Friday, December 16, 2016

The Power of Social the right hands.

Social media is an interesting concept.

On the one hand, you have folks who post without fact checking, post pictures of their dinner, and cannot do a bench press without reporting it to the world (and relationship issues broadcast on social media. Man...).

On the other hand, if you know how to work social media properly, you'll get practice tips from seasoned, professional, often big name musicians and even make contacts which can affect your life in ways you couldn't even imagine.

I spend WAY too much time on Facebook. I admit it. I have a problem. Having said that, there have been some major positive impacts on my life. I've met and made friends with a lot of the 'heavies' in the saxophone world. I've gotten to take part in countless great pedagogy discussions. I've even gotten to promote recordings of myself in the hopes that some professors might hear them and be interested in having me audition for grad spots.

Funny I should mention that...

I auditioned for two graduate schools this fall. Both auditions came about 100% due to social media. Neither was I school I might have considered otherwise. Both turned out to be great programs. One, as it happened, was the perfect fit.

So with this I can announce that due to a friendship/working relationship that 100% began on social media, the next step of my journey begins.

In January, I begin my tenure as Professor Mark McArthur's graduate assistant at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Music.

If you are smart about how to market yourself on social media AND put in the work to be a better player, good things WILL happen!

Back to work. I have a Master's degree to worry about now!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Upcoming Challenges

I graduate this week (12/10/16)

That has me thinking a lot about the next step and the skills and philosophies I need to begin to solidify.

  • As I begin grad school there are still some real fundamental issues with my playing which need to be addressed. My undergrad professor has been excellent and has helped to improve my playing greatly. To move to the next level, however, there is still work to be done (and likely always will be). I think this is something I wouldn't have grasped at 18-22 years of age. The first step in improving is realizing that there is still work to be done. I'm ok and my senior recital did include some pretty aggressive lit, including the Dahl Concerto and Fuzzy Bird Sonata. If I wish to include names like Lauba, Bolcom, Berio, and Albright in my rep list, though, it isn't so much extended technique that needs work but simply technique. 
  • I need to begin to figure out how to balance the assigning of technique/etudes/literature. Here's the reality. If you get a DMA and IF you are fortunate enough to get a real job you are likely going wind up at a gig where the majority of students are music education majors. Most will end up as band directors or elementary music teachers. That's fantastic (and requires more patience than I have). However, what it often means is that they put the horn in the case following graduation and rarely, if ever, get it out again. Therefore the dilemma is this: Yes, you want to assign enough technique for the student to reach a certain level but.....I think it would be a shame to not allow them to attempt as much of the literature as they can, WHILE they can. Finding that balance is a skill I'm going to have to develop.
  • Music Education is a brutal major. My non music major friends might not understand this but music ed, along with nursing, are the two most hours-intensive majors on a college campus. My job as an instruction will include how to challenge my students and give them enough to make them better without burning them out or contributing to an overuse injury. I've seen both and neither are any fun. 
  • I need to put things together as an educator so that my students have opportunities to participate in master classes with as many guest artists as possible. I want them exposed to as many teaching styles/techniques as possible. I also need to get them involved in competitions like MTNA and Fischoff early and often. It isn't necessarily about winning. It's about getting literature worked up to a very high level and performing it for people for whom you don't regularly perform.  This goes back to burnout. How does one balance this with everything else the student has to do. 
  • I need to learn how to balance genres in my teaching. Saxophone students need to recognize that as a saxophonist, there isn't just one genre to perform and if you learn just one you are limiting yourself as far as personal development as well as JOBS. The challenge is how to balance development in the 'classical' literature as well as jazz and other genres. I'll also be encouraging doubling. I cost myself a ton of money over the years not having learned clarinet and flute earlier in life. Orchestra pit jobs for musicals and shows pay WELL and will also keep my students playing after graduation.

Just some thoughts as I prepare to put on the cap and gown.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thoughts from the Desk of Ye Olde Music Major

  • For wind players- Your sound is your voice, and your interpretation is what you have to say. Make both as profound as you possibly can.
  • Every note you play is important and should be played with as beautiful of a sound as you can muster. I don't care if you are playing a scale. You should strive to make every note of that scale the most beautiful thing you've ever played, period.
  • Your technique should be refined to the point that it doesn't a: get in the way of your sound and b: prevent you from saying what you want to say. This is a lifelong journey and we all struggle with it.
  • If you become angry or frustrated with yourself during a practice session, walk away. Banging your head against the wall only hurts your head.
  • Scales aren't the thing. They are the thing that gets you to the thing.
  • Long tones/overtones- see above. 
  • Fundamentals never stop being cool.
  • Very few people can practice for 3-4 hours straight and actually be productive. Take breaks. Let your fingers, mouth, and brain recover.
  • Being a musician is a physical activity. The better shape you're in the easier it becomes.
  • Stage fright is normal.
  • Taking the above into account, if you are too scared to play your instrument in front of people how on earth do you expect to pick up a baton and conduct 50-60 people in front of an audience?
  • Love what you do.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The End Game- Your Most Important Responsibilities as a Music Teacher.

     Looking at this, my second trip down the lane as a music major and I can easily tell you the biggest difference between this time and last. Maturity is a big part of it but ultimately the biggest difference between 40 something me and 20 something me is PERSPECTIVE. I process what my teachers say a lot differently than I did in 1990. What I enjoy is when my major professor and I get to 'talk shop' and look at how we arrive at the big picture. We had such a conversation this morning.
       This is a really busy semester and we're nearing the busiest point in that semester for much of our music department. This morning, my professor was talking about his own practicing and how he was having a difficult time currently getting more than a few minutes a day worth of practice time because of all of the extra things going on. His statement made me continue down the path of a thought I'd already formed........

- One of the problems with teachers is that they are humans and humans each have their own agenda. It may be subconscious but it exists. As such, every teacher has their pet projects and have the mindset of 'Oh, this won't inconvenience folks too much!'. The problem is that when every teacher in a department is doing this it becomes completely overwhelming for both teachers and students. This isn't something exclusive to any grade level or happens everywhere unless folks remain diligent and keep things in balance. The most important thing for any music teacher (or any teacher of any subject) to remember is the end game which is 100%....


There is no ensemble, no project, no agenda that should EVER come before this. So, what does this have to do with my professor and practicing? Everything.

You see, paramount to the continued growth and development of the student is the continued growth and development of the TEACHER. You MUST continue down the path of your own growth and education as a musician (or in whatever subject you teach) to truly serve your students and ensure you can give them the best version of yourself. Schedule practice time daily. Continue with score study. Transcribe solos. Do whatever you can to be the best musician you can. You owe it to those who trust you to teach them.

No excuses.
Get Better
Go And Make Your Students Better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

No Witty Title- Common Musical Terms That Young Musicians Might Not Know.

 I hate not knowing...and normally I'm not afraid to ask...BUT..

When I returned to school in my 40s I was already scared out of my wits. Often it kept me from asking questions that made me feel dumb. The question usually would revolve around a musical term someone would throw out that I didn't know. I have no doubt that incoming freshmen go through similar things. Therefore, I thought I'd post some common musical terms and their definitions. Now, you'll know....and knowing is half the battle....G.I. JOOOEEEEEEEEE!!!! (but I digress...)

Appoggiatura-  A grace note performed the prior to the note of the melody and landing on the beat.
Cadenza- A musical term referring to a chord sequence that brings an end to a musical phrase.
Dominant- The fifth note of a scale (or the fifth chord of a key).
Enharmonic-  Two notes that differ in name but refer to the same pitch. For example, C sharp and D flat.
Giocoso- Playfully.
Hemiola- A rhythmic pattern of syncopated beats with two beats in the time of three or three beats in the time of two.
Leading Tone- The seventh tone of a scale which LEADS to the tonic.
Mediant- The third note of a scale.
Ostinato-  a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, usually at the same pitch.The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in itself.
Sempre- Always.
Senza- Without.
Subdominant- The forth note of a scale (or forth chord of a key).
Submediant- The sixth note of a scale (or sixth chord of a key).
Supertonic- The Second note of a scale.
Tutti- All together.

More terms to come!

Monday, October 24, 2016

When is Hard, Hard? When is Extended Really Extended?

Greetings from the home stretch of my pedagogy degree!

It's been a while since I've posted a new blog. Sorry about that! A senior recital and graduate school auditions temporarily took priority of my life. Now, they are successfully completed and I'm back to practicing and pondering about why we do what we do?

So....why do we do some of the things we do?

I'm actually referring to 'we' as teachers here and not as players. There are some things that I've even caught myself doing and realized that I was simply continuing a cycle of something I was taught at some point in my life. Here are a couple examples.

1: Why do we continue, as teachers, band directors, whatever, to propel the notion that one key is harder than another in reference to scales? I have students who are 100% convinced that B, C#, and F# are the devil. Why do they believe this? Why did I use to believe it? Well, it's likely they saw a bunch of ink on the page (in the form of sharps or flats) and it LOOKED harder. Understandable, right? However, that's where a teacher, at some point, failed them. Each major or minor scale is tonic, seven scale tones, and tonic again. The PERCEPTION might be that they are harder but that isn't matched by reality....except for the one we've slowly created over the years.
    A good example is Ferling's 48 Famous Studies. Anyone who has worked through that book knows full well that etude 48 is in no way more difficult than etude 1. However, because of the way the book is laid out, the student sees the C#s and F#s in the back; making them appear far more ominous than they actually are.
   The point I'm trying to make here is that we often shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot by making certain things appear harder than they really are or, at the very least, not dispelling the myth of their difficulty. Fair enough? Fundamentals should be presented as just that. Db is no more difficult, finger wise, than F. It's all perception.

2: At what point does saxophone advance (in regards to what's possible) that we stop using the term 'extended technique' for technique which is no longer really 'extended'. The world now has high school students playing literature which regularly carries them into the altissimo register and. truthfully, it's rare to find saxophone music being published today which DOESN'T have altissimo? Is this something which now needs to be presented at an earlier age? Do we not need to begin looking at voicing exercises for students much earlier in their playing careers? What about double tonging? It's common place for brass players within three years of beginning the instrument. It's less common in saxophonists but would it not be useful in not only solo lit but wind ensemble lit? The point is that perhaps it's time to reconsider hurdles to leap in the progress of a saxophone student because they just keep getting better. The bar is continually being raised as far as the skill of player at every level. In my opinion, that bar should also continually be raised in the teacher's studio, as well.

Thoughts? Comments?

Monday, September 12, 2016

No, It Isn't Going to Sound Like the Recording....and That's FINE!

I'm about four weeks out from a's about to get real!

   One of the pieces on my recital is a 'bucket list' piece for me; The Dahl Saxophone Concerto. I first heard the Dahl when I was 18. The recording is a fabulous one with Don Sinta performing with the U. Michigan Wind Ensemble. It is a classic saxophone recording and needs to be re-released. I say this with no hyperbole....I have probably listened to the recording 500 times or more in my life. It's had an impact as I hear a lot of my interpretations mimicking those done by 'The Don'. However, such familiarity with that recording has caused me some problems. I will play a phrase and think 'Crap, the recording sounded much better'. Well, of course it did!

   I need to keep two things in mind (and those of you who go through this do as well). One, Donald J. Sinta is one of the greatest saxophonists ever to pick up the instrument; regardless of genre. The man is a straight up virtuoso. Second, I have no idea how many takes were needed to put this recording together, how many times they spliced in phrases to make them cleaner, and how the recording was put together. There are no perfect performances and had I ever heard him play the thing live I bet he would have had a small gaffe or two. He's great, not perfect.
   I once heard of a famous trumpet player who put out a CD with an equally famous conductor conducting an equally famous wind ensemble. I'm not listing the name because I've never confirmed what I heard to be true. According to what I heard, the recording (which is FLAWLESS) was recorded as little as two measures at a time. Perfection comes much easier when it only needs to be perfect for two measures....just saying...

  What's the moral here? Use recordings for inspiration, interpretive ideas, and getting wonderful sounds in your ear. They shouldn't be, however, the reference for how your live performance should sound. If you treat them as such, you will ALWAYS fall short and never be happy with a great but imperfect performance. Remember that the audience doesn't have a score in front of them. Give performances that make up for imperfection with passion and inspiration. Great doesn't mean perfect.

Ok, back to practicing.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ye Olde Music Major and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy

That's kinda sounds Harry Potterish...

   Greetings from college where I'm preparing a senior recital. Two of the pieces, the Ingolf Dahl Concerto and Youshimatsu's Fuzzy Bird Sonata both have very rapid, heavily articulated passages and the Youshimastu has slap tonging as well. This has made me cringe a bit all summer because I'm not very skilled at slap tonging and rapid articulation is an area where I could use some improvement. More on this in a minute (I had another one of my self reflective moments in my lesson this morning).

   I gave a lesson yesterday to a ninth grade student named Abigail. Abigail is one of my favorites because she has a great attitude and a rare work ethic. She works HARD. I decided that since she was going to see Ferling etudes for the next four years of our all region band auditions, I might as well get her started on the etudes. She's ready. She'll learn and grow from working on them. As I opened the book for the first time I watch her eyes get very large. I said "What's wrong?" to which she replied "So many 16th notes!". I asked her what was so bad about 16th notes and she said what most young students would say- "They're FAST!!".
   I explained to Abigail that the 16th note is a measurement of rhythm, not time. She didn't get it at first until I had her play the first two measures of Ferling #2 at 35 beats per minute. I asked her if they were still fast and she said 'well, no.'. At that tempo she (of course) had little difficulty making it through the first few systems of the etude.
   You see, there's a self fulfilling prophecy here. If we begin work on a passage thinking "Oh man, this is going to be HARD!", we'll be right....100% of the time. If we say 'Ok, let's begin slowly and work this out.', it might take a bit of time but it's so much easier than banging our heads against the proverbial wall because we believed something was hard going in.
    Back to my articulation issues- you see, it isn't just younger students who go through this. In my situation, I simply have to remind myself that there are just techniques that I haven't mastered....yet. Slow, diligent, and consistent work will correct that.

Go in to the practice room with the confidence that if you start slowly, practice in a matter that is smart and consistent and be content with the fact that progress takes time....then NOTHING is impossible.

Be Smart.
Be Confident.
Get it done.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Leggo my Ego.....the Eternal Battle to Control our Egos...

   I went to the gym tonight....for the first time in probably six months.

   This is not a big deal to many people but in a former life, I earned a degree in exercise science and was a college strength coach (true story). Now, I'm a chubby guy in my 40s back on a college campus and using a fitness facility while surrounded by 20 year old guys who have crazy things like 'metabolisms' and 'testosterone'. Sound scary? It shouldn't be, but it is. It's terrifying.
    Even when I first came back to school and was going regularly I was only doing things like heavy squats and deadlifts. I justified this by claiming to myself that I was doing 'functional' movements and wasn't playing around with 'cutesy' exercises. Of course, with my ever present self reflection I can tell you that I picked those exercises so that the young uns would see me throwing around heavy weights. It was all about EGO.

This is a struggle that we as musicians go through daily, and not for the reasons you might think.

   You see, on one end, the ego is a fabulous thing for musicians. It drives us. It is what puts us on stage even when our knees are knocking. It makes us try to learn things that we haven't done before so we can so things we haven't done before......

.......and then it gets in our way....

    You remember fundamentals? Oh yeah, those darned things.....scales, long tones, articulation studies. You're too advanced for those, right? You already learned your scales. Why bother with those?That's beginner stuff! That's for middle schoolers! That's time you could be spending learning high level literature, transcribing Dexter Gordon solos, learning to be the next Brecker, except...

Those boring old fundamentals are just too darned critical to your success to ignore. That's why Casals practiced  them into his 90s. That's why Heifitz did them. why they should be the basis for every single thing you do in the practice room.

Get your metronome and tuner
Get your pencil
Get your ego out of the way
Get it done

Seeking Out the GOOD

  I recently returned from a summer of working at Interlochen Arts Camp. As much as I love working there (and it's one of my favorite places on earth) there's always a little twinge of trepidation about pulling my horns out to practice for the first time because I know there are players up there, on basically every known instrument, who have skill levels far exceeding mine. Those first few practice sessions, in an environment where everyone hears everyone, are just really scary. So, why do I still get excited every spring for my summer return to northern Michigan?

   It's pretty simple, I know that all the sounds in my ear, all day long, are going to make me better.....SIGNIFICANTLY better. Not only does the ridiculous amount of talent/skill around me inspire me to work harder but the wonderful sounds I hear will lodge themselves in my subconscious and , over time, work their way into my own playing....whether it be the the vibrato of a violinist or the warmth of a horn player. I come back better than when I left due largely to what I hear (even if I don't fully realizing I'm hearing it).
    It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't been there. My girlfriend, Caitlyn, is a talented clarinetist who hadn't been there before last year. I told her before we left "Two months after you get back, for seemingly no reason, your sound is going to EXPLODE after we get back". Lo and behold, last October she's playing in a woodwind studio master class and the entire woodwind faculty were exclaiming 'What has happened to your sound?!'. Two months later, she became principal clarinet in our wind ensemble and has held the chair ever since. Needless to say, Caitlyn was more than a little excited to return this summer.

     I was listening to Caitlyn have a conversation with another student yesterday and she said something which stuck with me. She said 'I think a big problem with many high school and college students is that they have no real concept of GOOD and for some reason make no attempt to seek it out. They don't try to find and listen to great musicians and base good off what is at their school."

   I think the problem there is two-fold-

 First, there seems to be a lack of natural curiosity on the part of students (and people in general) these days. I think that perhaps things have become so easy to research that people have lost interest in seeking things out. The challenge is gone. It's so easy to find things these days that people no longer look.

Second, I believe that people honestly don't know what they don't know and some responsibility for exposing these young students to great musicians falls upon teachers. I believe that anyone who teaches instrumental music should know the name of at least one great player on each instrument. At the very least, if you are a band director and you have an oboist, tell them about John Mack. If you have a trombonist who needs to listen more, Joe Alessi. Know great artists in jazz as well. Expose all of your kids to people like Heifitz or Perlman. Have them listen to vocalists like Jessye Norman. Put great....truly great...artists in their ears and show them what's possible.

Finally, I found a second meaning in what Caitlyn said. You should also seek the good in your own playing. Musicians have a bad habit of beating themselves up over their own playing. Listen to your playing with a critical ear and always try to improve, sure, but make sure you see the beauty in what you are doing. You are doing something that millions of folks on this rock wish they could do. Celebrate that, not from a place of arrogance but from a place of joy and inspiration. What we do is cool.

Listen a lot
Enjoy what you do
Get to work!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Daily Work my Students Will be Assigned this Fall.

If you read my last blog entry, I posed the basic premise that if students don't know something is considered 'hard', they can usually just learn it. With that in mind, here are a few highlights-

  • Mouthpiece work- using a concert "A", articulation work with a droning tuner (also on A). 4 quarter notes, 8 8th notes, and 16 notes.....gradually increasing tempo.
  • Long tones based on a key per day with a droning tuner set on the tonic of the particular key. (we learn to tune with our ears, not our eyes)
  • Basic voicing/overtone work
  • Scales...and this is where things get fun....

Scales will be run on a four day cycle and be for the full range of the horn (no altissimo....YET).
Day 1- all 12 keys- Major scales full range, 3rds, and arpeggios with a metronome.
Day 2- all 12 keys- Harmonic minor scales full range, 3rds, and natural minor arpeggios.
Day 3- all 12 keys- Melodic minor scales full range, 3rds, and natural minor arpeggios.
Day 4- OTHERS- Chromatic, Diminished, Whole Tone, etc...full range, 3rds, 4ths, etc

There seems to be a mentality that high school kids should only learn major scales and that adding minor and other scales would be 'too much'. I think that's selling the student WAY short. 

Following scales will be 1-2 etudes per week (Klose', Ferling, Mule....any of the standard etude books. Since our regional honor band audition material is taken from Ferling, it will be the likely choice).

Then there is literature. It's time for my kiddos to begin immersing themselves in saxo-lit. We are going to be learning some introductory literature this year. Eccles is on the menu as are Maurice and possible works like Heiden's 'Diversion' and Rueff's "Chanson et Passepied".

There will also be a heavy jazz component. The studies by Lenny Neihaus and a heavy dose of listening assignments will be just the ticket. 

This might seem like some of you to be a lot for high school age kids but I'll suggest this- Their parents are paying money for me to help them improve on the saxophone. That's what I intend to do.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thoughts and Pedagogical Questions (Please feel free to respond here)

I think about things a lot. I have a pretty fair case of ADD (yes really). A side effect of this, I think, is that random thoughts pop in my head a lot. Sometimes, the thoughts are things like wondering why the lakes up here in Michigan are so much clearer than the ones back in west Tennessee. Other times they are about pedagogy. Recently, due to some master classes up here (done with various instruments, the most recent being clarinet guru Yehuda Gilad), I have started picking up on a few statements and think they carry through into saxo-world as well. With that said, I pose the following thoughts and questions about pedagogy. Feel free to join in the conversation!

  • One of the statements made by Mr. Gilad is that we often try to artificially create things in terms of embouchure and things like voicing. He asks 'why mess with Mother Nature?'. The more I thought about it the more it resonates with me. Work with a student to where their embouchure is solid, flexible, and COMFORTABLE, with enough tension to create a seal around the mouthpiece and reed. Beyond that, leave it alone! As far as voicing, he really doesn't like the term. I believe voicing (and the training thereof) may have some different implications for clarinet than it does saxophone and the mindset might need to be a bit different there. Voicing on saxophone used to be considered an 'extended technique'. With that thought on 'extended technique'...
  • I have a few questions about extended technique and how I'm going to apply them in my own teaching. First, isn't it about time we stopped referring to altissimo as 'extended technique'? If nearly every piece of saxophone literature today contains altissimo, it's simply part of the technique of the instrument at this point. Second-
  • At what point does a teacher start incorporating these techniques with their young students? One thing I really began to understand this year is that if you don't tell your student that something is difficult (whether it be a technique or a piece of music), they go in with less fear and can generally master it much more easily. I wonder how much of this mindset should be applied to so called extended techniques. Should we teach our middle school kids about voicing as something which could be sprinkled on top of their long tone studies? If we are teaching them single tonging, why not add double tonging in high school? High school brass players learn it then and it's a technique which certainly has value for woodwind players as well. I believe some of these techniques are hard simply because we classify them as 'hard'.
  • One of the big things I've picked up over the summer is how important it is to have your instrument really well adjusted. The good news with a saxophone is that if you mash the keys hard enough, even badly aligned pads will usually seal the tone hole well enough to get a sound. This creates long term problems, however, as it promotes using way too much tension to move around the horn and can cause hand and wrist issues over time. I've seen far too many musicians have to stop playing for extended periods because it became too painful to play. I would suggest watching oboists. They use only enough pressure to close the keys. While this might not totally work with the bell keys of a saxophone, I'd submit that most of us could use a much lighter touch; which, over time, would lead to not only healthier playing but a much faster technique.
Practice hard and practice SMART!!!
Get it done!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Leaving your ego at the door....and not for the reasons you'd expect

I love working summers at Interlochen:

    One of my favorite things to do here (and this is encouraged) is to just pull a chair and stand out under a tree and go to work. The summers are mild for the most part and the North Michigan woods are just beautiful. For many folks, this would be terrifying beyond words because of the skill levels of the campers, faculty, and staff here. It used to be for me as well until I figured something out...

   I am not one of the most advanced saxophonists on staff here. We have grad assistance from major music programs, we have folks who are studying saxophone abroad. I am pretty good and getting better but there are folks way above my level here (and that isn't even mentioning folks like Drs McAllister and Shemon, who have been here this summer). So, why do I now enjoy practicing out doors when these folks, as well as ridiculously skilled high school kids (who have a penchant for talking trash about people they hear) are walking by and hearing me?

  The first day I decided to practice outdoors was last summer on a particularly warm day.  I just couldn't find a practice hut which didn't feel like a sauna finally said "To heck with it, I'm finding a shady spot and going!". I was absolutely petrified at first....almost sick to my stomach. Over time, though, I began to realize something and it relaxed me quite a bit because I stopped caring so much that people were hearing me and might hear me make mistakes or play something which sounded bad.

  As I came back this summer, my first days to practice outside were still a little nerve wracking as it was 'Institute Week' here and the sax professors from Michigan, UMKC, Arizona, and Northwestern were all here. I made a point, though, to remind myself of what I had realized last year. That is:

  I have a senior recital this fall and grad school auditions following that. NO ONE hearing me has any effect on either my senior recital or those grad school auditions. NO ONE hearing me is going to hire me or not hire me based on what they are hearing me do as I sit under a tree; metronome clicking away. In short-

Whether they hear me or not has no effect whatsoever on my schooling or career as a saxophonist and educator...

   Once I figured that out, outdoor practice became easy.

    Of course, I still worry about sounding good but not because I'm worried about anyone walking by. I'm worried about sounding good because I always worry (worry isn't the right word here, maybe focus) on playing in tune and with the best sound I can possibly make. That, however, is for my own development and not to impress passers by. Remember that music is a very subjective field and what sounds good to you might not sound so great to others. There are big name saxophonists who I respect the heck out of but wouldn't choose to listen to because I simply don't like their sound or the way they play.

    So, some of you immediately thought- "You just said in two sentences that there are saxophone professors up there and then that your playing outside has no impact on your schooling or career". You're right, there are professors here and they do hear me if they happen to walk by but I have a pretty simple response there....If they decide they wouldn't choose for me to study with them based on what they hear when I'm playing scales or arpeggios under a tree, then their studio isn't where I need to be studying anyway!

   The moral of the story, folks, is this- We are all works in progress. Don't worry about being any more or less talented than anyone else. Don't worry about who hears you practice. Just worry about practicing.

Step by step
Day by day
Ever forward
Get it done!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Practice vs Preparation and why the boring stuff is so important

Greetings from the 89th season of Interlochen Arts Camp!

  One of the really cool perks of working up here in the summer is the decades old Sunday night tradition of a performance of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO). These are high school age musicians who are among the very best in the world for their age (or, in some cases, ANY age). This summer we've been treated to orchestral masterpieces such as Stravinsky's Firebird, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis, and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, among others. These young musicians have six days to put together an hour long concert each week; usually with a new conductor! They do it on a level that leaves me floored each and every week........and I know how they do it!
  Ok, sure, they are really talented but after a certain point the phrase 'well, that person is just really talented' is just a cop out and, frankly, should be a bit insulting to the person in question. These young musicians can do what they are doing through one avenue. They park themselves in front of a stand and they WORK. Sure, I hear excerpts from the pieces they are going to perform but the majority of what I hear is fundamental work; scales, arpeggios, long tones, and every other facet of pedagogy that helps us play.


  Were you to watch the buildup to the NFL or NBA drafts you would hear scouting reports on the athletes and, invariably, would hear the phrase 'holes in their game'. If you play basketball a hole in your game might be that you aren't the strongest rebounder. It's a facet of your game that needs improving. The best way to improve that facet is not to just go play more basketball but to do drills specific to learning to be a better rebounder; positioning, boxing out, timing the jump, things like that. The same goes for music.

  As even the best athletes have holes in their game, so do even the best musicians. Some, over time, become so highly skilled that none of us would notice these holes....but they still do. They notice it when they are preparing music to perform. You see, the parts that are difficult for them to prepare indicate areas where their skills haven't been as well developed yet. With some modern composers it may be a weakness because the piece requires a technique which is new to the performer. Other times, though, it's simply an area that hasn't had as much development yet; ergo, a hole in their game.

So, what's the simplest way to correct these 'holes'?

C'mon, you already know the answer. It involves your instrument, a metronome and tuner, time, and patience.

First, let's establish the difference between PRACTICE and PREPARATION. It's pretty simple.

  PRACTICE involves work with no expiration date; meaning you'll be doing them as long as you play the instrument (or, more to the point, you'd BETTER be doing them)- scales, long tones, scale patterns, etc. It is anything that is helping to make you better at your instrument. For younger players, these should all be given equal weight. As a player advances, they should still practice these fundamentals but there might be situations where specificity becomes involved. This means at a certain point a person might decide that their  tongue is still a bit sluggish and add extra articulation exercises or, a person might feel that their sound is still not as full as they'd like so long tones and voicing is emphasized a bit more. Regardless, practice is basically all those things your teacher wants you to do that you want to make excuses about doing....until those holes really start to show themselves..... when you are preparing a senior recital and those holes present themselves to you daily in the practice room.

   Herein lies PREPARATION. It is working on something that has a due date; a recital, an audition, a concerto competition, semester juries. It's anything that you know on this date had better be ready. I'm going through that preparation for my senior recital as we speak and that early October date is looming large in the windshield.

   I don't mind mentioning at all that I went through a good bit of my youth believing that if I simply got my sound good enough, everything else would fall into place. I didn't need those stupid scales and patterns. I would just work on the music and over time my technique would just magically improved. Yeah, so that isn't how it works AT ALL.

   I see those holes even after a few years of hard fundamental work. I especially see them on the last two pages of Ingolf Dahl's Concerto; which is solid 16th notes with a performance tempo of about 152 beats per second. I'm getting it ready. I'm preparing it for my recital. I can just tell you that the preparation would be considerably easier had, years ago, I addressed the holes in my game.

Make no mistake, you don't do long tones just to make a pretty sound in the practice room. You don't practice scales just so you can get them up to 120+ beats per minute. You do these things so that when it comes time to say what you want to say in a piece of music, regardless of whether it's a Bach Cello Suite, Creston's Sonata, or Giant Steps, you won't have a basic fundamental skill development issue blocking you from saying what you want to say in a piece. There are few things more frustrating to a musician than not being able to get what's in their head out for the audience to experience because the musician simply isn't good enough; skill wise.

This takes us, once again, back to why the WYSO kids are so much better than the average high school musician. It isn't talent. It's hard practice on the basic skills needed to take care of the holes in their game.

Get in the practice room.
Do the work.
Take care of those holes.
Become a star!


Friday, July 8, 2016

On a Happier Thought, let's talk about GEAR!

Man, saxophonists are often like guitarists...we love our toys.

We (and I am guilty of this) often a romantic notion about the new 'best' mouthpiece, horn, or whatnot or 'If I could just get THIS horn' it would make it all better. It's true, talking about and trying new pieces of gear can be fun and exciting and sometimes you end up finding something that can help....

.....but that isn't really what I'm going to talk about FIRST. I'm going to talk about what you (and your students, band directors) need to do PRIOR to making the decision that "I need new gear" or "I need my student to get a better horn".

First- Inspect the current instrument, mouthpiece, etc. Are they in good working order? Is the mouthpiece chipped anywhere? Is the table flat? Are the rails straight? Look at the horn- Are their obvious leaks? How old are the pads? When was the last time the instrument has had an adjustment?

Second- Find a GOOD repair tech with a good reputation. I don't care if they don't work for whatever big music store is in your area. Develop a good working relationship with this person.

Third- Get the instrument looked at and set up properly. If need be, have it repadded or overhauled. A freshly overhauled Yamaha 23 is just as good, if not better, than any horn you could get for the price of the overhaul.

I know this sounds brainless but it's simply a  series  of steps that most folks don't think about

So, what if it is time to replace the mouthpiece or upgrade the horn?

The first logical upgrade is the saxophone's mouthpiece. It is up to the teacher more than the young player to determine when that is appropriate. I'm not going to really recommend specific brands here. I'm just going to say have the student try several and choose based on sound and comfort. If the student really struggles to play on the mouthpiece, it likely isn't the piece for them.

I said I wasn't going to recommend specific brands but will say this, most middle or early high school students don't need a jazz mouthpiece. Putting a jazz mouthpiece on a horn isn't going to give them a 'jazz' sound....or even usually a good sound. My one caveat to suggesting brands is this. If they insist on a jazz mouthpiece recommend the Rico Graftonite. They are usually less than $25, work pretty well, and since they are very durable appropriate for marching band as well. There, the kid gets a 'jazz' piece and their parents aren't out $200.

For younger students I'm also a fan of the Rovner style cloth ligatures. I'm not a fan of them for my own playing as I think they're really stuffy. That said, two points here: First, that's a nuance that middle school kids won't feel and Second: the middle school student is going to invariably either drop and step on his/her ligature and step on it or they are going to shove a metal ligature on their mouthpiece at an angle and kill their reed (reeds aren't cheap, kids). The cloth ligatures are pretty well 7th grader proof and inexpensive enough where a teacher can always have a few on hand.

So, it's time to upgrade that horn. This poses numerous and interesting possibilities :

The top level professional instruments from Selmer, Yamaha, Keilwerth , Yanigasawa, and Buffet are EXPENSIVE. You regularly see instruments from these companies checking in at over $4000. Here are some things I suggest.

USED: Selmer horns, as well as the upper models of the other companies I listed, hold their value pretty well. That said, you can generally find them in the $2-3000 range; sometimes cheaper. Some, like the early incarnations of the Yamaha 62s (the 'purple logo'), can be had for $1000-1500 with careful searching.

Vintage: There are some trade-offs with vintage instruments. On the minus side, ergonomics and intonation can sometimes be....'special'...and you need a repair tech who understands the older horns. On the plus side the prices can be fabulous and what is called a 'vintage horn' seems to be getting newer and newer. Some of my favorites for school band include Bueschers of most eras, Martin Committees (my favorite American made horns), Buffet Super Dynaction (good enough to carry a student through college as a sax major in my opinion) , the Vito 'Duke' model (actually a fine French made saxophone, and the Bundy 'Special' (which was made in the 60s by Keilwerth.

Intermediate models: I'm overall not a big fan of upgrading to intermediate horns with this exception- The Yamaha 52, 475, and 675 models are as good or better than many so-called 'pro' horns on the market. My current major professor uses a 475 soprano and it is simply an excellent instrument.

Asian horns: Ten years ago I wouldn't have made this statement- There are some excellent Asian lines of saxophones which will give the five brands I listed at the top a run for their money. Brands like Viking (Rich Maraday owns the company and is a good dude with great horns.), C.E. Winds(I've personally done business with them and they are great too), Chateau, Eastman, Tenor Madness, Theo Wanne, Cannonball, and a host of other brands are putting out excellent instruments. That end of the industry is simply getting better and better.

I know this is overly simplistic in many ways but I just wanted to put out a couple thoughts on I have ;)


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What Not to do in Music......and Life.

Greetings from the Interlochen Arts Camp!

  I've been up here working all summer. When I'm not working I'm usually preparing a senior recital and trying to get literature ready for graduate school auditions. The practice set up at Interlochen Arts Camp is a bit different. There are practice huts instead of rooms and they are basically to keep the musician out of the elements; meaning there is no sound reinforcement and everyone hears everyone. While it can be distracting at times overall I believe it's an awesome thing. When practicing in these huts one hears not only some of the greatest young musicians in the world but awesome college and grad level musicians as well. Remember what I said about having great sounds in your ears? This is what I'm talking about.

THEN...this will occasionally happen.

   I was working on the Third movement of the Ingolf Dahl saxophone concerto yesterday. It, along with the Fuzzy Bird Sonata, are going to be the two 'heavy' pieces on my recital. The majority of work I have left to do is getting from the cadenza to the end of the movement up to performance tempo. My plan of action yesterday was just breaking it down into phrase length sections and working each at half tempo multiple times (I believe I have written about this as well). Before I did this, however, I realized it had been a few days since I'd played the rest of the movement so I went back to the beginning of the movement and began to run through it at just below performance tempo to get it back under my fingers. As I was doing this I saw someone walk by with a saxophone case on their back. They proceeded to go into the next cabin and I thought 'Oh cool! I'll hear another saxophone out here!'. I hear the person blow some notes and then go straight into the beginning of the 3rd movement of the Dahl; very loud and much faster than I was playing it. I thought to myself 'Not cool, man.' but proceeded to move to another section and slowly work through it. As soon as I would change sections, this person would too and again, loud and faster than I was playing it. Within a few minutes I didn't even feel like practicing anymore. This person was playing this piece at a tempo far beyond what I was capable of doing. It made me question why I was even bothering. It made me question my recital, whether or not I'd even get into grad school, and in short, everything about my playing. There was nothing pedagogical about what this person was doing. He was simply trying to win a 'biggest, baddest dude on the block' contest. He was marking his territory. He was being a bully.

   It worked. I was emotionally messed up for several hours. After a while, though, my emotions turned more to anger. I thought to myself "I have multiple grad school professors who want me to audition and attend their grad schools. I was the concerto competition winner at my school this year. The guy has great fingers but his sound sucked. What a total jerk for him to do that to me!"

   I believe one of the big problems we now have in school music is the fact that everything seems to be based on 'who's the best'. Marching competitions, honor bands, everything our young students learn about the rewards of playing is based on trophies and honor band patches on their band jackets. What this often leads to is people who can never seem to get out of this mindset. That, or they are just wannabe bullies. What people like this don't understand is this-

  I might be in a position to give this guy a job one day. Do you think this memory won't be etched into my mind? The only three things I know about this guy are that he works at Interlochen during the summer, he's a saxophonist, and he's a jerk who likes to show off. As my major professor says- 'Watch the bridges you burn.'. Well, buddy, you burned one.

As musicians, whether you are a middle school band student or the Concertmaster of the NY Phil, we should all be here to support each other and help each other continue to hone our respective crafts. Besides, we're all just people. Doesn't it just make more sense to be nice to others and not be the guy listed above?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It's been a while....

Yes, I'm still alive...

What with the end of the semester and being in the north woods of Michigan at the Interlochen Arts Camp (I get full access to internet in a day or two), blogging has just been a bit unrealistic. That said, I thought I'd put a quick one together and at least discuss what I'm working on (on here) for the summer.

Interviews: I'm in a fortuitous situation where I might be able to do a quick sit down with a major saxophone professor. There's nothing guaranteed here yet but it's something I'm going to work on.

Videos: I can write about things all day long but it would make much more sense if I can demonstrate them. I'm no virtuoso and this blog is as much about my development as it is helping folks but I think this is something that could be helpful and something that, quite frankly, I should have already been doing.

Gear Discussions: I've been avoiding these because my opinion is that the most important piece of gear is the one you were born with. That said, I see lots of misinformation out there and want to have a really down to earth discussion about gear. It might save you younger players some money!

Chamber Music and Starting a Chamber Ensemble: This is something that, with a little creativity, most folks can do and it's a blast (might get a gig or two out of it as well).

Tension: I'm seeing more and more overuse injuries and experiencing a few aches here and there myself. We're going to look in to finding excess tension in your set up (physical, not gear) and discuss ways it might be fixed.

Ok, folks, back to doing an inventory of cellos and cleaning woodwind and brass mouthpieces. It's a beautiful day at the Interlochen Center for the Arts!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

So called auxiliary saxophones and the mindset behind playing them

Usually when a young student is asked to play a saxophone other than alto, they are handed a tenor or bari, some reeds, and just start playing the horn. This tends to continue for many even into a college playing career. You get put into the tenor or bari chair in your concert band and you just go. They are all just saxophones, right?

Well, not so much.....

I was reminded of this thought process this very afternoon. As a mostly classical player (at the moment), most of my literature is on alto and therefore I tend to have my alto in my hands when I do fundamental work (i.e. scales, long tones, etc). I do spend some time doing long tones on my other instruments but that's about it. Today, since the piece I was going to be working on was Cunningham's Trigon (a piece for tenor), I decided to just use my tenor to do my daily routine of scale work. It was a struggle. I was struggling to play harmonic minor scales two notes per beat with the metronome on 60....and WITH THE MUSIC RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!! It sounded weird. It felt weird. It made me realize how little mastery of the tenor I actually have. Now, this is a subject I have been preaching for some time but I don't guess I had fully internalized the extent of how much one needs to take this approach.

Every type of saxophone requires a TOTALLY different approach and mindset. Further more, fundamental work...and lots of required on every horn you play; not just your primary one.

I thought this was something I already understood. From a standpoint of sound concept, I take radically different approaches for each instrument. Gear is different, the sound in my head is different, pretty much my entire approach to the horn is different. From what I learned today, that is simply not enough.

Simply put, one must learn each variant of the saxophone as if each is a unique instrument. When guys who primarily play alto start playing tenor (even at a high level) they tend to use the same type mouthpiece and physical approach as they do for alto. Invariably they end up with a weak, stuffy, sound (S80 C*, in my opinion, isn't the answer on tenor, kids). Ditto with, on baritone the low register tends to sound 'honky' and 'reedy' due to the player not understanding the amount of air needed to make a bari really sing. Soprano? Intonation and control nightmare.

The point in all of this is to give each instrument the same love and affection  as you do your primary instrument; even if it's just every other day or a few days per week. You'll 100% guaranteed be a better saxophonist for it and who knows, you may learn to love the other horns even more!

Comments? Thoughts?
Feel free to let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Establishing a Daily Routine. Bring on the Fundamentals!

   When it comes to pretty much any activity in life, one can improve by going back to slow, steady, and CONSISTENT fundamental work.  This is, unfortunately, NOT what students (some of you are reading this now and you know who you are) want to read when they are looking through blogs; trying to find that next magic trick to make their sound make their fingers play higher...etc.

The TRICK is hard work on basic fundamentals. Say this with me, kids.


  Ok, now that we have this little nugget out of the way, let's talk turkey. How do we establish a good base for fundamentals?

   For starters, lets talk time. What I'm suggesting should take less than an hour (after you get the groove of routine) and this leaves you time to work etudes, work on literature, jazz changes, whatever. It should be done every day you practice (which should be every day if not almost every day).

    Let's start before you even put the horn together. Let's talk mouthpiece work. This will involve a tuner and metronome (you have those...right? RIGHT?). Put your moistened reed on your mouthpiece and try this- Find a good steady pitch on the mouthpiece.....many professors suggest A5 (A-880Hz). I find it's a good starting point. Personally, I've found that my sound has started really filling out with a pitch a few steps lower; more in the F#-F range. Regardless, just set a solid pitch and learn to keep it steady. Step two makes it a little more complicated. Set the metronome at a moderate tempo; say, 60bpm. While holding the pitch steady on the mouthpiece, and in time with the metronome, tongue four quarters, eight eighths, and sixteen sixteenths. It might take several practice sessions just to get a steady tone and that's fine. Don't begin the articulation work until your mouthpiece pitch is nice and steady. Once you can do the articulation work cleanly at 60 without your tone breaking, bump it up a few clicks (I mean a FEW). If you get to the point where you cannot do the pattern without your tone breaking, rachet the metronome back a bit and over the next several sessions, get a good running start at it.

I would only spend 5-10 minutes on this but it is a very valuable exercise for properly setting your embouchure and getting your tongue going.

     Next, let's move to long tones on the horn. Get the tuner out and set it to drone on a concert A. Begin with your middle F# . Play the note from ppp to FFF and back to ppp while trying to stay in tune with the drone (Since this is your tuning pitch, feel free to adjust the mouthpiece to establish an intonation base). Next, move note by note chromatically down to low Bb. As you do, play through the complete dynamic range and stay in tune with the drone. Some of the intervals will sound funky. However, as former Michigan professor Donald Sinta is fond of saying, 'You don't tune with your eyes'. Following your journey down to low Bb, return to your middle F# and repeat the exercise going up. Go up to F or F# (if your horn has the key). As you do this, you are doing two things. One, you are listening to the drone and trying to stay in tune with the drone. Second, you are imagining your supposed ideal sound concept in your head and trying to shape each note to what you want to sound like. This can take months, years, decades....since your sound concept will likely mature as you do. Give yourself 20-30 minutes on this. Yes, it's worth every second.

     Next, move to scales. Get a good scale book. I like Daily Exercises for Saxophone by Trent Kynaston but honestly any good one will work (also look at the Mule and Londeix books). With the metronome set at 60bpm (or slower if need be) play through scales throughout the full range of the horn. Play major, harmonic minor, melodic minor, whole tone, and diminished. Yeah, that sounds like a lot. If you do sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 60bpm, however, you're talking about 10-15 minutes worth of work.....with the payoff, even at 60bpm, being much better technique throughout the range of the instrument. Isn't that worth fifteen minutes?

    Lastly, spend a few minutes on overtones. Look at either the Rascher book Top Tones or Don Sinta's text Voicing. I think overtone work is valuable in many facets of playing and work on them extensively. That said, if you aren't spending the work doing long tones and developing that base of good air support, overtones won't do much for you.

Well, there you are. Try this routine. Get a journal or practice planner. Log your goals for each lesson and how things go. Note what works and what doesn't. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don't get in a hurry. Mastering an instrument is a long journey. Take your time. Enjoy the process. Celebrate your victories. Learn from your failures. Keep trying.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Some quick thoughts about developing YOUR sound.

Hi there,

It's been a little while. Funny how school makes one busy!

    You know, usually when people talk about sound development or 'developing a sound concept', they refer to the pedagogy behind having a 'good sound'. As well they should, I suppose, as I am of the mindset that when all else fails, strip down to the most basic fundamentals and see what's going on. However, this isn't the concept to which I refer.
    You see, to most folks, 'good sound' and 'good sound concept' are one and the same. It's steady air stream, good embouchure, blah blah blah....I'm talking about the mental end of things; the process by which we develop our ideas on sound in our mind before we train ourselves to try to will that sound our of our instrument.
     One of the purposes of this blog is for me to 1: work things out when I think about them and 2: write about concepts that pop into my head because the thought seems like it might have some importance at the time and if I don't get it out of my A.D.D riddled mind and on to a steadier medium quickly, I might forget. I had such a thought today.
      When we work with students, how many of us actually try to get them to think about or conceptualize what a good sound ? How many of us have even thought about HOW to teach that process or have we even done it ourselves?

We're pretty much all told the same things, right?

      Listen to great players. Do lots of long tones. Learn how to manipulate the overtone series. We hear sounds which appeal to us and try to mimic them. Eventually a bit of our own personality works its way in and there's our developed sound. What if, though, we could take it further by actually thinking about what we want out of our sound. What if we could put a new level of thought into the process of conceptualizing a 'good sound'?

      I had the thought this weekend when I was talking about sound with the principal clarinet at our university. Her sound is fabulous, big, woody, sweet, warm....just great. She stated, though, that lately she'd be dissatisfied with her sound. That's pretty common at multiple stages in our development but it got me thinking since she couldn't really explain to me WHY she was unhappy which gave me this thought-

Wouldn't it be so much easier on student AND teacher if we could figure out verbal cues to allow students to describe what they are hearing in their 'mind's ear' as far as sound concepts?

To be continued when I hash this out a bit more. I think it could have value but how does one verbalize something as personal and unique as a concept of sound?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

So I talk a lot but what do I sound like?

  I often wonder that when reading music blogs. I'm not even judgmental about it. I'll just read what someone has to say and then think 'That's a neat idea. I'd like to hear them play.'.

So, with that in mind, he's the latest example of my playing.

Is it a perfect performace? Of course not. I was trying to perform the piece from memory and as such, had a few flubs. Overall, though, I'm happy with the performance and believe it was very solid for an undergraduate music major; even one with a few white whiskers in his beard.

Give it a listen. Let me know what you think!

Monday, February 8, 2016

On Losing your Passion....

There's a hand painted sign on my wall which reads 'Do it with passion, or not at all.'. Someone very important to me gave it to me as a reminder.

   It's a cliche but a pretty cool one nonetheless and it does ring true. The question remains, though- What happens when the passion is no longer there?

    You see, this isn't my first time on the music merry go round. I entered school at eighteen as a saxophone performance major. I developed a very professional classical sound on both alto and tenor fairly quickly. I was meeting the right big names. I had everything BUT the maturity to spend a few hours a night not chasing girls and buckle down in the practice room to hone my craft.
    Over time, it became obvious that I was going nowhere and lacked the maturity to be a music major (or pretty much any major, for that matter). I somehow managed to get a degree in a different field which I thought I really liked. Music, I decided, would become a hobby. It was for the best, I thought.
     I bounced from job to job and nothing seemed to work for me. Part of it was a lack of maturity. A large part of it, though, was that nothing seemed to fit. Four or five years after my graduation (I was only playing saxophone once about every six months at this point) a good friend of mine got me into my first rock band and I was playing again. Less than a year later we started our own band and I got to play with it for over a decade. I was playing again! Sort of....
      The situation was better but there was still a hole. I managed to stick with jobs for a while longer but still nothing really fit and I kept running into walls when I tried to move up and become more successful. Something was still 'off'.
      Finally through some strange circumstances I got to do something that I NEVER thought I'd be able to do. Thanks to my parents I got to hit the 'do over' button and return to school to get the degree I should have gotten in the first place. Well, maybe I shouldn't have gotten it in the first place. Maybe I just wasn't ready. I'm not sure I was truly ready when I got here as I had little idea what I was doing and less on how to be a student. I've since worked that out.
So, why am I giving you a  rambling autobiography which has nothing to do with the title?

      Part of the reason I got out of music in the first place was that I thought I'd lost the passion for it. After all of this time I can tell you that I never lost it. It was buried under a pile of confusion, frustration, and lack of direction. Subconsciously, I think I buried it deeper to convince myself that I was happy with my career choice.

So what's the point?

       The POINT is that I'm not sure that if something is our 'passion' we really ever lose it. We might get lost. We might get frustrated. Life might seem to get in our way. However, it WILL surface again if we let it. For your sake, if you've buried your passion, dig it the hell up!

If you have a talent that you have cultivated, whether it be music, art, writing, basketball, I don't care...continue to cultivate it. If there is something you think about every day. If there's an activity  you long for when it isn't there (which reminds me of how badly I miss the beach!) then it is absolutely 100% supposed to be part of your life.

I know this has nothing to do with saxophone but I have moments of self-reflection and milliseconds of wisdom.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

More Random Saxophone Musings....

Because I had a few thoughts on my mind today:

  • If you're practicing something and it's difficult, slow it down until it isn't. Music is best learned slowly so the body can learn the proper movement patterns. Slow and steady doesn't just win the race, it wins the practice room.
  • Listen to every genre of saxophone and find something to love in all of it....because you might be called on to play that genre one day and you need to be familiar with it. 
  • Virtuosity goes far beyond pushing the right keys at the right time. In fact, I'm certain that isn't even the most important aspect of being a virtuoso.
  • A good sound is important. Good technique is important. Far more important is the music you produce and what you are able to tell the audience through your instrument. 
  • Be your own worst critic but also your biggest fan and advocate. Stay positive about your progress; even if (and especially if) you aren't currently seeing any.
  • Find hobbies besides music. You need an escape and things to keep your mind working.
  • Realize that you are doing something cool even if others don't always see it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ye Olde Music Major and the Curious Case of the Flibbity Fingers...

If only I were as good at blogs as I am at fun titles...

   So, one might ponder, what in the world are 'flibbity fingers'? That's an easy answer. Simply put, 'flibbity fingers' are my term for any holes in technique which prevent a smooth transition between notes. Instead of playing two notes and hearing DAH-DAH, one would hear DahFLAHDah. In my situation it's due to two things; a painfully slow left ring finger and lack of technique development on the side Bb, C, and E keys. It might be different for you. So, how to deal with it?
    For some, the problems might work themselves out through basic pedagogy; i.e. scales, arpeggios, and the like. For me, a little more specificity is required. As fundamental study has improved my overall technique greatly, the 'flibbitys' have become more glaring. Here's what I've been doing to address the issue:
    The further I've gotten in my degree program, the more basic I've realized my practice routine needs to be. When I refer to practice, I'm not talking about working on literature or etudes. I refer to that as 'preparation' and will be the subject of another post; "Practice vs. Preparation". My current practice routine includes long tones and voicing work, scales (all 12 major, harmonic and melodic minor, whole tones, diminished, and octatonic...every practice session), and articulation work. Following that, I've started working on what I refer to as 'Flibbities'. Were one to stroll past my practice room during 'flibbity' work, one might thing I was doing really poor impressions of Phillip Glass. They are very simple 2-4 note patterns or scale fragments done over and over using a metronome and usually very slowly so I can listen for and completely internalize a very high level of precision. It's slow and boring, but must be done and must involve a high level of concentration. If I'm practicing a pattern of, say Palm D#, E#, F# to E, and D, then I want to hear those notes and ONLY those notes. 
     Why, you ask. Why put yourself through this? It's simple. That hole in my technique is what stands in between me and the literature I want to play. It stands in between me and mastery of the instrument. It stands in between what I am and what I desire to be as a musician. Once you attain a grasp of good basic technique (and we should never stop striving to set new bars as to 'good basic technique) the devil is in the details. 

Get to work.

Oh yeah, coming soon:
"The New Golden Age of Saxophone Production"
"Black Curtain Syndrome- How to get past audition jitters"(That one will be an interview, kids!)
"Practice vs. Preparation"

Please, comment and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Random Saxophone/Musician Thoughts.....

  • If you want to be a great player, treat every scale and long tone with the same attention to detail that you treat your favorite concerto. 
  • A well used pencil is a far more valuable piece of gear than a $700 mouthpiece.
  • The most important piece of gear is the one you were born with...YOU.
  • Every frustration, annoying passage, difficult phrase is part of the journey. Celebrate the successes and even the failures. They help you grow.
  • You're likely using far less air than you could or should be using.
  • Take care of your body. Watch your posture. Have others check it and watch you for excessive tension when you play. You keep your instrument well adjusted. Do the same with YOU. You still want to be able to enjoy playing when you are much later in life.
  • Enjoy what you do. Music is one of the greatest things on the planet!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Talent vs. Tenacity : Why legends are built, not born.

There are people with no talent and there are people with so much talent that it seems unfair.....

    I got fairly lucky there. I'm closer to the 'unfair' end of the spectrum than the 'no talent'. How much closer, I don't know. However, I see folks with more talent than me every day floundering and not really improving. In the situation I'm in, being back in college, the folks I'm referring to are college students who were talented enough where they never really had to work through high school and just got by on natural ability. These folks can usually fake their way through freshman year, maybe even sophomore. However, at some point reality catches up with them and they are exposed for their lack of effort. I've seen kids fall on their face in this situation due to the fact that they simply never learned how to work.
     I've heard a myriad of excuses here- "My professor just isn't very good.", "I don't have competition in my studio to drive me to get better.", "I'm only at University isn't like I'm at Indiana or Michigan. The bar is set lower here." I have responses to each which just shut them down.
1: I've been very lucky with major professors. Both of my long term sax teachers, Allen Rippe and Doug Owens, bring great and very unique skill sets to the table. However, there are students in the world who believe both are bad teachers? Do you know why? It's because these students believe that these teachers, AT A COLLEGE LEVEL, are somehow supposed to either inspire the student to practice or give them some sort of magical knowledge to where they won't have to practice hard. If you are a college music major and you need a teacher to inspire you to practice, then I submit that you really need to evaluate what you are doing as a music major.
2: If you need competition to make you work harder, well.....good luck getting a job. If you don't have the internal motivation to get after it and make yourself a better musician, then IF you even get a job, what are you going to expect from your students?
3: I'm at UT Martin. It's a small school which doesn't have a Julliard like reputation throughout the country. That said, the practice rooms here serve the exact same purpose as the ones at Julliard or Indiana. If anything, let the fact that you are at a smaller school put a little (positive) chip on your shoulder and drive you to be just as skilled as the students at larger schools.

     Yes, you need a certain level of talent to be a music major. However, hard work trumps talent ten times out of ten. Get in the practice room, give your instrument a steady diet of scales, long tones, articulation work, and voicing. Show your classmates, teachers, and the world what you can accomplish. Mostly, show YOURSELF.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Myth of the Mythical Lit.

   When I was a freshman oh so long ago, I got a copy of Don Sinta playing the Ingolf Dahl Concerto with the Michigan Wind Ensemble. I must have listened to it over a hundred times thinking "Man, I could NEVER play that piece.". A few months after I got the recording, Sinta played a recital in Memphis. He played 'Distances Within Me', William Albright's 'Sonata', and Bolcom's 'Lilith'. Immediately I had three more 'mythical' pieces. That is, pieces that only someone like a Don Sinta could play.
    I arrived at Martin a few years ago and began to hear the same things from some of my classmates. "Man, the Mackey Soprano Concerto is impossible!" "Wow, Black Dog will never be played on my clarinet. It's just too hard!"

"No wonder you can't do it! You acquiesce to defeat before you even begin."- Pai Mei, Kill Bill, Vol. 2

   Whether you decide a piece is impossible or eventually one which you can play, you are 100% right. The biggest thing to recognize that each and every master (with a few exceptions...those jerks!) was once where we are now. Their arrival as a 'great' one on their chosen instrument was accomplished by choosing one path; locking themselves in a practice room and busting their collective tails until they had the chops to play whatever they wanted to play. Get out that scale book and the metronome. Work on scales. Work on etudes. Work on articulation work, voicing, patterns......anything you can work on to get better at your instrument. Remember this rule, always...


  Get in the practice room. Get the chops. Make those 'mythical' pieces just another part of your arsenal. 

......oh, and the Dahl? Learned the third movement this fall and putting the rest together this spring.