Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I now have a more active music blog on my website: saxmyax.com. I have two new posts (at least) every week with articles and recordings to help with basic pedagogy, Rubank etudes, Ferling etudes, jazz etudes, jazz improv, and instrument reviews. I look forward to sharing my experience with others.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jazz tools

This month, I wanted to bring up some useful tools to help with jazz bands. I know several of you are strictly classical players with little to no jazz experience and yet are faced with the aspect of having to teach jazz. Also, sometimes it is hard for brass teachers to get ideas across to woodwinds and vice versa. Well, there's technology to the rescue. There is a lot of great stuff out there that I wish was there when I was a kid.

The main thing is to get your students to listen to jazz. It is a language, and in order to sound like a native speaker you have to listen to native speakers. Well, with the Internet, there are now many free ways for students to listen to great jazz. For starters, there's Grooveshark.com. All one has to do is enter the name of an artist, or the name of a song, or both and find great recordings of the best jazz players ever. They can then study the recording for style, sound, articulation, etc. Additionally, last time I checked there were over 1500 Aebersolds available to listen to on Grooveshark, so if a student has a lead sheet (like from a Real Book or Aebersold book), they can then practice all they want with that play along. The longer I teach, the more I feel that the secret to good jazz improv is just to keep playing as much as possible. The theory/scales will come in time, but it's extremely important for them to hear their instrument at the same time as a rhythm section.

As a non-jazz side note, I've also had students look up orchestral excerpts on Grooveshark to help prepare for auditions. There aren't many, but there are a few out there.

Of course, the best thing for students to do with the recordings is to transcribe or learn the solo from the recording. It teaches not only about note choices at an intuitive level, but I think it's even more important that it teaches tone, energy and style. This, though, is a very daunting task. First attempts at transcription often end up just being exercises in frustration. Let's face it, it's very difficult. Well, the Internet comes to the rescue again. There are many websites out there with pdf files of jazz transcriptions. Just do a Google search with the name of the artist, the title of the song, and add pdf or transcription to it, it will yield many positive results. This can be a great tool to help the beginning improviser get a hold of the music and with Grooveshark, be able to listen to the original recording. Then, as they learn the solo, they can pick up the style and tone at the same time. As they get more experience, they will have more tools to help them when they do try to transcribe on their own.

There are many other tools to help jazz players and improvisers, but I'll stop here for now for sake of time. If you have other questions, feel free to ask me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Concert Attendance

I often talk to my students about two "secrets" to success in music. Secret one is to practice. Secret two is to have fun. The practice thing is a no-brainer, but the challenge is to find ways to get students to want to practice while having a good time doing it.

Here's one way: concert attendance. Here in Utah County, we're blessed with the opportunity to hear many quality groups and musicians. One of the things that ignites my enthusiasm musically is to hear a great musician play a fantastic performance. Of course, not only does a good performance get us fired up, but it also shows us good examples of how to play our instruments. I know it can often be frustrating trying to get students to these things, but I believe its worth the effort.

So, I resolve to help you be aware of when there are great woodwind musical events (concerts, master classes, etc) in the area that your students can benefit from hearing. And by all means, if you know of something that I don't have, let me know and I'll try to get the word out.

Here's what's on line for October:
Oct 4: UVU Wind Symphony @ the Covey - playing a fantastic transcription of Star Wars
Oct 11: Rocky Mountain Marching Band Competition @BYU
Oct 14: Orpheus Winds, BYU faculty wind quintet @BYU Madsen 7:30 -FREE
Oct 27: BYU Symphonic Band @BYU deJong Concert Hall 7:30
Oct 29: BYU Wind Symphony @BYU deJong Concert Hall 7:30

Friday, September 9, 2011

Instrument Care

For this month, I thought I'd address a question I was recently asked. How do you prevent damage to instruments? Since this is the start of a new school year, this might be a good time to mention some of these things to your students to help make sure their instruments keep working.

One thing that students assume is that the case will protect the instrument. Unfortunately, that is not as true as we would like. Too often, I see students using cases (with instruments inside) as stools, chairs, hockey pucks, balls, weapons, etc. Plenty of damage can still occur to the instrument even in the case, as I've found out first hand several times for myself. Things can get bent and thrown out of alignment that will make the instrument difficult to play.

Another thing that quite a few saxophone players and some clarinet players do is cram extra stuff, like books and music, into their cases because they don't want to carry it separately. The problem with this is that it puts extra pressure on the rods and can cause them to bend. When they bend, it pulls the pads off of the tone holes and creates leaks.

I know most of you try to teach your students to keep their instruments clean, but this is something that they don't do so well. The most important thing to keep the instrument functioning properly is to get the moisture out of it after playing. Condensation can gather inside , especially in saxes, and then settle into the pads after it is put back in the case. This causes the pads to warp and not seal properly. I recommend a good quality silk swab. They are a little more expensive, but will quickly pay for themselves when put through the instrument after each use.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


When I get new students, I keep seeing them stuffing their reeds in and out of the soft plastic shipping holders that come with the boxes of reeds. The primary problem is that the soft plastic doesn't hold the reed flat. Additionally, the Rico holders have little nubs that, if a student isn't careful, can quickly put dents in the tip of the reed and render it useless.

Rico/LaVoz makes a hard plastic reed guard that #1: holds the tip of the reed flat and #2 protects the tip from damage. I tell my students that it will save them money because their reeds will survive longer and play longer. Utah is a pretty dry climate, and reeds don't like that. Reeds would much rather bask in the humidity of Louisiana. The only problem I've found with the LaVoz holders is that the larger size does not quite hold Vandoren baritone sax reeds (though I think it holds Rico, but I don't use Rico so I'm not sure). I still have to use the Vandoren shipping holder, since it is better than nothing. Another option for the bari reeds is a piece of plate glass with wide rubber bands to hold the reed tight against it.

One other bit of reed advice that helps in this Utah climate is to wrap the reeds (in their reed guards) in a plastic bag. You don't want to seal them in the bag (or they'll mold), but as long as there is less air movement around the reeds it will allow them to dry slower. This helps them to not warp as much.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Starting a new music blog

I've decided to split my blog entries and have one for music and another for writing. This will be the music one. My focus is to provide information, articles, and reviews of things that are of interest to teachers and students of saxophone and clarinet. If you have any questions that you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask.