This Technique Saved Me 100s of Hours of Practice Time

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How much time do you spend practicing saxophone?

Never enough to play the way you want to play right? I’m going to show you a technique for getting better at playing saxophone or any musical instrument that will save you countless hours practicing.

I’ve been doing this for years and it really works, costs nothing and has other benefits not related to music. In fact, you can do this anytime, anywhere and you don’t even need your instrument. The technique I’m talking about is playing in your head or visualization.

I used to think that this was something only for very advanced musicians, but now I know that every level of player can benefit tremendously from doing this even total beginners. I’m going to break down how I do this into 3 levels.

My favorite time to practice in my head is when I’m in bed going to sleep. I’ll choose something to work on and just play through it in my head with my eyes closed. It’s a bit meditative, so this always eases me to sleep nicely while clearing my head of any other thoughts.

Level One- Fingerings

This is the most basic level where everyone who has never played in their head should start. It takes a bit of practice to be able to develop some speed, so just start out going very slow. If you are a beginner still learning all the fingerings, visualization is going to really speed up the process.

When you are away from the horn just visualize yourself playing each of the notes on the saxophone that you already know. You can visualize the saxophone and its key layout, and which fingers are pressing keys. Do this slowly and also think of the hand position for all the fingers that are not pressing keys. You can actually train yourself to have nice relaxed hand position all in your head.

If you are a more advanced player, level 1 can help you with altissimo fingerings. This is an area of the horn that is really challenging and visualization can be extremely helpful to increase our altissimo technique.

Practicing altissimo fingering in your head is going to save your ears and jaw which can both take a beating during extended altissimo practice sessions.

Level Two- Scales & Arpeggios

Once you get used to playing all the different notes on the saxophone in your head the next step is to play scales and arpeggios.

When I was a freshman in college, the first thing we needed to do is know all our major and minor scales over the full range of the instrument in all keys. This took me a lot longer to learn than it should have since I was only working on it when I had the saxophone in my hands. If I had known how to visualize my practice I could have been working on memorizing the key signatures and fingerings all throughout the day.

You can do this when you are driving or walking to class. You can do this when you’re on the bus or train. You can do this when you’re washing the dishes or any other chores. You can even do this as an alternative to mindless scrolling on social media, binging Netflix or any other behavior you do, but would rather do something less time-wastey.

Remember to not just think about the fingerings. To get the maximum benefit out of this you also want to visualize your posture, and staying relaxed physically. Make sure your imaginary fingers are resting lightly on the keys and staying in close contact as much as possible. The more you do this away from the horn, the more you will do it when the horn is in your hands.

In my experience time spent practicing away from the saxophone can often be more efficient because we are removing other variables that normally get a lot of our attention, like the sound we are producing. I also don’t recommend moving your fingers to simulate playing. The whole point of this is that the whole thing happens in our head. You want to imagine the familiar feeling of your fingers on the keys and how they move, not try to approximate it on a bottle of water or some other object.

If you think that’s a bit far fetched or difficult, start with some other physical activity you are already really good at. Can you imagine yourself walking? eating, swimming? You can right? You can imagine all of the movements and even the physical feeling of it in perfect detail without moving any part of your body.

Everyone should spend time practicing their fundamentals like scales and arpeggios using visualization. One, because it’s the stuff we all need to have under our fingers, but also because it can free up time in our normal practice sessions with the actual saxophone to work on other things. This way we don’t spend all of that precious practice time on the horn just playing scales and exercises. We can practice that stuff in our heads and save the more fun stuff like repertoire and improvising for when we are on the horn.

Level Three- Tunes & Improvisation

But speaking of tunes and improvising, we can do that in our head too. Don’t think you can? Well I’ll prove to you right now that yes, even you can play a song on the saxophone entirely in your head and get all the notes right.

Play Mary Had a Little Lamb starting on the note B in your head right now. Go nice and slow. Imagine yourself fingering the notes and hear the melody your are playing in your head. Easy right? If you can do that you can practice any other tune the same way.

I know what you’re thinking though, Jay what about when the melody is more complex and I’m not sure what note comes next? This presents an amazing opportunity to develop your ears which is going to level up your musicianship faster than anything else.

Let’s pick another tune that everyone knows, but may not get the melody exactly right the first time. Happy Birthday. It starts on the 5th scale degree. So start on D. Hear the melody in your head and imagine your fingers moving.

“Happy birthday to you”. What notes are you moving to for the last 2 words? If you’re not sure, guess, and then check yourself on the saxophone.
Go through the whole tune like this. Once you realize this is totally doable, start trying it with any song you are working on. Visualize yourself playing the melody and then test your guesses on the saxophone. You will very quickly start to feel the benefits of doing this which is going to make you want to do it all the time.

The last step is improvising. You can start with something as simple as a pentatonic scale. Visualize yourself playing the scale starting on G and hear the notes in your head. Just go slowly and play around moving from one note to the next.

You see, piano players and guitarists are doing this all the time. Singing what they are playing on the instrument. Their voice knows what note is coming next and it matches what the fingers are doing. I find that saxophone players are often relying too heavily on muscle memory and just knowing that any given note choice is a safe one. Rather than deliberately playing the next note that their ear is telling them to go to.

This visualization practice will be transformative for anyone who spends time with it I promise. Yes, you have to spend time doing it, so technically it counts as practice hours, but those hours can actually be much more efficient than the same time spent on the saxophone.

Please let me know your thought on this in the comments, do you practice visualisation in music? If so how do you do it? Of course you still need to spend a lot of time on the saxophone especially to develop your sound, so go ahead and watch this video next where I have 8 tips on how to get a beautiful saxophone tone.

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