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My Articles

Some of these are articles and some are answers that I've given on the web site allexperts.com in answers to questions that have been posed there.

Stencil names C melody saxophones Sigurd Raschèr Obit

Do you know what factory my stencil saxophone came from?

How much is my C-melody saxophone worth?

Which size saxophone should I start on?

How long does it take to learn?

Can you be too old to learn saxophone or clarinet?

Cleaning a saxophone after use

Which brand should I buy?

Which brands of tenor are best?

How to learn jazz improvisation

How to teach yourself to improvise

How to transpose C music for a Bb saxophone

Suggestions for a summer music camp

How do you do vibrato?

Where can I read more about saxophonist Sigurd Raschèr?

Which size saxophone should I start on?

Adeniyi writes: Which of the members of the Saxophone family should a learner start with?

Answer: Start with alto or tenor.  They are easier to learn on by far. 

If you are under 5'5" or weigh less than 130 lbs, then start with alto.  If you are taller or weigh more, then listen to some great saxophonists and decide which sound (alto or tenor) suits you best. 

If you are a big fan of the soprano saxophone and only want to play soprano, then start with the alto. Wait until you've been studying saxophone for two years (or when your teacher tells you you're ready) before you move to soprano.

How long does it take to learn?

Adeniyi wrote: From your experience how long does it take to learn to play the saxophone well enough to become a performer?

I guess that depends how good you mean by "to become a performer."

I have played saxophone for over 20 years, but I have never been paid to perform. On the other hand, I was playing concerts with a junior high school band after just a few months. So depending on what you mean, the answer could be "3 months" or "forever."

If you have a community band, or if you are in high school or college and want to play in the band there, then you'll need to study saxophone seriously (by that I mean weekly lessons with a good teacher) for maybe 3 to 6 months before you can begin playing with the band. If the band is competitive (requires an audition to join) then you might need to stody for a year or even two before you can get in.

If you are asking about becoming a professional saxophonist, such as a jazz, rock, or classical musician... well, most people who attempt this are not successful, even after ten years. There are not too many jobs out there that pay you a living to play saxophone! So it is really a question of talent and finding an excellent teacher more than time.

How old can you be and learn saxophone or clarinet?

Adeniyi wrote: Can a person be too old to learn? 

Can a person be too old to learn? Certainly not. After a certain age, our minds take a bit longer to absorb new information - anyone who's tried to learn a new language after the age of 30 can attest to this - but you can certainly still learn even at 70!

Cleaning saxophone after use

Jannis Rhodes wrote: Would you please explain how to run the cloth with the circular brush down the length of the inside of a saxophone to dry the moisture out. I am trying to teach myself how to play, so I don't have a teacher who would be able to explain or demonstrate cleaning of the instrument. I have a tenor saxophone.

Good question!

Personally I advise everyone never to clean the body of the saxophone at all. I know the brush/cloth swab that you are talking about, and in my opinion it does nothing at all, so you can discard it.

What is important in my opinion is to clean out the neck. Don't use the brush swab for this - go to a music store (or mail order) and get a "clarinet handkerchief swab."

Each time you are done playing, put the body of the saxophone back in the case, then make sure the handkerchief swab is completely unfolded, and drop the weight through the neck, starting at the large end and shaking the neck gently until the weight comes out the small end. Pull through smoothly. Once is enough.

Then use the swab to gently wipe the water out of the mouthpiece before putting it away.

Other tips:

If your handkerchief swab ever gets stuck in the neck, take it to a music repairman to have it removed. Don't tug on it because you could bend the octave key tube that protrudes into the neck.
Always remove the reed from the mouthpiece whenever you are done playing. Store the reed in a rigid plastic reed holder made by LaVoz, Vandoren, etc. (NOT a "Novapak").
Always wipe out the mouthpiece after playing - but never pull the swab through the mouthpiece, as this can wear down the crucial lay, rails, and tip!

Feel free to write again with any further questions. Good luck finding a teacher! You will make progress by leaps and bounds if you can find a good one!

Which brand should I buy?

Kristy asks: What is the best brand of saxophone to buy?? I have a Yamaha, is that a good brand?

Answer: Yamaha makes instruments of good quality. However they make three different levels of saxophones: student, intermediate, and professional. Which one you have will determine the quality of its construction. In my opinion, their professional models are right up there with Selmer and Couf in terms of quality.

If you are a saxophonist who is on a budget, and has only $X to spend, you can usually get an instrument of much higher quality for $X by buying an older one (one from the 1920s - 1940s) instead of a new one.

For example, I have a student who bought a new student saxophone from a local music store for $800. I have another student who bought an old (1930s) silver-plated saxophone from another store, or from an ad in the paper, for only $300 and had it repadded for $250. The old saxophone (total cost $550)is a professional model and is of much higher quality than the new one.

good luck,
Malcolm Dickinson

Which brands of tenor are best?

Question: In your opinion, which are the top tenor saxes on the market today, and why? 

Regarding saxophones, the Selmer and Yamaha brands (made in France and Japan respectively) seem to be very popular. Some professionals also play on Couf saxophones which are made in Germany.

I would not buy a new saxophone, however, because they are extremely expensive and to my ear their sound is not as good as the older saxophones of the 1920s-1940s. The professional saxophones of that era include Selmer, Buescher, Conn, and Martin. Any Conn 10M or professional-level Selmer or Buescher from that era, once adjusted properly by a competent repairman, will be a very solid saxophone that equals or betters a new instrument, at a fraction of the price.

How to learn jazz improvisation

Question: How does one go about learning the art of ad lib playing (jazz improvisation)?

The art of jazz improvisation is best learned by taking classes with other students of jazz. In Chicago the place is the Bloom School of Jazz. In NYC and other large cities there are doubtless similar schools where jazz improvisation is taught. I learned by taking classes that were offered once a week at my high school and also 8-week classes at the National Music Camp.

Talk to jazz teachers in your area and ask about the existence of such a school. Go to local music clubs where jazz is performed in the evenings and ask the players or the person in charge of scheduling the groups. Check with local music schools to see if they offer jazz classes.

If you are unable to find jazz improvisation being taught in classes near you, then you'll need to find a teacher who has experience teaching people to improvise. This jazz teacher does not need to be a saxophonist!

Teaching yourself to improvise

Ken Seals posts a message about improvisation on 7/26/00 9:51:19 PM

Can improvisation be self taught? I have purchased several Jamey Aebersold books and CD's, but find interweaving chords and scales into a song seems to be my downfall. Is there an easier way to learn chords, scales, memorize a song and have it all turn out decent? I live in a small town in North Carolina and know of no saxophone teachers or improvisational teachers in my area. I am a great fan of "Boots" Randolph and his style of music.

No question, trying to learn it on your own is difficult. Aebersold tapes are great for practicing what you've learned from a teacher or a class on jazz improvisation, but they can only go so far if you haven't had instruction. I have a few suggestions though:

Search your local community for someone who can give you private lessons in improvisation. They might be a jazz piano player in the lounge at the local Holiday Inn, or a retired jazz trumpet player, or a music teacher at a nearby college. They don't need to be familiar with the saxophone.
Look into summer programs where you could go away for a week and attend a jazz improvisation class every morning and afternoon. Not only would this give you a chance to jam with other amateur musicians who are starting to learn to improvise - it will give you a bunch of people who can support and coach you through the rest of the year.
Post a message on a UseNet (NetNews) board such as alt.jazz or mlists.jazztalk or rec.music.makers.jazz  asking what books or methods others have used and found effective.
There are two books that my teachers used extensively when I was studying jazz improvisation: "Patterns For Jazz" and "Scales for Jazz Improvisation." If you're serious about learning to improvise, you will definitely want to get these books. Learn a lot of the patterns and scales in these books by heart, you will be well on your way to having the "chops" to improvise.
The way that's been used by many jazz professionals in the past: listen and copy. That is: 
Get some blank staff paper. 
Get a recording that you really like and pick a song that's not too hard. 
Play along. Figure out which note the soloist starts on, write it down, figure out the next couple of notes, write them down. 
Rewind. Listen, figure out what the next few notes are. 
Repeat, repeat, repeat. 
Within an hour you will have figured out a significant portion of the notes the soloist played when the recording was made.

Doing this on one song each day will get you well on your way. It will develop your ear, your fingers, and your jazz feel. Plus, it's fun!

When my saxophone students when start being interested in jazz, I have them do this (transcribe a bit of a solo from a recording) on one song a week (any song they want). It is excellent practice.  

It can be slow going at first, but you'll be surprised how much more quickly you are able to figure out your 5th tune than you were your first tune.  Good luck!

P.S. There is also a Jamey Aebersold videotape called "Anyone Can Improvise." Check it out at  http://www.mailordercentral.com/classicwinds/prodinfo.asp?number=JAV&variation=&aitem=1&mitem=5

How to transpose music for a Bb saxophone

Jim Shaver asks: I have sheet music that is in concert pitch C. I would like to play the music on my tenor sax which is keyed in b flat. How do I transpose the music?

There are two ways to transpose music: by sight, or by writing the music out transposed. I suggest writing out the first few bars, then once you have the hang of that, try the sight method.

To write out music for a Bb instrument, you need to raise each pitch by one whole step. For instance, if a C-natural was written for the C instrument, you would have to write out a D-natural to play on your Bb tenor sax.

The key will change too: it will have two more sharps (or two fewer flats) than the key it was written in. For instance, if it was in the key of C (no sharps), the transposed part will be in the key of D (two sharps).

Here are the notes and what they become when transposed.
C     D
C#    D#
Db    Eb
D     E
D#     F
Eb     F
E     F#
F     G
F#     G#
Gb     Ab
G     A
G#     A#
Ab     Bb
A     B
A#     C
Bb     C
B     C#

When you try it by sight, it will be difficult at first. Just imagine that each note was written one line higher on the staff (if it is on a line) or one space higher on the staff (if it is on a space). Good luck!

P.S. Don't get discouraged - this gets easier the more you do it. Once you've been at it for a while, you can do it without writing anything out - just by looking at a note and playing one whole step higher.

Summer Music Camp

Tom Christina asks: My son, aged 14, plays the saxophone (soprano, alto, and tenor). He has had excellent instruction in classical and symphonic music, and he has joined his high school's marching band, but he would like more exposure to jazz than he has had so far. I would like to find a summer program/camp for him for the summer of 2001 that concentrates on jazz. One way to put it is, I'm searching for the Tanglewood of jazz. Can you recommend such a program? If not, can you suggest how I would research where to find such a program? Many thanks.

If he's good at classical music, and interested in jazz, then why not have him go to a summer camp that teaches classical and jazz?

When I was in high school I was extremely devoted to the saxophone (ok, I still am...) and I spent three summers at the Interlochen music camp in Interlochen, Michigan. There I played in band and jazz ensembles, took courses in the history of jazz, and benefitted from expert instruction in the art of jazz improvisation.

I cannot recommend Interlochen highly enough to any high school aged musician who wants to be totally immersed in music (classical OR classical-and-jazz) for eight weeks.

For more information see their web site at http://www.interlochen.org/Camp/index.html

How do you do vibrato?

Kristy wrote: I play the alto sax, and I am trying to work on my vibrato. How exactly do you do a vibrato? Is there a specific way to do it?

I think that I can sort of do it, but to me, it sounds really obnoxious and stupid. I haven`t ever tried to do a vibrato in front of anyone else so I don't know if it's only me that thinks that my vibrato needs some work.

Good question.  The easy answer, of course, is "find a teacher who is a good classical saxophonist, and take some lessons from them. They will teach you how."  So do consider that.

There are two books out there which have specific instructions on how to learn to do vibrato.  You can ask your local music store to order them, or (faster) you can order them over the web from Classic Winds at http://www.mailordercentral.com/classicwinds/default.asp

1. Larry Teal: The Saxophonist's Workbook.  Summy-Birchard CW16005.  $10.00

2. Larry Teal: The Art of Saxophone Playing. Summy-Birchard 0057, 1963.  $16.95

If you are going to try to teach yourself, or even if you are taking lessons, I would strongly recommend both books.   

Here is the short answer: saxophone vibrato is done by moving the jaw. While playing a long note, try moving your jaw up and down very slightly.  The trick is to do this without changing your embouchure (the muscles that form a seal around the mouthpiece and reed).  You will find that if you drop your jaw about 1 millimeter, the pitch will lower, and when you raise your jaw again, it will return to normal.

Learning vibrato is the process of training the muscles of your jaw to work almost automatically to make a very subtle change in the pitch of the note. The reason it takes many weeks of daily practice is that the changes need to be very small, and very regular (approximately 300 changes per minute).  All this is described very thoroughly in Professor Teal's books.

Good luck!