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My New "Toy" Helping and Hurting My Practice Routine (and teaching and learning philosophy)

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I have owned a looper, the RC-1 for years. A friend of mine has the more advanced one and he does solo gigs live with it; He records a tracks and then plays along with it in restaurants and homes. I used my RC-1 a few times to do solo gigs with the guitar synthesizer, playing the bass line and keys, then the guitar over that track and singing. It's really hard to sing and keep all that electronics together. The RC-1 records up to 16 Minutes and 11 tunes.

So where does the "new toy" come in?

I upped my game and bought an RC-3. It has three hours of memory and 99 tunes. It also allows one-shot (non-looping) tunes, and that's important.

I decided to use it for the Playing for Change gig in September. It's not much bigger than two packs of cigarettes, if you know what those are? Fits in the sax case.

The way this helps me practice is, I can transfer a bunch of WAV backup files to the little device and play along with them. It's much faster than using a laptop. How it hurts my practicing is that I am creating a lot of tracks of blues, reggae and smooth jazz, some of my own compositions.
The bad part is, it takes time away from practicing! In the next two months, I'm planning on practicing at least 20-30 songs on this little box and choosing 3 to 5 I can play the best on to play as a mini set. I can only hope I can get that to sound decent as I'm not sure the sound system is up to it. I will test that and bring my keyboard amp if need be, that sounds fine in a small club like this. In a place with a real stereo sound system this would actually be great. I'd need a mic for the sax, then, but I also need on to sing, so I guess that's not too bad.


BOSS   RC 3  Loop Station
 
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Wade Cornell

Wade Cornell

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Looks like a fun unit with lots of capability. The question of practice vs. play and playing with technology vs. playing on your instrument is one that can go round and round. I feel that when the technology is an adjunct to the sound you're trying to achieve that it's a good thing. When the technology is leading the player (keyboards that play everything at the touch of a button ) then it may be a different matter.

There is often little/no room for nuance when a backing track is pre-recorded. If you're happy with that pre-recording and it suits your audience, then where's the problem?
 
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Actually, the absolute worst enemy of creativity, whether playing or composing, is not being able to have a simple setup. For years I composed and recorded in our small Paris bedroom and finding and connecting the cables, firing up the slow Windows box, put at least 15 minutes between me and the music.

Regarding backing tracks, if I found interested players that could hear what I hear, I'd rather play with them, but that ain't happening, and further, it's far easier to play alone like a disk jockey. I could record guitar tracks live and then play over them live in public, but it's complicated if I have to grab a sax.
 
Wade Cornell

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Whatever works for you is right. I'm plugged into hundreds of new tracks that come my way every week. Just a matter of picking and choosing which ones I want to record with. It would take me ages to put together my own tracks/templates. There is an enormous pool of talent out there to tap into. Life for me as a sax player of new tracks is good. I think we both share a desire to be playing new material rather than a continual re-hash of "standards".
 
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I'm actually putting together a lot of my own tracks, blues, rock and reggae. I've put a few in SOTM/BOTM. I was even wondering if we might start a post here on original backing tracks.
 
Wade Cornell

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Already done. I've imported over 200 from wikiloops with and without a sax improvisation to give people an idea of what's possible. There's a wide range of categories. I have around another 300 that could be imported. None of these are my templates. I'm just a jammer. The idea was to wean players off "standards" and give them challenges in other styles. Few have posted their takes, but there has been a large uptake of the tracks which have hopefully helped some. It's not been promoted much so I doubt that it's used to full benefit.

Wikiloops Backing Tracks
 
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Wade Cornell

Wade Cornell

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I know that you've come from an open musical background and learned to play other instruments. Unfortunately sax pedagogy is totally unlike the teaching of every other "non-classical" instrument and has suffered as a result. Imagine being taught that the only way to play guitar is like Joe Pass or Freddie Green in their exact style and by repeating exactly what they played and only playing the standards they played. That's pretty much what's happened with sax. The guitar has flourished as an instrument without those limitations into thousands of styles with a myriad of fine creative players. Sax players are taught to play like a famous player from 60 years ago in "the language" of that time. It's a one way ticket to oblivion. There are obviously a few players who are creative and incredible technicians, but too few for the number of starters. Players need to be part of the present. It's good to know your instrument's history, and better not to be continually trying to recreate it without the creative impetus of those original players (who weren't copying anybody).

Having original tracks at least invites the player to step outside of that teaching system and try on something different. I strongly encourage players to sing their lines as this is their own voice reacting to the music, rather than cut and paste a series of riffs and arpeggios that may be right for the chord structure, but otherwise says nothing. Sax teaching is well overdue for a revolution or should resign itself to the same sort of oblivion as the clarinet has in popular music.
 
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In the 1960's, totally uneducated (meaning no lessons) guitar players learned every Rolling Stones tune. When Hendrix came out, arguably both the Bird and the Coltrane of blues rock, they learned every note. The newer wave of Steve Vai and Stevie Ray Vaughan was next and the jazz bridgers like Robben Ford. Then most realized that the Stones guitar was a mediocre cop of Chuck Berry, the riffs of Zeppelin came from Chicago blues and began studying the original blues sources. I could go on through the decades, but I don't know the names. However, the copping (copying licks for use directly) goes on today with endless YouTube videos of how to play guitar like __________.

There are innumerable blues guitar players that all sound the same, play the same tired riffs. I can say without hubris that I was NOT one of them. When I hear someone like Robben Ford, I rejoice in the way he mixes blues with chromatic harmony in his personal style, not by copying jazz riffs. There are many others around that do this, too.

Ironically after nearly 19 months of alto, I am making a tour of old sax styles. Earl Bostic, Lee Allen, etc made blues and rock what it was in their day. In the past few days, I've constructed a list of over 30 reggae videos that have saxophone in them. I'm cataloging every style I can find. I guess my case is unusual, because I know the classic jazz players very well, having listening to them for about 50 years.

My personal strategy, Wade, is to keep drinking in more details of various saxophone styles, and using them in my own tunes, which are not jazz, but like Robben Ford, include the tenets of jazz: chromaticism and rhythmic sophistication. I'm also playing sax in my own keys. Sure, the easy ones (Bb, C minor) when learning, but in my own songs, playing B minor modified blues or C# minor 6/4 funk and the rest in usual guitar keys. But the average sax player who studies Bird or Lester or the Derek Ward, the BeatBox Sax guy is hopefully building a future style to some extent.

Having original tracks at least invites the player to step outside of that teaching system and try on something different.

I agree completely, and composing helps, too. A lot of my music is based on 12 or 16 bar blues, but the changes are a little different.
The day Swing Low, Sweet Chariot became SOTM, I spent the morning making a backing track and recording take after take, one of which I finally posted. I may use that in performance soon. I also buy a lot of tracks that speak to me musically and try to search for an approach that is original.
 
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Wade Cornell

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The "rant" I give was primarily about the way sax students are taught today. I know that you've been working in music much of your life and so have the maturity to pick and choose, adapt, and store ideas away until useful. A student of sax who has no musical background is not the same. Go to any community jam session with sax players playing standards. You can certainly hear a difference in the abilities of players, but not a lot of difference in style, technique, and the desire to impress rather than deliver a communicative musical statement. It's all about technique...fastest gun in the west? It's obvious why this doesn't attract many listeners.

I listen to a lot of "ethnic music", which doesn't mean that I play it, but it's just part of the mental library. If players like licks and just stringing them together, that's up to them. One's mental library can be an adjunct or a limitation depending on whether the music comes from you or it's cut and paste.

The challenge of playing new music (whether we have composed it or not) is in being a part of it . You can't use a single (ubiquitous) teaching technique and play inappropriately...that's musical death. Whether it's jazz, blues, reggae, pop, R&R, C&W (god forbid!), funk, Gospel, etc. etc. you've got to be a part of what's happening and make it work. If you can communicate in a personal way that touches others, then that's what it's about (IMHO).

Teaching a single "vocabulary" or "theory" of what a sax should sound like and that one should play just "standards" is death (not even warmed up). Again, this is about teaching and the templates that students are given to play. At what point does this change? Anyone can and should play whatever style they want. How many beginning sax students know who Bird or Pepper Adams were? Back to Joe Pass and Freddie Green...should every guitar student be fed a strict diet of their music? Why are we doing this to sax students?
 
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I think you're right about what you hear in jazz jam sessions, although I haven't gone to one as a listener for years. It's mostly the same when "blues" guitars are involved. The are a few standard styles like Texas, and people still play Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe or Little Wing.
I used to play with a guitarist who went to the music store every week to buy jazz albums. It was always Joe Pass and Freddie Green! I asked him, don't you ever buy piano, like Wynton Kelly, or saxophone? "No", he said he couldn't "apply it" to his playing.
For me, two of the most important concepts I was exposed to were by listening to McCoy Tyner and Wynton Kelly; Wynton for the rhythmic and McCoy for the harmonic. The straight jazz guitar players I appreciate most are George Benson (before he began singing, not that he's bad at it) and Ted Greene, but guitar is the instrument I listen to least. That's been the case since before I started on alto.
 
Wade Cornell

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Ha! that's really funny as I don't listen to sax players but listen to guitarists and bass players....and Keith Jarrett (of course). Still one of my favorites is Bill Frisell (earlier stuff). Also like Wayne Krantz, but he seems to have also "stalled". Got any suggestions for others?
 
Wade Cornell

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Ford is a beautiful clean player with lots of feel in his playing and great rhythmic chops.
 

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