6 Cool Technology Tools for Sax Players

Music Techology

The following article comes to us from Charles “Chazz” Pratt III – a life long student of the saxophone who plays as often as he can and has some great friends who continually challenge him to raise the bar on his playing.

I’d like to share some easy-to-use, inexpensive musical tools which have been helpful to me in  learning, recording, and practicing music. I keep these on my laptop and they make a hugely positive impact on my practice sessions.

1. Transcribe!

This is a neat program developed by a company called Seventh String Software out of London. This is a unique program that lets you drag & drop music files into it and then speed up or slow down the tempo without altering the pitch. This is great program to use when learning new songs since you can slow the song down to, say, 50% so you can hear and then learn those extremely challenging musical passages.

I find Transcribe! to be especially useful when trying to figure out fast-moving modal or scalar lines in addition to unfamiliar songs that I’m trying to learn. One cool feature is that you can label certain sections of the MP3 (shown as a waveform on the screen). These labels help you customize the parts and mark up the track up so that you can keep your place while transcribing. It’s an all-around great program for anyone who needs to take down a solo or learn a piece of music.

In the event of  computer crash which  deletes your installation, they have great customer service to get you back up to speed for free! If you ever wanted to listen to figure out and truly appreciate what the great musicians are doing on their recordings, this is a nice way to slow things down and really hear those solos in detail! I’ll refer to this program a lot in this article so stay tuned. The software will set you back by about $50 and includes free updates.

To learn more about Transcribe!, CLICK HERE.

2. Karaoke Tracks

These recordings are great for learning the types of tunes you’d need to know on a gig where lots of popular, non-jazz repertoire is required. Karaoke Tracks allows you to simulate a real-world musical situation by playing well-known tunes over a backing track. Keep in mind that it’s important to listen to the samples of each track before buying, since you want to buy the track that sounds closest to the most popular version. A wide variety of karaoke tracks exist for around $0.99 each with video versions going for under $2.

To learn more about Karaoke Tracks, CLICK HERE.

3. Sennheiser HD 280 pro Headphones

These headphones fit snug and comfortably to the ears and have a clean sound. Pretty straightforward otherwise. Cost is approximately $99.

To pick up a pair of Sennheiser HD 280’s, CLICK HERE.

4. Sony Vegas

This is a cool software tool that serves as a multi-track audio as well as video studio recorder. Besides using this to create videos, I also use it to create commercials and voice-overs. I bought it years ago after talking to my friends who served as beta testers for Sony. You can use Vegas to create a video for a special occasion, make an audition or recital video, audition tapes, educational or promotional videos, and it’s super easy to learn. There are plenty of Vegas users who have posted “How To” videos on YouTube so you can learn from those who share knowledge. The cost is approximately $600.

It’s worth mentioning that are other less expensive versions of Vegas that will allow you to make cool videos. Some of these include Vegas Movie Studio Platinum which will set you back as little as $125. Even this version of Vegas will allow you to record your gigs on video as well as add captions, titles, etc.

For more information on Sony Vegas, CLICK HERE

5. Sony ACID Music

This simple software program is an audio-only tool. You can use this for many different things. For example, you can cut out a specific section of a song from an MP3 file and raise the key signature by a half steps or whole steps. So if you wanted to learn the head of a tune in all keys, you could cut out the melody and then transpose. Or, if you wanted to work on your improvisation for a particular song and needed to loop a section of the tune for practice purposes, you could cut out that section and repeat it over and over (cut, paste, paste, paste, etc.). That way, you can spend your practice time playing on top of a recording in any key you need work on. Cost is approximately $65.

For more information on Sony ACID, CLICK HERE.

6. Protected Music Converter

This is a really cool program. Since I use Transcribe! a lot, sometimes there are incompatibilities with the various types of music files out there. This program allows you convert any music format to MP3.

For example, if you have iPod and buy music on iTunes, then switch to an Android phone or other music player, your iTunes songs (primarily M4A and MP4 format) may not play. Rather than re-purchase all those songs with your “hard earned,” just click and drag the songs into Protected Music Converter, hit one button, and the files begin converting to MP3 format! This handy little program costs just $14.95-$24.95 (depending on version).

To download a TRIAL VERSION of this program, CLICK HERE.

If you decide to buy it after the trial period ends click here, CLICK HERE.

Putting It All Together

In summary, I’d just like to share some real-world examples of how you can use these cool tools.

Gettin’ Ready for the Big Gig

Let’s say you’ve got a big gig coming up, or you have several friends who play professionally and invite you to sit-in with them. If you’re fortunate, you can get a set-list ahead of time and find enough time to download the songs via iTunes, Amazon or any of the other music download websites.

If it’s a cover tune that’s normally performed as a vocal, you can download a Karaoke Track so that you’re able to play the melody and solo wherever it makes sense to do so.

If you know they are going to play a bunch of jazz tunes out of the Real Book, make sure to check and see whose version of the song is available as an MP3. For example, I have “All Blues” off of Miles Davis’s album. “Kind of Blue” as notated in the Real Book to refer to while also being able to listen to the song on a downloaded MP3. That way, your practice time is spent playing the same version that you’ll encounter on the gig. If the song is only available in M4P or other format, you can use the Protected Music Converter to change the song to an MP3 that plays on a Droid phone if needed.

Step Up to the Mic

You might also consider practicing with a microphone while wearing headphones. This allows you to really listen to your sound. It’s especially helpful when trying a new reed or mouthpiece set-up. Playing in front of the microphone also prepares you real-life live playing situations.

Learn from the Masters

Next, listen to the song using Transcribe!. You can simply drag & drop the song from iTunes or any MP3 player. Transcribe!’s visual interface displays the waveform of your music file (in other words, the actual music file will look just like the heartbeat you’ve seen on heart monitors.) It also shows the timeline in minutes and seconds for easy reference. You can click & drag to highlight specific sections of the music file too. To loop a section of music, simply highlight the part of the waveform you’d like to loop and it will play over and over again so that you have a chance to pick up every last note. The looping also makes for great practicing in unison as well!

To set aside sections that you want to come back to later, you can place a marker above the waveform display in the appropriate section and not worry about losing your place. It’s great how you can mark any section of the song file with labels such as  “Solo starts here”, “bridge”, “melody”, etc.  You might even use a marker to label the chord changes. (Remember, a quick glance at the Real/Fake Book shows you what key the song is in.)

This makes it easy to go back to other sections and locate specific parts of the song rather than having to scan the entire song file for those sections. Transcribe! also lets you slow the song down significantly (like to 50% of real-time if you have trouble taking down a complex lick or run) so that you can zone in on those difficult passages. The speed settings range from 5% – 200%. so you have plenty of flexibility to adjust your tempo needs. And remember, the pitch stays the same regardless of whether you slow down or speed up the song file!

Of course, you can always use Transcribe! to slow down songs and just listen. Try this and you will gain a new appreciation for the music you love. For example, taking a listen to the late great Michael Brecker song Night Flight at 50% of real-time in Transcribe! will allow you to hear some of the unique intricacies of this saxophone legend.

At this point it is clear that using these cool tools gives you the perfect way to learn a solo or a song that can be repeated over and over at the speed you’re comfortable with until you get it right. From that point, you can easily speed it up and continue the challenge!

Puttin’ it in All Twelve

You can use Sony ACID to do some neat things too. For example, you never know which key a jazz group may play a song in. Since it is important to practice a song in all keys, you can drop the song file into ACID, cut the melody portion out of the entire song to isolate it, and then create individual music tracks of just the melody – in all twelve keys! You could even create a new music file that includes the same melody strung together as one single track file that plays through all twelve keys as well. Now you have a single music file that you can play along with and be prepared for whatever key you have to play.

You Should be in Pictures

Finally, if you wanted to take your video camera with you to the gig, you could bring home the raw video footage and drop it into Sony Vegas. Now, you can edit the video. You can add titles. You can add effects such as fade in, fade out and other transitions. You can even post your video online!

All in all…

I hope this article helps you make your practice sessions and gigs more successful!

Until then…let the music play!