Musically Stuck! So What Gives?

Musically StuckLet me get this right; you practice long-tones, scales, exercises and patterns from a popular saxophone method book – every day – but you’re still not experiencing the progress you expect. Maybe you’ve been working to learn a particular tune for some time, but just can’t seem to make the improvements you desire. You feel stuck! So what gives?

If this rings a familiar bell, you’re not alone. We often fall into the trap of practicing the same stuff the same way, day-in and day-out. The problem is that this routine often lands us on a plateau, where progress slows or even comes to a halt.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to say stop practicing any of the things I mentioned above. I am going to suggest, however, that you balance these fundamentals with a dynamic approach to practicing that includes a fresh and creative way of targeting new material.

Fresh Tunes

My first suggestion is that once you’ve reached a basic level of proficiency, be certain that you are always working on new music. Many people fall into a trap of playing only exercises and fundamental studies. Others fall into a trap of working to perfect the same song for months. The challenge of learning to interpret and perform a variety of musical selections helps you break free from these traps, increases your flexibility as a musician, and keeps your musical senses honed. The “new music” category may include anything from a jazz or gospel standard to a blues play-along, or even learning to play and improvise over a set of chord changes.

Back to Basics for Better Technique

Another area where some folks get stuck is working only on songs. If this is the case, you are likely neglecting scale and pattern work that could enhance your ability to perform with technical fluency. If you know all of your major scales and arpeggios, that’s a good start. Use your creative practice skills to help determine what you could learn next. Maybe you can only play those scales one octave. If that’s the case, begin learning them full range. Maybe learning minor scales could be next in line. There are also scale and triad patterns. Again, the main thing is that you continue to challenge yourself with fresh material aimed at increasing your technical skills.

Stretch Those Ears

An often neglected area of study that could easily boost your progress is ear training. You can do exercises as simple as learning to tune your sax without a tuner. Practice matching pitches between a keyboard and your voice. Learn to sing the bass notes with play-along tracks. Begin transcribing, even if it’s only by learning a lick or melody from a recording. You’ll find that through any or all of these methods, improving your ear will help increase your ability to play music more intuitively – both by yourself and with others.

Getting Professional Help

I should also add that the enlistment of a good private instructor can help keep your practice sessions moving forward. An instructor can help guide you toward material that is suitable for your needs, while at the same time ensure that you are avoiding bad habits.

Breaking Free

Our list could go on to include things such as composing, studying music theory, and learning to play chords on piano. Any way you look at it, the trick to breaking free from that “stuck” feeling lies in keeping momentum in your practice routine. Keeping your practice sessions fresh will result in continued improvement.

Best of luck in the practice room, and I would like to invite you to drop me an email from time to time.

Study with Randy

Randy offers a series of online jazz lessons and beginning sax lessons in podcast format. He also offers personalized lessons by email, in addition to private lessons in his studios in the North Atlanta area. Visit his websites at and, or drop him an email at for more information.

If you are interested in additional instruction in etude writing, Randy has a free lesson called, “Etude to Improv” on the “Free Stuff” page of his website as well.

Photo by skagman