute to get up steam but I was pretty happy with my improvising on it after that, with lots of playing around with the head motif.
That was it. I’m pretty hyped about the insights I got from Ben Britton’s blog, and I’m planning on checking the rest of the blog along with out his two books on saxophone sound production and on overtones. (They’re linked from the sidebar of his blog, if you’re interested.)1 His praise for Mark Watkins’ book From the Inside Out also means that’s on my list, though it’s a book I’ll get to when I’m ready for it.
I also checked with the proprietor of the practice room to make sure it’s open over the Lunar New Year holiday this weekend. (It is!)
I was unable to practice. This was the day my wife returned from Japan, so there was some cleaning to do before she arrived, then we hung out and I conked out for a while in the evening. I’d planned to practice some scales and tunes on my Aerophone, but it never happened. That’s fine: a day off every once in a while is okay, though.
Today was a long session, on three instruments. (I brought my flute along, as well as my bari and tenor saxes.) I’ll break things down by instrument.
- Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode ascending/descending.
- Long Tones: Ascending/Descending octaves. This kicked my butt, but it’s a good warm-up.
- Scales/Modes: Ascending descending chromatic scales, slow enough to almost count as more long tones. I’m working on getting control of transitions between tones, and across breaks.
- Patterns: Is this a new section of my practice regimen? Why, yes it is. If it was good enough for Michael Brecker, it’s good enough for me. I did a simple pattern, practicing it with the first note ascending and descending chromatically, then diatonically, then in whole tone scalar patterns. It’s a challenge, at least now because I’m used to it. This is the pattern:
Obviously, when modulating it I started the next iteration on the “and” of 2 in the second measure.
- “Misty”: I played through the head and then improvised on it. I wanted to get a feel for the harmony without having my fingers on it, the way I would on tenor or soprano. Also discovered the whole tune can be played in the lower register on a low-A bari, for whatever that’s worth.
- “Invitation”: because it sounds so nice on bari. I didn’t get far with the improvising over it—I may put it on my learn-next shortlist—but what a melody.
- Long Tones: Ascending/Descending chromatic
- Scales/Modes: regular scales ascending/descending by seconds, but I went through them following the whole tone scale. (i.e. advancing from C to D, D to E, etc., and then from C# to D# and so on.)
- “Misty”: I ran the harmonies a lot with 7th chord arpeggios and the bass notes, intentionally trying to drive the harmony into my mind in an explicit manner. It’s still not quite there, but it’s close. I can very much feel the harmonies, but I want to know them, so I’m making this extra effort to memorize the chords. We’ll see if I can finally get my brain to do it.
- Overtones: I did some overtone practice on low Bb, but… I shouldn’t leave it to the end of a session, as I was pretty tired by the time I remembered to do a bit.
Notes for 10 February:
- Though flute isn’t my main focus now, it is a good warm-up in terms of getting me breathing. I need to look at a fingering chart for the 3rd octave, because all I can do at the moment is overblow some notes to get high D through high F or F#.
- I made some good strides on the bari sax for a few reasons:
- I grabbed the harness off my Vibrato Sax Partner practice case. It worked… okay enough that I wasn’t holding up the weight of the horn, and could notice how I was subtly bumping left hand palm keys by accident. Once I got that more under control, everything’s good except the infamous “airy A.” I’m going to try the old trick of tying some pantyhose over the octave pip to see if it helps.
- I also worked the reed. Van Doren Green Java 3s are just a little too hard for this mouthpiece, I think. My guess is that 2½ would be perfect. Happily, someone is selling an unused box of them online for just a little more than half the going rate, so I’m going to try grab those.
- With tenor, I have trouble tightening properly the BG ligature that came with my second-hand Theo Wanne Durga 3. I quite like the Wanne lig on the bari piece I have, so… eventually I’ll have to pick one up, I guess.
Summary & Progress
The insights I mentioned above from Ben Britton’s blog have opened my eyes about long tones. It’s bizarre that not one of my past teachers covered voicing and tongue position with me in any meaningful way. Hell, the only time tongue position really came up was in reference to articulation. I could have used some advice about how the tongue position affects tuning and tone production. I am sure I intuited it somewhat along the way, but it’s something that should have been made explicit to me, at least when I was required to take classical saxophone lessons at the university level.
Beyond that, I’m pretty happy about my progress with “Misty” and “Lonnie’s Lament.” I can play both pretty much from memory now. I cannot call out or write out the chords from memory—but I have a good idea of what sounds good or bad at any given part of the tune structure, and that’s good enough for me. I suppose this is the time I should record versions of them to document it, right? For accountability? It’s also time to pick another song, and I think I’m going to pick
(I was going to try learn “A Child is Born” on bari, but it’s going to be a few days more before my ErgoSax Bari/Bass support arrives, so I’ll be focusing on alto and tenor till then, so as to avoid developing bad habits while coping with the lack of a sling long enough to accommodate it. Though I think I finally found a JazzLab Saxholder made for bass clarinet/bassoon which has a metal hook and a longer string, so that might also work for bari. I was hoping to have some kind of sling as a secondary/backup to the ErgoSax anyway.)
Flute warm-ups are probably a luxury during holidays which I won’t afford during semesters, but it’s nice to get myself a little lightheaded from working on breathing.
I’m happy with my progress on the bari; getting it recorked helped a lot, and knowing to a watch the left hand palm keys is also very helpful. I’m also happy with my progress on “Misty” on tenor especially.
I’m declaring “Lonnie’s Lament” as “memorized” (at least on Bb instruments) in terms of my tune memorization project. I’m not going to bother with the insanity of learning every tune in all 12 keys. Maybe some, but not this one. I’d like to transcribe Same Gendel’s improvising on it, though, if I can sometime soon.
I’m not sure what second tune I’m going to add. Still thinking. Something a little faster would be nice, though easing into regular practice again with ballads has been good.
I’ve heard he’s revising the books and combining them, but the insights I got from his blog alone are enough to make me want to check out what he’s published now rather than wait for the revision.↩