Friday, November 21, 2014

It's Never Too Late To Play The Saxophone

Every day I encounter adults who express their interest in wanting to learn a musical instrument, or say how they wish they started learning an instrument when they were young.  There is a good reason to do so at any age even if you never intend to any more with it than just lay back and play a few tunes for relaxation.  Scientific studies have shown how learning to play a musical instrument makes you smarter, and when you're playing an instrument, your brain is going off like a fireworks display, more synapses in the brain are being created and connecting like a complex set of wires.

All too often, when I mention to people that I meet that I play the saxophone, many of them respond like "oh I love the saxophone, I wish I could play it", and my response always is, "well, if you really want to, then do it!"   The excuses run anywhere from "I don't have the talent", "I don't have the time" "I'll never be famous doing this" to "I'm too old to start learning".  Most of the players I know, myself included, "don't have the talent". What that really means is that I and the other players that I know didn't just pick up the saxophone and we had so much talent that we could just play it without all the practice involved, that we didn't have to work out the technical and other aspects of mastering the instrument. To this day, I never felt like I mastered it, so that it's always brand new to me and there's always something to discover. As for time, think about the things you do or don't do during your day when you're not at your job or business that is wasted time, like sitting in front of the TV, or just aimlessly surfing the web.  I'm not a famous player, though I learned from and know many famous players, but that hasn't stopped me from doing something that has benefited my life in more ways than just musically.  The last great excuse for adults always is "I should have started when I was younger, I'm too old to start now".  To this last one especially, I say "It's never too late! Never!!!"

I don't care what age you are, what you do for a living, or anything, if you really want to play the saxophone, or any musical instrument for that matter, then there should be nothing from stopping you.  No excuse should be a barrier to your learning something that can only impact you and your life in positive ways. Since this is a saxophone blog, I'll discuss only the saxophone, but it really applies to any musical instrument you wish to learn.  The first step is deciding to do it and then make the necessary commitment to it. Don't let the word "commitment" scare you.  Being committed to something just means that you'll be doing it with enough regularity so that you can make progress.  How much time you want to put into it is entirely up to you, but I suggest that in whatever time you devote to it, just give it 100% of what you've got, and don't measure your 100% against someone else.  Just apply yourself to it and you will see, feel and hear results.  Perhaps you are someone that once played but gave it up for whatever reasons, and have decided that you want to really get back into it. I say, welcome back!

Okay, so now you have made the decision to start learning the saxophone.  What's the first step? Well, it's getting a saxophone.  This is where the beginning student of any age really needs the guidance of a good teacher, or friend who is a player, or this blog.  Too many new players may think that because a sax looks good and is cheap enough, then it is good to learn on, one of the biggest fallacies in music. I realize that for many it may be difficult financially to lay out money for a new or used saxophone, but it's very important that you get the best saxophone you can afford.  If you don't want to make the commitment to own one, you may want to start out by renting one.  Whether you rent or buy, make sure you do so from a reputable dealer that also has a liberal return or exchange policy and a service department where the instrument can be checked and maintained in good playing order.  I have seen too many people buy an inferior instrument that had no warranty or other back up, and played so badly that the student thought it was them and not the instrument and so gave up completely.  If you buy a used one, also make sure you get it from the same reputable dealer, or if it's a private sale, take your teacher or musician friend along to look at it with you and try it out so you're sure you're not buying a piece of junk.

I am an advocate of buying the saxophone over renting one, simply because psychologically, buying the instrument gives you pride of ownership, so that you will justify the expense by actually practicing and playing it, and with a "this is mine" attitude, you'll also take better care of the instrument.  I have always found this to be true when someone has decided to learn and then buys it. By purchasing it, they have already made the commitment to spend time with it and learn to play.  You don't have to spend a fortune to get a saxophone that will play in tune and will be well-built, but it's very important that you don't go too cheap either, otherwise you'll get a saxophone that will be good only as a wall decoration or to make a lamp from. Look at my article on student and intermediate saxophones to get an idea on what is available.  If you have a music store in your area, make sure they sell quality instruments.  There are lots of small music stores that sell off brand instruments and do not have a service department.  As much as I love to support mom and pop businesses, when it comes to musical instruments, I insist you buy from an established professional music dealer with a liberal return and exchange policy and professional service department.  Any instrument, regardless of cost needs to be checked and set up properly before anyone can play it. If you are not familiar with the best brands of saxophone or the best dealers, here are some links:

Recommended brands:

The following links are for proprietary brands of saxophones that are made specially for and sold by dealers under their own brand who also happen to be expert repair techs, and while such a saxophone will not have a good resale value because it is not a famous brand, they are nevertheless well made instruments that are properly set up, play and sound good and come with all the appropriate guarantees. They are worth checking out if you are not hung up on the name and just want a quality instrument that you can play on for a long time.

It's recommended that as an adult, you either start with an alto or tenor saxophone, as they are easier to begin with.  The baritone can be an unwieldy beast if you're new to it, and the soprano's intonation is a bit tricky and difficult for developing your embouchere when you're starting out because of its smaller size.  However, if you've already had playing experience and you want to play the soprano or baritone, then by all means do so. 

Okay, so now you have your saxophone and are raring to go. The first thing to do is find suitable instruction.  It's important to find a teacher that will give you the necessary guidance and encouragement to raise the level of your playing, whatever that level may be. The best teachers will ask you about what your goals are, what kind of music you like, etc.  If you do not have a teacher available where you live, the internet is a great place to find instructional web sites.  With Skype, you can have personalized one on one lessons with an instructor no matter where you live. I personally recommend Skype lessons from my friend and former teacher Tim Price.  I've learned from him, and besides from being one of the nicest guys, he is an instructor who will guide you and create a lesson plan based on your goals and tastes in music.  There may be other guys out there, but I think Tim is among the best.  Check him out!

Okay, so now that you've decided to play the saxophone or are returning to it, I wish you the best of luck with your studies, and stick to it and never give up, but have fun with it, don't sweat it.  It's one of the best things you can do for yourself. 

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