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Beginner Space: the final frontier

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Not. It's among the first things I think about when I practice, as part of practice is listening, analysing.

EDIT: The beginner I'm talking about is someone who is playing songs and improvising. Not the beginner who is learning the first C major scale.

"Have you heard how to make a statue of an elephant? It’s actually pretty simple. You start with a block of marble and carve away everything that’s not an elephant."

Miles Davis supposedly told someone that "the space is more important than the notes".

Unlike a painting a drawing or a graphic image, music can only be perceived in the temporal continuum. It's forcibly a series phenomenon. You can't stop music, even if you hold the sound, because it would be one sound, not music.

So it is, that the answer to many of the beginner's musical problems revolve around the concept of space and how it is occupied. Whether creating a sparse space, like Miles often does, or a crowded freeway of Coltrane's sheets of sound, the space is what makes the music. For an individual instrument, it's a good idea to describe the "occupation" of space as density. Density can be thought of as the number of notes (usually one on sax) and the "attacks", that is, the notes as they appear in time. Aside from the all-important aspects of tone, articulation, intonation, etc., when listening to a saxophone voice, you're hearing this use of space. That space is created by lack of notes.

I once read a reviewer who began his column by saying, "You can always tell how good a band is in the first few bars, by listening to the drummer, because no really good drummer would play with a crappy band." This is a gross over-simplification, but not entirely false. As sax students, we listen to a lot saxophonists. A great place to start listening to space, is with ballads. One of the characteristics that makes a particular player's audible style is that use of space. The notion of space can be applied to the unit of a single measure (or smaller), a structural thing like 4 or 8 bars, or the larger parts, verse, bridge, chorus, etc. Upon reflection, it's actually more personal than the usual sax language of tone and articulation, because everyone starts with pretty much the same toolbox of those.

I tagged this "Beginner", because I think it's being missed by newer players I hear, while the more experienced have mastered space and time by listening or by trial and error. I'm not suggesting that anyone think about something like this while playing. I am suggesting you think about it extensively when listening to the saxophonists you most admire.

Where do they NOT play?
 
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It's a very good topic to bring up, and tends to be focussed on less than the other aspects of playing that we obsess over. It really is part of the makeup of a masterful solo, especially in a ballad, though for me it is exactly that - part of.

It's part of the architecture of each phrase, and the solo as a whole. In fact, space can be as thematic as notes/motifs and can be repeated in just the same way if that is wished.

Some styles demand more, or shall we say that in some styles, more space can be more weighty and poignant. So in comparing the 4 or 8 bar pop ballad solo, maybe too much space is not as desirable as in many other solos in other styles - particularly if longer solos of course.

But yes, something else to hear/notice that can really move a musician on.
 

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Here's an example, starting after the intro, a not-quite-blues by Gerald Albright. You have to love how he occupies the measures, two by two.
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Space isn't necessarily always just silence. Sanborn uses long notes to and dynamics to give this solo space
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Again, where doesn't Kirk play in this:
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Hipparion

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Allow me to be the voice of the idiot naive (not really a difficult role for me, I know)...

For a beginner, not to produce a sound with the instrument is not the issue. It is actually a non issue, opposite to the goal even, at least in appearance. To produce a sound - and sooner rather than later a series of sounds - with the instrument is.
So maybe that explains why considerations about space are quite hard to grasp to begin with ?

But then maybe you were talking about beginners as musicians, not as instrumentists (is that a word ?), in which case I would ask if one can become fluent on any instrument and then become a musician... as 2 separated processes ?
 

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For a beginner, not to produce a sound with the instrument is not the issue.
I believe the point wasn't clearly made then. As I say in the end, the idea is to study how the greats "populate" their solos, where they leave space, density, etc. Not playing notes every sub-beat division isn't producing silence, it's applying personal taste to the amount of notes and sound you are making. And as I added to the top, I'm talking about "beginning" to play music, not first day beginner.
 
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thomsax

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Let the listeners in! Often when I hear a solo the player is more or less playing for themselves. To leave space is important. Jimmy Vaughan once said that playing with his brother Stevie was like tunning an old radio with green staples. With SRV is was often complete green. Connetion between the band and audience is important. To be present is important.

Here is a short tenor solo (4 bars) and 4 bars horn soli. Albert King gave instructions during the recording. Space but also nice rhythm.
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That's a great example and he's one of my favorite blues artists. But then, it would be absurd to play a bunch of notes in that structure and tempo. It's one of those tunes built on a few notes each phrase.
 

thomsax

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I asked Joe Arnold (Stax recording and Memphis Horn member) about the song. It was Stax folks on all the other songs on the LP but "The Very Thouhgt Of You" it's complete new crew. Maybe they had problem to get the right groove? Albert Kings comments/directions was probably not meant to be heard on the recording. It's obviously for us that this is the right way to play the solo/soli.
 

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I asked Joe Arnold (Stax recording and Memphis Horn member) about the song. It was Stax folks on all the other songs on the LP but "The Very Thouhgt Of You" it's complete new crew. Maybe they had problem to get the right groove? Albert Kings comments/directions was probably not meant to be heard on the recording. It's obviously for us that this is the right way to play the solo/soli.
I have a recording somewhere (maybe this is it) where he says something like "y'all f*--ed up on the bridge". I also love that he plays the same way on the changes as he'd play on the blues. He's got the most taste of any of the blues greats.
 
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