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MikeMorrell

Netherlands
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Yesterday evening, a British band was playing at a local Dutch pub. They played a lot of covers and they were pretty good. I heard they were British so afterwards, while they were having a beer outside, I complimented them on their performance and asked them how they got to be there on a Thursday evening . TBH most people sat outside while they were playing :). Anyway, the were really nice guys and they appreciated the compliment. We got talking about 'musical integrity' and how they felt gigs in the Netherlands were often more 'valued' than those in London.

I mentioned that I played sax and they immediately invited me to sit in with their next gig next Saturday in my home town.,Tonight (Friday) they're playing in Antwerp (Belgium. I did explain that I was a true amateur with some BB experience but they had no problem with that. It might have been the beer, but we exchanged e-mail addresses.

So today I get a friendly e-mail asking whether "I'm still keen" with a couple of songs that they like me to sit in with. The songs are great. The key (concert A) is less great for me as a tenor sax player. Anything I need to play has 4-6 sharps with which I'm really not comfortable playing by ear. And even less playing anything that might resemble a solo.

I responded that I could probably play a 3-4 note supporting sax fill but no more than that. In other keys, perhaps more. But it did ímmediately strike me how limited my comfortable 'range was: 3-4 sharps or flats.

How do other 'giggers deal with this? Do you continually practice in all keys? Or in all common (concert) keys?

Mike
 

GCinCT

Seeker of truth and beauty
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I have been practicing in all keys for some time now. IMO, there are no difficult keys, just unfamiliar ones.

I think is vital to good musicianship to be comfortable in every key. You’ll be prepared for any situation and it’s great ear training.
 

Halfers

Finger Flapper
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Hampshire
I think the secret might just to get on with it and play and not worry about how may sharps or flats the piece has. The songs we play in our Covers Band are all in the original key, so to play the Horn part, I play the notes, without really thinking about whether the note I'm playing is a sharp or flat. I just learn the riffs and play them.

EDIT. The above might come across as being a bit blase! I'd add that what I play is very mediocre :p
 
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zannie

Member
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146
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East Mids
Learn to love the sharps. Bearing in mind that you always sharpen from concert pitch to some degree depending on the horn you are playing, gigging can lead very often to at least 4 sharps so work on those. You’re less likely to have to deal with many flats.
 

s.mundi

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452
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Texas Gulf Coast
Today, do NOT worry about all the different key signatures. Listen and practice the two songs that you have committed to playing.
When I trained with Bruce Lee, he gave me two important pieces of advice. 1. When a musician is poured into a cup, he becomes a cup. When a musician is poured into a bowl, he becomes a bowl.
2. An amazing solo requires impeccable rhythm and two notes.
Congrats on the invitation and have fun.
 

Wade Cornell

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I'm sure you'll have fun. Stay in your comfort zone. Playing acceptably what you CAN beats playing poorly what you CAN'T. Playing with others where guitars, bass etc. are leading means that you're often playing (on your sax) in C#, F# and B. These are actually fairly easy keys (on the sax) compared to Eb, and Ab. They lay well under the fingers but are only scary when you're trying to read them. Let it flow. Put aside the written stuff and play along with pop music and you'll soon find you're often in those keys and on your way.

The ultimate in improvisation is being able to play what you would sing. This of course requires being able to hear a line in your head, then having the chops to play it. Playing just a bunch of chord tones, and regurgitating cut and paste riffs and arpeggios is improvisation death. Try to have meaning in whatever you play...and play like you mean it!
 

taiwanpaul

Member
Messages
146
When I started to play with other people, mainly guitarists, I had the same problem! Now however, F#, C#, B are better / easier than when I have to play in C major! Practise "Doh a deer" in the keys in question by ear and they're easy, there are only 8 notes!. I still have problems sight-reading in 5, 6 , 7 sharps and flats, but playing by ear is easy!
 

thomsax

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3,438
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Sweden
You can do a lot with B blues scale! And it's just one sharp! B,D, E. F, F#, A. Concert A and E was the first scales I learned. Lots of rock, blues, soul ... songs in these keys. So F# and C# is easier for me compred to concert Bb, Eb .... . "I don't read, Ijust play". I learn the hornparts when I'm playing with other hornplayers. I also bring the charts and a note stand. I want to look clever as well.!!!!
 
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MikeMorrell

MikeMorrell

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Breda
Thanks for all the encouragement, moral support and practical tips! I panicked bit when I realised that I'd need play in keys that I'm not used to. But the 4 songs they want me to sit in on are all 3-chord Rock & Roll songs.

As @thomsax points out, I realised that I just needed to familiarise myself with playing in the blues scale of B, E and F# (and C# it turns out!). Once I got a handle on this, things looked much more promising. I found YouTube videos of the songs in the right key. So I practiced a few backing riffs. I might even try a few simple solos depending on how things go. The solo's on the originals are simple too.

Mike
 
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MikeMorrell

MikeMorrell

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Breda
I've just got home from my first ever 'gig' with a 3-piece band (James Chapman and the Blue Moon) and it went incredibly well! The band members all said that I'd played really well and that I'd 'killed it". A couple of people from the audience came up to me afterwards and complimented my sax playing. They couldn't believe that I'd met these guys just two days ago and jumped in without any rehearsal. It was the best 'sax night' of my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it! They really are a lovely bunch of guys. True musicians (2 professional, 1 semi-professional) who sometimes play together because they enjoy it. The pub was really jumping tonight and couldn't get enough of the band.

It was all good but perhaps the best bit was when - for one number - James (guitarist/singer) suggested I "take my sax out into the audience". So I did. It was an amazing experience walking around in the audience playing sax backing/solos while the band was at the opposite end of the pub. But it really worked! Everyone had their cameras out taking photos and videos and I got a big round of applause.

The band had (via e-mail) asked me to play sax on 4 numbers:
- That's all right Momma (Elvis Presley)
- Hi-heeled sneakers (Tommy Tucker/Elvis Presley)
- Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin)
- The Saints (which turned into When the Saints ...)

I'd listened to these today and I'd worked out some simple sax backing riffs based on the backing on the original versions. But when I turned up, they showed me their 'repertoire' of about 40 -50 numbers (from which just they selected one at a time depending on the 'mood' and preference of the audience at any given time). They invited me to just jump in on anything else I could play on. Which I did, including:
- Proud Mary
- Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
- Honky Tonk Woman
and about 4 Rock/Blues/Soul numbers which I can't even remember. Sometimes one of the band members would just give me look that meant " OK, time to put some sax on this". At other times, I just added some sax in halfway on my own initiative if I felt it it would add something. What was amazing (thanks to my PPT!) is that in addition to backing riffs I played quite a few piercing 16-bar solo's too, cutting through the amplified guitars and drums.

The band also played a lot of numbers (their original compositions, traditional folk songs, Beatles) for which sax would have been inappropiate. So I only ever played when I - or they - felt that some kind of sax backing, counter melody or solo added something to the song. All-in-all I think it was a good balance - I played on every 4-5 numbers during a 2-hour set. And sipped my Guiness at the bar the rest of the time :) .

It is absolutely true that - with some sense of the corresponding blues keys - playing by ear is a whole lot easier than worrying about the number of sharps in a key!

I also found it (half-way through :rolleyes: ) a big advantage in recognising the chord shapes the guitarist was playing. So if he started out in E, I knew I'd have to start out in F#. If he started out in G, I knew I'd have to start out in A, etc.. But mainly, it was just a question of listening and adjusting. Anyway, it seems I'm now their 'go to sax player' for tours in Holland :)

Again, thanks for all the encouragement, tips and support. I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Mike
 
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Jazzaferri

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Victoria BC Canada
@MikeMorrell if you are playing tenor a concert E is F# on tenor. Con cert A is B on tenor

I have switched to mostly A lot due to a Left Thumb issue AS I ply with guitar players I am most comfortable now in C# F# B and E which are common guitar keys, namely in concert E A D and G in the same order as above.
 
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MikeMorrell

MikeMorrell

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Thanks for correcting this @Jazzaferri! I've edited my post accordingly. Yes, I played mostly in B, E, F# and C#. What surprised me (as a first-timer) was that after a while I stopped worrying about the scales so much and played the intervals by ear.

Mike

@MikeMorrell if you are playing tenor a concert E is F# on tenor. Con cert A is B on tenor

I have switched to mostly A lot due to a Left Thumb issue AS I ply with guitar players I am most comfortable now in C# F# B and E which are common guitar keys, namely in concert E A D and G in the same order as above.
 

GCinCT

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It's really fun and encouraging to read about your experience with the band @MikeMorrell You raised the bar and cleared it! Well done. I find it inspirational when other players step outside their comfort zones like you did.

Thank you for sharing!
 
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MikeMorrell

MikeMorrell

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@GCinC: Thanks! I can only repeat that the support and tips that everyone gave me on this thread really did help me enormously! Through these, my (initially panicked) attitude changed from:
  • "Help, I can't do this/these guys are way above my level/I'm nowhere near good enough/I've never played with a band/I've never played by ear/I've never played in a pub/I've never played rock/I've never played in these keys/I'll just make a fool of myself", to:
  • "OK, calm down. I can familiarise myself with playing 3 new blues keys in an hour or two. The backing and solos on the originals are pretty simple. I can play something similar. I can make a 'cheat sheet'".
I really did make a 'cheat sheet' with the relevant blues scales written out and the backing notes I intended to play for each song. I also emailed myself ( on mobile) links to the '4 original songs' on Youtube so that - if need be - I could again listen to the backings. I'd never intended to have my 'cheat sheet' on a music stand before me. My 'safety blanket' was in my pocket so I that could take a quick peek between numbers if I needed to. If my mind suddenly went blank 10 mins before the gig or somewhere into the gig, I always knew I could refresh/ground my memory.

Once the gig got under way, I never needed my 'safety blanket' though it was good to know that it was still there should I ever need it. I don't think I ever played any of the 'backings' that I'd carefully researched, practiced and noted. I just played what felt right in the moment. I'd never intended to play any solos but I did anyway.

The original videos of the songs I listened to calmed my nerves. This one in particular. It has a very simple, repetitive 3-note backing and the harmonica solo which to me) seems to be more about 'the harmonica sound' than about technical dexterity on the instrument. When listening to great sax players, it's usually their dexterity, fluency (and expressiveness) that makes the most impact on me. But from this video, I suddenly realised that just the added sound of an instrument ( e.g. sax, however limited the notes) can often add something. It doesn't have to be a fast, technical solo. Just the sound of a sax (a couple of notes) can really add something!




It's really fun and encouraging to read about your experience with the band @MikeMorrell You raised the bar and cleared it! Well done. I find it inspirational when other players step outside their comfort zones like you did.

Thank you for sharing!
:)
 
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Ballymenaboy

Member
Messages
46
Location
Ballymena.Co.Antrim
I've just got home from my first ever 'gig' with a 3-piece band (James Chapman and the Blue Moon) and it went incredibly well! The band members all said that I'd played really well and that I'd 'killed it". A couple of people from the audience came up to me afterwards and complimented my sax playing. They couldn't believe that I'd met these guys just two days ago and jumped in without any rehearsal. It was the best 'sax night' of my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it! They really are a lovely bunch of guys. True musicians (2 professional, 1 semi-professional) who sometimes play together because they enjoy it. The pub was really jumping tonight and couldn't get enough of the band.

It was all good but perhaps the best bit was when - for one number - James (guitarist/singer) suggested I "take my sax out into the audience". So I did. It was an amazing experience walking around in the audience playing sax backing/solos while the band was at the opposite end of the pub. But it really worked! Everyone had their cameras out taking photos and videos and I got a big round of applause.

The band had (via e-mail) asked me to play sax on 4 numbers:
- That's all right Momma (Elvis Presley)
- Hi-heeled sneakers (Tommy Tucker/Elvis Presley)
- Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin)
- The Saints (which turned into When the Saints ...)

I'd listened to these today and I'd worked out some simple sax backing riffs based on the backing on the original versions. But when I turned up, they showed me their 'repertoire' of about 40 -50 numbers (from which just they selected one at a time depending on the 'mood' and preference of the audience at any given time). They invited me to just jump in on anything else I could play on. Which I did, including:
- Proud Mary
- Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
- Honky Tonk Woman
and about 4 Rock/Blues/Soul numbers which I can't even remember. Sometimes one of the band members would just give me look that meant " OK, time to put some sax on this". At other times, I just added some sax in halfway on my own initiative if I felt it it would add something. What was amazing (thanks to my PPT!) is that in addition to backing riffs I played quite a few piercing 16-bar solo's too, cutting through the amplified guitars and drums.

The band also played a lot of numbers (their original compositions, traditional folk songs, Beatles) for which sax would have been inappropiate. So I only ever played when I - or they - felt that some kind of sax backing, counter melody or solo added something to the song. All-in-all I think it was a good balance - I played on every 4-5 numbers during a 2-hour set. And sipped my Guiness at the bar the rest of the time :) .

It is absolutely true that - with some sense of the corresponding blues keys - playing by ear is a whole lot easier than worrying about the number of sharps in a key!

I also found it (half-way through :rolleyes: ) a big advantage in recognising the chord shapes the guitarist was playing. So if he started out in E, I knew I'd have to start out in F#. If he started out in G, I knew I'd have to start out in A, etc.. But mainly, it was just a question of listening and adjusting. Anyway, it seems I'm now their 'go to sax player' for tours in Holland :)

Again, thanks for all the encouragement, tips and support. I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Mike
You've done it once so do it again- get into a band or combo now that you have gained the confidence
 
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