NEWBIE dilemma

Jethro

New Member
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15
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UK
I’m currently following a classical syllabus and have succeeded up to grade 3. I have pursued this for two reasons; because my local teacher has a great deal of experience in the classical syllabus and many local bands like to see some evidence of grades, usually grade 5 before accepting new entrants.

However I’d really like to learn aspects that make jazz sound so great and be able to enjoy my instrument more.

So is it feasible to continue my current structured approach to enable my technical skills to improve but, on the side as it were, become ever more competent in improvisation etc. in some way and if so how? For instance would a specific jazz focused teacher, if there is such a thing, be worth considering? Or should I completely drop the way I’m going and embrace a full blown jazz syllabus effectively starting again?
:headscratch:

Would appreciate any views from people who have been down this road already?
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
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New Mexico, US
Questions:

1) How long have you been at it ?

b) are you ENJOYING your current classical studies ?

3) do you have available in your area a sax teacher/tutor who focuses or leans towards Jazz teaching ?

4)
...many local bands like to see some evidence of grades, usually grade 5 before accepting new entrants.
What sort of bands are these ? Are we talking large bands, small bands, community bands, school/college/conservatory bands, private function/gigging bands, etc ?

5) Are these the type of bands you ultimately wish to play in ?
 
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Jethro

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UK
Hi, thanks for responding and to answer your questions;
1) three years and
2) yes and my current teacher is very enthusiastic and encouraging
3) need to research this but anyway would it be helpful if one exists in the area
4) mainly community or small but the ones I’m looking at have an entrance threshold and they all have aspects of their repertoire that are jazz
5) yes and if the opportunity arose to also join a smaller gig then that would be great but I’m concerned that such an opportunity might not be feasible if I’m not more of an all round player
 

Jazzaferri

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Victoria BC Canada
I coached a BMus in Classical violin for 3 years in improvisation. At first it was extremely difficult but over time he did finally get it though he still (4 years after finishing) finds it challenging. I SUSPECT that the longer one studies classical technique and music the more difficult it becomes to be able to freely improvise. It may have to do with the pathways that get myelated in the brain.

Good to listen to advice and have the debate with yourself but i n the end letter your inner self guide you.
 
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Jethro

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UK
Hi Jazzaferri thanks for that. I’m wondering since I’m at almost the start of my classical journey whether by starting improvisation in parallel that pathway issue may not arise, or whether in fact, it is feasible to do that.
 

Jazzaferri

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@Jethro It is feasible but I suspect that it may make both sides of the journey quite q bit more challenging. It seems to me that the days of Beethoven Lizst et al all of whom wre brilliant classical improvisers are gone from the classical side of things.

Yo Yo Ma comes to mind as someone who made it work but I suspect it is a very great deal of work and dedication along with an artistic aptitude to be able to play well on both sides of the street
 
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Jethro

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UK
Thanks so that seems to indicate that if I can, then changing horses to a jazz syllabus rather than trying to ride both might be better, assuming I have the aptitude to do that. Didn’t really want to go back to stage 1 though.
 

MikeMorrell

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Hi @Jethro, I'm not sure if this helps.

My first sax teacher was great because he was an amateur, flexible and he taught me 'the basics' of breathing, playing rhythms, dynamics etc. He was happy to give me constructive feedback on whatever I wanted to play, Unfortunately me, fotHe got a new job and had to leave/

For my second year of sax lessons, I enrolled at a local music school. My Sax tutor was classicaly schooled and taught 'classsic sax'. I really did learn a lot from him in playing 'classical sax'!. But after a while, I made it clear that I was much more interested in learning to play
'Blues/Jazz' than 'classical

We achieved a compromise whereby I would play Blues and Jazz tunes and my tutor would note my errors in 'timing'
For me, this an ideal situation! I practiced the tunes that I liked playing and my tutor gave me (critical) feedback on how to play these better.
 
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Jethro

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UK
Hi Mike, that’s helpful. Did you follow up with taking any graded exams or did you not feel that was necessary?
 

Jazzaferri

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Victoria BC Canada
AS has been said by many, the music isn't in the notes, it's in the spaces between the notes. Good rhythm is more important in improv than good notes IMO (and that of many others) The biggest challenge for most classical players is learning how to swing (or groove).if its not a swing feel tune. The notes are there but they come out like soldiers in a march not expressive art. Its very subtle but very noticeable.

Switching to jazz midstram is not going back to square one. There are only 12 notes (other than the bluesey in between ones) in western music and the basic harmony needs to be internalized before one can move on to more advanced topics.
 

tenorviol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Which exam board are you doing? Associated Board has a jazz route up to grade 5, I think LCM has too.

However, there's nothing to stop you doing other things as well as your classical exam route. I'm working on grade 5 on tenor and grade 7 theory (might not do the exam, might just wait and do grade 8).

I've just started yesterday afternoon on a week long music summer school - I'll be playing cello and baritone sax all week. I'm playing cello in chamber music, string orchestra, and concert orchestra. I'm playing Bari in wind ensemble and a big band.

If you haven't done so already, find a community band and go along - the experience of a lot of playing and playing with others will be really useful - and you get to make connections. I've written some resource items on 'why you should join a band' etc which may be of assistance.

 
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Jethro

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UK
Thanks to you both for giving me steerage. The analogy of the marching soldiers although not always the case I can relate to and giving the switch a try now seems like a plan. To answer the question about exam board, I’m looking at Trinity as their jazz syllabus goes to grade 8, though I might not be good enough to get there, it could be fun trying. If I do that then I’ll drop the classic approach to avoid the potential walking both sides of the street referred to earlier.

I’ll take a look at the “joining the band” resource, many thanks for pointing that out.
 

Zugzwang

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Hi Jethro, I joined a community band and a jazz workshop both of which asked for Grade V, but just a way of giving people a guide to the level they want - they were happy to let me 'audition'.
So you can look at the Examining Boards' syllabuses and check for yourself how you're doing. Here are some of my impressions, which more widely-knowledgable people here can agree with, or shoot down in flames:
The tune-learning workload is huge compared to studying for grades - where people may take 6 months or a year to work on three pieces - my workshop has a new set of 8 or more songs each 10 week term, and the community band had a giant back catalogue, plus constant addition of new material.
I'm getting the impression that Grade-focussed people find it much harder to 'get off the page' - ie learn the melody/ chord changes by heart. According to some that means that you never truly 'own' a song - but I see plenty of people using iPads on stage.
You'll have to work harder on your scales out in the 'real world' - the Grade system gives them to you in a particular order, and the range is more limited (ie octave or to 12th) than in the 'real world', but certainly the order of learning keys imho is just a question of familiarity, rather than any intrinsic difficulty.

It may come down to whether you like the structure, aka safety, of the Grade System, and whether you can bear the tunes you will have to beat your head against* for months at a time;)
Good luck, and tell us more about your thinking.

*For @Targa 'against which you will have to beat your head'.
 
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Jethro

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UK
Hi Zugzwang, thanks. A couple of questions; when you undertook the audition did you have any grades at all or that you’d been playing a long time and was therefore able to assess yourself against a grade 5 syllabus before taking the audition? Also, the workload that you point out for both the workshop and the community band seems high. How many hours a week was/is that taking up?
 

MikeMorrell

Netherlands
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The grading system in NL is different to that in the UK. I followed a curious grading system which was linked to 'playing in a band'. I got a 'level B' diploma (sight reading with 3 sharps or flats) that was just high enough to get me into the local band. There are also levels C, D, and E which I didn't pursue. I now regret this.

To be honest, I felt that- after a year - I'd had quite enough of (classical) 'music school' lessons. In hindsight, I should have found a private tutor who could help me play Blues/Jazz better. At the time (with a B diploma) I could could play well enough with a local band.

With hindsight my advice is to get as much tutoring as you you can afford. The stronger and more developed your technique is, the better you'll play and the more opportunities (and satisfaction) you'll have in years to come.

Mike

Hi Mike, that’s helpful. Did you follow up with taking any graded exams or did you not feel that was necessary?
 

jbtsax

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I have come to the conclusion based upon my professional and personal experience that learning to play "classical" or legit saxophone is for the most part learning to play the saxophone. All of the fundamentals such as tone production, musical expression, counting rhythms, getting familiar with the "geography" of the saxophone, etc. are all included. Learning to play jazz is just adding a new style to what you already know. Of course there is a different concept of sound, different articulations, different rhythms, etc. that need to be added to what you already know along with learning about improvisation, but playing in a "classical" style and playing in a jazz style are not mutually exclusive. The main challenge I have encountered learning to play in both styles is to remember the "hat" I am wearing and not let elements of one style "drift" into the other.
 

MikeMorrell

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I totally agree, @jbtsax. My (very limited) 'classical' training and a couple of years playing in a classical 'Wind Orchestra' gave me many advantages (sight reading, dynamics) over other members of my Big Bands who had 'drifted' into the bands via other avenues. My 'classical' lessons were without doubt by far the most challenging pieces that I've ever played. Everything I played afterwards was relatively easy/lazy.

Whatever the benefits - there's also the question of motivation. At the time, I really wanted to learn to play blues/jazz on sax (although my "Wind Orchestra') only played classical.

With a bit more maturity I agree with you that the best musicians can (and perhaps should) learn to wear both hats,

Mike

I have come to the conclusion based upon my professional and personal experience that learning to play "classical" or legit saxophone is for the most part learning to play the saxophone. All of the fundamentals such as tone production, musical expression, counting rhythms, getting familiar with the "geography" of the saxophone, etc. are all included. Learning to play jazz is just adding a new style to what you already know. Of course there is a different concept of sound, different articulations, different rhythms, etc. that need to be added to what you already know along with learning about improvisation, but playing in a "classical" style and playing in a jazz style are not mutually exclusive. The main challenge I have encountered learning to play in both styles is to remember the "hat" I am wearing and not let elements of one style "drift" into the other.
 

tenorviol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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I have to agree with what @jbtsax has said - there's an artificial dichotomy between classical and jazz. The 'classical' syllabuses provide grounding in technique and it's structured. Jazz is just an additional genre...
 

Pete Effamy

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Hampshire
Everything I played afterwards was relatively easy/lazy.
Perhaps you have used a poor choice of words here and you don't mean how it reads. Jazz is never lazy. It might sound relaxed, if that is what you mean, or free and easy. But not lazy. Jazz and many other forms of non-classical have a far greater concept of time. On top of the beat, in the middle, dripping off the back of the beat - it ain't lazy, it's very specific and intentional. The classic jibes from classical musicians to jazz musicians and vice versa are:

Classical to jazz - you can't play in tune
Jazz to classical - you can't play in time
 
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