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What to learn


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a very short introduction: I've been playing alto for about 9 years. I stopped playing for about a year a little more than a year ago. In recent months I've started to play again. Then I was learning "classical saxophone". Now I am "learning" blues. I put "learning" in quotation marks as I don't feel that that is what I'm doing. I have a teacher who comes once a week, and we play for about an hour or so. He is a semi-pro saxophonist by trade, but not a very good teacher, or I don't find him a good teacher. So basically, I don't feel like I'm progressing, don't know what to learn (don't know where to find theory and what to learn from it), don't know what to listen to or what to play. I need some guidance. So if anyone can suggest some starting steps, some tracks to download, digestible pieces of theory to learn that can be put into practice, I would be very grateful.
Sorry if this is in the wrong place
Try learning the stuff you like to listen to. Lots of books with the notes and backing tracks available - From Hal Leonard for one.
Would also be worth looking at swapping teachers. The pupil teacher relationship obviously isn't workign for you. Doesn't pay to keep on having lessons that aren't working.
I only concentrate on classical music, but every now and again a piece in the blues style appears in my books. They generally look manageable, but I find them hard. I suppose that is because I have never learnt to think in the blues mode. In your eight years with the alto you must have picked up a good classical style, and at times that must have been an effort. The same is now happening with your change to blues playing. Perseverance, as usual, in the end will win the day.
I'm trying approach of learning one tune a week (riff/head +anything particularly tasty from the solos)- just picking something I like that feels not too baffling (but not too easy)... theoretically I should be learning in all 12 keys but time constrains limit me to the original key and a couple of others (I'm cycling through all 12.....). Currently- Stanley Turrentine, King Curtis at Montreaux, bits of Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford etc..... feel I should try and properly absorb some Lester Young soon...
Together with that there's dipping into my two favourite 'technique' books- Mr Thomas' own Taming the Saxophone & Amazing Phrasing
We are some saxplayers, on differnt level and age, that use to get together and blow Rock- and Blues Sax. Sometimes we have a rhythm section to back us up, otherwise backing tracks are good.

I think a player should be able to play a riff, simple solo …. after a few times. We just play and try to get the right feeling for the music. And I find the Rock keys concert A and E very useful. For me it was the key to play with others. The guitar is the main instrument in R&B, R&R …. so I learned and got used to them without knowing what keys I actually played.

IMO the classical saxplayers can be very good Rocksaxplayers. A setup (mouthpiece and reed) for more volume/louder and learn some Rocksax effects. I know some players who started as classical saxophonist and joined Rocksax.

Here is a sample of a blues song that we did on a Rocksax workshop beginners. It’s called Erik’s Funky Blues (Andrew Clark). It’s also Clark playing alto and piano. Maybe a piano or a guitar teacher/mentor is better than a saxteacher? I think the lessons become more ”laid back”. Of course to have a teacher that can demostrate on sax and play a rhythm instumentas well, is the best!

BTW. When I talk about the blues I mean blues with a Rock feeling. Beat 2 and 4 is important.

I usually say this but I think this recommendation complements what's already been written here...

Jamey Aebersold volume 54, "Maiden Voyage"

You can safely ignore most of the written information in the book, at least to start with.

Get the Bb Blues track going on your stereo, and then either read the tune as written (Eb version, G major!) or mess around with G scales. If you learn the notes of G blues scale these form a solid basis for an improvisation, but as Jules says, riffy stuff is great, two or three notes at random from the blues scale, just play them over and over with different repetitive rhythms and see what comes out of it.

If this isn't working for you (it's a fairly bit leap from classical 'play it like you see it' to blues 'just make it up as you hear it'!) then try learning some simple Blues tunes like C-Jam Blues, Woodchopper's Ball or Now's The Time that you can practice playing and elaborating on. Your first goal (though you've probably already mastered this) is to think in four-bar phrases and to hear the chords do the same, so you can join in. Try fitting the tunes to the chords to practice knowing where the sequence starts.

Small steps is the key, as with any learning, so try to build on your current knowledge piece by piece, either by reading or by learning the scales. The aim eventually though is to be able to dispense with the score altogether!

After the straight blues, then try 'Watermelon Man' with the same principle but try to listen to the difference in the underlying chord pattern - 16 bars instead of 12.

Then try the other pieces in the book, there are a few trickier ones in there but they all cycle around the chord sequence of the song several times so you can think about structure as well as about improvising patterns.

BTW, all this would probably take at least three or four lessons if I was teaching you!! Little steps!

Hope that helps,


P.S. learn the basic 12-bar chord sequence too of course;

Bar 1: tonic chord, 2:repeat, 3:repeat, 4:repeat,
Bar 5: chord IV, 6:repeat, 7:tonic chord, 8:repeat,
Bar 9: chord V (dominant), 10: chord IV, 11: tonic again, 12:(maybe tonic, maybe dominant)

Firstly though it may be best to listen to some of the original recordings of the tunes I mentioned above...!
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