Sunday, January 29, 2017

Scales.....and scales....and scales...Time for some advanced work.

Hello from graduate school, folks!

I've been in the practice room a lot lately and as I'm always trying to reinvent the wheel from a pedagogy came up with a new thought as far as scales for folks who have been playing them for years.

Let me add the disclaimer before proceeding. I think most folks should play through all twelve major keys (as well as their relative minors) as often as possible; preferably daily. What I'm discussing here is for folks who want to get a little more in depth with their buddies in the scale world.


 Here's what has been going through my mind. A cycle here will take three months but really get folks deeply immersed in the scale world.

You'll need- A tuner, a metronome, and a copy of Ferling's 48 Famous Studies.

Here's the plan:

Each week is going to be centered around one key. You'll be doing a combo of scales, arpeggios, scale variations, and two Ferling Studies. The great thing about Ferling is that the etudes are laid out by key and it makes this simple. Ferling is also cool in that even though there is a suggested tempo for each etude, they are generally written in a fashion that allows for a great deal of interpretation and allows for a ton of cool musical decisions.

Here's what I would suggest each day for a week. Set daily and weekly tempo goals for the scales. You may also decide the range of the scale.

First up- Arpeggios. I would perform Major, Minor, Dim7. Do them slowly, like long tones, with the tuner set to drone on the tonic. Listen.....REALLY listen.

Next is scales. Remember when I used terms like 'immersed' and 'in depth'? Yeah, I wasn't kidding.

  • Major
  • Relative Natural Minor
  • Relative Harmonic Minor
  • Relative Melodic Minor
  • Major Thirds
  • Harmonic Minor Thirds
  • Melodic Minor Thirds
  • Pentatonic (starting on tonic of major key)
  • Blues (starting on tonic of major key)
  • Whole Tone (starting on tonic of major key)
  • Octatonic (starting on tonic of major key)
(Optional, you can add scales in 4ths, 5ths, sixths, modes, whatever else if you have time or are so inclined.)

      Following the scales you'd work on the two Ferling studies. They tend to be one etude in the major key and one in the relative minor.

So yeah, this is a fairly high volume of work.....but is it really? I've listed eleven scales and two etudes to work daily. The point here isn't necessarily to get the scales at 154 and etudes at 130 by the end of the week. Rather, it's to give your ear and fingers time to learn together on what the key really means on the horn. Yes, you want to be able to increase tempo each day but increase is a very relative term and progress is progress. 

Jazz guys, yes, the Ferlings have benefit for y'all as well. Etudes are useful for anyone wanting to improve facility on their instrument. 

Let me know your thoughts. Give it a try. See what you think.

SECOND Disclaimer- If you struggle to get through your twelve major scales, have never attempted scales in thirds, or don't know the terms 'natural, harmonic, and melodic' in reference to minor scales....let alone terms like 'whole tone' and 'octatonic'...Perhaps you should bone up on those before trying this practice regimen.

Ok kids,

Set the metronome.....



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Know Your Audience....and Help Lead Them Along the Way!

Greetings from graduate school at Nevada, Las Vegas *GULP*

  To arrive here required me to do ten hour drives for three days in a row. This gave me plenty of time to think about things saxophone or music related. One of the things I thought about was a performance during a studio recital last spring. I performed Ryo Noda's Improvisation One. This is an unaccompanied piece which, thought not totally atonal, uses some 'interesting' techniques in order to make the saxophone sound like a Japanese Shakuhachi flute. I think it's an interesting piece. Not everyone in the audience was a fan; my dad included. He said 'Well, it's clearly takes a mastery of the instrument to play the piece but I didn't like it.' I expected as much!
   My dad grew up in rural central Arkansas in the 40s and 50s. The music that would have been coming through the family's radio would have been early country artists like Hank Williams, big bands like the Dorseys, a healthy helping of southern Gospel acts, bluegrass, and Texas Swing Bands (a unique genre combining country and big band, look it up!). He left Arkansas after graduating college and went on to complete both a master's and PhD in Math. He taught college for over 40 years. In that time, dad's listening 'vocabulary' has been greatly extended to include orchestral and choral works as well as quite a bit of chamber music. However, it hasn't gone so far to really understand and enjoy pieces steeped in atonality or unusual 'extended' technique.

Great, now you know about my dad and you're thinking 'So what's the point?'

 The point is this. I get it, as you begin to truly master your instrument and learn all of these cool techiques like multiphonics, slap tonguing, circular breathing, extreme altissimo, etc., you want to show them off and have every performance be an outright 'chops-fest'. Here's where the danger in that lies- and I've seen this.


   There are usually a lot of 'dads' in an audience, especially at the high school or college level. They aren't ready for, nor will they appreciate, an hour's work of squeaks and honks in the name of furthering the possibilities of the instrument or some such. This doesn't mean don't play that sort of music. This means to simply try to better understand your audience and for every Christian Lauba chopbuster, add a Poulenc, Schumann, or Debussy. Stretch their ear, sure, but give them something to musically cleanse their pallet as well. Your ego cannot be totally in control of programming. They aren't there to hear how well you play that multiphonic. They are there to hear music and be entertained. You are simply the medium for providing that entertainment. As much as I love the Albright Sonata, more folks in a general audience are going to enjoy the 3rd movement of the Creston Sonata far more than they are the 3rd movement of Albright.

Hey jazz guys, I'm not forgetting about you either.

 One of the biggest things I see hurting the jazz scene is players who spend hours trying to 'out Coltrane' each other. Again, stretch the ear of the audience some but remember that Miles Davis' epic album Kind of Blue is the largest selling jazz album of all time for a reason. It's just inherently listenable to jazz aficionados and neophytes alike. Yes, you can give them 'sheets of sound' and play 'out' for a while but remember to bring it back in. You might actually have an audience start to show up on a regular basis.

It sounds in this like I'm instructing people to 'sell out'. I'm not. I'm simply stating that one of the problems I see in non 'pop' genres of music is that we've tried to become too intellectual, too forward thinking, almost arrogant.....with the attitude of "Well, they aren't ARTISTES. They don't understand. "

    You're right. They don't......and that's why they aren't showing up to hear you play.