The Organic Practice Rotation

Practicing the Saxophone

This guest post is from Randy Hunter of

I am often approached by saxophonists looking for the best way to organize their practice routines. The questions come in many different forms, but always boil down to the issues of what should be practiced and how should it be prioritized. Of course, the answer is different for each individual. I do have some suggestions, however, for developing an approach to practicing that should keep your sessions interesting and productive.

Assessing Your Needs

Depending on your level (beginner, intermediate, budding professional, etc.), there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration for developing the most beneficial practice room strategy. It’s important to recognize your weak and strong points, your personal musical goals, and the fundamental components of playing the saxophone.

Recognizing your weak and strong points requires a bit of candid self-evaluation or help from a private instructor. It is extremely important to recognize your weak points, because these are areas where you should easily be able to make improvements. These are also areas neglected by most students in their practice routines.

The personal goals you set may include anything from making first chair in the school band to satisfactorily performing a blues or standard at a local jam session. The important thing is to remember to set new goals each time you make achievements.

The fundamental components of saxophone playing include tone production, articulation, timing, intonation, and scale knowledge. Advanced players can add a number of additional considerations, including but not limited to hearing chord qualities and understanding jazz harmony.

Developing a Strategy

The focus of your daily routine should be centered around a combination of fundamentals, your personal weaknesses, and your personal goals. It is also important to realize, however, that variety is needed in the practice room in order to see sustained progress. After all, if you practice the same stuff the same way everyday, your progress will be limited and your enthusiasm will likely wane.

In order to develop a practical routine that covers each of these aspects of practice, you’ll need a certain amount of day to day consistency in fundamentals balanced with a shifting focus between your weak points and personal goals, along with an organic component. While this may sound like a lot, a good rotation of practice components can help you stay on track in each area.

A sample practice rotation for an intermediate player focused on learning to play jazz might look something like the one outlined below. Of course, you can substitute your own personal weaknesses and goals to customize the routine to fit your needs.

Day 1 – The focus of this session will be on improving a weakness.

  • Fundamentals: Slurred scales and arpeggios with metronome, long-tones with tuner (10-15 minutes)
  • Focus on weakness improvement: Practice jazz etude working for rhythmic accuracy and proper style (20-30 minutes)
  • Goal related: Practice head (melody) to a blues tune for jam session with friends (10 minutes)
  • Organic component: Improvise to a play-along track using the blues scale (10-15 minutes or more)

Day 2 – The focus of this session will be on achieving a personal goal.

  • Fundamentals: Scales and arpeggios using jazz articulation with metronome, long-tones with tuner (10-15 minutes)
  • Focus on goal related: Memorize blues head and practice arpeggios to blues progression for jam session with friends (20-30 minutes)
  • Weakness improvement: Review jazz etude (10 minutes)
  • Organic component: Read jazz standard from fake book (10-15 minutes or more)

On subsequent days, rotate between the practice routines outlined for Day 1 and Day 2. Strive for a reasonable level of consistency with regards to your focus components, until goals are achieved or boredom sets in. At that point, re-assess your weaknesses and goals, and change the focus on one or both days to accommodate your needs. Of course, the organic portion of your practice session allows you to explore and look for new goal related focus elements.

The main thing you want to achieve is the development of a practice room approach that is prioritized, productive, and fun. The satisfaction you receive from playing the saxophone will only be enhanced by having a well-organized approach toward your practice.