Monday, August 29, 2016

Saxophone Coach: Scales

I'm starting a new series of blog posts called Saxophone Coach. Essentially, these articles will focus on basic parts of a typical practice routine and give specific advice on how to improve. Today, I'm tackling scales, easily one of the most common practice tools.

For improving your finger technique:
  • Slur. Slurring the scale makes it easier to hear if the entire scale is coming across evenly with no hiccups. Listen carefully as you play. Each note should sound rhythmically equal to the others, and the transitions between notes should be clean and immediate. 
  • Keep your fingers near the keys. One way to do this is focus on keeping your fingers touching each key even when you're not pressing them.
  • Relax. If you feel tension, slow down and let yourself relax the muscles. Often times when you increase the technical challenging (e.g. playing really fast, odd fingering transitions, altissimo, etc.), you run the risk of tensing your hands, arms, and even shoulders. Focus on keeping relaxed and make sure you stay that way. If you can't let yourself relax even when slowing down, you may need to change your posture or hand position.
  • Use a Metronome. A metronome can help keep you honest, and you can use it to push yourself to faster tempos. It's also a great exercise to keep the metronome at a moderate or slower tempo while you play the scale as 8th notes, triplets, 16th notes, etc.
For improving your tone quality:
  • Listen carefully as you ascend. Ascending on saxophone, particularly if you're slurring can be problematic. It's a fairly automatic reaction for your embouchure to tighten taking away from your tone's clarity. Each note's entrance should sound distinct with a slight ping to it. The entrances in the upper register shouldn't be mushier or less distinct than the lower register.
  • Focus on abdominal support. Breath support is the best way to fight off the embouchure's tendency to tighten as you ascend. First, you need to take a diaphragmatic breath. In other words, breath in deeply so that you can feel the expansion down in your lower abdominal area. While playing the scale, provide consistent but relaxed pressure from your abdominal muscles (the same muscles you feel engaged when you blow up a balloon). You may find you need a bit more breath support than you normally use to let the upper register really sing.
  • Play with different dynamics. Specific practice is needed to both play scales softly with a good tone and play loudly with a good tone.

Happy practicing, and as always, if you're interested in lessons via Skype, Facetime, Facebook messenger, or in person please get in touch with me at