Monday, November 24, 2014

Building Your Saxophone Library

When you begin playing the saxophone, or even if you've played it for a while, it's only natural that you begin looking at and for all the books, articles and other information you can find about it.  Before I ever picked up the saxophone, I remember that my father had more saxophone books and sheet music than I would know what to do with. He had them all tied up in bundles and stored in his "junk" closet.  After I started learning the saxophone, I remember asking my father if I could pull out those bundles and look through them and see what he had.  He agreed as long as I tied them back up and put them back.  He had quite the collection of books and sheets, and I know he wanted them on a shelf for easy reference, but I also remember my mom not allowing that because to her, it looked messy, and my mother always wanted everything in the house to look neat and nicely arranged, and granted, a lot of those books and sheets looked very well worn and would have looked a bit messy and droopy on a shelf.  He had everything from method books to jazz and classical etude books, lots of interesting stuff that I would imagine is out of print, like a whole set of German saxophone studies with excellent material for polishing tone and technique. He had big band charts, and even a stack of his own hand-written arrangements. He had books and sheets of most of the standards that every sax player should know.  After my father passed away, my mom inadvertently threw them away, which I was very unhappy about. 

However, living in New York City, I had access not just to music libraries, but also to a variety of music stores, some of them dedicated to just selling books and sheet music.  For me, going into any of these shops was like when I went into any library or book store.  I would spend hours and hours looking through everything and never leave without at least one book or piece of sheet music in my hands.  At one point, I accumulated quite a number of books and sheets myself, but then as I started traveling and living in different cities and different countries, it wasn't possible to keep them all, and so I gave them away to other musician friends, just keeping a couple of books which could easily be kept in my case.  

These days it is easy to find all kinds of information on the internet, like this blog, but there is still something about a real book that cannot be replaced.  A book is easy to carry and can be taken anywhere, doesn't need to be plugged in or online.  Also just the feeling of holding it in your hands gives it a special quality that makes you feel that you are literally holding the keys to knowledge.  However, there are aspects of modern technology that are quite helpful, like when you combine a book with a CD or DVD, and can play along or see how something is done, hear how it is played, and then refer back to the book again.  This is especially helpful if you live in a place where access to a teacher is difficult or non-existent.  

Building your own saxophone library is really a personal thing, and it can be a fun endeavor and an adventure, discovering a whole world of information and knowledge, as well as a variety of approaches to the instrument.  The library you build doesn't need to be big, just have the books and material that you need and are interested in the most.  I will show you the books that are currently in my library, and I'll explain why. Some of these books I consider essential, some pertain strictly to the alto sax because that is what I play, and others that are more generalized and suit any saxophone or any other instrument.  Basically, choose the books that you find helpful or you can relate to.  For example, if you're a tenor player, you would naturally get books related specifically to that.  While I listen to all saxophone players, as well as players of every other musical instrument, the books of transcripts that I like to study for instance are all of alto players.  Anyway, here are the books I have in my library, and you may find something here that you could use, but also look at all the other books out there and decide what is interesting to you.  I will provide links at the bottom of the page for saxophone books and sheet music.

Method Books

I have only two saxophone method books in my collection, because between these two, there is everything for the beginner to learn, and then some.  The Universal Saxophone Method is really the Bible of saxophone books.  Although originally published in 1905, this is still the most comprehensive method book ever printed.  All of the beginning exercises are designed to bring you up slowly but very surely in developing good tone and technique. It begins with the rudiments of music and systematically gets you started, laying out the basics in a way so that you develop a good command of the sax fairly early.  The book is 320 pages, but after page 62, you are given far more advanced exercises and songs that by themselves constitute a whole field of study.  If you can get through this book alone, you will have achieved a very high level of playing.  I have used the Jimmy Dorsey Saxophone Method as a companion to the Universal Method because since it is geared to jazz and big band, it contains information and exercises useful for that style of music. There is an excellent section on improvising and learning chord sequences that help you develop improvisational skills. The end of the book has some tunes that Jimmy Dorsey played, but two in particular, Beebe and Oodles Of Noodles are pieces that require a high degree of speed and agility to play.  I found that just these two books together contain a treasure trove of material to make any saxophone player achieve not only a high level of playing, but also a good deal of versatility.

Saxophone Reference Guides

These are books that provide generalized information about the saxophone, like how to select one, saxophone accessories, saxophone care, etc.  Some of the books contain some basic exercises as well, but not enough to be considered like a method book.  

The Art Of Saxophone Playing by Larry Teale, who was a well-known teacher is considered a type of classic in the field.  It presents a rather technical approach to saxophone tone production and technique, plus a few exercises.  It does have an excellent fingering and altissimo fingering chart as well.  The other two books pictured here contain the usual tips and information on the sax, as well as sections on maintenance and repair that provide tips on how to do minor adjustments and what tools are good to always have with you.  

Exercise Books

These books cover a wide range of exercises designed to facilitate various aspects and levels of saxophone tone, technique and general knowledge. I tend to jump from one book to another to study different things and keep my practice interesting. These are books I don't practice from cover to cover, but rather grab one and open it randomly and play whatever, and so on. 

Sigurd Rascher was a famous saxophone teacher, and his book Top Tones for the Saxophone was the first book to really deal with overtones and the altissimo register.  158 Saxophone Exercises is just that. The exercises are written atonaly and have no explanation as to how to play them. This actually allows you to play any exercise in a wide variety of ways. 
These books by famed Berklee School instructor Joseph Viola are among my favorites. They contain a wealth of exercises designed to facilitate a wide variety of saxophone techniques. I feel these are a must in any sax library.

25 Daily Exercises For Saxophone by H. Klose is a classic in its field, but if you have the Universal Method then you will find much of what is here in there. Saxophone Altissimo is a very comprehensive guide to that field of study, and goes into more detail than any other book on the subject. It contains excellent fingering charts, as well as alternate fingerings for each type of saxophone that may work better on your particular horn than on another for example.  The Jerry Bergonzi book helps you take the play chord sequences by thinking of them as numbers, not notes, in that there are three to four notes per chord, and there are 24 permutations for each chord, so that if you play one chord, for example, then, and so on until you have played all 24 permutations, you will be able to develop an automatic reflex to playing those chords in different ways.  Famed Jazz Tenor saxophonist, Oboist and teacher Yusef Lateef's Repository Of Scales and Melodic Patterns is already a modern classic in its field. It is exactly as the title suggests.  Selected Studies was by H. Voxman who also was the author of the Rubank Saxophone methods which many beginning students and schools still use today. This book was written as a supplement to those books.  Amazing Phrasing comes with a CD so you can play along with all of the examples. Nothing really new here, but still very useful.

Jazz Transcriptions

Transcriptions are taken note for note from a recording of a particular player and put in print, making it an excellent source of study. The recordings the transcripts are taken from are referenced so you can find the recording and then hear it as you read along on the page, then play it yourself.  It is also, I found, another way to improve your sight reading as well as hearing different approaches to improvisation.

As you can see that since I play the alto, the transcription books I have are from my favorite alto players.  It goes without saying that the Charlie Parker Omnibook is the most popular of all transcription books, and is available for all instruments, not just the alto sax or Eb instruments.   


 Want to hone your chops with a real rhythm section but don't yet have the confidence to go to a live jam session? Or do you just want to lay back and chill and play some tunes with a band without the pressure of an audience or even the band itself?  Play-A-Long books can be used by players of any instrument.  Find the section that is pitched to your instrument, find the track, and then just play along.  A great way to develop improvisational skills too.  I have taken play-a-long tracks with me with a boom box when I would go busking in the park, and have a band behind me as I played for my supper. The most popular Play-A-Longs are the Jamey Aeborsold series, because they are not just to play along, they contain lesson points, are great learning tools.  

I also enjoy the Hal Leonard Play-A-Long books because they have a wide variety of musical styles and artists from which to choose, from Dixieland to modern music, including pop and rock.  It's always good to try and play in other styles, especially if you're a gigging musician. 

This represents my current library, and only a small portion of what I once had.  Provided below are links to sources for books and other media with which to build a saxophone library of your own.  Have fun with it, and there is always something useful in almost every book.  

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