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Found my limit perhaps

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
855
I have been playing for seven years and have just about reached what could be termed a grade seven level (although I have taken no exams). I can play a grade 7 piece with practice and a grade 5 piece by sight-reading but have recently been attempting Bach Sonata in G Minor arranged for tenor sax and piano (generally a grade 8 piece depending on playing speed) and I believe I may have reached the pinnacle of my sax playing. I cannot master this piece and I have been bashing at it for months. Parts come and parts go but I cannot put it all together in one smooth number and I feel I have found my limit.

Most players are not concert standard and so all of us must reach a point where we know we cannot get better -- so what now? Put an advert on the internet "reasonable player looking for band who are not too bad but not brilliant"? Take up another instrument and start from scratch until that upper limit is reached again?

Just looking for a bit of direction from others who have hit this plateau as practice is going down to a couple of times a week because I no longer know why I'm doing it.

Cheers

Martin (who is perhaps being a little hard on himself)
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
Martin (who is perhaps being a little hard on himself)
I'm sure that's it Martin. These kinds of impossible barriers are precisely the kinds of things that make great stories later about how you thought something was insurmountable only to discover that at some point the dam finally breaks and a flood of unbelievable skill and talent overwhelms you. ;}

I've had many trials and tribulations in my pursuit of music. For started I didn't even truly get into music until I was 57. What an age to START at! Well, to be fair, I did have some guitar and banjo under my belt from younger days. And fortunately I had gotten interested in classical guitar and from there I learned to read music fairly well. So I had that jump on things.

I don't want to bore you with my story, but I'm going to do it anyway. :)))

About 6 years ago my beloved mother died. She was my best friend and I had been taking care of her basically full time for a good 6 years prior to her passing. So when she passed on I simply had to do something to consume me. I took up violin and piano simultaneously, just to totally swamp me out. I needed to totally bury myself in something so I practiced violin and piano almost constantly.

I remember quite vividly not being able to make a decent sound on the violin for at least the first full month. I was so close to tossing in the towel I almost gave it up. But then out of squeaks and squawks something that sounded like a note emerged, and before long after that I was actually playing simple tunes. What had seem impossible was now taking shape.

I progressed on the piano far more quickly, but unfortunately I did hit a ceiling there. The ceiling I hit was physical. After playing for about 3 years I finally abandoned the piano simply because I knew that I could never make my fingers move as fast as they need to move. They simply would not go. My mind was ahead of my fingers and I seriously doubt that my fingers could have ever caught up. Possibly so, but I gave it up none the less.

Since that time I've gotten into the sax, trumpet and a full set of drums. All of which have their own little nightmarish problems. The high notes on the trumpet seem impossible, in fact, many of them still are quite impossible for me at this time, but I'm slowly expanding my range.

Playing syncopation on the drums for funk and jazz is really testing my ability to gain limb independence. I make such tiny little baby-steps of progress that it's almost agonizing at times. Just the same those little baby-steps keep my going. When I look back to the fact that I couldn't play a sax, trumpet, or drums at all a mere year ago, I have to give myself a pat on the back for sticking with it. I'm actually getting to the point where some of the things I play could be mistaken for music by non-musicians.

Hey that's progress!

I realize my goals are quite different from yours. I'm happy if I can learn to play a bunch of different instruments half-a$$ed. Whilst your goal is to master one. It's a different thing altogether to be sure. Just the same there's something to be said for tenacity.

As far as starting a new instrument from scratch I highly recommend it! I can guarantee that no matter what second instrument you choose to learn it WILL contribute to helping you break down barriers on your more advanced instrument. And it really doesn't matter what the second instrument is. It could be fiddle, piano, drums, or another type of horn, anything. It doesn't matter. Just take it up seriously and it WILL have a positive affect on how you play your current instrument.

So yes, definitely look into a second instrument. You'll be glad you did. ;}
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Martin, don't give up or stop trying, but do put the piece away and work on other things of a similar standard. If you come back to it in a few months, I'm sure it'll go much better.

But at your current level, you should have no problem playing in bands.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Young Mozzy,

All the crap about "Smooth learning curves" has led you to the wrong conclusion. Improvement is more like a long staircase, every now and again the brain demands a rest. You haven't gone backwards, the old noddler is just making sense of what has been put in. After a while, might even include a break from the sax, it all comes round and you are ready to take the next step and so on ad infinitum.

It might also pay to ask yourself, "Are you doing this for your pleasure or another reason?" Sometimes it is pressure from others or past experience that is the driving force, in which case, try and lose these demands.

Finally, ask if others enjoy your playing? If so, stop beating yourself up, the CaSLM can do it better and the fees are reasonable. Sadly there is only one World Record at a time, the rest of us are also rans but it will be one of those also rans who will improve that record.
 

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
Commercial Supporter
Messages
13,977
I felt exactly the same when I was at college, surrounded by all these players who were streets ahead, a friend of mine and I started up the "Institute of Quite Good Saxophone Players"

I wouldn't judge anything by the grade 8 piece when it comes to playing in a band, I suggest you ignore grades now, get out and jam and play with bands and hope none of those bands ask you to play the Bach G minor sonata.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
I'd suggest doing something different. If you're banging your head against a brick wall with Bach, find some Stravinsky or some jazz etudes or an ABBA playalong. Whatever. Or, if you're not doing it already, see how fast you can work your scale exercises up to. Take up the sopranino. Something that's new to you, and if you're no good at it at first, so much the better! You'll get back that feeling of making progress. Come back to the Bach in a few months if you really want to play it and see how much easier it seems.
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Definitely being too hard on yourself! :shocked:

It took me a year to perfect my pieces for G6 and I'm wondering if I'm gonna ever be able to play Bob Mintzer's Rhythm check along to the CD for my G8! planning to take the grade by next summer latest.

As for joining a band, I've been playing in ensembles and bands right throughout my musical journey at all stages so I'd certainly get out there and have a go if I was you!:thumb:
 

saxplorer

Senior Member
Messages
879
I'm nowhere near your level, Moz, and suspect my ceiling will be way below that, so this is not the voice of experience.

I think we all are strongly motivated people and setting ourselves targets and higher and higher bars is one of the ways we bring ourselves closer to our true potential. Nothing at all wrong with that. But it does strike me that the practice and the improvement is, in the end, nothing but a means to an end. And that end is all about enjoying the music. Enjoying playing it, bringing enjoyment (we hope!) to those who hear us.

So my suggestion (the voice of inexperience!) is to just have fun with it for a while, try some new styles, enjoy the fruits of your labours, and rejoice in the considerable skills you have built up.
 

jazzdoh

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,284
Young Mozzy,

All the crap about "Smooth learning curves" has led you to the wrong conclusion. Improvement is more like a long staircase, every now and again the brain demands a rest.
Hi Moz
This statement from OG is spot on,you do have long staircase and even plateaus then small steps to climb and you are being too hard on yourself,take a break over the festive season and then come back in the new year with new vigour,if there is a piece you can't master then leave it behind for a while move on to other things like what Pete says find somewhere to jam.
The fact you can't master one piece is not the pointer that you have come to your limit.

Brian
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
855
Thank you all for your kind words. I feel a bit soppy for writing the OP now. I have played in a gigging band but two wanted to do electronic ambient so the brass section left (surprised? hardly). I do play in a fledgling, forties dance band on occasions but have yet to do gigs with them.

BigMartin, I think you are right about about the poppy stuff, not sure about ABBA (!) but I think something straightforward and fun might do the trick.

Sweet Dreamer, aren't you the busy one! Tried drums, I am so rubbish with the bass drum, everything is fine until my right foot decides to try to move in time. It's like someone unpleasant comes to a party, all the other limbs leave disappointed ;} .

Onward and upward then...thanks again everyone.

Martin
 

andyb1970

Member
Messages
450
Hi Martin

We all progress at different speeds which depends on many factors such as natural ability, practice time, practice regimes, quality of tutor, encouragement/support from partner and friends etc. At the moment I can't get an 8 note phrase right no matter how many times I try it. Sure they are awkward notes and played fast but still...it sucks. I also feel that my progress has slowed and asked my tutor the other day "have I reached my limit" and he laughed and said forget it there is no limit, with practice you will always get better. Period.

From my own personal perspective when I first started all I did was my Grades, 5 in two years with a lot of practice, but I couldn't do anything else. I've realised since then that the learning has to be broader, play lots of different music (great for sight reading), if appropriate do grades as own goals, play with other people as often as you can, learn how to improvise etc and you will become a better musician, slowly but surely. After picking my sax up again after 18 years it took me 6 months to get back to where I was and another 6 months to prepare for my Grade 6 hour after hour practicing the same pieces of music. Next week I'm doing a Grade 3 Jazz exam. The journey is slow and often painful but I get better little by little.

I still have doubts whether I'll be able to get to Grade 5 Jazz, or Grade 8 Classical, or whether I'll ever be good enough to be in a band, but then something inside me always says to push forward as I have done before.

We all have doubts of our own ability, but I believe with the right outlook, practice and guidance you can achieve more tomorrow than you can do today. I am sure many of us struggle with pieces as you do, never seemingly getting it right all the way through. What I do is to play it the absolute best I know I can get it too, and then move on and accept that for now that's as good as it gets, in case for me was Bolero for Grade 6...hours and hours trying to get it just right and at the end yes it was ok, but in the beginning I was sure I'd never be able to play it as I did in the exam.

On that note...I'm sneaking off for lunch and having a practice :) Hope this rambling may have helped in some way....
 

Sunray

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,708
You said ...

Martin (who is perhaps being a little hard on himself)

Well mate ... [Sunray Say's] ;}

Stop bashin yer self up and get on wiv avin some fun ... :)))
 

MandyH

Sax-Mad fiend!
Subscriber
Messages
3,552
Martin, don't give up or stop trying,
TBH I might suggest you do stop "trying" for a little while at least.
On recent experience, I would argue you can try too hard, practice too much, especially if you are really desperate to succeed. Somehow too much practice is counter-effective.

Give it a break, find a new project for a while and come back to it only occasionally or not for several weeks.

Maybe then it'll all come together better.

Mind you, you sound like your pretty good already. I think you are indeed being too hard on yourself.
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
2,143
Yes, we all have limits, but as some have said it could just be a plateau. I don't know you, what you play, or where you want to go, but it sounds like you are talking about your ability playing a classical repertoire piece (but want to play in bands?). Being employable as a classical sax player certainly requires excellent reading skills, technique, and tone. One out of a thousand starters makes that grade as there’s not a big call for classical sax players anyway.

None of the bands I've been in required fantastic reading skills if you were just playing parts. If you're talking about solos, then that's a whole other set of skills that has nothing to do with "grades". What's more important in any of the pop or jazz fields is HOW you play. Feeling, melodic sense, rhythmic sense, tone and imagination are what are needed. If you've got nothing more than Classical fast reading skills this isn't going to make you a great (or even good) player in a pop or jazz band. Who do you think sells more records the classical guitarist Christopher Parkening or blues guitarist BB King? Easy to say who has the best technique and reading skills, but this doesn’t = having the most appeal and communication with the public. I frankly love the way both of these guys play, but the point is that you don’t have to match up to some pedagogic standard in order to be a good or great player, especially on sax.

Get of the treadmill, open your eyes and ask yourself what it is you want to play and sound like. If it’s some guy that’s trying to wow an audience with their technique, then be ready for a life of disappointment. Even if you were that one in ten thousand person, who would want to listen? People go to see/hear music that touches them, not jerks who just want to show off. Big mistake of a lot of wannabees thinking killer technique is all. Nice to have the facility, but if it’s not in the service of music it’s worthless. Lots of people universally recognised as great don’t have fantastic technique, but they’ve got something better that everybody understands and “gets”. Paradoxically how many popular great recording/playing sax players does anyone know of who have a PhD in playing sax?
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
Subscriber
Messages
5,945
Martin, don't give up or stop trying, but do put the piece away and work on other things of a similar standard. If you come back to it in a few months, I'm sure it'll go much better.

But at your current level, you should have no problem playing in bands.
I have the alto version, but won't be playing it for a year or two...

Agree with what KevG says here, but Bach is HARD. I have sung works such as the Bach Christmas Oratorio, the B Minor Mass, St. John Passion, motet Jesu Meine Freude etc. Bach is always tricky, demanding, long lines (where do you breath?), unexpected harmonic twists etc etc.

Just a thought - do you have a teacher? If not, might be worth having the odd session just to get some ideas?
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
Subscriber
Messages
8,896
Just looking for a bit of direction from others who have hit this plateau as practice is going down to a couple of times a week because I no longer know why I'm doing it.

Cheers

Martin (who is perhaps being a little hard on himself)
Ask yourself why did you start doing it.

To pass exams or because it makes a nice noise.
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
I am inclined to agree with old git that progress on a musical instrument cannot be compared to a smooth arc. Maybe at the very beginning it is. Later it turns more into steps interspersed with arcs. It is worth bearing in mind that the more proficient one becomes, the more effort has to be invested into retaining simply what one already knows. When Marcel Mule retired from his teaching job, he never took up the saxophone again. He thought that he would have to spend three hours a day just making sure to maintain his tone.

Contrary to what some say, there is nothing wrong with following the grade system. But the grade system is not some kind of elevator. It is more like a framework for the developing musician. And remember, even people who are not familiar with the grade system will tell you with evident pride that they are grade 6 or whatver players. As often as not they are mistaken.

Maybe a slight change may be required in your musical diet. If you have played mainly Bach, Telemann or Scarlatti up to now, why not have a go at Guy Lacour or James Rae. You can use all you classical training to playb them, but it is quite a different experience.

Finally, the Bach suite may be beyond you at the moment. When I start a new piece I usually rehearse for about two weeks. If it doesn't "stick" by that time (i.e. there is no evident progress), I try something else. I also periodically go through some of the material I have more or less left behind. Yesterday, for example, I went twice through the whole of Lacour, Book 1.

And BTW, people do have PhDs in playing the saxophone. But they tend to be more famoliar with Charles Ives, Takeshi Yoshimatsu and others. Not the stuff you hear at your Saturday night popular music venue.
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
2,143
And BTW, people do have PhDs in playing the saxophone. But they tend to be more famoliar with Charles Ives, Takeshi Yoshimatsu and others. Not the stuff you hear at your Saturday night popular music venue.
The PhD quote was not meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable or justify themselves. There's hardly anyone who can name a great Classical sax player. That doesn’t make them any less a great player, just not a household name. If one wants to pursue a Classical sax career that's a great goal, but as said before there's only room in this world for a few. If you enjoy the journey and aren't going to be frustrated by not being one of those few, then go for it. It's a matter of priorities and justifications. This is relevant to Martin's stated frustration, which is what this is supposed to be about. Why not stop and ask oneself "what am I doing, and where do I want to go and what are my priorities"? Pushing someone else towards potentially more frustration because YOU subscribe to a system and want/need that goal is not being particularly sensitive. I'm sure that you don't see any harm in your advice, and it was certainly meant with sincerity, but there are other points of view that also may have relevance.
 
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