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.  

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. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thank You World!

When I first started this blog, I was merely doing it as a hobby, a way to relax and write about my favorite instrument to pass time. I figured that at most, some of my friends and the odd web surfer would see it, but that would be about it. Finally, I decided last week to check the stats that are provided on the blogger dashboard and I was surprised that so many people world-wide were reading my blog. I have well over a million readers world-wide.  I also have a nice group of supporters and have gotten many positive comments from readers all over the world which pleases me to no end.  I was also surprised to find that often, as I was Googling something about saxophones, I often saw this blog come up on the first and second pages. So I guess it's time to get a little more serious and devote more time and attention to writing more and better articles and to provide more and better information.

Some of my regulars may have noticed that I have deleted a few of my older posts. The main reason was that I felt that many of my remarks were just a little too opinionated, which may be fine when discussing a subject like teachers for example, but really didn't make sense when discussing or comparing vintage and modern saxophones. Of course, I can still be opinionated about certain "brands" like the crap you see flooding eBay, but in general I decided I really needed to be more objective when discussing saxophones and saxophone equipment and accessories.  By being more objective I feel I can give my readers better and more reliable information. After all, many of my readers are novices or just hobby players, and they are looking for more reliable sources of information in order to make more informed decisions on what to buy, what to practice, what to do in general. Of course, the one place where I remain opinionated is about music itself, and sometimes some of the players, and always about self-important educators.

I had and have the privilege and pleasure of knowing and having known and being friends with and the student of many of the greatest saxophone players in the world, as well as many other instrumentalists and vocalists. I guess one of the advantages, minus the expense and hustle of living in New York City is the fact that so many great artists of all persuasions make it their home, and the greatest from everywhere else come here often to play. This has given me the opportunity to not just see these greats play, but to learn directly from them, to be able to sit down and talk with them, and by doing so, gained so much insight about them, the music and life itself.  It's been and is a pleasure to know all these fine artists, and it has been a fantastic learning experience and continues to be.

I want to thank all the readers around the world who have stopped by to read and comment and encouraged me by their kind remarks.  Knowing this, I want to improve this blog and make it a truly reliable source of information as well as try to be entertaining as well.  I am really now looking forward to creating an even better blog, and hopefully to encourage more people who are interested in the saxophone and music in general to pick up an instrument without fear and just have fun playing.  Thank you world!!!!!!!!!!