Beginner The Curse of Prior Knowledge

randulo

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#1
If you've played a different instrument for any length of time, if you have a moderate knowledge of music theory, if you've listened to saxophone players for years, you're cursed! When you approach playing, you have 'voices' in your head. A thousand thousand melodies, riffs, licks and phrases (although, that's three ways of saying the same thing) are shouting for your attention. Although I could never play it, I can sing the first few choruses of Giant Steps and hear them in my head. I have listened extensively to many great players and have analyzed their playing.

Then, I rented an alto sax, determined to reach back 60 years to when I briefly took clarinet lessons and must have been able to produce a note or two between squeaks. Squeaking was so bad, I broke my clarinet in two smashing it against the wall. My parents were nice about it, they got it repaired. But the clarinet wasn't in my musical future. It was the guitar, the accordion of the sixties, one in every closet, that won me over. In the 1970's, I was fortunate to meet a drummer who was very knowledgeable in jazz and other music, and his influence "ruined" my life, because it kindled a lifelong interest in jazz. So I listened to the walls of albums he had in his basement. Sometimes, he narrated them for me, saying things like "Ok, now listen to McCoy's church bells" in Spiritual. Those chords do sound like church bells in the first part of his solo!

Having a lifetime of great music in your head and trying to learn to play a new instrument creates a terrible dichotomy. My teacher would put it this way: "Don't try to go in 50 directions at once!" and he's right. But I can't help myself.

How can you possibly NOT include symmetrical scales and altered scales in your practice? And after a few long notes, how can you NOT launch into Naima, or You Don't Know What Love Is, or a thousand other tunes in your head? I'm starting to feel that it's easier to start playing knowing nothing at all about music. At least, discipline-wise, you can focus on one or two things at a time.

I think the number one lesson I learned from my drummer friend, was something he said the bebop players said:

It's all rhythm, man.

I think that the tendency is to play too many notes too fast, because you can. My current teacher also said something else that I found interesting. We were talking about Coltrane and he said, "There's no throwaway junk, there. Nothing extra." It's true, when I listen to a ballad like All or Nothing at All, there'"s the occasional waterfall of fast notes, but's it's there because it's part of the story.

I'm saying all this to encourage new players like me to stay the course. I'm trying way too much stuff I shouldn't do for a year or more, probably, but it's impossible not to.
 

Halfers

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#5
I hate following a prescribed method of learning anything, especially music. It's probably to my detriment in the end, but I can't structure learning in the way that some can.
There's two ways to approach the situation.;Try and change myself and struggle causing myself distress, or just accept the way I am and go with that. I (finally, after many Years) choose the latter. If that 'holds me back' as a player, then so be it. I'm comfortable with the decision.

And I agree on the Rhythm thing.
 

randulo

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#6
Of course it depends on what the goal is. One of mine is playing with other humans. I don't have time to become the next thing on a new instrument. I did a little of that on guitar in the 1970's, believe it or not. I am advancing fast, but the confusion caused by all the "voices" in my head is frustrating. I can live with it.
 

Halfers

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#7
Of course it depends on what the goal is. One of mine is playing with other humans. I don't have time to become the next thing on a new instrument. I did a little of that on guitar in the 1970's, believe it or not. I am advancing fast, but the confusion caused by all the "voices" in my head is frustrating. I can live with it.
For me, the playing with other humans is sorted, so that's also a big aspect for me. Being in a Band is a great source of inspiration. I want to play more when we play, which gives me the incentive to learn. There's an active element to progression and also performance. Knowing you're going to have to play something in front of a group of strangers while being supported by decent musicians, helps with putting some oomph into the playing..I can't afford to sound rubbish (ok, maybe just a bit rubbish)
 

randulo

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#8
I'm not ready for strangers yet, but I'm jamming with long term friends next week. I hope I don't embarrass myself.

By the way, I've assimilated another thing, specific to wind instruments:

It's all rhythm... and articulation is everything!


Of course I'm notr serious, there's tone, choice of notes, time and intonation and many other points of strength needed.
 

randulo

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#10
I was going to bring the sax to a free jam at a friend's restaurant but chickened out at the last minute and brought just my guitar. That was Playing for Change Day, Sept 15th. Next year, I'll make it a point of doing it, I have 10 months to practice.
 

spike

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#11
Yes !!! get out and play with and for other people, best of all play in a band, get out and perform live in front of an audience.
That way you concentrate on what you're required to do: your horn parts and solos etc.
All the other stuff will come automatically.
I find that by having a goal like - this is what I need to do for the next gig - to be far better than just worrying about this and that scale, or this and that theory, or should I change my mouthpiece, reed etc..
I need to be able to nail it, every time in front of a "preferably" paying audience.
Get a taste of "the roar of the greasepaint the smell of the crowd" ;) and you'll improve in leaps and bounds.
 

Jeanette

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#12
I agree it is a journey and we all start from a different place on the path with different experiences influencing us. The main thing is to keep it fun and interesting, I've slowed my progress so much with becoming involved with the Café, changing saxes trying mouthpieces, on a whim deciding to learn something else before perfecting the first thing etc etc but I've enjoyed it, I am getting better at identifying what I need to do and focusing on that :)

But I've picked up lots that I am hoping one day will all fall in to place.....

Jx
 

randulo

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#14
I mentioned Pat Martino's story:
"Martino had been performing since the early 1960s until an aneurysm in 1980 left him with amnesia and no recollection or knowledge of his career or how to play the very instrument that made him successful. Martino says he came out of surgery with complete forgetfulness, learning to focus on the present instead of the past or what may lie ahead."

It's an amazing and inspiring story, related to my post only in that learning is a mutha!
 

Halfers

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#16
Yes !!! get out and play with and for other people, best of all play in a band, get out and perform live in front of an audience.
That way you concentrate on what you're required to do: your horn parts and solos etc.
All the other stuff will come automatically.
I find that by having a goal like - this is what I need to do for the next gig - to be far better than just worrying about this and that scale, or this and that theory, or should I change my mouthpiece, reed etc..
I need to be able to nail it, every time in front of a "preferably" paying audience.
Get a taste of "the roar of the greasepaint the smell of the crowd" ;) and you'll improve in leaps and bounds.
The first time I took my horn to practice, I couldn't believe how Alien it felt in my hand. My fingers became sopping wet with sweat and I was chewing down on the mouthpiece just to get a note out. My first gig with it was in front of 200 plus people and the relief on getting through 2 songs was immense. A few gigs later and I look forward to the small handful of songs I play on even more than singing on the majority of songs. I reckon the experience of getting out there and playing in front of people is of immeasurable benefit to progression.
 

Colin the Bear

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#17
The thing is...we can't play all that we listen to. Find what you're good at and enjoy playing. I'll listen to almost anything played well with feeling and passion. However my saxophone likes 1920's/30/s pop songs in a swing style. So I stick to that. One song at a time. Slowly building a repertoire. I like it. They seem like it. What more can you ask?

Playing solo to an audience lets you know how much more practice you should have put in.
 

altissimo

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leicester
#18
no one has ever mastered the saxophone, not even John Coltrane. Try to find the corner of the instrument you want to live in and make yourself at home - all that other music is what other people did with their lives, if you want to be like them, do your thing with your life.
It doesn't matter if you can play a million notes or just a few, it's whether you find some kind of meaning in what you do, how absorbed you become in the sound you're making and whether in some small way you can say a little something about life.

All the great musicians I've ever heard could say a lot with just one note...

there's a joke i'm reminded of...
An old man spends his retirement playing the violin. All day he just plays one note, over and over.
After several years of this, his wife can't stand it any more and starts to shout at him "Oh for heaven's sake, why do you sit there all day playing that same note over and over? Other musicians play more than one note, they play scales, arpeggios, entire melodies, concertos, symphonies, but you just play that one note... Why?"
He looks at her calmly and says"They're all looking for the right note, I've found it":
 
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