Is that once-burning desire to burn on the horn starting to flicker? Are the hours you used to devote to practicing now in jeopardy of being traded in for hours in front of a TV set and a bag of Ruffles? Or maybe you’re still practicing your tush off, but progressing at a snail’s pace due to a serious lack in the enthusiasm department. Although practicing takes discipline, without passion, or at least a strong interest in the art of making music, it’s going to be difficult to improve, or even keep your skills at their current level.
So if you find yourself a bit burnt out, fear not! Below is a list of things you can do which will almost certainly get you back on that horn with a vengeance.
1. Dig into the treasure trove that is Youtube.
I defy you to produce the name of a single great saxophonist whose music cannot be found on this bottomless ocean of free video content. And I’m not only talking about performances, but also instructional videos and clinics from the likes of David Sanborn and Seamus Blake. From Sonny Criss to Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins to David Binney, you’ll have a hard time not wanting to jump on the horn after a solid session surfing “The ‘Tube. ”
2. Pick up a good bio.
Reading about the life and music a sax legend can help you see the sometimes-blurry relationship between their “real life” and their music, giving their music a whole new dimension. And in seeing how their life affected their music, maybe you can find ways to incorporate your own life experience into your musical expression.
Some bios to check out:
- Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life
- John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music
- Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
- Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz
- Dexter Gordon: A Musical Biography (Da Capo Paperback)
- Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography And Discography
- The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins (The Michigan American Music Series)
- I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath
- Bright Moments: The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk
- Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art (Jazz Perspectives)
- An Unsung Cat: The Life and Music of Warne Marsh (Studies in Jazz)
- Celebrating Bird: The Triumph Of Charlie Parker
- Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper
- Open Sky: Sonny Rollins And His World Of Improvisation
- Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter
- Someone to Watch Over Me: The Life and Music of Ben Webster (Jazz Perspectives)
- Being Prez: The Life and Music of Lester Young
- Adolphe Sax. 1814-1984. His Life and Legacy (out of print, nearly impossible to find at a reasonable price, but thought I’d mention it just in case)
3. Try out a bunch of sax gear that you don’t necessarily need and possibly can’t afford.
I know that I’ve done a good amount of talking about the fact that shopping for new sax gear is often a cop-out. But let’s face it, trying out new reeds, mouthpieces, or saxes at your favorite music store can be a good time. It can also give you some new perspectives on the possibilities of what you can sound like on the horn. Who knows, you may end up finding something that works better for you than what you have, but that’s not the point. The point is just to do something with your playing that involves fun and exploration.
4. Incorporate some new practice books into your routine
There’s almost no better way to keep yourself on your toes than by playing through music that you would never encounter otherwise. Obviously, there are, like, a zillion saxophone books you could check out, but for a list of some of the classics, take a look over here.
5. Join an online training program.
With all of the fancy new technology, it’s very possible for the enterprising saxophonist to create an online study course which provides an actual program of improvement that you can follow, as opposed to simply buying individual books and doing your best to come up with your own practice routines. These aren’t free, but are well-worth the money, especially if you need some lessons but can’t afford a private teacher.
Some online saxophone training programs to check out:
6. Visit the top saxophone websites
Well, if you’re reading this article, you must already have impeccable taste in saxophone websites. It also means that you see the value of taking advantage of today’s fancy interwebs to grab yourself some free saxophone information and inspiration that would have had you buying heaps of music books in days gone by. I’ve got a pretty good list of sites here, but since putting together that list, I’ve also come across some great sites such as http://BillPlakeMusic.org and http://BretPimentel.com.
7. Join an online forum or Facebook group
Connecting with your fellow saxo-friends and talking shop can be one of the most informative and inspirational things you can do. Here are some places to geek out with like-minded horn players:
8. Check out some live music
This one’s pretty obvious, but I had to mention it anyways. Going to see a show that leaves you flying high is often all you need to regain that inner urge (a little pun for you Joe Henderson fans out there) to hit the shed.
9. Set up a jam session.
And that doesn’t mean a standard rhythm section either. Jamming with just a drummer, a bassist, an accordionist, a pop band, a DJ, or even just another saxophonist can be a ton of fun. It can also expose the areas in which you could stand to improve so that you can have even more fun the next time you rock out with your buddies.
10. Find some new places to practice.
Changing up where you practice can work wonders in igniting some new sparks in your relationship with the sax. You could be like Sonny Rollins and practice under a bridge. Or you could take your hon into the woods and serenade Mother Nature. Perhaps you have a communal room in your apartment complex that sits unused most of the week. Or maybe just move to a different room in your house. You’ll hear your sound in a whole new light and your playing will take on new life that you may have not expected.
Scratching the Surface
Of course, this list could stretch down for miles, but this should at least get you started if you’re running out of steam. And if you’re not running out of steam, this should help you gain even more steam. You know what they say – “the more steam, the better.” Well, not really, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make.