Practice Log: 11–17 February 2024 (Sunday–Saturday)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series 2024 Practice Log

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 concluding my work on “Misty”—I think I “have” the tune, as I “got” Lonnie’s Lament last week. Maybe when I finish transcribing one Lonnie’s Lament solo, I’ll do the same for a version of Misty—maybe one of Stan Getz’s, like this one. As far as picking other tunes, I was tempted by Anthropology or Ornithology, but finally I decided that I’m easing myself back into playing, so I went with Up Jumped Spring, a tune I’ve learned in the past but half-forgotten. 

Below, you can see a log of my practice sessions for the week.

Preamble

This week was more normal. Just regular daily practice, with the complication that the weekend had a few activities I had to schedule around. 


Sunday

This was a longish session of two hours on my flute, soprano, and bari. (I figured I might as well give my embouchure a workout.) It was a bit of a down day: my endurance hasn’t built up, plus I had to spend some time faffing around with reeds, because having just gotten large-facing Theo Wanne mouthpieces, all my reeds on hand are slightly too hard for them. 

Flute:

  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode, all 12 keys, in 5ths (ascending/descending)
  • Tunes:
    • “Doxy” (transposed from memory)

Soprano Sax: 

  • Tunes:
    • “Misty.” I did almost an hour of stuff with this: improvising, scales over the chords, memorizing the harmony, arpeggiated 7th chords over the harmony, and then free improvisation again at a higher than typical tempo. 
    • “Lonnie’s Lament.” How could I not? I love how it sounds on soprano. I have decided I definitely am going to transcribe that Sam Gendel solo

Bari Sax:

  • Long Tones: Starting at G, unarticulated jumps down from G to chromatic descending line, and then jumps up from G ascending chromatically, <>. 
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode, all 12 keys, in ascending descending 4ths. 
  • Patterns: Nothing today. Too much reed faffing. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Misty.” I was trying to get my ear used to the harmony while playing with different chords/melody in front of me, since I normally play it on Bb, not Eb, saxes. 
    • “Early Autumn.” Not a tune on my list, but one I’ve worked on in the past. I just felt like playing it a little. 

Problem areas:

  • Air. My biggest problem area is a lack of air. My flute is an old $50 job from Nakwon Sanga, but I feel like I should be able to get the low C and C# to speak a little better than I can. I also struggle to support the bottom end of the bari. I’m hoping this is something I’ll develop again. I wish I felt comfortable going to swim, I think it would help accelerate my (re)gaining of this capacity. 
  • Airy A. The middle A on my bari is still airy. I’ve read it could be an issue with the octave key placement. There’s a pantyhose trick I need to try… once I can get my hands on some. (My wife doesn’t use them, so I’ll have to buy some.)
  • Finger/hand precision. I’m a bit sloppy with palm/pinky keys, but that’ll improve with practice. More of a concern is the fact I’m struggling to avoid bumping the palm/side keys on my bari. I only have this problem with bari, but on the bright side I’m still struggling with the Vibrato Sax Partner harness, which I don’t completely trust. I’m hoping the ErgoSax will help resolve this issue, plus some practice to get used to using a slightly different hand position. (I find I need to curve my fingers more to avoid the palm keys.) It should arrive this week or next at the latest. 
  • Explicit chord memorization. With “Misty,” I can play the thing unaccompanied and imply the harmony for most of it, but I have a hard time calling up the chord names from memory. I don’t know if this is a “didn’t try hard enough” thing, or is a “my brain” thing, or a “well, normally people don’t” thing. Listening to people like Chris Potter and Joe Lovano, I feel like people do memorize the chords explicitly, because they sure outline them, but I’ve never asked anyone if this is how most people do it. Now I’m curious and I think I’ll ask around. 

Weird Observation:

  • Bari Altissimo G. On my bari, I finger altissimo G (the lowest altissimo G, that is) as front B, G#, side Bb, side high F# and the octave key… but I discovered that it pops out more reliably and stronger without the octave key. Huh? No idea if this ties to my reed issues or is some quirk of the overtones. 
  • Flute 3rd Octave Craziness: I thought the weird fingerings I’ve seen for the flute’s third octave had something to do with harmonics, but Bret Pimentel clarifies that all the weird fingerings are actually about venting. (Sort of like how an octave key on a sax is a vent.) I wonder if this also helps to explain the craziness of sax altissimo fingerings?  

Monday

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. I practiced on tenor and then alto after the mouthpiece patch unceremoniously slipped off the tenor Theo Wanne I’ve been playing on. I didn’t feel like bringing the baritone sax today, it’s a beast to haul around. 

Tenor:

  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian in 5ths, ascending and descending chromatically. I slowed down and played the hard bits—palm and pinky keys, and side Bb/A# 
  • Patterns: I repeated this pattern in all 12 keys, ascending diatonically, chromatically, and in whole tone scales.I’m keeping it simple for now, but I can see how coming up with patterns that would work on, say, a ii-V7-I would be helpful over the long run, just for vocabulary expansion. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Lonnie’s Lament” (quick run through, testing out some ideas for an arrangement I’m considering)
    • “Misty” (a more dedicated run-through). 

Alto: 

  • Long Tones: Starting on middle G and transitioning down chromatically from G, then up from G, <>. I did this with a tuner, and noticed some of the high palm key notes are a bit sharp, but everything else was good or easy to pull into tune. Loosening my embouchure helped a bit with the palm key notes, but not enough to fix the issue. I have some reading up to do on that, I think, and need to spend more time with the horn. 
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode in 4ths, ascending and descending chromatically and in whole tones. 
  • Tunes: “Misty.”

Problems Areas:

  • My tone on alto sounds a bit too “classical” for my taste. I’m playing on a Phil Barone New York piece (i.e. a Meyer-style mouthpiece) so I’m guessing it’s my tone conception and voicing that’s the main issue. Maybe moving to a slightly softer reed might help, too, because I’m having trouble pushing the sound without also blasting. I also suspect some overtone/voicing study will help with this.  
  • Chord memorization continues to be a challenge. I can play the changes, but I cannot consciously recall most of them by chord name, and I’m starting to wonder whether that’s necessary or even something people consciously do when playing. I’ll have to ask around, maybe this is one of those metaphor things people use when speaking about the process but don’t literally do? Or maybe it’s an aphantastic brain issue—though I don’t think so, given that I can consciously recall (and recognize by ear) the chord progression of a blues. 
  • Low C warble (alto). I still have one on alto. Maybe it’s not just my tuning, but a leak. I’ll have to get it looked at sometime. There’s some airiness in the high A, too. 
  • Mouthpiece patches. I need to pick some up! 

Tuesday

I did my usual two-ish hours today, on soprano and then alto. 

Soprano:

  • Long Tones: Starting on middle G and transitioning down chromatically from G, then up from G, <>. Since I used a tuner, I was focused on maintaining tuning across dynamic shifts. It was tough. I definitely need a softer reed to match this Theo Wanne mouthpiece. 
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian in 4ths up and down chromatically. 
  • Tunes: “Misty” and only “Misty”—just to test myself about whether I’ve really got it. 

Alto: 

  • Long Tones: Middle G to every other note: middle G to middle F#, middle G to F, etc. Then up, the same deal. <> With a tuner. Much better than on soprano. 
  • Scales/Modes: Lydian Dominants (#4, b7) stepwise, advancing around the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: This little pattern I once grabbed from a Branford Marsalis solo a while back, played in all twelve keys cycling chromatically, then progressing by whole tones, then through the circle of fifths:
  • Tunes: “Misty” and “Oleo”—which I have never practiced on alto or bari, so the chords were a little unfamiliar and I needed the lead sheet at first. 

Notes:

  • Repairs & Supplies: Both the soprano and alto needed some repairs, but I don’t have the money for both, and the alto was in better shape so I got it looked at, while picking up softer reeds, mouthpiece patches, cleaning swabs, and the like. The repairman reseated a few keys and made a few adjustments, and the warble was gone. 
  • Chops: The soprano requires a lot better embouchure and breath control than I have for long at one time, but I love the sound I’m getting with the Theo Wanne piece. 
  • Piece: I’m not totally convinced with this Phil Barone New York piece I’ve got. Maybe a slightly softer reed will change my mind, but overall I’m not getting as much bite and power as I’d like.  That said, it’s that or the Selmer classical piece that came with the horn, so I’m going to make do with it for now and see if I grow into it. 
  • Adventures in Second-Hand Horn Ownership: I was half-convinced the neck of my Jupiter alto was a fake Selmer, but the tech who worked on my horn thinks it’s real. Huh! He also observed that the silver on the horn needs a polish, which is fair. I’ve been busy, what can I say?
  • Aphant Harmony: I started a discussion about aphantasia and chord progression memorization on Saxontheweb. Turns out that yeah, at least some horn players who aren’t aphantastic (if not most of them?) also go by a sort of autopilot/feel for their sense of tunes’ chord progressions rather than explicit visualized memorization or anything like that, which is reassuring. 

Transcriptions:

  • I’m now working on a transcription of Sam Gendel’s solo on this video. It’s in the early stages, but I’ll share it when it’s done.  (I got about a third of the way through in one sitting, notating it by ear directly into Musescore.)

Wednesday

Alto/soprano day again, because I wanted to try the repaired alto and the 2½ reeds I got both both horns. I started with alto, but should have started with soprano; when I eventually switched horns, my chops were too blown to play soprano as well as I otherwise could have. 

Alto:

  • Long Tones: Jumps from G to a chromatic series, first descending and then ascending, <>. With a tuner. Surprisingly good tuning except for a few notes, which I tried to adjust with voicing and tongue position instead of adjusting my jaw. 
  • Scales/Modes: Lydian mode in ascending/descending 3rds. I wanted to review and take it a bit easy, as well as practice some trouble spots in the palm and pinky keys. (I repeated those till I could play them with 80% of the facility of the rest of the scale, and hope to get it to 100% this week.)
  • Patterns: I realized on the spot I hadn’t prepared a pattern, so I made this one up:I practiced it the usual way: in all twelve keys and all registers, first chromatically ascending, then cycling through the circle of fifths, and finally cycling through the pitches of both whole tone scales, just as Michael Brecker described doing with patterns. 
  • Tunes: “Up Jumped Spring.” Wow is it weird playing this on alto. Shifting from Bb to Eb is a trip. I practiced the head, then did voice-leading-focused chord arpeggio patterns, then tried to improvise over the changes.   

Soprano: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps from G to a chromatic series, first descending and then ascending, <>. Everything sounds great till about low C and about high E, then it gets rough, but I was able to get all the way to altissimo G in the end. The tuning was… not great, but not too bad overall. Still working out the optimal spot for the mouthpiece.  
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode scales in 2nds, chromatically ascending from low Bb.  
  • Tunes: “Up Jumped Spring”— same practice approach as on alto, but with more emphasis on the arpeggiated chord voice-leading exercise.  

Notes: 

  • The bottom end. It’s still a bit wonky on both horns, which suggests maybe my air support and embouchure could do with some work. But the repairs helped a lot. 
  • Scales: I think it’s time to move beyond only doing chromatically ascending scales. Maybe cycling through the circle of fifths and along whole tone scales might be a good way to mix it up.  
  • Reeds: Having checked the Van Doren reed comparison chart:… I am slightly surprised that a 2½ Java Green is around a strength of 2 in the standard blue box reeds, but having tried a Java Green 3 on my alto and a blue box 3 on my soprano (and finding them working fine on the more trad mouthpieces I have on hand) I was much happier with the tone I got out of the 2½ Java Greens. The soprano sounds like a saxophone now, and the alto has just a little more bite and wail, though still not as much as I’d like. I think overtone and voicing exercises will help with that. I foresee too many long tones in my future. I guess as far as strength goes, it’s just a case of needing a softer read to cope with a much more open facing and chamber on my jazz mouthpieces. (At least for now. Who knows whether that’ll change as I regain my chops?)

Thursday

I was running late and it was one of those days where the reeds don’t cooperate, nothing feels right, and you do it all anyway. 

Soprano: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps from G to a chromatic series, first descending and then ascending, <>. Everything sounds great till about low C and about high E, then it gets rough, but I was able to get all the way to altissimo G in the end. The tuning was… not great, but not too bad overall. Still working out the optimal spot for the mouthpiece.
  • Scales/Modes: 123-234-345 (etc) pattern—what’s that called again?—on all Lydian b7 modes, ascending/descending, progressing chromatically up from low Bb. 
  • Patterns: Nothing today, on either horn. I spent this time fighting, adjusting, and sanding reeds (for both horns) instead. 
  • Tunes: “Misty” got an intensive workout. 

Tenor: 

  • Scales: major scales up and down the instrument, progressing chromatically up from low Bb
  • Tunes: “Up Jumped Spring” and “Misty” (without lead sheet for the latter)

After that, I was out of time, and packed up to go. 

Transcription:

  • I’m back to my transcription of Sam Gendel’s solo on “Lonnie’s Lament.” It’s now about 3/4ths done, with about ten measures left to go. They’re the toughest ten measures, but still, I’m pleased. Youtube’s reduced speed settings help a lot. 
  • I’m still casting about for a version of “Misty” to transcribe, but I might just skip ahead and transcribe the Wayne Shorter solo on “Up Jumped Spring” (the original version of the tune on Art Blakey’s Three Blind Mice) instead, as that’s the main tune I’m actively working on now. It’s a challenging solo, but I think it’s only two choruses, so maybe I can hack it—though I might need to pick up Transcribe to pull it off, because some of those runs are intimidating!  

Notes: 

  • Reed Toss: I have some reed maintenance (i.e. junking old, stuffy reeds) to do sometime soon.  By which I mean junking stuffy old blown out reeds instead of hanging onto them for dear life, a habit I developed in Vietnam when getting nice reeds was difficult. 
  • Transcription Challenges: I expected transcribing to be good for my ears, but I didn’t realize what it would do for my rhythmic sensibility. I’ve picked up some interesting tricks already from this Sam Gendel solo. I’m also amazed to see how much simpler it is than it seems—but that doesn’t diminish its beauty at all. One very interesting thing I noticed but didn’t think about earlier is how Fabiano do Nascimento’s solo in the middle features a loop pedal. It seems like it’s just a vamp on the first four measures of the tune, where he builds up loops on top of one another—but when he ends the loop, they go to the four-bar bridge. I don’t plan on transcribing the ending, just the main solo for now, but I’m tempted, because Gendel burns on those 16 measures or so. (So much so that he almost fails to stop at the end.)
  • Food: I’ve been listening to some of Food’s stuff lately—that’s the loop/fusion project with Thomas Strønen on drums and Ian Ballamy on woodwinds—and it has me excited about learning to use my looper pedal. They do interesting things with live looping in an ensemble of the sort I’ve kind of been inching my way toward wanting to do, so it’s a bit like hearing something I’ve been kind of imagining already. This is a pretty representative track:

 


Friday

I was running late, so I only did 90 minutes today, all on alto. (I had my tenor on hand, but I had enough work to do on alto that I just stuck with it.) 

  • Long Tones: Well, I did them. I was struggling (see the note Ligawhat? below), but I did them. Circle of fifths, <>. I wasn’t happy with them. 
  • Scales/Modes: Lydian b7, up and down the full range, progressing chromatically. 
  • Patterns: I had this little pattern in my head, so I tried it in the usual way— in all 12 keys chromatically, along the circle of 5ths, and along a whole tone scale: This pattern is definitely tied to my studying “Up Jumped Spring” right now—the little chromatic shifting part in bars 9-12 specifically—but mainly I came up with it to practice a little chromatic pattern that didn’t come easily to me. Transposing it on the spot to all twelve keys was quite challenging, though it got a bit easier. This is the first pattern I feel like I’ll have to revisit in order to really get it under my fingers. 
  • Tunes:
    • I tried “Misty” out and while I’m pretty comfortable playing it without a lead sheet on tenor, on alto I missed some important chord tones. Probably it wouldn’t be so bad if I were playing with accompaniment, but alone, I could have done better. I ran the changes with scale and arpeggio patterns. 
    • “Up Jumped Spring”: I tried the changes out, ran them with scale patterns and arpeggiated 7th chords (with a focus on smooth voice leading), and improvised over the head a few times. Finally got out a couple of choruses that I really liked. But it’s not a song I’m particularly trying to learn on alto. 

Notes:

  • Ligawhat? I was struggling to get the notes on the top and the bottom end out most of the session. Then, at the end, I noticed a spare ligature that the guy who sold me the saxophone had thrown in for free. I’m not sure the brand—it’s clearly of Korean make, though, heavily engraved, built tough and heavy, and marked with text too tiny for me to read. Anyway, I tried that ligature and everything suddenly was working perfectly. It’s weird: I had never believed ligatures were that important, but I guess this one made the difference. Or, maybe, the stock ligature I was using was just cheap enough to have a negative effect? I’m not sure. I’ll have to try figure out the brand on this lig, I guess. It also makes me thin that the sooner I can 
  • ErgoSax Wait: Korean customs office holdup on my ErgoSax support, but I hope to receive it soon. (UPS needs me to pay some customs charges, and of course the Korean version of the payment site can’t process my card because I’m a foreigner and that would be too much to ask for some reason. Sigh.1) Pretty much anything you order to Korea with expedited shipping takes two weeks: the extra week and a half is dealing with broken, stupid websites and the customs office processing literally every package that comes across the border. But I should have this by sometime on the 20th. 

Listening

I’ve been checking out versions of “Up Jumped Spring” for obvious reasons. This is the original one, recorded by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1962:

The prospect of transcribing that Wayne Shorter solo scares me, to be honest. 


Saturday

Due to my Saturday morning game session and a book club meeting in the wee hours of the night, I practiced in the late evening for about an hour and forty minutes, tenor only. Also, an alarm kept going off in the practice room, so I spent some of that time working and trying all the reeds in my reed case, so maybe it was only an hour and twenty minutes of focused playing time. On the bright side, at least parking was only mostly horrible, and not downright nightmarish, when I got home. 

  • Long Tones: I tried something new: leaps between octaves and pitches along the circle of fifths. I did all the combinations possible for each pair of notes (high C and low F, low C and high F, middle F and high C, middle F and low C, etc.) before progressing to the next step along the circle of fifths. 
  • Scales/Modes: Lydian b7 in thirds, progressing along the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: What do we say to the god of patterns? NOT TODAY. I was simply too tired and and a bit wiped after the stuff with the alarm. 
  • Tunes: 
    • “Misty” (no lead sheet). Not bad. With accompaniment, I’d have been solid. Alone, I burbled a few changes but mostly it was pretty good. 
    • “Up Jumped Spring.” I did this intensively, for at least 40 minutes, with and without lead sheet. Truth is, I still don’t quite have it without. It’s frustrating, because I knew this tune once, decades ago. Use it or lose it, I guess. 
    • “Straight, No Chaser.” I tried this at the end of the session, and you know you’re tired when a simple blues is beyond you. 

Transcription: I’m done with that Sam Gendel transcription, except ties and dynamic and expression markings. I think. There’s like 2 measures I can’t stop thinking are somehow off, despite going through them with a fine-toothed comb with the track slowed down to 50% speed. I may run it by someone if I can find someone willing to correct me on errors. 


Summary & Progress

I’m pretty happy with how things are coming along. I may have to scale back on the “tune a week” plan—one every couple of weeks seems maybe more realistic. Or maybe I’ll have to double down and work on a couple at a time. I pretty much have “Misty” and “Lonnie’s Lament”; “Up Jumped Spring” is coming along but I won’t truly have it till sometime next week at the soonest. And I’m not sure what’s next, or what I’ll start working on from tomorrow. 

I am looking forward to practicing bari; I basically decided not to do it awkwardly when I can just wait a few days and practice more comfortably with the ErgoSax when it arrives. 

I have some reed work to do: I have at least three tenor reeds that could use sanding, and my box of bari reeds is all too hard, so I’ll likely be working on those too, so as not to waste them. A reedgeek would be nice, but I’m making due with my reed knife for now. 

That Sam Gendel transcription is something I need to sit and practice: I transcribed it by ear into Musescore, but part of the benefit is supposedly playing a piece one has transcribed, and I don’t want to miss out on that. I think my next transcription might be of this:

Dexter Gordon is usually pretty straightforward and, so they say, a good place to start with transcribing, and this track is quite lovely. 

Series NavigationPractice Log: 4–10 February 2024 (Sunday–Saturday) >>

  1. Actually, it turns out they sent me a payment request early; I tried to submit payment, but they hadn’t paid the customs office so my payment was blocked. Yes, they asked me to pay for something, and then when I contacted them, they told me, “DO NOT PAY THAT NOW.” Eye roll.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *