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Beginner Fear of Flats...

SallySax

Member
Messages
75
...and sharps :eek:

I'm gradually moving on with all my bits and pieces, playing all sorts of stuff and finding my way around. Everything is still pretty much 'dots', but the moment I see a key signature with more than three/four sharps or flats, I have to turn the page really quickly and find something less threatening! I know how to work out what key the piece is in, but my fingers and brain become shy and unsure of what they need to do.

I imagine the answer is as always 'more practice required', but do any of you have any experience or useful tips for overcoming this particular hurdle?

Thank-you.
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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5,946
I think you've answered your own question! My singing teacher would just throw something in front of me and say "Sing that". Might be in any key. You stumble through it and come out the other end.

The important thing is to develop the habit of keeping going. If you get a wrong note, don't worry about it - that'll sort itself out with more time. It's most important to play in the correct rhythm - even if you leave some notes out completely. At the moment I'm playing Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue in orchestra (I'm playing cello) there are several places where there some very rapid passes (e.g. quintuplet semi-quavers). I can't get all of those notes (across three strings) in place in one beat - I just play the first note and make sure I'm on the right note and in time on the next note.

You never know, you might enjoy Eb minor (that's 6 flats).
 

Kingsleyhk

Senior Member
Messages
508
It really is all about practice. I spent the first half of my sax-playing life playing in dance hands - everything was in Eb, Bb or F concert. The last ten years I've been playing in guitar dominated groups - everything is in A, E or B concert. Now I'm very uncomfortable playing in the flat keys.
 

Rikki

Member
Messages
205
Hi Sally,

Not sure of your prectice routine. But before you attempt to play sheet music in any key you should be very comfortable with that scale ie. be able to go from top to bottom of scale very fluently and generally be comfortable playing around the scale. Simply have a bit of fun with the scale first!

If you are comfortable with the scale attempt some relatively simple music in that scale, I think the important thing is don't rush, if you struggle, then simply slow down. Don't think you have to immediately play everything straight off at written tempo, dont put pressure on yourself, slow and steady wins the race. Also this gives your hands and brain a chance to coordinate together which is really what you are trying to achieve.

Regards Rikki
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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21,947
To build on what Rikki said, learn the scales in, in order.

I'm ignoring minor keys here, but the same applies.

So start with C (no sharps or flats), then move to F (one flat) and then G (one sharp). Then add a flat to F and learn the Bb scale, then add a sharp to G and learn D. And so on.

Once you get used to doing this it's a lot easier.

Learning to play chromatic scales makes life a lot easier as well. And for exercise it's worth writing them out in all sharps/all flats and a mix of sharps & flats. This gets you used to playing teh same fingering for A#/Gb for instance.

One other trick I found is that often a tune won't use all the notes of the scale. So if you read the score and see it has 3 sharps (key is A), you may find that (for instance) G# is only used once or twice in the piece, or not at all. So it's a lot less to worry about. JUst mark the G#s in pencil and get on with it.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
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5,545
Is there a case here for abandoning scales, just treating music as consisting of twelve repeated notes and the saxophone as a chromatic instrument?

Realise tossing all that learning aside and I've been at it longer than most, starting with Hodeir and Dicky Wells, but if you have the courage to make the jump, Schmidt is awaiting.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
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3,904
Is there a case here for abandoning scales, just treating music as consisting of twelve repeated notes and the saxophone as a chromatic instrument?
In my opinion, no. It sounds like a simplification, but in practice it would be utterly bewildering. Each note within, say, a major scale has a harmonic function within that key. Understanding (and of course hearing) that function makes it much easier to keep your bearings.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
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5,219
I've never lived in a Sharp......................;}

Just take your time! In my ABRSM Jazz Grade 1 - 5 scales book Grade 1 just covers scales C, G, F Major and A minor - one flat and/or one sharp. Grade 2 involves 2 flats and 2 sharps, and so on. As each grade is supposed to take a year or so then slow down, and only play scales that you feel OK about. When I did Grade 5 I was playing a piece in C# minor with no problem at all.

Scales with several sharps or flats do feel a little different in terms of finger movements so perhaps just have a go at playing one scale every so often - such a B Major or Gb major - until you have it clearly memorised, and can play about with it.
 

jbtsax

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All excellent advice here. I remember as a student learning to play the alto sax thinking that the flat keys were much harder than the sharp keys. In reality no key is any "harder" than any other key. I just had more experience playing in sharp keys because of my band music. Years later as a teacher, I found beginning flute and trombone players struggling with the key of C because B natural and E natural were foreign to them.

For me, being entirely comfortable in a key including sight reading and finger patterns makes the key that adds one more sharp or one more flat more accessible because then I only have to concentrate on the one note that changes. When I get to 6 or 7 flats or sharps it is always easier for me to think in terms of what notes aren't sharp or flat.

Even now when asked to play the Cb scale with 7 flats, I still think the key of B with 5 sharps. After all I am still a "sharp loving" alto sax player at heart. :D
 

Nick Wyver

noisy
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5,953
In reality no key is any "harder" than any other key.
Can I beg to differ. For instance the transition from G# to A# to B is always going to be "harder" than the transition from G to A to B. There are many other examples. The flat keys involve the counter-intuitive movement of putting the little finger down in order to raise a note and then raising 3 fingers to get to the next one. It doesn't matter how much you practise, it's always going to be harder.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
Should have learnt the trumpet, which has much easier fingering across the board. G# A# B is as easy as G A B, and C# Major is very easy too. And trombone; even easier! The Sax is a really convoluted instrument to play, as is true of most woodwind instruments - they would not have worked in Grimethorpe!
 

jbtsax

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Can I beg to differ. For instance the transition from G# to A# to B is always going to be "harder" than the transition from G to A to B. There are many other examples. The flat keys involve the counter-intuitive movement of putting the little finger down in order to raise a note and then raising 3 fingers to get to the next one. It doesn't matter how much you practise, it's always going to be harder.
Once a key is mastered, it becomes easy to play in that key (including the G#A#B sequence). Granted, for some people mastery of one key may take a bit more time than others. Using the terms "hard" or "harder" for me tends to create a mental block against mastering a skill. To call something more "challenging" denotes that mastery is attainable when one puts in the time and effort required. This may sound like just semantics, but in teaching music these types of connotations can make a big difference. In music as in other skills it is really all about familiarity.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
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5,219
I just think that your claim that "no key is any 'harder' " is innaccurate. You introduced the word "harder" and Nick is only using the word that you introduced to the discussion. I think that it takes longer to "master" C# major than to master C Major as you have to play a more complicated finger pattern which will take longer to learn.

The use of the word "hard" may be unfortunate, and it may be that we are talking about degrees of difficulty, but I imagine that ABRSM Jazz Grades etc. would not be gradually teaching scales and musical pieces with higher numbers of sharps and flats if they thought that some were not "harder" than others.

As you seem to be emphasising, all scales can be learnt, though some are more "(insert your own term for 'difficult', 'complicated' etc.)" than others.

Kind regards
Tom :thumb:
 

Kingsleyhk

Senior Member
Messages
508
No question that some keys on the saxophone are mechanically harder than others. Why were almost all old dance band pieces in the flat keys? Because it took the saxes into F, C, G or D - depending on the saxophone.

Having said that, the ideal is of course to be able to play comfortably in all keys. Legend has it that Charlie Parker could play anything in all keys - simply as a result of six months solid practice. Sorry, I don't have six months.

It does make me laugh though when guitarists and vocalists glibly say "Let's just take it up (or down) a semitone." I've never met a sax player yet who likes transposing from F to F# or C to C#. Not saying they can't do it - the session guys do it all the time - but like it? I don't think so!

Or my guitar-playing mate here in Hong Kong (Yes you, Steve!) who wants to do everything in B concert because "it sounds brighter."
 

SallySax

Member
Messages
75
Thank-you all for your very useful comments and observations.

As a youngster, I played trombone, and never gave a thought to the key signature: I just played what was written! Now I'm learning sax, I think it's the thought of being confident of where my fingers should be, and producing the right sound. I may be over-complicating the issue. After all, a trombone is a tone approximator, so to a degree, it's all smoke and mirrors!I know I'm listening more carefully now, whereas when young and care-free, I just played and as long as my sound matched the two either side of me, I was happy.

More practice, and perhaps a bit of theory as a back-up...


Thanks again!
 

allansto

Senior Member
Messages
471
Ive been playing /Learning for just over a year now first I learned all the natural notes then the sharps and then the flats
I wish I had learned the sharp and flat of alternate notes at the same time
Its harder at the moment cos Im confused with some fingerings all overthe place
Im trying to sight read and i hit the wrong notes cos of confusion
The main thing i know is that familiarity will reign in the end and eventually I will hit the right notes in my brain and thus tell my fingers to press the right keys and it will eventually come together.
Keep on practicing
Allansto
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
I bet you only thought you learnt natural notes, whilst at the same time you were probably playing B#, Cb E# and Fb without realising it! Only A D and G are "just" natural notes.
 

jbtsax

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8,011
The piano keyboard is a good tool to use when learning the "enharmonics" --- two names for the same pitch (fingering). It helps to visualize how one note raised 1/2 step can be the same key as another note lowered 1/2 step.

 
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