Are You Practicing the Right Stuff on Saxophone?

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Are we practicing the right things? Think of the #1 thing you should be practicing everyday, but aren’t. What are some of the things you practice instead? I’m going to talk about some bad habits we all have in the practice room, and how to fix them.

What’s Really Important When Practicing?

Just like in our personal and professional lives, we end up spending a lot of time on things we perceive to be urgent, but aren’t really important to our development. 

For Example:

  • Working on playing really fast tempos.
  • Learning how to play over really challenging chord changes.
  • Learning how to play in the altissimo range.

These things are great and we all want to be able to do them. They are the sort of things we think we need to learn in order to get our playing to the next level where we want to be, so they get treated as urgent. As a result, these things may end up getting the bulk of our attention when in the practice room.

The problem is, that each one of these examples is like the tip of a large mountain. We need to establish the base of this mountain before we will ever have a chance to master what rests on top.

I spent an enormous amount of my practice time on these tip of the mountain things while basically ignoring the base of the mountain and my guess is some of you do the same from time to time.

Fast vs. Slow

In regards to fast tempos, this mountain top needs to be supported by a base of playing slow, medium, and medium fast tempos. In addition, 95% of the time you are not going to be playing at really fast tempos. 

Let’s face it. The only time you’re going to be playing at a super fast tempo is when you’ve got a smokin’ rhythm section and you’re on a gig where tempos over 250 bpm are desirable and appropriate, which doesn’t happen all that often for most of us.

Playing double time is cool, but if you listen to the great virtuoso improvisors, they usually save double time passages as a special effect and don’t overdo it. Many legendary players rarely played double time at all. 

So instead of trying to practice so I can play at a super crazy fast tempo, I find it’s much more useful to work on playing at medium and slow tempo’s to get really solid time.

In reality 90 to 95% of the time in professional playing situations you’re going to be playing slow, medium, and medium fast tempos – that’s it.

Practicing Complex Harmonies

A lot of times, we jump right ahead to these incredibly advanced improvisation techniques without taking the time to understand the basics behind them.

You will be a much better musician and improvisor if you take the time to learn music theory, simple harmonies, playing inside chord changes, and looking at common chord progressions. These are the building blocks or the ingredients to be able to show-off and play fancy and complex solos.

Practicing Altissimo

The same thing goes when practicing in the altissimo range. It’s challenging and cool, and sounds really impressive. However, you can’t get there properly without taking a look at sound development, embouchure technique, learning how to play overtones, and you must practice your long tones daily.

If you want to learn altissimo, check out “How to Play Altissimo on the Saxophone.” I go through a variety of tips and tricks as to how you can achieve playing in this range. But, as I mentioned, you won’t get there without a solid foundation first.

These things are all tied together in that they are what we may consider an urgent problem we have to address immediately, but they are not necessarily important to our overall musicianship. It’s important to look at your foundational skills first, rather than jumping to the most complex part of the instrument.

What are you practicing the most in your daily sessions? Let me know in the comments below!

Interested in more practice room techniques? Check out “How Consistency in the Practice Room Results in Solid Improvement.”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

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One Comment

Ted H. says:

What’s up Jay. Great article on practicing. I enjoy reading your blogs and FB posts. I’m an amateur player in a local community band, but our summer and fall performances were all canceled because of the pandemic and the school where we normally rehearse has been closed. But a great book I found to pass the time is “25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone” by H. Klose. I’ve found the exercises great for maintaining technique. They’re not difficult, but they still give your horn and fingers a workout. Great for practicing clarinet too. Keep up the good work and stay safe!



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