Please, help me sound decent

Messages
3
Location
Helsinki, Finland
#1
I need help.

Let me provide some context: I started playing as a kid. Since then I’ve had some periods of not playing at all, and some of playing pretty regularly.

Anyway, I recently began playing again regularly after a period of not playing for about 2 years. I understand, of course, that there’s a (re)learning curve. I’ve been doing the usual stuff: playing with a metronome, practicing slowly before trying to go faster, playing long tones - you know, all the things that one is supposed to do. And to my ear, it doesn’t sound horrible. That is, while I’m playing I think things could be a lot worse, and even occasionally that this might be the best I’ve ever sounded, or at least that this is a decent base on which to build.

So this evening I used my iPhone - which, granted, is not exactly Abbey Road Studios - to record a few choruses of “Well, You Needn’t” (with a metronome, natch). And wow. What a mess.

Articulation and intonation have always been problematic for me - even after having spent a lot of time specifically working on them. So you can imagine that it’s demoralizing to listen to myself on a recording and realize that both are all over the place. I know, I know - playing in tune with good articulation takes time. And given that I listen a lot to Chris Potter, George Garzone, and other giants of the instrument, I’m comparing m sound to literally some of the best players who have ever lived. But I am finding it hard to accept that, after all these years, I still sound like a mediocre high school student.

I’m not sure what to do. I know the answer is “keep practicing, keep focusing on your problem areas,” but I’d like to actually enjoy my sound, or at least not be embarrassed about it, a little sooner than years from now.

So I suppose this is not only a plea for advice on how to practice, but also a plea for “it gets better”-type stories. It would help to know that with some hard work - which I’m more than willing to put in - I can start to have a sound I’m proud of in some reasonable amount of time.

Thanks in advance - I really appreciate it.
 

Keep Blowing

Member
Commercial Subscriber
Messages
733
Location
Bottesford
#2
I need help.

Let me provide some context: I started playing as a kid. Since then I’ve had some periods of not playing at all, and some of playing pretty regularly.

Anyway, I recently began playing again regularly after a period of not playing for about 2 years. I understand, of course, that there’s a (re)learning curve. I’ve been doing the usual stuff: playing with a metronome, practicing slowly before trying to go faster, playing long tones - you know, all the things that one is supposed to do. And to my ear, it doesn’t sound horrible. That is, while I’m playing I think things could be a lot worse, and even occasionally that this might be the best I’ve ever sounded, or at least that this is a decent base on which to build.

So this evening I used my iPhone - which, granted, is not exactly Abbey Road Studios - to record a few choruses of “Well, You Needn’t” (with a metronome, natch). And wow. What a mess.

Articulation and intonation have always been problematic for me - even after having spent a lot of time specifically working on them. So you can imagine that it’s demoralizing to listen to myself on a recording and realize that both are all over the place. I know, I know - playing in tune with good articulation takes time. And given that I listen a lot to Chris Potter, George Garzone, and other giants of the instrument, I’m comparing m sound to literally some of the best players who have ever lived. But I am finding it hard to accept that, after all these years, I still sound like a mediocre high school student.

I’m not sure what to do. I know the answer is “keep practicing, keep focusing on your problem areas,” but I’d like to actually enjoy my sound, or at least not be embarrassed about it, a little sooner than years from now.

So I suppose this is not only a plea for advice on how to practice, but also a plea for “it gets better”-type stories. It would help to know that with some hard work - which I’m more than willing to put in - I can start to have a sound I’m proud of in some reasonable amount of time.

Thanks in advance - I really appreciate it.
Hi Chris,.

I am in a similar situation to yourself, I have been playing forever, I have had a few long breaks from playing, one extended to about 10 years ( I haven't been to prison). If you can hear your intonation and articulation need some work that's a good thing ( you can hear it). I am only managing a couple of hours playing a week, I record most of my playing and listen back to it, it's been the best thing I've done to help improve my playing. There's some great people here on the cafe that will help you!

Keep blowin' and all the best from me
 

jbtsax

old and opinionated
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Messages
6,587
Location
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
#5
Working one on one with a skilled saxophone player/teacher can have a great effect upon how you play. That would be my best advice. If there is a good teacher in your area and you can afford to take lessons for a while you should do it..
 

Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
23,452
Location
Cheshire UK
#6
Working one on one with a skilled saxophone player/teacher can have a great effect upon how you play. That would be my best advice. If there is a good teacher in your area and you can afford to take lessons for a while you should do it..
Interesting, I've had lessons for the last 7 years and just stopped them for a couple of reasons but also as I'm no longer improving. Finding the right teacher I suppose is important..


Jx
 

nigeld

I think I need a different ligature
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3,890
Location
Bristol
#7
The first time I recorded myself it was a terrible shock - I hated the process of recording and I hated the result. But it's worth persevering - things do get better. In particular, I have found that making recordings highlights specific things to work on.

One thing I have discovered is that the position of the microphone and the acoustics of the room make a big difference to the recorded sound.
 
Messages
2,502
Location
Hutton, Essex
#8
Wine.

The answer's wine.

Barring medical reasons, the answer's always wine.

Practise, like wine, should be enjoyed. It's a pleasure to be savoured. And like wine, there are a couple of simple rules that makes its consumption far more agreeable.

The most obvious one is too much can be a bad thing.

Next, you want a vintage that has a full body. Not so strong that it tastes like anti-freeze nor so weedy that it can't be legally called wine in a cultured society like France. Breath support is no different although if there's a problem it's rarely because you have too much. I doubt there are many people who felt confident enough in their early life as a sax player to practise at a volume that's produced when you put well supported breath through the instrument. <1>

You need to be confident enough in your playing to not care if someone hears you practising. Being scared of being too loud/heard stops you from playing with confidence and that stops you from playing with well supported breath, without which you'll never have a solid tone.

If you've ever seen wine connoisseurs drinking du vin you will have seen them doing all sorts of things before, during and after they take a noisy slurp of the fermented grape juice. For professionals, this rigmarole plays an important role in their job. Without it they simply can't do what they're paid to do. The rest of us, however, can happily enjoy our drink without having to do anything. At most we may inhale the aromas of our choice before we imbibe the liquid.

As sax players we first need to learn to enjoy playing before we start concentrating on more complicated issues. If, every time you play a note you're questioning your intonation then your intonation will suffer. <2> In fact, it will probably be all over the place. At first just enjoy playing and gain confidence in your abilities. Your emboucher will not be great to begin with (unless you're really lucky) - as long as you can sound a note without biting through your lip then obsessing over it will get in the way. Over a relatively short period of time you will be able to analyse your playing and realise that your emboucher needs work but by then you should have decent breath control and enough confidence in your own playing to have solid intonation.

As for recording yourself - that's a whole different subject. ;)

<1> Once you've got decent support you'll find you can play from almost inaudible to deafening.
<2> Playing with your emboucher and intonation while practising long tones is one thing, doing it while trying to play a song is something else entirely.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
11,722
Location
Burnley bb9 9dn
#9
Four hours a day for a decade or two should sort you out. ;)

You're doing the right thing recording yourself. It's always surprising to hear what you're actually doing instead of what you thought you were doing. Being your own worst critic is the right approach but have a listen a few days later and see what you think then. A recording is never going to compare well with the experience behind the mouthpiece.
 

GCinCT

Seeker of truth and beauty
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Messages
579
Location
Oneonta, NY
#10
I am not nearly experienced enough to offer advice, but I can tell you my story. I too, was an on again off again saxophone player. Almost exactly one year ago, I started playing again after an 11 year lay off. I practiced long and focused on my weaknesses I recorded myself and never really liked my tone.

But I kept working, putting in the time, developing breath control, getting great advice here on the forum. Now, a year later, I can honestly say, I like my tone. I'm confident. (@Veggie Dave hit the nail on the head with confidence.) I enjoy hearing myself, even with the mistakes I still make. That gives me things to work on.

I don't sound like my heroes, Bird, Cannonball or Phil Woods. I sound like me. I like it. At my big band rehearsals, I'm always ready to jump in and solo at any opportunity.

I'm not sure what you consider a relatively short time, but a year is not much. Keep at it. You may get there sooner, maybe a bit later, but you will get there.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
Messages
401
Location
New Mexico, US
#11
I’m not sure what to do.
Working one on one with a skilled saxophone player/teacher can have a great effect upon how you play. If there is a good teacher in your area and you can afford to take lessons for a while you should do it..
Bingo.
Find a teacher, even if you can only afford lessons for a couple of months.
Do that.


Quite honestly...the whole 'persevere' 'stay positive' advice is nice and all....and it does have its place....but...it could well be your problem is you have developed poor form or habits which you need to cease, and you need to rewire yourself to play with fundamentally sound embouchure, breath support, etc., whatever....

Working really really hard at it all by yourself...is probably not really going to get you there.

Thus, a teacher, IMHO.
 
Last edited:

GCinCT

Seeker of truth and beauty
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Messages
579
Location
Oneonta, NY
#12
Bingo.
Find a teacher, even if you can only afford lessons for a couple of months.
Do that.


Quite honestly...the whole 'persevere' 'stay positive' advice is nice and all....and it does have its place....but...it could well be your problem is you have developed poor form or habits which you need to cease, and you need to rewire yourself to play with fundamentally sound embouchure, breath support, etc., whatever....

Working really really hard at it all by yourself...is probably not really going to get you there.

Thus, a teacher, IMHO.
I completely agree that a teacher is essential, but without the effort, progress will be limited, teacher or not. You only get out of lessons what you put into them. But, I do agree with having a good teacher.
 

JayeNM

Formerly JayePDX
Messages
401
Location
New Mexico, US
#13
Absolutely. You do gotta put in effort, always...just that...a teacher also sorta forces that effort to be placed on specific things (ostensibly the things the teacher determines the student is having difficulty with).
Thus the effort is more efficiently utilized/applied, methinks....
 

Jazzaferri

Well-Known Member
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Messages
2,182
Location
Victoria BC Canada
#14
I have been playing for a long time and I still do long tones and overtones most every day. Often now I just hang on some notes during a noodling session particularly in the altissimo register.

To my mindlong tones and overtones are the most important exercise in getting a good sound. Play around with lower lip placement and pay attention to the tonal differences.

Developing a personal sax sound by Dave Leibman is a good book on the subject of tone development
 

GCinCT

Seeker of truth and beauty
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Messages
579
Location
Oneonta, NY
#15
I have been playing for a long time and I still do long tones and overtones most every day. Often now I just hang on some notes during a noodling session particularly in the altissimo register.

To my mindlong tones and overtones are the most important exercise in getting a good sound. Play around with lower lip placement and pay attention to the tonal differences.

Developing a personal sax sound by Dave Leibman is a good book on the subject of tone development
I find Dave Liebmam’s book very helpful.

I don’t remember where I read it, but there’s a really great analogy that says long tones and overtones are to your tone what water is to a plant. If you want your plant to grow healthy and beautiful, you have to give it water. If you want it to stay that way, you have to keep watering it.
 

hedgehog

Just in from skiing.
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Messages
82
Location
Minnesota, USA
#16
Another returner here. When I resumed playing after a long layoff, I struggled, too. In addition to "all the usual stuff," having my sax set up by a good tech made a difference. It was frustrating to play with several leaky keys! Is your sax in good working order?

As to it-gets-better, I second @Keep Blowing's advice to record a lot. Plus may I suggest: keep that recording of "Well You Needn't"! Record yourself again playing it periodically. Compare.

You need to be confident enough in your playing to not care if someone hears you practising. Being scared of being too loud/heard stops you from playing with confidence and that stops you from playing with well supported breath, without which you'll never have a solid tone.
Thanks for that. I only recently crossed that threshhold. The barrier was more mental than technical, but really fun to break thru A few months ago I was in a shop or two trying out saxes and would head straight for the nearest practice room. Eventually, I decided it didn't really matter if others heard me or what they thought. So I started playing right in the middle of the store, and playing better. In the right place, just not caring can be really liberating.
 
Messages
32
Location
West Midlands
#17
You might have one fundamental bad habit that you haven't thought of and a good teacher might pick up on. Supporting the air from the diaphragm, position of tongue, open vocal chords etc.. You need to be happy that your choice of reed and mouthpiece is helping towards the sound you want. Overtone exercises if you've not done these yet? One useful ex for embochure is to learn to play a major scale through an octave on just the mouthpiece alone.. Don't do this outside or you will be assaulted by mating ducks!
 

randulo

Europe
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Messages
369
Location
Bordeaux, France
#18
Practise, like wine, should be enjoyed. It's a pleasure to be savoured.
So many in the same state, here! I'm a saxophone beginner but have played other instruments for a long time. I think Veggie Dave's comment is as important as the rest of the great collection of knowledge. I've said elsewhere, when I started guitar as a kid, I'd have to wait for Saturday morning but I still remember the feeling that morning, knowing as soon as I was ready, I'd be able to practice. Now, retired, I have that feeling every single day. Every angle is covered is you're enjoying the work. As others have said, that can involve recording it (I do it with every tune I learn now) and a good teacher. I was really lucky. I asked at the music store and they recommended a guy in the neighborhood who turned put to be perfect for me. I recall getting clarinet lessons at age 10, from an obviously bored guy who probably wasn't playing enough to live on it. (Few are, anyway.) You need an inspired and empathetic teacher to help guide you, even if it's only for a few lessons. Unlike psychiatry, music can sometimes be vastly improved by insight from a great player for a few sessions.
By the way, I hadn't touched a clarinet for over 50 years, but I managed to struggle though a chromatic scale the first time I tried a wind instrument as an adult.
 
Messages
16
#20
I took up the alto sax 2 years ago at age 50 having never played any instrument in my life. I find it useful to set myself small, short-term and time-boxed goals which I can then congratulate myself on achieving. I also keep a diary updated immediately after every practice session in which I note what went well and what I will work on in my next practice session. Overlaying all this is an innocent and child-like pleasure in owning and playing such a beautiful, amazing instrument.
 
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