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Frustration and the subconcious....


Formerly known as "nachoman"
brighton by the sea
Now this is beginning to really get to me... A couple of examples. Just before Christmas I did a bit of recording up in London- 6 tracks for an album with a band I work with regularly. I got sent the mp3 roughs, did plenty of homework, decided what I was going to play, how the solos would go etc. On the day I have to say I was on pretty ‘average’ form until (here’s the interesting bit) they produced a 7th track- “here’s the b-side of the new single- feel like sticking a long solo on the end”. “Ok just roll the tape straight off and lets see what happens…” What happens is I play head and shoulders better than the 6 rehearsed tracks! It’s a regular thing- I always play worse in a studio environment if I ‘know what I’m doing’. If some says- I’ll roll the tapes, just play- I’ll guarantee I’ll play vastly better- more spontaneous, better feel, less self- conscious- an all round better performance.
A slight variation I encountered when listening back to a desk recording from one of Sandy Dillon’s gigs in the Netherlands last year. I get a long solo in the middle of one track- listening back to it I found a huge amount of stuff in it that I’d never consciously inserted (predominantly lots of very folk influenced aspects- nothing i've ever really built into my sax playing but, having been brought up on the likes of Fairport Convention. Moving Hearts and the Bothy Band, it seems to have assimilated itself somehow). Again- through diving in head long with no ‘game plan’ and letting myself ‘just play’ I created something far more interesting than the workmanlike, but not particularly distinctive, blues I’d probably have delivered if I’d thought about what I was doing (I’m quite tempted to write a blog on that particular solo- it brought up some very interesting things about my approach to music).
The bottom line seems to be that my subconscious can play the sax a hell of a lot better than my conscious mind. Anyone else feel the same? Any ideas on how to work with this apparent contradiction? Don’t practice seems the moral- but obviously isn’t! Any views welcome…

half diminished

Senior Member
Well (obviously) I'm not at your level but I do know what you mean and Karen (my teacher) said to me only this week that I must try not to lose the musicality I have when improvising freely within one scale when I improvise following the chord progression. For me at least, there's too much 'conscious thought' going on and it gets in the way.

I remember a quote from Andy Sheppard where he advises something along the lines of 'practice, practice, practice and think about what you are playing' but when you perform 'clear your mind and just play'.

OK, so that's easy then :w00t:


Senior Member
Out in the Countryside of Nelson NZ
Sonny Rollins says when he's soloing he thinks nothing at all.

Easy to say, shurely that's the ideal. The zen like moment when you are playing so unaware of yourself your in the "zone"

I've been told there is the practise room and then there is the performance. Two different things IMHO.

Just because you say you always play better in this certain situation, may be a self fullfilling happening.

There's no easy answer.



ex Landrover Nut
Café Supporter
Just north of Munich
I remember listening to an interview with Yehudi Menuhin, and at one poiint he was discussing the recording he'd made with Stéphane Grappelli. Menuhin found it incredibly difficult and ended up playing everything straight - almost like a base player and Grapelli did the rest, improvising around Menuhin. Menuhin commented that he didn't think Grapelli was capable of playing a piece twice the same way. I don't think he was being disparaging - more commenting on the vast differences between their approaches.

I used to do a lot of public speaking, including debating, prepared and impromptu. And trained others. Some people were great at prepared - almost like actors and could deliver emotive, well paced speeches that were the same every time, usually verbatim from what we'd prepared. Others, like me not - I always spoke from bullet points and the words varied according to mood (and the competition). The verbatim speakers could usually deliver perfectly, but with no spontaneity, although it was sometimes difficult to tell this. The bullet pointers were usually much better in delivery and a lot more flexible - cos they were delivering a message, not reading a speech.

I believe there's a gift in being able to sight read music and make it sound good - but an even bigger gift in being able to deliver the message.... Build on your improv. skills. Don't let the notes get in the way of the music! And if you're in cahoots with Grappelli....
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Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom
Charlie Parker said (apparently):
"You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail."

I took it from this that you have to internalise everything so that inspiration can find it's own way out via the patterns and progressions you know through your horn.



Studham Bedfordshire
Jules yeah it's a strange thing as i bought myself a zoom recorder last year to have a good old listen to myself, practiced my pieces then thought yeah i'll record myself now. Oh my god what a load of ****e. Maybe because i knew i was being recorded i tightened up and hit loads of bum notes. really weird, turned the recorder off and no problem. I think there is a lot of good advice above. "Performance is all about vanity, once you don't care what people think of you, your playing will soar" i can't remember where i heard this but i have been trying to add it to my performances. Good post.


Grenada, West Indies
The bottom line seems to be that my subconscious can play the sax a hell of a lot better than my conscious mind. Anyone else feel the same? Any ideas on how to work with this apparent contradiction? Don’t practice seems the moral- but obviously isn’t! Any views welcome…

I stand in with a local blues trio, every now and then, and I've experienced precisely the same thing. The first time I played with them, I put in hours of preparation, working out solos against recordings of the songs that I expected them to play. When the gig came and I tried to put my 'brilliant' solos out, they just didn't work. Variations in the underlying rythm changed the music so much from what I had rehersed against that my preparation was worse than useless.

Needless to say, some time passed before I was invited to play with them again. I used that time learning any interesting blues in the keys that I would encouter, but not learing anything specific to play in a given tune. When eventually I was invited back, it all worked out 100 times much so , that I'm playing with them more and more often...twice last weekend!

As long as I'm familiar with the style of music and comfortable with the key, I play much better if I don't know what I'm doing.

Shetland Islands
I reckon it is this:-

I'm taking the same attitude to learning to play the saxophone as I have done other things in life; namely touch-typing, learning to drive a car and motorbike, and now the sax.

When I first learnt to touch-type in school at the grand age of 15 (I'm now 46), every single keystroke I said out loud or in my head. I had to think about what finger was going where. I left school with the terrific typing speed of 35wpm, courtesy of an Imperial 66 typewriter. Nowadays, I never think what finger is going way and type in the region of between 80wpm and 92wpm.

Driving a car - ooh those naff gear changes. Mirror, single, manoeuvre; hands at 10 to 2 on steering wheel, foot off gas and onto brake, left foot on clutch - squealllllsssssssssssss!

Motorbike - what ya mean I turn the bars the opposite way to the way I'm leaning? Years later, oops officer, yes I know there is a speedometer fitted ...

... returned to driving a car after 20 years when I moved up here to Shetland and oh my God, 5 speed gearbox, ABS, God knows how many lights, ooh and back window wiper. First week was rubbish and now yeah, I'm throwing good old Chugger (Peugeot 306 1.9 diesel) round corners, much to both of my shar pei dogs' dismay.

So what am I waffling on about and what pray does this have to do with your saxophone playing? Well, I reckon when you are learning a tune you are concentrating as to where your fingers are going, etc., much as in the same way as when I learnt to touchtype. The more you play it, the less you concentrate and the more it becomes second nature; just like me being let loose on the roads up here driving LOL.

And what happens when something becomes second nature? Yep, you guessed it - you relax more!

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