Beginner Chris' Beginners' Diary (Take II)

Chris98

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#82
The strange case of a Grade 5 exam and amnesia...

28th March 2009

Sitting in my car watching the minutes slip by at an excruciatingly slow rate I began wondering how I’d arrived at this point in my life, what had ever possessed me to decided to buy a saxophone and then of all things to find a teacher to help me with it? For if it wasn’t for Kate I’d not be sitting here right now, but then if it wasn’t for Kate I’d never have learnt so much or had such good fun and I’d certainly have never joined a group or played in public. I was about to do my first music exam, a Grade 5 on alto sax and thankfully it was in the morning so I didn’t need to spend ages waiting anxiously for the dreaded time Last year Kate had been awarded examination centre status so my exam was at least going to be in familiar surroundings. Having left my car I instantly felt better for being in the fresh air and walking, glancing at my watch I decide to quicken my pace and as I walked I kept my mind distracted, left to its own devices it would have had me mentally running though my pieces or the scales and arpeggios I was likely to be tested on, how does C♯ minor go again? Or inventing some hideous sight-reading test in an unfriendly key and lots of accidentals. Much better to concentrate on what I was going to do afterwards rather than mentally tie myself into knots, I pacified my brain by considering what new mouthpiece I could reward myself with once it’s all over, but then I had the thought that I could hardly reward myself with a new mouthpiece if I fail. As luck would have it I had arrived at this point and never had an opportunity to resolve the problem.

I quietly slipped into the waiting area where I was greeted by Kate and a student’s mum who was looking just a touch nervous for her daughter, currently in there with the examiner, no doubt putting on a wonderful performance with her flute. Kate suggested I might want to get my sax ready, I was about ten minutes early and the exams were running a few minutes behind so I had plenty of time to get more nervous! My mouth was a little dry so I ended up with my reed stuck in my mouth for ages and grateful to have the sax out as I could distract myself fiddling with the keys and the alinement of the neck. Jo, who is Kate’s Mum, came in having just accompanied the flutist during her exam, and told the Mum that her daughter had played brilliantly. Jo is also to accompany me and so I have spent some time with her as well as Kate leading up to this exam, Jo has also been helping me prepare for the improvisation part. Double checking I had all the paper work and the music books ready and open at the right pages, Kate took me though to a room where I could warm up. It was at this point that it was really beginning to feel imminent and I realised just how tremendously nervous I was, goodness knows why, it wasn't like anything other than my own sense of achievement was hanging on it.

Having warmed up with a few arpeggios and scales and run through my unaccompanied piece, Kate gave me a few words of reassurance and support that I really can’t remember now, this I believe was the beginning of the amnesia and what follows feels more like a dream than anything real. We went back into the waiting area and shortly afterwards the examiner came though and invited me to follow him though.

The first piece 'La Cumparsita' was okay, my fingers didn’t feel totally connected to my head and I found that I needed to be more forthright with my articulation and dynamics, I don’t know if this was an issue with my hearing or nerves or what but it all seemed slightly removed. I was greatly relieved to hit the high notes cleanly at the end and the runs were not too bad either, they could have been tighter, and all of a sudden it was over. I was then into the 'Spanish Love Song' and it felt like it crawled along at and painfully slow rate. As it’s such a slow tune and the notes are drawn out any bum note or iffy intonation seems to be very pronounced. It is also slow enough and I know it so well I can think about it while playing it and I started to worry about what was to come, the high notes that I’ve had issue with in the past. I was mortified when towards the end as I hit the palm keys and an almighty screech sprang out, it was that primeval scream of an animal in pain and was like an electric shock and I had an instant release of adrenaline into my system. Jo had warned me that if it happens, don’t tighten up, loosen up, as tightening up will just make it worse and somehow I managed to fight my instinct and do as she recommended. Jo looked so upset for me as she walked out to leave me to do the rest of the exam, I really felt sorry for her and Kate as they had put so much in to help me and their other students and I’d just, well, I felt like I’d let them down.

I kind of felt that that was it, I had just proved I couldn't control my instrument and the rest of the exam is a bit of a blur to be honest, I did my study piece, 'Don't Count On Me!' I think I got most of it right but it might have been a bit rushed. The scales and Arpeggios, I really have no recollection of them at all, I was on auto pilot but was left with a niggling feeling I might have amalgamated two scales at one point but it appears not according to the Examination Report, ‘Scales and arpeggios were very secure’.

We were then into the improvisation and that I seem to remember felt like it went okay, although I felt I was just finding a groove when he pulled it to an end, so I don't know if that was because it satisfied his requirements or was the musical equivalent of waffling and he decided enough was enough!

Sight reading, no idea, but then I often don't and when we've been doing some during a lesson I have to ask Kate if she was able to recognise the tune! The Examination Report said, ‘There were some tiny slips of rhythm.’ And that was it, all over, I shook the examiners hand and left him to make his notes.

All in all the best bit was walking out of the room thinking, I'll never be doing that again. I have to say Kate and Jo were brilliant and I'm so glad that they were there, and there was time to chat and laugh about the whole thing afterwards, but what a day they must have had, all those nervous people coming and going with all those mixed emotions, I expect they were exhausted by the end of it all.

Today I got the Examination Report and the break down is as follows:


  • Piece 1 - 'La Cumparsita'
    20/22
  • Piece 2 - 'Spanish Love Song'
    18/22
  • Piece 3 (unaccompanied) - 'Don't Count on Me!'
    19/22
  • Technical Work (Scales and Arpeggios)
    13/14
  • Test 1 (Improvisation)
    8/10
  • Test 2 (Sight Reading)
    9/10

Total Score: 87/100 - Distinction, although I might add the distinction grade starts at 87 so I only just got it.

All the best,

Chris.
 

Chris98

Senior Member
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#85
Well done Chris, fantastic job you must be exstatic
Hi Johnny,

Thanks, I'm amazed really, I never thought I'd do anything like that but I'm so glad it's behind me now.

Well done Chris, so you'll be joining the band now?:welldone
Hi Pete,

I'm still not sure I'm ready for the Swing Band, you all seem to know what you're doing and I struggle to keep up in SaxPak. Saying that though, you all seem to have good fun and it would be nice to play with a full band. Maybe I'll see if I can rope Andy in as well.

All the best,

Chris
 
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#86
Hi Pete,

I'm still not sure I'm ready for the Swing Band, you all seem to know what you're doing and I struggle to keep up in SaxPak. Saying that though, you all seem to have good fun and it would be nice to play with a full band. Maybe I'll see if I can rope Andy in as well.

All the best,

Chris
'seem to know' is about right. Shouldn't speak for the others, but I only play the easy parts. Advantage of being 2nd tenor:D
 
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80
#88
Well done Chris. It's pretty scary isn't it. I am just contemplating doing the grade 6 in July but I must admit I am getting fed up of playing 3pieces over and over again and do not know whether to bother. I can see the value in the scales but even then what use are melodic minors? And harmonics to a degree when there are so may different minor scales?

After my grade 5 in December I realised you could quite easily get to grade 8 and know very little. The ABRSM exams I am doing are so very presciptive, scales, pieces, aural and sight... If I was a kid going through the motions with your whole life ahead I can see the value but as a 46 year old I am now questioning it as time is not on my side. I just want to play jazz and am realising that effort spent in ear training, chords and scales will probably stand me better.

Are you going to do the grade 6?
 

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,076
#89
Fantastic Chris! What an achievement!!
Must be a great feeling to accomplish something like that.
Well done!:welldone :sax:
Hi Pauline,

Thanks, it does feel good, it also seems a bit like a dream and funny to be on the other side of it. I'd not realised how tense I was getting whilst playing before hand and how much more relaxed I feel now and it's great to be getting back into playing music for fun again. :D

Well done Chris. It's pretty scary isn't it. I am just contemplating doing the grade 6 in July but I must admit I am getting fed up of playing 3pieces over and over again and do not know whether to bother. I can see the value in the scales but even then what use are melodic minors? And harmonics to a degree when there are so may different minor scales?

After my grade 5 in December I realised you could quite easily get to grade 8 and know very little. The ABRSM exams I am doing are so very presciptive, scales, pieces, aural and sight... If I was a kid going through the motions with your whole life ahead I can see the value but as a 46 year old I am now questioning it as time is not on my side. I just want to play jazz and am realising that effort spent in ear training, chords and scales will probably stand me better.

Are you going to do the grade 6?
Hello Fred,

I’m not so sure about doing another grade, I don’t want to say no outright but for the moment I’m please to be working on some new material and with renewed enthusiasm. Going over the same three pieces did get a little tiresome I have to admit.

I did the Trinity Guildhall grade, I’ve not looked to see how the ABRSM grades differ but with Trinity you have a bit of flexibility for example, I could choose two of the following tests, sight-reading, aural, improvisation or musical knowledge. I felt sight-reading was an issue for me so I thought it was best to confront that head on and I've always wanted to be able to improvisation so that guided my other choice.

Although I wont be concentrating on the scales and arpeggios etc required for a grade at the moment I still want to keep working at them as I think they are important and luckily I’ve recently come into possession of a copy of ‘Taming The Saxophone’ from that very kind Mr Thomas. I've already worked some of the exercises from it into my warm up and the ‘Technical Workout’ part of my practice sessions. The hope being that I'll become a more accomplished player, well that’s the dream at any rate.

Best of luck if you decide to go for the grade 6, I believe from Grade 6 and up it gets noticeably harder.

All the best,

Chris
 
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#92
That was a beautifully-told story Chris, with a great outcome...I felt I was there, but glad it wasn't me!!
I have always suffered from 'testitis', even when doing something at which I KNOW I am competent (like my driving test and hockey umpiring practical).
The trouble is that I try to be perfect and am put-off when I inevitably make a mistake!!
I just have to hope the examiners are perceptive enough to see through the nerves to the underlying competence....my driving examiner was, but the hockey examiner wasn't!
(My second examiner only watched me for about 10 mins before realising I knew what I was doing.......I had been umpiring, off & on for about 25 years :) )

Very well-done :)
 

Chris98

Senior Member
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#93
Well done Chris, very descriptive too. Makes my 'Did my grade 2 exam yesterday' very ordinary!!!!

:)
May I add my congratulations too.
That was a beautifully-told story Chris, with a great outcome...I felt I was there, but glad it wasn't me!!
I have always suffered from 'testitis', even when doing something at which I KNOW I am competent (like my driving test and hockey umpiring practical).
The trouble is that I try to be perfect and am put-off when I inevitably make a mistake!!
I just have to hope the examiners are perceptive enough to see through the nerves to the underlying competence....my driving examiner was, but the hockey examiner wasn't!
(My second examiner only watched me for about 10 mins before realising I knew what I was doing.......I had been umpiring, off & on for about 25 years :) )

Very well-done :)
Hi Nick, Old Git (Revered Elder) & Roger

Thanks for your comments.

Nick, I found your comments about your jazz grade really helpful although they did add a little to my apprehension of my own exam. Have you decided to go for the next grade? I’m half thinking about doing one of the jazz grades, not the exam, I just want to use it as a structured course and primarily on the tenor which has been neglected of late.

Roger, I’m not a test person either, I don’t think they necessary show anything other than an ability to over come nerves and from my school days, an ability remember stuff.

May your pads never leak and reeds be true, all the best,

Chris
 
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860
Location
Wokingham, Berks, UK
#94
Hi Chris, Yes - I've bought the jazz grade 3 book already, am on the third scale and the first tune. Thinking about doing that in December! I'm doing that on my own at the moment though, my teacher's going through one of the Aebersold books with me.

I am a test person - nerves don't seem to bother me too much. Perhaps it's because I'm not a perfectionist!!!
 
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#95
Congratulations Chris .

I've been following your progress and I have read all your posts. You have a knack for telling/writing a story and I feel good that this one has had a happy ending. I started learning the sax 15 months ago at the age of 50, and I could relate to a lot of situations you had to face, even though I have no teacher and I will not be taking any exams.

Keep on posting.

All the best
Koumou
 

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,076
#96
Hi Koumou,

Thanks, it’s really nice to know that people have enjoyed following my trials and tribulations. As to the story having a happy ending, well the story so far has, for which I’m very grateful, but with every step forward an even bigger landscape seems to unfold before me. I’m 29 now and see this journey taking the rest of my life and even then I doubt I’ll be anywhere close to the destination!

I’ve just got back having had a really good lesson and full of the joys of spring, the sun is shining, the windows are open, I have a couple of really good reeds and I’m enjoying the new tunes I’m working on. :D

All the best,

Chris
 
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Location
Buckinghamshire
#97
Hi Koumou,

I’m 29 now and see this journey taking the rest of my life and even then I doubt I’ll be anywhere close to the destination!

Chris
At least you have a lifetime ahead................

I've wasted the past 35 years NOT playing the sax and that time ain't coming back! :crying:

I'll still be rubbish when I pop me cloggs. :w00t:
 
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732
Location
London, UK
#98
Hi Koumou,

Thanks, it’s really nice to know that people have enjoyed following my trials and tribulations. As to the story having a happy ending, well the story so far has, for which I’m very grateful, but with every step forward an even bigger landscape seems to unfold before me. I’m 29 now and see this journey taking the rest of my life and even then I doubt I’ll be anywhere close to the destination!

I’ve just got back having had a really good lesson and full of the joys of spring, the sun is shining, the windows are open, I have a couple of really good reeds and I’m enjoying the new tunes I’m working on. :D

All the best,

Chris

Hey Chris,

I am of the belief that being older means that you are more focussed on what you want, you don't have your parents twisting your arm to make you do it and you've got the teenage hormonal rush out of the way. So you can take it at your pace and enjoy the ride. I'm 31 and the older I get, the more sax-sensible I get. So long as I keep my teeth, wits and saxophone about me, it should be an interesting journey. A band I like called "Ugly Duckling" put it rather succinctly -

"On a journey to anywhere, you can draw your own map"
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
#99
Hey Chris,

I am of the belief that being older means that you are more focussed on what you want, you don't have your parents twisting your arm to make you do it and you've got the teenage hormonal rush out of the way. So you can take it at your pace and enjoy the ride. I'm 31 and the older I get, the more sax-sensible I get. So long as I keep my teeth, wits and saxophone about me, it should be an interesting journey. A band I like called "Ugly Duckling" put it rather succinctly -

"On a journey to anywhere, you can draw your own map"
Hi Tengu,

I totally agree with you, although part of me wishes I'd started much earlier, I do actually wonder if I found the sax or rather it found me at the right time. Anyway, as I don't really know where I'm going or why, I intend to keep a relaxed eye on the horizon and see where this journey takes me, it's more fun that way.

All the best,

Chris
 

Chris98

Senior Member
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1,076
I've gone off the boil...

Things aren’t quite going as smoothly as I’d hoped for, the relief of having got through the grade 5 has now lapsed into complacency, looking back over the last month’s practice, both dedication and quantity have waned somewhat. Kate, I think has picked up on this and last week subtly suggested that my tone was suffering a bit and today she was a little more forthright, suggesting I work on some ‘Technical Studies’ and cut out the vibrato that I’ve started lacing every note with. I remember how hard it was to do vibrato to begin with, now it seems I can’t help myself!

The saxophone really doesn’t respond well to a less than dedicated approach, well for me at least, and I’ve fallen into a strange ‘don’t know what I’m doing’ phase and that’s coming out in my approach to the sax. I’ve hardly listened to any jazz or music with saxophones in it for a while now, so I think it’s time to revisit some of my CDs and immerse myself in music again. I think I work better if I have some sort of loose routine and lately I’ve been slack in my warm up exercises and technical stuff like scales and Pete’s exercises. I’ve fallen into the trap of doing long tones, for example, because I always do long tones, not thinking to concentrate on a particular aspect of them like the attack of the note or trying to get as pure a tone as possible.

Today’s lesson was one of those where I have come away thinking hard. It was not a great lesson from a playing point of view but Kate, in a very nice way, pointed out a few, well needed, home truths to wake me up. I was playing ‘I Got Rhythm’ from ‘Gershwin By Special Arrangement’ and getting my fingers in a twist throughout the second half. After the initial run though Kate said I was trying to play it too ‘nice’ which was sapping the life out of it, it needed to be played with energy and confidence. I have to confess that I’d begun to get fixated on getting the right notes in at the right time and had turned the whole thing into an exercise and completely neglected the music in it! I fared even worse on the second piece in the book, ‘But not for me’, it seems as soon as I see a whole string of quavers with a few accidentals thrown in for good measure and at a decent tempo my mind does a runner, playing it feels like running down stairs, catching my feet on every step and perpetually fearing I’m going to trip up!

It’s not been a conscious thing but I wonder if I’ve got to the stage of, ‘what’s next?’ which is dangerously close to, ‘why are you doing this?’ to neither question do I have an answer and on the one hand feel no answer is needed other than because I want to. On the other hand, I sense the danger that I could, if I don’t proactively work at it, stay at my current level which doesn’t sound very fulfilling so I think it’s time to pick myself up and set course, I’m not sure if Kate sensed something similar.

Last week Kate mentioned something about a grade 6 jazz exam and that idea resurfaced again today at the end of the lesson! I’m a little reticent about jumping back into doing another grade and Kate assured me we can take a long time getting ready for it, and so I have come away with two possible exam pieces to look at, ‘More Brothers’ by Lamont and Parker’s ‘Billie’s Bounce’, I’m not familiar with either tune, by name at least, so I’ll be hunting for good some recordings.

I have a new addition to my family of musical instruments, I am the happy owner of a flute, I got it second hand from a well know shop in London and like to think it might have been set up by Griff. Someone once said the flute is one of the easiest instruments to play, I remember reading a similar sentiment about the saxophone, well neither have proved to be the case for me, but I like a challenge. :)

All the best,

Chris
 
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