Practice Log: 25 February–2 March 2024 (Sunday–Saturday)

This entry is part 5 of 5 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 finishing up work on “Up Jumped Spring” (especially on Eb horns, where I feel a little weaker on it) 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, if a bit hectic. 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. I tried to get as much done as I could, knowing that practice time will be less available during the semester that starts on 4 March.  


Sunday

I did an hour and fifty minutes. No patterns, and no long tones on bari (I was fighting with a squeaky reed and it felt pointless)—but I still struggled to get everything else in. 

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Ascending and descending leaps along the circle of fifths, mp with steady dynamics and tone as much as possible. 
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian in 2nds and 4ths, following the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (with and without leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no leadsheet)

Bari Sax:

  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian in 4ths.  
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood.” (with leadsheet) 
    • “Misty.” With leadsheet; I struggled with it, so, yeah, I don’t know on bari/alto, just on tenor/soprano. Part of me thinks I should learn it in all twelve keys just to hammer it home. Another part of me thinks I’ll forever be confused what key it’s actually in if I do that. (And if there are tunes one should learn in all 12 keys, I’m not sure this is one of them.) 

Problem areas:

  • Squeaaaaak. More struggles with the bari reeds. Even after an hour of soaking, they start to dry out when I play on them. 
  • What Key Is This In Again? I could not play “Misty” by ear on bari. Not sure why, usually I can, but I was just lost. 
  • Alto Warble. The warble on low C/C# is back. Pulling out the mouthpiece helped. I think I need to work up some more reeds. I also need a couple more reed cases. I have a tenor and a soprano one, but the tenor is doing triple duty with alto and bari reeds. (I added the bari ones today, hoping the little humidity control the case achieves will help moderate their drying out a bit.)
  • Gig Bag? I need some kind of more reasonable case for my bari sax. This coffin case is nuts. Unfortunately, the best option would run me 1.5 million won (around $1400), so… I’ll have to wait on that. 

Monday

I did an hour and forty minutes on soprano and tenor. 

Soprano Sax: 

  • Long Tones: mp chromatic scale, from G down and then from G up. No <>, maintaining a strict tone. 
  • Patterns: I practiced this one—specifically useful for chromatically shifting minor chords—around the circle of fifths and chromatically. I didn’t do whole tones yet, but I will next time; it was tough enough getting my hands around this pattern in all twelve keys. 
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales around the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring”: without leadsheet, with a playalong track. Played a few choruses I’d have been happy to play in a live performance, though I’m still slightly shaky on the second half of the bridge.  

Tenor Sax:

  • Long Tones: Jumps and falls around the circle of fifths. 
  • Scales/Modes: Lydian modes around the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: Same pattern as above. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring.” This was stronger still than the soprano improvisations, and again I’d have been happy to have played them in a live performance despite occasional blemishes. 

Problem areas:

  • Screw Loose. The post for the high F# on my soprano was loose and the high F# key wasn’t opening properly. It was terribly flat, which clued me in. I’ve fixed it, though the key seems to still be slightly loose. 
  • Scales Expansion. I need to stop leaning on scales I mostly can play deftly and start working on the same scales in 6ths and 7ths, as well as other scales and modes. 
  • Reed Break-In. On soprano, I was breaking in a new reed and it was quite a challenge to get the bottom and top notes out. Surely I don’t need to move to a 2-strength Java Green, do I? I miss the days when I used to be able to grab a new reed, soak it for a minute, and just play

Tuesday

I went on a bike ride today, my first in some time, so I was pretty wiped out. I made today a light day for practicing, as a result. 90 minutes on soprano and alto, only tunes with play-along tracks. 

Soprano Sax: 

  • Tunes:
    • “St. Thomas” (no leadsheet, serious workout)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no leadsheet, serious workout)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (with and without leadsheet; a few times through it)

Alto Sax:

  • Tunes:
    • “Misty.” (no leadsheet, once through)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood.” (with leadsheet, serious workout)

Problem areas:

  • Changes, Changes. I botched them occasionally, though not too often, on the tunes I played without leadsheets. That’s about it for today. 

Wednesday

I did about 80 minutes on tenor alone. I was running late and the room was booked after my time. 

Tenor Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Falls and jumps from middle G, p < mf > ppp, maintaining tone and tuning. 
  • Patterns: Came up with a new pattern that’s a variation on the last one, but outlining a half-step shift up (like in “Up Jumped Spring”). I practiced this chromatically; I’ll come back to it for whole tone and circle of fifths, I was just working out the pattern in all twelve keys and all registers today. 
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales up and down progressing chromatically; dominant arpeggiated 7th chords round the circle of fifths.
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no leadsheet, multiple times with and without play-along track: a workout)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no leadsheet, multiple times with and without play-along track: a workout)
    • “St. Thomas” (no leadsheet, fast play-along) 

Problem areas:

  • Odd Changes. I have all these tunes mostly down. It’s just a few pesky chord changes I miss on some choruses, though I play across them passably, I sometimes forget which chord tones I should be highlighting. 

Thursday

The hunt for a parking space shortened my practice time to about an hour and a half, mostly on alto but a bit on bari. 

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps and falls from G, progressing chromatically, mp<mf>mp. Focus on both tone and tuning.  
  • Patterns: Same as yesterday, around the circle of fifths. I will do a whole tone scale progression on it tomorrow. 
  • Scales/Modes:
    • Both forms of octatonic scales, up and down, starting on each note progressing chromatically.  
    • Major scales in 6ths, progressing around the circle of fifths. 
    • Arpeggiated dominant 7th chords around the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring”
    • “In a Sentimental Mood”

Bari Sax:

  • Long Tones: Jumps and falls from G, progressing chromatically, mp<mf>mp. Focus on both tone and tuning.   
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring”
    • “In a Sentimental Mood”

Problem areas:

  • Regret? I’ve been wiped out all week but I still feel bad for not doing my full reserved time. I could have had two hours in the room, but lost half an hour to lateness and the lack of a parking spot. Damn damn damn. The owner of the practice space told me the empty lot next door will be a parkade by summertime, so that’s something at least. 
  • Tone. I was very happy with my tone on bari today, but I’m still a bit dubious about the tone I’m getting on alto. I’m sorely tempted to pick up a Theo Wanne mouthpiece for it, especially the (probably inappropriate to my needs) Fire mouthpiece. I can see myself playing funk and fusion on alto way more than straight-ahead jazz, though, and I like the sound of the Fire in videos I’ve listened to. And I got a discount offer on eBay for one, too. Hmmm.  GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) strikes. But it’s reasonable, the alto is the one horn that still sounds too “classical” to me even with softer reeds. 

Friday

I did two hours, one on soprano and one on baritone, and believe me, my face can feel it now. 

Soprano: 

  • Long Tones: Up and down from middle G, progressing chromatically, focus on pp<mf>pp and solid tone/tuning. 
  • Scales/Modes: Octatonic scales in all starting positions; Major scales in all keys: full range of the instrument.   
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no leadsheet)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no leadsheet)

Bari Sax:

  • Long Tones: Jumps and falls across the full range of the instrument, progressing around the circle of fifths.   
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode in all 12 keys. 
  • Patterns: Another variation of a recent pattern: I did this in all keys, progressing chromatically and through the circle of fifths.  I like how it messes with the implied harmony, repeating the third and fifth from the starting triad as enclosure pitches for chord tones in the new chord, a half step higher, in measure two.  
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no leadsheet)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no leadsheet)

Problem areas:

  • Continued Delays. I’m still waiting for my sample pack of bari sax reeds. They’ve sat at the bloody customs office for over a week now. I’m producing an okay tone on the bari, but I think with the right reed I’ll be a lot happier with it.  
  • Take it to the Bridge. I need to re-memorize the little triplet passage in the bridge of “In a Sentimental Mood.” I never quite get the passage as composed. Otherwise I have the changes and melody down pretty well, though shifting from Bb to Eb in the same session, I really have to use my ears to do it without making a mess of the bridge. Still, I’m pretty happy with “In a Sentimental Mood” and I think I need to pick a new song to learn now. 

Saturday

I did 90 minutes on soprano sax, mostly because I was tired but also because I’m trying to get a feel for what it’ll be like during semester, when carting two horns around won’t be an option most days. 

Soprano Sax:

    • Long Tones: I did this a little differently, using 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-5, 3-4-5-6 type patterns up and down whole tone scales, with each note held for a three count. I was trying to maintain good tuning and consistent tone across the transitions. 
    • Scales/Modes: Major scales round the circle of fifths; whole tone scales up and down. 
    • Patterns: Same as yesterday: I did this progressing around the circle of fifths and up and down whole-tone scales.
  • Tunes: 
    • “Fly Me To the Moon.” I actually kind of hate this song, as the tendency (especially in Korea) is to do it in a mawkishly sentimental way, but I suppose I need to know it because it’s also very, very popular here… and the chord changes are actually pretty nice to play on. I actually learned the melody by ear, because I couldn’t find my copy of the Bb New Real Book that contains it. I’ve since found it and will study the changes closely. Watch for an analysis of the chords next week.   
    • “In a Sentimental Mood.” It was fine, but I was pretty tired by this point, at the end of the session, so it wasn’t stellar. 

Areas to Focus On:

  • Embouchure. I still don’t have the strength to play soprano for this long at a stretch without the kinds of breaks someone would normally get on a gig. By the end, tuning was starting to go out the window, and getting the highest notes to speak took a lot of effort. I need to target more embouchure stability and strength. 
  •  
  • Lig Placement. This is new: the Theo Wanne mouthpiece seems way more responsive to ligature placement that I’ve ever experienced before. If it’s too far one way or another, things get wonky, but when it’s just right, I find the horn plays top to bottom much better. I think that’s what’s going on, but it could be that when I adjust the lig, I’m also adjusting my air support and embouchure. I dunno.   

Summary & Progress

Overall I’m happy with:

  • My progress learning tunes. 
  • My developing tone on soprano. 
  • How quickly everything has started to come back.
  • The progress I’ve seen working patterns.  

Things I need to do/work on:

  • Strength/stability in my embouchure, so I can play longer and consistently. 
  • I want to get back to transcribing. Especially since I’ll be stuck at a desk a lot of the next four months. 
  • Get my *@^#$%ing bari sax reeds from the customs office so I can figure out if they’re the right strength, and finally get some more forward movement on the bari. 
  • Work on my sound concept for alto. I honestly think it’s a mouthpiece issue: the Phil Barone New York 7 I have is nice, but I can’t push it as much as I’d like. I also can’t see myself playing alto much outside of a rock/funk situation, so I bought an old stock Theo Wanne Fire 1 (8 tip) for alto, which I think will give me something more like the sound I’m hearing. Also, it’ll help me strip paint off things if needed. 

Things to rant about:

  • It’s really frustrating how marginal bari sax is in Korea. Even in my podunk town I know of a shop I can walk into and buy alto, tenor, and even soprano reeds. To get bari reeds, I have to order online, and maybe they’ll be in stock at an exorbitant price. I think once I know the strength I need, I’ll be going for some kind of artificial reeds, which I head is a good option anyway but which would be especially helpful in my situation—only needing one or two reeds a year would be a big help, as would be the lack of a need to keep it hydrated. 
  • This is only tangentially related to practicing, but man it’s a drag coming home from the practice room to an apartment complex parking lot that has no parking spaces… at 10PM! It’s one of those stupid problems that exists in nearly every apartment complex in the country, and yet somehow nobody seems interested in slving it. I won’t get into the dumb band-aid solutions we’re dealing with to get around it, except to say nobody likes the situation. Except I suppose the idiots who built the place according to some old pattern that assumed fewer cars per family than we actually have. But anyway, this is why I stopped practicing late at night: to stop wasting time tooling around the basement looking for someplace to put my car, only to wake up early and move it before getting it stickered by a guard. Very argh. 
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