Friday, February 15, 2019

Some Cool Saxophone Books: The Saxophone, Planet Sax, Developing a Personal Sound

I've been checking out a bunch of sax books recently, and I wanted to share a few.

The Saxophone: The Art and Science of Playing and Performing
This is a very interesting book. It was just published a couple of years ago, and it introduces quite a few new concepts and methods for learning and playing saxophone. Some of the concepts, new and familiar, that I've enjoyed include:

  • Readying abdominal support before starting to play.
  • Using your vocal cords to help start a note cleanly (especially helpful for the low register).
  • Using your vocal cords to double tongue.
  • Practicing with a double lip embouchure to encourage a high tongue position.
  • Using concepts from singing to learn voicing.
There are lots more, but those have been my favorite so far.  Some of the concepts seem to overreach in terms of too much specificity. For example, Harle suggests that you need to direct your air in very specific ways for each note, but the overall concepts are beneficial. I should also say that while Harle's pedagogy is very interesting, it's not up to date with the current research on acoustic processes involved in playing saxophone. For example, there is no evidence that saxophonists can meaningfully direct their air while playing, though there is a lot of evidence that the actions players take to 'direct' their air affect the acoustics of the vocal tract and resulting sound and response. That being said, there's plenty to take away and learn here.

It's also worth mentioning that this book is written from the perspective of a classical saxophonist, Not only that, but it's written specifically with soprano and alto in mind. While the author, John Harle, does say that the book is meant for saxophonists of all styles, there are some parts that I haven't agreed with. For example, Harle suggests that a clarinet-like angled entry for the mouthpiece best supports airflow and results in your best sound (think higher neck strap position and pulling the butt of the sax towards you). However, it's difficult to get the crisp, flexible, and vibrant sound jazz players get using that angle, though Dave Sanborn would beg to differ. In short, the book has a few concepts that lend towards a classical saxophone school of thought.

The book available in a very nice 2 volume box set, and it's definitely worth checking out though.

Planet Sax: 26 Etudes for the Maturing Student
Sam Tobias sent me a copy of his new and very fun book to review. It's intended for middle school and high school saxophonists, but adult intermediate students will find that it's a good challenge and good music. The etudes explore lots of rhythmic aspects, large interval leaps, various registers of the horn, lots of key signatures, some unfamiliar modes, and each etude has its own unique style. I'll personally be using these etudes with students who are working on improving their reading skills, as it's a great fit for that. My only complaint with the book is that some of the swing etudes feel like they aren't fluent in the actual style, though I think that may be a result of the concepts the etudes are focusing on. Overall, I highly recommend this book for intermediate level saxophonists looking for a good musical challenge.

Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound
This book is a classic that I've been revisiting. The author, Dave Liebman, intended it as a summary of his experience teaching and playing and his time with Joe Allard, an important teacher for many jazz and classical saxophonist and clarinetists. If you haven't checked out Joe Allard's teaching, you definitely should. Liebman, of course, has his own take and a very easily understood approach.

Highlights from the book include breathing exercises based in yoga, tongue position and voicing, overtone exercises, an Allard-inspired concept of embouchure, and an approach for learning jazz-centric expressive devices. While some of Liebman's explanations of how saxophonists voice notes are outdated, all of the exercises are very good. I highly recommend this book to jazz saxophonists working on developing their sound and technique.

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