Practice Log: 10–16 March (Sunday–Saturday)

This entry is part 7 of 7 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. 

Having gotten a good handle on “Fly Me To the Moon,” I’ve selected my next tune for my study project: “Four.” It’s a tune I’ve known of for years, with early exposure due to my interest in the music of Miles Davis right when I was starting to get into jazz as a teenager. (Here’s an early, slower-tempo version by Davis. In my experience the faster versions are sometimes sloppy, but this one is crisp and tight. I like this up-tempo take by Phineas Newborn, too.)

I’m also kinda-sorta working on “Skylark,” a beautiful tune by Hoagy Carmichael that I’ve liked for many years now. (Here’s a Dexter Gordon take on the song.)   

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

Preamble

I did my best this week, despite work still being ridiculously busy.  


Sunday

I did two hours, split pretty evenly between soprano and bari sax. 

Soprano Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps and falls from middle G, progressing chromatically, p<f>p.     
  • Scales/Modes:  Locrian mode, full range around the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: n/a 
  • Tunes:
    • “Doxy” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “In A Sentimental Mood” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon” (playalong, no leadsheet)

Bari Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Jumps and falls from middle G, progressing chromatically, ppp<ffff>ppp. Long tones on the low end weren’t particularly long, though they’re slowly improving.      
  • Scales/Modes: Major scales in 4ths, around the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: 
  • Tunes:
    • “Doxy” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “In A Sentimental Mood” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon” (playalong, no leadsheet)

Problem areas:

  • Long Tone Changeup. I want to change things up with the long tones. Jumps and falls from G are fine, but I think  some variety might be nice and/or helpful. 
  • Positioning. I’m still fine-tuning the position for my bari when playing, which I’m finding is having a pretty profound effect on how I play.  It’s a process, I guess. 
  • Tune pick. Time to pick another tune. 
  • Soprano Low End. Dailing in reed strength on soprano is a challenge. Once I’m warmed up, though, it’s only the top one or two tones, and the low C/C# that are wonky, which makes me think maybe some repairs will help. 
  • Keep Calm and Carry On. I’m actually doing better with this, and finding it’s one of the big missing ingredients in my improvisations. The calmer I remain, the better I can play florid, lively lines with some stability in time while also anticipating the chord changes that remain just around the corner. I wish I’d figured this out—or been taught this—when I was younger: it could’ve made a huge difference for me. 

Monday

I did about two hours on alto sax. 

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Chromatic progression from middle G down and up, ppp<fff>ppp.  
  • Scales/Modes: Lydian b7s, full range, progressing through the circle of fifths. 
  • Patterns: This one again, up and down whole tones and around the circle of fifths: I figure I’ll keep practicing it till I can do it without having to consciously think about the notes, then move on to another. 
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (only playalong track)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (only playalong track)
    • “Fly Me To the Moon” (leadsheet and playalong track)
    • “Four” (leadsheet, chords practice and playing the head); it’s weird to play it on alto, as I’ve only ever played it on tenor. 

Notes:

  • Key Fix. I figured out which screw on my alto sax had been over-tightened to the point of binding my low B key, and successfully loosened it just enough to fix the problem! Yay! It might not sound like much, but it wasn’t the screw I expected, so it feels like a big deal. 
  • Incoming! My Theo Wanne Fire alto mouthpiece, that is. I got a great deal on it (even with customs taking a chunk), and it should arrive in the next day or two.  I’m getting an okay sound with the Barone piece and 2½ reeds—and hoping that the same strength works for me with the Fire, which is also a ~7 facing—but honestly I want something with more bite anyway. 

Tuesday

I did two hours, on alto and bari saxes. I’ve started leaving my bari at the practice space, which means I will be able to play it more often during the semester. I forgot my headphones, so no play-alongs today. 

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Ups and downs from middle G, ppp<fff>ppp.
  • Scales/Modes:  Lydian in 4ths. Time to change it to fifths, I think. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Fly Me to the Moon” (with leadsheet, though I didn’t use it much)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (leadsheet, and then no leadsheet)
    • “Four” (with leadsheet—a long workout)

Bari Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Ups and downs from middle G, steady mf. Slightly longer than before, I think. 
  • Patterns: Same as yesterday, but through chromatic progressions and whole-tone scale progressions. It’s getting more and more automatic.  
  • Tunes:
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (no leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (leadsheet, and then no leadsheet)
    • “Four” (with leadsheet—a long workout)

Problem areas:

  • Nothing special. The only real news was that my fix to my alto actually worked well, so the low end is now properly regulated and mostly functioning as it should. The bari tone is improving and with a softer reed I’m finding it more flexible to play with. I also tried 2½ reeds on my alto and found some of the flexibility I was missing, though the tone with this mouthpiece still feels very classical-ish to me until I’m really pushing it. My Fire mouthpiece should be arriving tomorrow, and I’m curious what it will sound like. (Though tomorrow’s a tenor/bari day, so I will likely learn more on Friday or Saturday.)

Wednesday

I did an hour and forty minutes on tenor sax. 

Tenor Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Octave leaps, chromatic progression, ppp<fff>ppp.
  • Scales/Modes: Mixolydian mode in 6ths, around the circle of fifths. It’s new to me, and a challenge, so I did these relatively slowly.   
  • Patterns: Same as yesterday, up whole tone progressions and also around the circle of fifths. I need to do chromatic progressions soon too. 
  • Tunes: 
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (playalong, no leadsheet)
    • “Four” (play-along, with leadsheet)
    • “Skylark” (leadsheet only, workout on head and changes)

Notes:

  • Tricky Bits. I find the chromatic shifts in “Four” tricky but easy to negotiate quickly. In contrast, for “Skylark” even parts of the head are tricky for me. Most such tunes I can play right off the bat, but I had to read the head for “Skylark” carefully and avoid mistakes. 
  • Reedy Needy. I probably should get some 2½ tenor reeds, I find I get the sound I want with softer reeds on my Theo Wanne Durga mouthpiece, but usually have to achieve that by sanding down my Van Doren Green Java 3s. Playing 2½s on soprano, alto, and bari practically right out of the box has been refreshing, and I’d like to be doing that on tenor too. I have, it seems, outgrown the (rather silly) idea that reed strength is a suitable proxy measurement for playing ability.     

Thursday

I had to miss on Thursday: my work schedule makes Thursdays very challenging as it is, even through trying to fit a practice session in. 

 


Friday

I did two hours on alto sax. 

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Ups and downs from middle G, steady mf. Slightly longer than before, I think. 
  • Scales/Modes:  Major scales in 6ths. 
  • Patterns: This one again, which I thought of as a Branford Marsalis lick but recently heard in a Joe Henderson solo from earlier than Marsalis’ career:
  • Tunes:
    • “Four”
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (without leadsheet)
    • “Skylark” (with leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (without leadsheet)
    • “Straight, No Chaser” (without leadsheet)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon” (without leadsheet)

Problem areas:

  • Fire. The Theo Wanne Fire mouthpiece is, as expected, a real paint-peeler. It’s a bit bright, so I’m working on opening my throat and taking a little more mouthpiece in order to increase the fatness of the tone. There is one downside to the small chamber, which is that I have to stay on the ball to remain in control of the tuning. But that’s actually good, as I’m working on keeping my focus up for longer anyway. 
  • Clarity. A side effect of the brightness of the Fire mouthpiece is that it’s a bit like playing lines surrounded by aural highlighter. IT forces a clarity of time and intentional note choice that’s new for me, and also means I have to relax when trying to play fast, to get the precision I need. It’s an interesting side effect. 

 


Saturday

I once again did an hour alto sax and an hour on bari. My phone battery was fully charged, but my iPad’s battery was dead, and I was tired, so I mostly just ran tunes.  

Alto Sax: 

  • Long Tones: Ups and downs from middle G, steady mf.  
  • Scales/Modes:  Major scales in 6ths. 
  • Tunes:
    • “Four” (without leadsheet)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (without leadsheet)
    • “Skylark” (with leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (without leadsheet)
    • “Straight, No Chaser” (without leadsheet)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon” (without leadsheet)

Bari Sax:

  • Long Tones: Ups and downs from middle G, steady mf
  • Tunes:
    • “Four” (without leadsheet)
    • “In a Sentimental Mood” (without leadsheet)
    • “Skylark” (with leadsheet)
    • “Up Jumped Spring” (without leadsheet)
    • “Straight, No Chaser” (without leadsheet)
    • “Fly Me to the Moon” (without leadsheet)

Problem areas:

  • Alto Tone. Learning slowly how to play the Fire mouthpiece is also teaching me how to play the Barone piece. I’m getting a little darker, fatter tone on it. 
  • Tiredness. Honestly I couldn’t say what was strong or not. I was too exhausted to have much critical faculty. But I put in my time! 

Summary & Progress

Overall I’m happy with:

  • My progress on alto.
  • The Van Doren Red Java 2½ reeds on my bari, and my bari tone these days. 

Things I need to do/work on:

  • Bari tone. There’s room for more improvement. 
  • Alto tone/tuning control. The Fire piece will help me work on that, even if I eventually set it aside only for “loud” or “contemporary” purposes. 
  • Making more time for tenor. I have neglected it a bit lately. 
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