Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Simple Way To Determine If A Saxophone Is Right For You

This will be a short post based on my experience in dealing with students and players who are choosing a new saxophone.

Most of the time, whenever a musician asks me to try a saxophone, once he goes into the tryout room, I can predict more than 99% of the time exactly what he's going to do once he gets in there.  He/she begins playing scales at rapid speed.  Up and down, down and up, mixing them up, but always playing them fast.  Now while I know that sound and tone is subjective, so many so-called players will hand me back a perfectly good or great horn and say, "it's no good".  Frankly, they don't know most of the time what they are looking for.

However, most of the time, there is one thing they do not do in order to properly evaluate a saxophone, or any other brass and woodwind instrument for that matter.  While playing fast scales may give you a good idea how well the keys respond to your playing, that's not the whole thing.  I've said it before, I'll say it again.  It's the SOUND!  If you really want to know the core sound of your horn, which I consider the most important thing, then play a slow blues or a ballad, and really dig into it with each note.  Stretch the notes out, make them sing!

The other thing players do when playing fast scales is also to play at the same volume, usually loud.  That doesn't really tell you anything about the horn either.  Use dynamics in your playing.  Go from soft to loud, loud to soft, and so on.  Go slowly from the lowest to highest notes, then back down, and really listen to the response from your horn.  See if the horn has a balanced sound from top to bottom, or if something changes as you make the transitions.  Sometimes the problem may not be the horn, just a simple thing like a change in reed or mouthpiece, although don't go overboard with it.  Don't start going crazy endlessly trying mouthpieces and reeds or else you'll lose sight of the actual playing.

If the horns sounds good or great, it is!  The keys can be tweaked by a competent or expert technician, and a mouthpiece or reed will also help improve the sound, but the horn, and the player themselves will have this quality, or not!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Have A Complaint About Some Saxophone Teachers

In the last few years, I've noticed that many saxophone teachers, as well as teachers of other instruments have been trying to dictate and control what their students learn, and even which brand of instruments they played.  It has reached ridiculous proportions according to my experience. 

A case in point.  A 12 year old kid comes into the shop with his teacher.  The kid has been playing maybe only about a month, yet his teacher had him trying a load of different mouthpieces.  The kid himself only having just begun learning was in no way in a position to understand the differences between one mouthpiece and another.  Of course, as a teacher, I would have suggested a different mouthpiece than the crap stock one that came with his school rental, but for God's sake, don't confuse the kid so early.  Suggest the mouthpiece that is consistently the best for students, which is usually a Meyer 5M.  Maybe the teacher has a different one in mind, but keep it simple. Why create chaos and confusion in the student when they're starting out?  For the sake of the student, keep it simple at the beginning.

Too many of today's teachers, especially younger ones seem to be on some kind of power trip.  Dump your stupid ego and just teach your student to play.  I have been fortunate enough to have had some of the best players ever as my teachers, and never have they ever tried to tell me anything that overrode my own judgment.  In fact, they guided me in becoming my own player.  Lee Konitz said to me "Kid, you've got a sound of your own, let's work on that!".   Benny Carter told me, when I first introduced myself and said that "I'm just a student", he said "so am I", which not only told me how humble he was, but that even though he was an absolute master of his craft, he was still learning.

Your teacher should be someone who understands your needs as a student.  He should never allow his ego to get in the way of your own development and judgment.  He helps to develop your individuality as a player.  If he/she tries to tell you that things are just so, or that you should only buy X brand saxophone, I suggest that you find someone else.  Unless he's buying it for you, try everything and get the best you can afford, regardless of brand. 

If your teacher tries to stifle your own innate sense of creativity, get rid of them.  They're not helping you.  Your teacher should be there not just to show you a way, but also to find YOUR way.  The best teacher is also a good student.  A good teacher knows that they don't have all the answers, but can help you discover your own.  A good teacher directs you positively.  This means that they answer your questions honestly, and try to discover what it is YOU like and want, without imposing their own tastes upon the student.  Again, they can make suggestions, but they never dictate.

Tell your teacher what YOU want from your studies.  If they do not comply, find someone else!  Above everything else, your teacher should make the learning process fun.  If it becomes drudgery, it loses its allure.  Have fun.  This is why it is called playing music, not working music, though it takes work to achieve a high level. However, the work is easier when you have fun with it.