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Practice session / work in progress critique

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,094
Hi,

I spent a lot of time last night listening to the Ballard of the Month tracks, hearing all the fantastic versions and reading the supportive comments by other members. And at the same time felt a little intimidated to give it ago, some people can pull off 3 or was it 4 beautiful versions of the same tune where I’d struggle to pull off one rendition.

The supportive nature of the members had me wondering if people would be happy to put up less polished recordings and or provide advice to those that do. By that I mean practice session or works in progress, rather than having the pressure of trying to make it perfect and being viewed as a finished product, but instead to have a opportunity to seek assistance, at the earlier stages.

Best wishes,

Chris
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,094
Hello,

I’ve been floundering for quite a while now, probably for a year or more if I’m honest, motivation to play ebbs and flows. I used to play for an hour religiously every day, but it has not been uncommon for weeks to pass before getting the sax out of its case.

However I’m going through a bit of a rejuvenated phase, and after long neglecting my alto I decided to spend some quality time with it. I find the Alto to be harder to get tone wise, so I often favour the tenor, but I know the alto is capable of sounding great, so maybe it just take a bit more dedication than I’ve shown it in recent years.

Now to the point of this post, this morning after running through the two tunes I’m working on, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, I was thinking that I was making a bit of progress and decided to record them so that I could hear how I sounded. So here is a little section from Fascinating Rhythm, naked, not even a hit of reverb to hide behind:

http://snd.sc/12N5Idp

What struck me was how my perception of what I sounded like differed from what I was hearing whilst playing. This is not the first time I’ve recorded myself so I knew to expect that, but even so!

Firstly, I felt like I was really articulating some of the notes, yet on listening back they lack the edge and definition I was expecting/hoping for. And I’d like to loose some of the blurriness I get when stringing notes together, especially when my fingers aren’t fast enough!

Secondly, I thought my dynamics were greater, there is some difference, maybe if I was playing along to a backing track I’d have been more dynamic… wishful thinking probably.

Thirdly, my tone was actually better than I thought, still some way to go, but sort of heading in the right direction.

Fourthly, my vibrato really is a bit medico, it’s like the shy kid in the classroom, sort of there but needing the confidence to step forward at the right times.

Now for the bit that is currently bugging me... That D, I wish I knew what I was doing, is it an embouchure problem or finger trouble, am I not closing a key in time to get the note cleanly? Sometimes I can play without it other times it happens.

So it’s been a but of an eye opener and helped me focus on some specifics. I would like my tone to have a bit more punch and definition, but I don’t know how to get there at the moment.

Any thoughts would be welcomed, and pleases don't hold back any punches, I want to get better and so all advice or comments would be really helpful to me.

Many thanks,

Chris
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,513
Locality
New Zealand and Australia
I think you've been quite objective in summarizing your strengths and weaknesses. I didn't expect your playing to be as good as it is, but can hear where you want to improve. Considering you're not playing with a backing or a metronome (that I could hear), you've got pretty good timing, but occasionally let that slip. Timing is critical. If you're trying to concentrate on all aspects at once then something usually suffers.

It all takes time and often one needs to concentrate on a single aspect and do that so intensively that it becomes automatic. Intonation and tone are good, so I guess you've already done this for those aspects. You need to give the same concentration to each of the other aspects and probably NOT try (at this time) be to overly critical by faulting those areas that have not had the time and work put in. It takes many years.

Becoming one with your horn so that whatever is in your head you can sing through your horn takes a long time, and for some it will never happen. That's just reality. Even if you can achieve being one with your instrument do you have something profound to say through it? There are zillions of degrees of proficiency and some, (no matter how good they sound to us) will never be satisfied with the way they sound. That may be OK for those individuals if that is their mode of life and gives them drive. For others it's a prescription for a life of disappointment, often unnecessarily.

Music (for a player) is always in the present. If you enjoy what you are doing as you do it, then that is its own reward. If you are never satisfied and not enjoying the process then why bother? I'm OK with the knowledge that I'll never be a great player, but that's OK as long as the time spent is enjoyable, and it's a bonus if I can also (occasionally) bring some joy to others.

It's good to strive to improve, but I don't think it's useful (for most people) to beat themselves up in the process.

If you're serious about specific aspects of your playing that you wish to improve I'd suggest finding a good teacher as they can give you feedback on the spot. We are just other players on a similar journey and probably not your best advisers for the specific aspects you are trying to improve. Best of luck on your journey.
 
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Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,094
Hi Wade,

Thank you so much for your comments, you’ve given me a lot to think about, and brought up stuff that I’ve often thought about, and one thing I was trying to ignore… timing

You were right, I was not playing along to a metronome or backing track, and timing has never been my strong point. I find it very difficult to count and play, it feels like I’m trying to rub my tummy whilst patting my head. I’m getting a little better, but it is a significant weakness and very noticeable if it’s a new piece of music and I’ve not got the tune internalised.

Tone and intonation are on going areas that I have concentrated on since day one, and thank you saying they are good. I’ve always felt they are at the heart of the listening and playing pleasure.

You hit the nail on the head when you wrote:

Becoming one with your horn so that whatever is in your head you can sing through your horn takes a long time, and for some it will never happen.

That what I aspire to, it’s that difference between being able to play a piece, and being able to bring life to a piece, to make it more than the sum of notes. And eventually to be able to go beyond that and to be able to improvise with energy and originality while still being sensitive to the original melody.

My progress has very much plateaued out over the last year, probably longer, and I appreciate these things are to be expected, but I’ve also lost my way a bit which isn’t helping. So that is why I decided to do the recording, to try and determine where I need to focus my attention and that is why I really do appreciate your comments.

Thank you again, and best wishes,

Chris
 

Clivey

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,278
Locality
Edinburgh/Hot Rock off African Coast
Hi Chris. I had a listen and for me I think if thats your playing in " Tickover" mode then really you don`t have much to worry about.
I think it would be fair to say that many of the members here are either returning to the scene after a long break or are late bloomers. Even in the short time I`ve been posting here I`ve seen 100`s drop off the forum which suggests they may have given in or lost interest in saxophone and perhaps music making altogether. I myself have no financial motive to play and am presently not performing live or are with a band which means that I sometimes question what the point of maintaining even " a Tickover " level of ability is in aid of.

Thats where the "Ballad of the month"fits in for me. It gives me a real deadline and Target/purpose. It`s all just for fun but since the thread started I`ve not only learned new tunes but I have also been able to improve my " Tickover" level of playing and also recording techniques. It`s never going to be the same as keeping a set under the fingers although theres no reason why you could not use the BOTM as your set but it does help. Chris perhaps you would enjoy taking Part but thats your choice.There are no rules about the length of ballads and The Very 1st one " When I fall in love " was one chorus long when Nat KC sung it on his TV show.
 
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BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,958
Locality
Manchester, UK
Sounds like you're running into the law of diminishing returns. If you keep working on the things you're best at (tone and intonation) you can see less and less progress over time for the same amount of work. You need to focus on what you think you're worst at. Not, as Wade said, with the intention of beating yourself up, but because that's where you can make the most rapid progress.

You can hear and feel your own problems with timing, and that's all you need to solve those problems. Play stuff with a metronome slowly, even if you have to go so slow it sounds really naff, but correctly. And when you're comfortable playing a particular passage at a certain tempo (not just 50-50 but getting it right consistently, "this is boring" sort of comfortable) then increase the tempo just a little until you're comfortable there and so on. It sounds tedious, but it isn't really because you can feel the progress you're making and feel that your putting yourself in charge of your own destiny. Do that regularly for a few days or weeks or months, however long it takes and when you're reasonably happy with your timing, have a listen to yourself and find out what's the new worst thing. And so on.
 
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gladsaxisme

Try Hard Die Hard
Messages
3,444
Locality
manchester
Well I thought it was very good and as I'm not a teacher it's probably best you ignore anything I say but for me "timing shmiming" who cares, play it to enjoy it,to me a lot depends if your trying to play it off the page or from memory,when you've memorised it you can play about with how you time it a longer note here a shorter not there that's how you make the piece your own surely add a note here and there as long as it continues to fall in with the tempo does it really matter, and it was no easy piece to be playing, you'll enjoy it all much more if you stop worrying about every little detail, I'm sure the greats rarely play the same tune in the same way every time but I bet they don't go worrying about ooh I missed that note mustn't do that again, the more you enjoy it the more you will want to pick up the sax, be like me I just love every moment I spend on the sax good or bad ......John
 

Profusia

Senior Member
Messages
1,019
Locality
Worcestershire
Hi Chris,

Personally I'd recommend doing the Ballad of the Month. So what if some players can do mulltiple different version brilliantly. Imagine how long they've been playing and how much practice they've put in to be able to do that, and also you've no idea how many takes and how much editing might have gone in. There are plenty of us on the forum that contribute to the BOTM even though we are no where near those standards so come and join the party please. And I'd recommend you recording yourslef regularly anyway, as the history of progress it provides will be really valuable. You say you are not progressing but maybe if you could listen to some recordings from a year ago you'd see progress you hadn't noticed as you've been creeping forward slowly?

I had a listen to your track and hope you don't mind that soundcloud then went straight on to automatically play your Summertime so I had a listen to that too. You're way ahead of me in terms of what you can get your fingers around and also in your ability and understanding to find those rich jazzy blue note riffs so I'm in no position to tell you how to improve. As a listener though I'd say the thing that stood out for me was a bit of a lack of expression in your tone. The tone is good but I felt that some added character though things you've already identified like vibrato and dynamics, and maybe a bit of subtle note bending would really give your playing some real presence and feeling. Just my very personal view as a listener so I hope that's not out of order.
 

thesaxman71

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,687
Hi Chris,

Personally I'd recommend doing the Ballad of the Month. So what if some players can do multiple different version brilliantly. Imagine how long they've been playing and how much practice they've put in to be able to do that, and also you've no idea how many takes and how much editing might have gone in. There are plenty of us on the forum that contribute to the BOTM even though we are no where near those standards so come and join the party please.
yes i agree 100%, i STRONGLY recommend you look at the BOTM (ballad of the month) and give it a go! As profusia said there are various levels of players from beginners to pro's but NONE of us are judgmental or treating it as a competition and in fact we all appreciate and respect every effort and attempt people submit cos we ALL know how much it takes to put yourself out there so we understand and will help spur you along.

so a long story short, my advice, play on BOTM and have fun with it, don't be shy and GO FOR IT!!
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,094
Hi Clivey,

You’ve brought up some interesting things, I’m playing for no one but me, until quite recently I played because I had a regular lesson each week, and the motivation was to have at least made some progress since last time. I’ve also played because I was a member of a Swing Band for a while, and before that because I was doing my Grade 5.

Now however, if I never pick up a sax again it only affects me, and there was a period, once I stopped my lessons, when I seriously wondered if I would open the case again. Days and weeks would go by and I’d not even think about the sax.

However, by chance I came across the sax.co.uk catalogue that they sent me back in April 2007 when I knew nothing about saxes, other than I was going to get one and learn to play it… and I through reminiscing felt that same twinge of excitement again, quite unexpectedly, but there it was, the flame was still burning.

I think that was the impetus for me to pull the alto out again, my first sax, and contemplate what I want to do. The recording was to help me identify my strengths and weaknesses so that I can better focus my attentions.

I think you are right, that it is healthy to have something to strive towards, be that the BOTM or something else. I've been quite aimless for a while and feel that maybe I needed to have the break so that I could come back to it somewhat refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm.

Thanks you and best wishes,

Chris
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,094
Hi Martin,

You are so right about the metronome, my avatar isn’t a metronome for no reason, it’s a constant reminder for me… but it’s such a painful process, the darn thing is so meticulous and after a short while wants to wallop me on the head and say, “where were you?” “this is the end of the bar, what you doin' over there?”

But that is no excuse for not using it as I know it will do me good, even if the process starts off a little painfully. I’ve just slipped and taken the more... 'flexitime' approach and not used it for a while.

Best wishes,

Chris
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,094
Hi Thomas,

You are not out of order by any stretch of the imagination, I was hoping people would do me the honour of listening to my recording and if they wanted to, to post a comment. The advantage with this forum is that the aim is not to belittle people, but instead to offer helpful and constructive criticism when it is looked for, and I was looking for it.

The Summertime track was recorded nearly two years ago, and it’s all from a book, I wish I were able to come up with phrasing like that. I appreciate your thoughts and they mirror my own, my playing is ‘stiff’ like I’m trying too hard to play the notes. It’s that unique aspect of adding life and personality to the music, some people just seem to have a natural ease and they can make the tune their own.

I’ve had a few failed attempts at joining in the BOTM but computer issues hindered my ability to record, having a kind message come up to restart your computer after a kernel panic just as you are part way though a recording has a way souring the experience! Luckily I seemed to have temporarily found a way to do a bit of recording again.

Thanks for your comments, I really do appreciate your feedback,

Best wishes,

Chris
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,958
Locality
Manchester, UK
Hi Martin,

You are so right about the metronome, my avatar isn’t a metronome for no reason, it’s a constant reminder for me… but it’s such a painful process, the darn thing is so meticulous and after a short while wants to wallop me on the head and say, “where were you?” “this is the end of the bar, what you doin' over there?”

But that is no excuse for not using it as I know it will do me good, even if the process starts off a little painfully. I’ve just slipped and taken the more... 'flexitime' approach and not used it for a while.

Best wishes,

Chris
I used to feel like that, but I love my (virtual) metronome now. Try to think of it as your friend. It's telling you the truth. You're not taking an exam, and the metronome won't tell anyone how far off you were the first time through. It's there to get the inner clock ticking in your own head. I do most of my work on my big band parts with the clicks on 2 and 4. When i get more confident, I might try just putting it on 4. I forces you to anticipate 1 and 3.

Playing accurately in time makes it so much easier to play fast (if you need/want to) too.
 

Marcello

Senior Member
Messages
228
Locality
Anderson, South Carolina
Hi,

I spent a lot of time last night listening to the Ballard of the Month tracks, hearing all the fantastic versions and reading the supportive comments by other members. And at the same time felt a little intimidated to give it ago, some people can pull off 3 or was it 4 beautiful versions of the same tune where I’d struggle to pull off one rendition.

The supportive nature of the members had me wondering if people would be happy to put up less polished recordings and or provide advice to those that do. By that I mean practice session or works in progress, rather than having the pressure of trying to make it perfect and being viewed as a finished product, but instead to have a opportunity to seek assistance, at the earlier stages.

Best wishes,

Chris

If you took the time to listen to my version, you even heard my son on the background... don't care much about the recording quality... I believe most of us are not professional recording people and don't have professional recording gears... I have only a Zoom mic and a Bose to connect to my phone so I can have a fair play-along track to try to play over... it is all recorded together... 1 take... hehehe
And I am not ashamed about it... :)
Give it a try and you will be addicted...!

People here are great supporters and they really can give you useful tips...!

Cheers
 

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