Practice Log: 3 March–9 March (Sunday–Saturday)

This entry is part 5 of 6 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, I learned “In A Sentimental Mood” and started work on “Fly Me To the Moon.” I don’t love the latter song—it’s a staple in Korea and I’ve seen too many people trying to make it profound and melodramatic in a way that turns me off… but I like the idea of doing it as a bossa nova or something, and anyway, I guess I need to know it because it would inevitably be called in a jam session, right?

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 twenty-five minutes on alto, after a long bike ride. I am tiiiiiiiiired

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: I actually combined with Mixolydian mode in 6ths. It helps me get the patterns down while also working through the long tones, p<mf>p, progressing around the circle of fifths.    
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales in 3rds and 4ths, following the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: Does this look familiar? I’m trying to firm it up by getting it up to speed, practicing it in all octaves (round the circle of fifths) and with alternate fingerings. I can do this at a good clip. I’m also sometimes adding the new root at the end of the phrase. (In the above, that’d be a Bb at the end of the second bar.)
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (with and without leadsheet)
    • “Fly Me To the Moon” (no leadsheet)

Problem areas:

  • Tone. I’m holding off on doing anything drastic about it, but I am now suspecting that the hardness of my alto reeds is just too much. We’ll see how I feel when the Theo Wanne arrives. For now, I am getting a little closer to that alto sound I’m after, but only a little. I think it’s a limitation of the setup, anyway, because I don’t have this problem on soprano or tenor, and I do have it on alto and bari. 
  • The Dread Warble. The warble on low C/C# continues. I think it might be that I’m trying to play a too-hard reed, or at least that’s exacerbating it. 
  • Embouchure Endurance: Now I know why I could do two hours no sweat before: I was switching from a higher horn (tighter embouchure) to a lower one (looser embouchure), so it helped me extend my play time a bit. Doing one-horn sessions from now on (thanks to my work schedule) will be an adjustment, but I’ll 

Monday

I did a full two hours on soprano, and boy were my arms (and mouth) tired. 

Soprano Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Arpeggiated dominant 7th chords, round the circle of fifths, full range, mf.   
  • Patterns: Same as yesterday, aiming but with the new tonic added at the end of the phrase. I did whole tone and circle of fifth progressions, and focused on speed and accuracy at speed. 
  • Scales/Modes:  Mixolydian in 3rds, round the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Misty”
    • “Up Jumped Spring”
    • “In a Sentimental Mood”

Problem areas:

  • Still Hard. I’m starting to  wonder if maybe I need to try Van Doren 2s on this mouthpiece. Even the 2½-strength reeds need a fair bit of sanding and scraping in order to work well with it, and until I do that, the lowest and highest notes speak only with difficulty. 
  • Ow! I developed some thumb pain and then realized I wasn’t using a sling. The sling helped many things: I was able to pivot the horn and push it into my top front teeth, which helped me with getting the lowest and highest notes speak a little more easily. (Isn’t that a Joe Allard thing, the mouthpiece needing notable pressure against the top front teeth?)
  • Wilt. By the end of two hours, my embouchure had weakened to the point that while the main tones were in tune, the top especially was skewing flat unless I really concentrated, and sometimes even that didn’t help. I even bailed before trying “Fly Me To The Moon” because I was just too tired out to manage it.  

Tuesday

I did very close to two hours straight, about 80 minutes on tenor and 40 on bari sax. 

Tenor Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Arpeggiated dominant 7th chords, round the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: Same as yesterday, round the circle of fifths. 
  • Scales/Modes: Locrian mode, all keys, around the circle of fifths.  
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no leadsheet, playalong)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no leadsheet, playalong)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon.” (lead sheet, bossa nova playalong)

Baritone Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps up and falls down from middle G, chromatic progression. (mf)  
  • Scales/Modes:  Mixolydian up and down, round the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (lead sheet but I mostly ignored it and focused on my ears)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon.” (same) 

Problem areas:

  • Chill Out. One very old habit of mine is to get excited as I’m playing a solo—in proportion to how dramatically I’m playing—and the result is that I tense up and my playing worsens, so especially on “Up Jumped Spring” I practiced staying calm even when playing faster material or over tricky bits. Consciously focusing on staying calm helped. Yet another plate to keep spinning. 
  • Reed Wait. I don’t know what’s up at the customs office but man, I’m waiting forever for my bari reeds. 
  • Air. Long tones on bari is… still a lot. I get that dizziness that I associate with learning to play flute.  
  • Melo. It’s hard to shake the mawkish melodrama of “Fly Me to the Moon,” as it’s often performed here. Playing as a bossa nova helps, but I am always a little self-conscious playing the song, all the same. 

Wednesday

I did an hour and forty minutes on bari sax. 

Baritone Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps up and falls down from middle G, progressing chromatically, held at an mf dynamic. 
  • Patterns: I revisited the Branford Marsalis pattern I practiced a few weeks ago, in all twelve keys, round the circle of fifths and up and down whole tone scales.
  • Scales/Modes: Phrygian mode in all keys, progressing through them round the circle of fifths. 
  • Tunes:
    • ” In a Sentimental Mood”
    • “Up Jumped Spring”
    • “Fly Me to the Moon”

Notes:

  • Finally, Reeds. The sample pack arrived, and I tried out the Java red 2.5s. They’re good, and playing was a lot more effortless than with the 3s! It’s a nice change!
  • Positioning. I’m still working on comfortably positioning myself and the horn when using the ErgoSax support. I’m about 85% of the way there, but there’s some fine-tuning to go.  I have noticed that using a harness with the ErgoSax actuallyhelps me get the positioning dialed in more perfectly, so maybe I do need a proper harness after all. 
  • Spit Valve. I keep forgetting to clear the spit valve when playing bari. The condensation buildup has a perceptible effect on response, so I need to get into the habit. I also think. the Hodge Swab I picked up helped with response in the upper register, though I can also say the person who owned the sax before me sure kept it clean, considering the horn didn’t come with any kind of cleaning swab.  

Thursday

Due to my work schedule, I did not get a chance to practice on Thursday. I did listen a lot, mostly to the Phil Woods, which is a pleasant late discovery for me.   


Friday

I did an hour and a half of alto sax on Friday. 

Alto: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps up and falls down from middle G, ppp<fff>ppp. Trying to see how much I can push the tone on this Barone mouthpiece. 
  • Patterns: Back to what I’d been practicing earlier in the week, round the circle of fifths. I almost always include the tonic now at the end of the pattern, like this:
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales, full range, around the circle of fifths. Trying to get them down to one breath, but it’s a challenge.   
  • Tunes:
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (no lead sheet, playalong track)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no lead sheet, playalong track)
    • “Fly Me To the Moon” (lead sheet, though I didn’t look at it much; playalong track in bossa nova style)

Problem areas:

  • Tight Screw? I found an over-tightened screw on the horn. When I shift from Low B to Low C# directly (using a key roller) the B key stays down and the C# doesn’t raise. This doesn’t happen when I let go of B and then, a moment later, push the low C# pinky key. I think the screw for that post was over tightened by the tech I took the horn to, but I’m not sure. Anyway, it sure messed up low tone patterns.  I’m going to try loosen it and if that doesn’t help, back to the tech it goes. 

Saturday

I did an hour and a half on tenor, and half an hour on bari. 

On both, I did the usual long tones, and on tenor I did major scales around the circle of fifths.  The long tones on bari were really not that “long” on the low end especially. No patterns today, though. I got stuck in doing something else on tenor: old tunes.  

On tenor, I ended up doing a lot of tunes from my past: “Blue Bossa,” “The Autumn Leaves,” “There Will Never Be Another You.” I also did “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Up Jumped Spring.” 

On bari, I just worked the last two tunes on that list, plus “Fly Me To the Moon.” 

Notes:

  • Reed Time. I tried a new 3 Green Java Van Doren on my tenor and it was too hard. I think I need to switch to 2½ on tenor, too.  On bari, the 2½s are perfect. 
  • Old Tunes. I was a little shaky on the old tunes, since having known them well long ago. Use it or lose it, I guess.  

Summary & Progress

Overall I’m happy with:

  • Bari, in general. Those reeds and the ErgoSax have made it very much playable. 
  • My tone on tenor when I’m on a softer reed. I like the tone I’m getting with the Theo Wanne Durga. 
  • My progress with “Fly Me To the Moon.” I have a good feel for the harmony and feel like, at least on Bb horns, I have it under my fingers now. 

Things I need to do/work on:

  • Pick a new song, because I’m well on the way to having “Fly Me To the Moon” under my fingers. 
  • Long tones on bari. They’re more like medium short tones on the low end, and longish on the top of the horn. 
  • Remembering to clear that spit valve on bari. 
  • More scales and arpeggiated 7th chords. 
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