Practice Log: 18–24 February 2024 (Sunday–Saturday)

This entry is part 4 of 4 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 continuing my work on “Up Jumped Spring,” and casting about regarding what I’ll transcribe next. Maybe that Dexter Gordon solo on “Misty” I mentioned last time, but I’m not sure. I’m taking a little break for now, or rather, I’m focusing on preparing for the coming semester this week, since classes start on the 4th of March and I’d rather not be in a mad rush when the time comes. (I dread how much less practice I’ll be able to do when school starts, sigh. If only there were practice rooms on campus, I could get something done during my downtime between classes.)

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

Preamble

This week was pretty normal. Just regular daily practice, with the complication that the weekend had a few activities I had to schedule around, and a game session Tuesday morning. 


Sunday

I did two hours in the afternoon. Because I was already pretty tired by the start of my practice session, but also because it needed doing, I decided to spend some time at the start of this session going through my soprano sax reeds and sorting them out. I worked on the reeds that needed it and happily didn’t need to get rid of any, though the 3-strength reeds are slightly hard for my mouthpiece.  

Soprano Sax: 

  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring.” A longer workout on it. I started with this, as I felt like it. 
    • “St. Thomas.” While working on reeds. 
  • Long Tones: I did up and down jumps along the circle of fifths, <, as seamlessly as I could. It’s a challenge!
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales in thirds, cycling through the circle of fifths. 

Tenor Sax:

  • Long Tones: Same as before: I did up and down jumps along the circle of fifths, <, as seamlessly as I could. It was much easier on tenor than on soprano. 
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales in thirds, cycling through the circle of fifths, same as before. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Misty.” Just a quick run-through. 
    • “Up Jumped Spring.” with and without lead sheet, but I’m still not totally happy with my memory of the changes. 

Problem areas:

  • Endurance. Everything was fine except I was tired.  
  • Soprano Reed Sealing: I was taught that saliva on the table of the mouthpiece when you remove a reed is a bad sign. I wasn’t super careful about it, but I saw that pretty consistently. I think it’s just sliding down when I remove the reeds, but I’m not sure. I need to try remove a reed after playing with a little more caution to be sure. 

Monday

I focused on just alto today. (I had my tenor with me, but didn’t bust it out.)

Alto: 

  • Long Tones: Falls and jumps following the  
  • Scales/Modes: I was tired and so I cheated a little: I did whole tone scales and octatonic scales. There’s only two of the former and six of the latter, so I mixed it up by doing them all in thirds. 
  • Patterns: I did one, but I forgot to write it out and now it’s gone. Ooops.  
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (a workout)
    • “Misty” (a run-through to see how much I retained of it in the usual key it’s played in for Eb saxes).

Problem Areas:

  • Stamina. My embouchure is getting pretty tired out at this point. 
  • Breath support. This is something I’m regaining ability to do well slowly; it’s coming back, but not as quickly as I’d like. 

Tuesday

I received my ErgoSax stand! It’s great. So I practiced baritone sax and only bari sax, even though my reeds are way too strong for the mouthpiece I have. I’ve ordered a sampler pack of 2.5 Van Doren reeds of different sub-brands but I’m wondering if even that will turn out to be too hard. I’m also wondering whether I’ll get on with the Theo Wanne piece. I like the Wannes I have for my soprano and tenor, but it might be that with an 8* I went with a too-open facing? I’m not sure. I’m not throwing in the towel yet, though.  

I mostly just did 

Baritone:

  • Long Tones: I did them chromatically descending and ascending from G, if you could call them “long” tones. This horn requires a lot of air, is all I’m gonna say. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (a long workout)
    • “Misty” (run-through)
    • “St. Thomas” (trying to firm up my grasp of the changes as they’re played on bari sax.. which entails two more sharps, damn it!)
  •  

Problem Areas:

  • Reeds. Bari reeds are hard to come by in South Korea, and I mistakenly assumed Van Doren Java Green 3s would work well for me. They’re way too hard for my mouthpiece, so I had to sand and work them. Getting the horn into a better playing position (with the ErgoSax) helped, but I’m still not able to put enough air through the horn to hold long tones, and sometimes I overpower the reeds too easily.
  • Mouth Position. I’m trying to take more of the mouthpiece, the way I learned to do on tenor, but it’s having not so great results on the bari, too.  
  • Stamina. You can see that I skipped scales and patterns today. The honest truth is, I wanted to give the horn a proper try, and also felt like having a little fun with it. It was a late-evening practice session so I just went with that. I can return to scales and long tones and patterns tomorrow. 

Wednesday

I did a little under two hours, exclusively on the bari sax. Trying to get adjusted to it, now that I finally have the ErgoSax stand (hooray). 

Bari Sax:

  • Long Tones: jumps from G down to the bottom and up to the top, progressing chromatically, <. I wanted to do <> but I still don’t have enough air to do it in a way that makes it worthwhile. 
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales, full range, progressing along the circle of 4ths. 
  • Patterns: I made up this (very simple, obvious) pattern, with chromatic back-and-forth passages like the one in bars 9–12 of “Up Jumped Spring” in mind: Repeated in the usual way: chromatically, circle of fifths, and along a whole-tone scale, but also did permutations on it, aiming to land at different chord tones.
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring”
    • “St. Thomas”
    • “There Will Never Be Another You” (a walk down memory lane, that one)
    • “Dienda”—an obscure Kenny Kirkland tune from the Branford Marsalis album Royal Garden Blues, one of the first jazz LPs I owned as a teenager.  The changes defeated me, I’ll admit—I’ll need to sit down and look at them with a piano or something—but I’ll come back to it. The melody is so beautiful, and I think it’s just as lovely on bari as it is on soprano in the original. 

Problem Areas:

  • Reeds. Still an issue, though with some work I got the Van Doren Java Green 3s softened up a bit and they’re sort of okay. Slightly softer reeds are on the way, though, and I’m eager to give them a try. I’m a little curious about what the previous owner of my mouthpiece used. Also, I’ve been trying to take more mouthpiece, but somehow that’s not helping the way it should—I just end up overpowering the reeds somehow. I’ve emailed the original owner of the mouthpiece to see if they’ll have anything to tell me about what they used with it. I’m gonna give it some time before I start thinking about other mouthpieces. (Though the Van Doren V16 and the 10mfan Infusion both will be on my mind if it comes to that, as they both have a lot of great reviews about ease of use.)
  • Air. I hope it warms up soon. Cycling will help me start to rebuild my lung capacity for the air I need for this big horn. 
  • Positioning: I’m still working out the best position for playing with the ErgoSax, though I’m at the point where it’s more about fine-tuning it now. Switching from seated to standing quickly is a pain, but otherwise it’s quite comfortable to use now, and getting more so all the time. 

Thursday

I was running late but I still managed to get about an hour and a half in. 

Soprano:

  • Long Tones: Jumps from G descending chromatically, then ascending chromatically, all fff. Trying to build up the breath support and the tone at loud volumes on the soprano.  
  • Scales/Modes: Simple major scales, 1234-3456-6789-etc. all the way up and down the horn, progressing chromatically. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring.” I still don’t have the changes solid without some kind of accompaniment, but I’m getting there. 

Bari Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Ha, they’re not very long. Just chromatic long tones progressing down and up from G. (Not jumps.)
  • Scales/Modes: Simple major scales, 1234-3456-6789-etc. all the way up and down the horn, progressing chromatically. 
  • Patterns:  I did came up with this pattern, which has obvious utility for the tune I’m working on: I just did these chromatically up and down the bari, no whole tone or circle of fifths. It’s a challenging pattern to transpose, for me, so I’ll come back to it for that treatment. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring.” A bit further behind internalizing the changes for Eb Bari sax. Trying not to think of it that way, actually—just to feel the changes and “hear” (without hearing it, yay aphantasic brain) what should be played on them and do that. Heavy ear training exercise. 

Problem Areas:

  • Tone and Breath Support. Playing soprano, it’s very evident where my breath support is flagging. The tuning on high notes, the ability to get the highest ones to speak, and the blattiness of the lowest notes, all speak to that issue. I’m working on it. I am loving the more “jazz saxophone” tone I get from the Theo Wanne piece, though. It’s a more welcoming tone than the reedy oboe-ish sound I get on my Selmer mouthpieces. (Heresy, I know; lots of people want that Coltrane reedy oboe sound, but I want something else.)
  • The Usual for Bari. My reeds behaved a little more today, but on top of being a touch too hard (still, after lots of work on them), I’m having trouble keeping them wet while playing. And that’s after a 40 minute soak. I may have to go for plasticover type reeds or something. I hear Legere are pretty good for bari. I just need to have a decent idea what strength will work for me, which I hope I’ll know after receiving that Van Doren sample pack of 2.5 reeds. (It’s on the way, but from the U.S., so I expect it’ll be a week or so till I get to try it. 

Friday

I was running late, so it was just 90 minutes today, mostly bari and a little on tenor in the session’s last thirty-five minutes or so. 

Bari:

  • Scales/Modes: Major scales, full range up and down, around the circle of fifths.  
  • Long Tones: Falls and jumps up between fifths, going around the circle of fifths, sustained at pp. Working on consistent breath control and tone at low volumes. Quite a challenge, and for some specific jumps and leaps it was impossible till I remembered to clear the spit valve. More about which see below.)
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring”: an intensive workout with playalong track in headphones, without, and with and without lead sheet. A few of the interior changes still fly past. (I mean changes interior to each 4 bar chunk.) I think harmonic analysis would be a good idea. That said, I’m less familiar with this tune on bari/alto, and know it better on tenor/soprano, and the whole transposition thing is part of what’s tripping me up.  

Tenor:  

  • Scales/Modes: Major scales, full range, around the circle of fifths.  
  • Tunes: 
    • “Up Jumped Spring”: ha, my brain was like, wait, so… not in the same key you’ve been playing it all day? Er, okay, but you can improvise in that key, ri—… no? Damn it.

Observations:

  • Spit Valve. The bari having a spit valve is something I forget about. Huh, why is response weird now… oh, right. (Clicks spit valve, and 30ml of condensation spews out.)
  • The Low End Needs Work. Even slowing down and focusing on them with repetition, my thumb (for the low A key) and left pinky are only slowly adapting to the bari. I’m not sure if the action is normal and I’m just adjusting, or if it’s a little tight, but getting patterns through cleanly is a challenge. 
  • Come On, Reeds! I’ve sanded and scraped down a couple of my 3-strength reeds to the point where I can use them, but the honest truth is I can’t wait for the 2½-strength ones to arrive. I am expecting it will help clear up some fuzziness around the low G-Ab-A and the upper-octave Ab-A. Sadly, the reeds are still sitting in a box at the LAX (the airport in L.A.), so it’ll be a while yet. 
  • No Patterns. I skipped this today, as I was short of time. However, I really want to get back to yesterday’s pattern. 
  • Play-Along. It’s not optimal, but with earbuds I can still hear myself well enough to play along with a play-along track. I don’t expect to lean on them all the time—they can be a crutch—but I do find they mix things up a little bit, and keep practice interesting. What’s nuts is that now you can find play-along tracks for almost any song on Youtube. It’s been a long time since the days when I played along with Jamey Aebersold LPs.   

Saturday

I did a couple of hours, split evenly between soprano and baritone saxes, while my son was maybe 50 paces away at the LEGO/boardgame cafe where he plays board games and does LEGO builds on Saturday mornings. I’ll miss the two-horn sessions when classes start and I’m shorter on time, as I expect I’ll have to (for convenience and time’s sake) switch to one horn per session. 

Soprano:

  • Long Tones: Around the circle of fifths. 
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales, first straight and then in 4ths, around the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (heavy workout)

Baritone: 

  • Long Tones: falls from G down chromatically to low A, then jumps from G up chromatically progressing to first altissimo G.  
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales, first straight and then in 4ths, around the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns:  I meant to do this one:However, I ended up doing a variation: I did this chromatically and around the circle of fifths. Skipped the whole tone progression as I was short on time, but I’ll get it next time. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (another heavy workout)

Problem Areas:

  • Waiting for Reedo. No glamorous way to put it. The 3s I’ve heavily sanded are…okay. But I’m dying to see what a proper strength reed sounds like with this horn and mouthpiece. Still struggling with keeping bari reeds wet while playing, even after a one-hour soak.   
  • Tone, Man. I love the fat, brassy sound I’m getting with the soprano at higher volumes, now that I have the right strength of reed. It’s a nice tone at low volumes, but I want to get it a little more under control. 

Summary & Progress

Overall I’m happy with:

  • My soprano tone and setup. 
  • “Up Jumped Spring,” which I feel like I mostly have on soprano and tenor, at least. 
  • My ErgoSax support for baritone sax, which is helping immensely in getting me to play it more often. 
  • Finishing that transcription of Sam Gendel earlier this week felt like an achievement, but I’ve been busy with semester prep so I haven’t started a new one.

Things I need to do:

  • Get back to transcribing, of course. Something a bit easier this time, I think. 
  • Get a padded cover made for the ErgoSax support. I’m using a black bell bag from my tenor case for now to cover the support, but padding would made me a lot more comfortable. I don’t have a sewing machine, so I guess I should find someone who can make one for me for a reasonable price. In Bucheon, the laundry shop lady would have done it, but here in Sejong City, I’m not sure where to start. Maybe there’s a makerspace I could use a machine at, which would be fine with me.  
  • Get a harness for the bari. Even with the ErgoSax, a harness helps a little with positioning and with feeling secure. The one I’m using now, from my Vibes Sax Partner practice mute, is too flimsy but a proper light harness will work wonders, especially since it needn’t bear any weight. 
  • More long tones on the bari and alto. The tone I want is still quite far off. I have a sense of it in there, in the rough, but it’s going to take work to get it, even once I’m happy with my setup. My bari tone is still a bit bassoony and airy for my taste, where I want a more punchy, centered sound. With alto, I somehow produce a more “classical” tone even with my Barone NY (which is supposed to be like a Meyer) and an appropriate reed. I think it’s mostly on me in both cases, and I think especially with alto I may be just defaulting to years of trying to make a classical alto tone to keep my prof(s) happy. Unlearning can be as hard as learning anew, or harder. But it could also be my perception of what the alto sounds like from behind the horn, so I also need to start recording myself playing more. 
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