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Beginner Saahil's Beginner's Diary


Sorry Chris, I'm sort of stealing your idea on this one.

I've had 3 lessons now on the Sax, and been practicing at least 4 times a week since the start of the year (6th January to be precise) so I thought it would be a good time to start a diary as I'm already stunned by how different it is to play than I had imagined.

The intent is to condense my more minor questions into one single thread rather than spamming 1001 threads onto the forum with silly questions, as well as just keep a log of progress.

Eventually I'll broach the subject on my actual blog/website once I'm at a sufficient level.

The story so far,

I've found a lovely teacher in Milton Keynes by the name of Trish who's very patient and jolly but serious at the same time. Encouraging yet grounding all at once and I've had 3 lessons with her so far.

Pre-lessons GAS:
Before I found Trish, I had my heart set on a Jerico Alto or Tenor horn, but Trish strongly advised me to pick up a Jupiter or Yamaha Alto, suggesting that going from Alto to Tenor is far easier than going from Tenor to Alto if in future I want to switch or indeed play both.

So on to eBay I go and a proud owner of a Jupiter Alto 769-767 I am. This gets swiftly sent off to Milton Keynes Music to get serviced and cleaned by their specialist they outsource to ready for lessons on the 6th of January. Happy days...

But then...

Vodka struck! Being the jolly season there was much merriment with friends and 5 days later I get a ping on my phone from eBay. You've just won an auction for a Jupiter Tenor 789-787. So here I have 2 saxophones and no clue how to play either of them... Still, onward and upwards as they say.

The next few weeks were an excited jumble of nerves and shopping to get various items (stands, reeds, Yamaha 6C MPC for the Tenor, etc) and a few blows on the Tenor with what can only be described as "horn like noises" disturbing the neighbours. Not glamorous, but we all start somewhere right?

Week 1:
Off to lessons we go to my awaiting, now shiny, Alto Sax but alas no Yamaha 4C MPC to speak off. No matter, use the MPC it came with. There was however a nice 3 pack of Vandoren #2 reeds waiting for me.

This week was just about assembling the saxophone correctly and getting the sound out with the MPC and Neck. Frankly I really struggled in the first lesson, but near the end I was making the right noise and "tonguing" a few short blasts.

The rest of that week, every day for 3-4 lots of 2 minute sessions I persevered with making short "B" notes on the saxophone and strengthening up the chops. Not very exciting I must admit but beats a kick in the head.

Week 2:
After good success the night before this lesson, on the day I completely failed to perform. My chops were just horrid, I couldn't get the pressure quite right, and it just wasn't working. Still Trish was patient and managed to put me right so by the end of the lesson I was managing to play both "B" and "A" consistently, with 4 short music pieces she wanted me to practice over the next week.

And practice I did! Not for too long mind, approximately 15 minutes a day right after work I would get on that horn and play those pieces for practice. Near the end of the week I started feeling comfortable and even got a cheeky sneak peak at trying the "G" note and corresponding practice pieces.

It was not all a bed of roses however, as my "G" was quite squeaky sometimes and high pitched, where as other times it was just fine, and I found by adjusting my mouth and embouchure I was able to get it to "behave" but for fear of getting ahead of myself I didn't explore it too much further.

On Thursday my new Yamaha 4C arrived for the Alto and sadly my ligature did not fit it, so after some GAS and some advice from forum members I ordered a Dawkes ligature for the Alto. Nothing fancy, just an honest cheap ligature. This promptly arrived Monday morning and that evening's practice session just was WORLDS better. It genuinely felt much easier blowing into this mouthpiece compared with the one that was on the Sax (which I am convinced is a Soprano MPC due to it's size and how my reeds fit on it and the ligature being too small). My previously mentioned problem with "G" also got a bit easier to control and became a bit less of an issue, though this might be more practice with that note.

Here I'd like to input my first question/ask for advice. Going forward I'll highlight these red to aid reading.

Are there any tips to stop "G" getting all squeaky and high pitched? 80% of the time it's fine, the other 20% it's just a high pitched note. The following day the tutor suggested my embouchure was getting out of shape when I went down to "G" so I just need to be careful there and keep the breath pressure up, but any tips welcome.

Week 3:
This is the current week that is in progress as we speak. Going forward I will aim to update this thread on the Monday night as my lessons are on Tuesday.

This was a very productive week. Trish is gradually bringing in elements of saxophonemanship into the playing so as not to over-whelm me, and this week was tonguing to start the note, not just to stop it. This is so the note comes out clear and crisp rather than fading in if one just starts blowing. We went quite deep into the "G" practice pieces, and I had my first taste of Duets.

Being candid here, I did not do well at the Duets. I could play my bit fine, but as soon as she started to play along I got really stressed about messing up, not keeping time, etc and just clenched up around the mouth causing lots of squeaks and no music. Trish said this was fairly natural and she wanted to get me into duets early so I would get used to playing with people. It was fun on the bits that sounded okay though so I hope I will learn to relax a bit and not tense under pressure. The main take-away from the lesson was the tongue notes to start and to stop.

At home, I once again have been religiously practicing, through the "G" pieces and the "A" and "B" pieces to keep practice up on all the pieces and have upped it to 20 minute sessions, though these extend until my bottom lip starts to get a little sore when I stop for a rest. The practice pieces are starting to sound a lot more like music now and they're almost pleasing to listen to. Well at least my house mates don't seem to mind as much when I practice. I did come across something in the book that really confused me so I will ask about that shortly. There is no lesson in week 4 and I can't wait until week 5 to know what it means!

In the book it mentions when 2 quavers are joined together, that we are to play them "with a swing" as in the Beatles song Yellow Submarine. I'm very familiar with the song, but can't quite work out what they mean by this? Any advise very much appreciated here.

Well folks, that's the story so far! Hopefully there'll be another exciting installment to this saga next week, The "C" note is just peaking at me from the next page but I don't want to get ahead of myself and end up learning bad habits!

I'm also partially hoping this diary will act as a bit of an accountabil-a-buddy in that it will ensure I keep a track of what I'm actually doing during the week so I make consistent and maintainable progress!

Hope I haven't bored you all to tears with this essay!

Thanks for reading,

Till next time,

Ta ta for now!

G - sounds as if your embouchure isn't quite right yet/too tight, but it generally needs a touch more breath support, but follow your teachers guidance. Remember we're not there.

Swung quavers. You'll find them all over rock and blues. You play the first for longer than the second, start by playing the first for twice as long as the second, but later you'll adjust this depending on what you're playing and who you're playing with. You must also think of them in terms of the beats in a bar.You'll see that they always occur two to each beat. So the rhythm is long short long short... The long one is always the beginning of the beat. Where it can trick you is that the music often has a quaver rest with the note. The rests have the same length as the missing note. So you'll see a quaver rest followed by a series of quaver notes. Assuming the rest is the beginning of a beat, the rhythm becomes short long short long...
Saahil, I find it helps to think of the swing quavers with the rhythm 'daa-di daa-di daa-di'.

And for notes that squeak, being really conscious to pull in the sides of my mouth, so I don't press too hard on the bottom of the reed.
Thanks for the input guys, I'll try that out tonight!

The first piece of music that has it is actually hot cross buns :).
Hmmm. Swinging buns.... Forum rules prevent me from commenting further.
I'm with Jay - I always think dah di dah di dah di for the swung quavers....and I tend to think of them as morse code (that follows from being a Radio Amateur!) Remember that one "dah di" happens for each beat.

And I think your teachers idea of playing duets early is a great idea. it's all very good to be able to play alone, but the probability is that eventually you will play with others, so you need to a) stick to the timing and b) not be put off by what others are playing.

and don't get wound up abut the squeaking notes, them more you think, the worse it might get.
as others have said, I suspect your embouchure is not quite right yet, but it will come with time.

I spent the first 6 lessons struggling to even get a note! then I changed teachers and did it immediately! the first teacher never actually looked at how I was forming the note, nor gave me any advice or instruction on where to get started - he was a good sax player and liked to prove that to me! however he was not a good teacher IMHO.
I know what you mean Mandy, I think I've been lucky with finding this teacher. She really pays attention to how I'm blowing and is quick to offer hints and tips to get me make the right face.

The duets are really nerve racking, but kinda fun at the same time. Just need to relax and focus on what I've got to play.

Funny thing is as a child I was in the school orchestra playing the violin and I never had any issues.
How are things going Saahil? Not heard from you? Have you been buying things?
Things are going swimmingly! Had the best lesson today!

Had last week off lessons because the teacher was on holiday, so was waiting before I had another lesson to write up a diary post :)
Okay so Week 4/5 rolled into 1 as a lack of lesson last week:
The past 2 weeks have been completely eye-opening in the sax department!

I've found I no longer have to actively think about my embouchure when I play, unless I try to go to the F, E and D notes when it's a bit trickier. I've also started to tongue the notes more regularly when I start pieces so it sounds a bit more like I'm actually trying to play, and not that the noise is accidental which is nice. I can also now play enough notes to have a go at tunes that sound half tune-ish.

Trish is making me do duets quite a bit more, and playing along to get me used to the whole "playing with people" thing which is starting to get a bit easier to block out, but I don't hold my long notes long enough so I need to really work on that. I come off the 3rd beat too soon.

Also she's teaching me the difference between jazz quavers and normal quavers which is interesting how it totally changes the feel of the song. Hot cross buns in a jazzy style is where it's at!

So this week's challenge is to really focus on holding notes the right length, and tonguing on notes more consistently for a cleaner more consistent sound.
Well done, sounds like you are enjoying it still. Not holding notes long enough is not unusual, like anything once you become aware of it you can start to correct :)

I most certainly am Jeanette, it's a blast! I actually did a lot better this week in that respect. She didn't complain once that I didn't last long enough!

Week 6: Another absolute blast of a lesson. We learned F and E formally today, and F# as well. Also the 4 beat rest which I can play really well! Best player of the 4 beat rest ever :D.

Trish taught me to drop the jaw a little bit to get that F and E out strongly.

We also played duets and she put a piece in front of me to play, and I managed to sight read the entire thing which was a lot of fun!

Started learning how to play quietly and loudly too so have been told to practice that over the half term. I'm starting to get a hang of this saxophone thing just a little bit.

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