Category Archives: Practicing

Surgery Update

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I planned on continuing to post transcriptions throughout my surgery recovery, just with no play-along videos. That plan didn’t work out.

It’s been almost nine months since my double jaw surgery in December of 2016. Recovery has been slow and unpleasant. I am back playing again, but as little as possible since I still have a lot of healing to do. I didn’t play at all for about six months, but I just couldn’t stand to be away from the horn (and my band) for that long, so I eased back in to gigging over the summer. But I avoid all non-essential playing, and pretty much only play at gigs to allow my jaw to continue to heal.

Recovery-wise, I’m probably 80% there. I still have mild pain and weakness in both jaws, mostly the front. Eating hard foods, or things that require a lot of work in the front (like a sandwich) are still very hard and uncomfortable. My lower lip and chin are still significantly numb, maybe as much as 50%, which is a very unpleasant feeling.

The numbness makes playing difficult. Flute is impossible because I don’t get any tactile feedback about where and how to position my embouchure. Alto and Tenor are coming back slowly, but my control is gone. So no altissimo, and tuning is even more hit or miss than it ever was.

90% of my gigs are on bari, which thankfully I’m able to play. I play in a Tower of Power-style funk band, so it’s all about volume, tone, and attack. Precision, but not nuance. With the right amount of air, it works just fine. The numbness is partially a blessing because I can’t feel how out of shape my chops are after a three-set gig. I do start to lose strength, but there isn’t much pain.

It’s been a difficult nine months, both physically and emotionally. I’m still not sure if I’ll ever be 100% again, which is scary. And that has made me lose motivation to keep transcribing. It just makes me want to PLAY, which I know I shouldn’t be doing much of.

But I’m getting back on the horse slowly, and will start posting new transcriptions (and videos) again soon! But you will definitely notice that my playing is a few (big) steps behind where it was, and that will make me choose different material.

@SDartSax

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Woodshedding 101

If you think something is too difficult to play, it’s just because it’s unfamiliar. Remember that picking up your horn to make a single note felt impossible at first. But with repetition, everything gets easier.

Keeping that in mind, here’s my foolproof system for woodshedding any difficult piece, along with one weird trick that you have to try to believe!

Step 1 – Break it down

Play through the passage that you want to learn at full speed. Mark any sections that stress you out, whether you played them correctly or not. Sometimes you get lucky! If a passage makes you nervous, it’s because you don’t know it well enough.

Break the above passages down into manageable phrases that you can tackle one at a time, ideally not more than a few measures at a time.

Step 2 – Slow it down

For each phrase, slow it down to a tempo where you can play it effortlessly. Use a metronome!

If you want to truly master something, you need to practice it until it becomes effortless and stress-free to play correctly.

Step 3 – Practice backwards!

Here comes the trick: Learn the end of the passage first and gradually work your way to the beginning. Let me explain what I mean with an example from one of my recent transcriptions. Below is a four-bar phrase from a Sonny Stitt solo. The first and last lines are the complete phrase for reference.

Start practicing on line 2. When you can play that perfectly, effortlessly at your chosen tempo 5x in a row, move on to line 3. If it’s too hard, slow down your metronome and try again.

As you progress down the page, each line builds up the entire phrase from the back to the front. Once you can play the entire line perfectly, effortlessly at your chosen tempo 5x in a row, increase your metronome speed by 5-10 bpm and start again on line 2.

The more you play something, the more familiar it is, and the easier it is to play. Most people practice phrases from the beginning to the end. When they make a mistake, the stop and start over.

When you do this, you end up playing the beginning of the phrase far more often than the ending. This means that no matter how well you know the phrase, you’re subconsciously losing confidence the further you go. When it comes time for a performance, you’re more likely to make a mistake that might derail the entire phrase.

When you learn something from the back to the front, the opposite effect takes hold. Your confidence increases as you play! And if you make a mistake at the beginning, you’re more likely to be able to recover and finish the phrase strongly because you’ve done it before dozens of times!

Step 4 – Put it all together

By following the above steps, you’ll eventually learn entire phrases (by themselves) at full speed. Now connect the phrases in the same way: Play the last phrase of the song first. Then add the second to last, etc.

It’s not necessary to write things out as I’ve done above. I do this in my head as I practice. Use your own judgment to decide how to break down the phrases. I’ve shown a variety of ways above. You don’t always have to add 2 or 4 notes. There’s no right answer for every piece and every student. Find out what works for you.

Happy woodshedding!

@SdartSax

Tenor month!

I mentioned in my last post that I haven’t posted many of the tenor sax transcriptions I’ve done because they are too hard for me to play. That made me stop and think – what’s that about??

The whole point of this blog is to motivate me to practice! Practicing isn’t effective if you’re just playing what you know. That’s why I always try to pick solos that push my boundaries at least a little bit.

So, to that end, I’m declaring September 2016 ‘Tenor month’. I’m going to go back through all of those tenor sax solos I’ve done over the years and work a few of them up.

No alto solos in September! Wish me luck…