What Saxophone Players Can Learn from Snoop Dogg
I love Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Rollins.
But instead of writing yet another article for an audience of sax players about a sax player, I thought I’d hop on over to the side of the hippity-hop, since sometimes the best way to drive a point home is to look at the subject matter from the outside in.
Lesson #1: Distinctive Tone
More than any other wind instrument, the saxophone allows for the greatest degree of variation in tone. To think that David Sanborn and Paul Desmond both played the same instrument boggles the mind.
Now anyone who’s ever turned on the radio or TV set more than 3 times, whether they like it or not, Snoop’s voice is utterly unmistakable. Of course, we can’t say the same for the myriad of other rappers out there. Laid back yet highly focused, the Dogg has most certainly marked his territory when it comes to vocal sound. And if you’re looking to create an exceptional career as a profesional saxperson, then the same is expected of you.
Sure there are a gaggle of Michael Brecker clones coming out of universities each year – but how many of them ever will go down in history as leading voices on their instrument?
Lesson #2: Time Feel
One of my favorite qualities of Snoop Dogg’s rapping is his rhythmic concept. He raps quite a bit behind the beat, bringing to mind the amazing time feel of Dexter Gordon. Dexter used to play so far back that you often thought he was going to fall off the edge. Snoop’s rhythmic approach is similar, so perhaps they were kindred spirits in the laid-back West Coast groove.
Whether you feel like playing behind, in lockstep with, or even ahead of the beat, the ability to lock into a groove with drum-like consistency is one of those skills necessary to become a master. We sax players often do have a tendency to focus on the flurries of notes which we’re able to easily rattle off (unlike our brass counterparts). But when you combine those killer chops with a rock-solid rhythmic feel, then you become unstoppable.
Lesson #3: Versatility
To work as a professional sax player, besides playing soprano, alto, tenor, and bari at one time or another, there’s also the flutes and clarinets to learn as well. Some of us even end up in the double-reed world. On top of that we need to be able to meld into the sax section of a big band, rock out at wedding gigs, burn over the changes in a jazz quartet, pipe-out etudes, and the list goes on for miles.
Likewise, Snoop Dogg can be found doing things once foreign to him, such as singing (albeit, often with the auto-tune) on many of his records. One of his recent tunes titled “Sensual Seduction” is completely ridiculous, but nonetheless features Snoop singing through almost the entire tune. He’s performed with a heavy metal band doing a Metallica cover and even did some bubblegum pop with Katy Perry.
On top of all of that, Snoop has made (questionable) films, launched a clothing line, and coached his son’s football team.
So next time you want to moan about having to learn all of these instruments and musical styles…well, you can still moan, because that stuff is hard!
Drop it Like it’s Hot
While many of us thumb our noses at any music that wasn’t created by someone familiar with a Db13 #9/F or Alexander Glazunov, there is a lot we can learn from folks whose music has put smiles on the faces of millions around the world.
With all of those musical skills in the old toolbelt, what are you doing to get folks grinnin’ and groovin’?
November 12, 2010 @ 7:52 am
Hey man, nice article. Good advice.
November 12, 2010 @ 9:28 am
Thanks Evan, so glad you were open-minded enough to enjoy it!
December 1, 2010 @ 1:45 pm
The stuff you’re saying in the article does make sense, especially the part about tone. The versatility thing is a bit of stretch in my opinion. Doubling on instruments is something within music. Football and rapping are a bit apart. Seems like you’re a fan of Snoop?
December 1, 2010 @ 5:06 pm
Well, the stuff about versatility was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but compared to other rappers, he does experiment with (pitch corrected) signing and styles of music more than most. The football part was just me having some fun with it.
While rap isn’t my favorite music on the planet, you’re right, I do like Snoop, mostly for his laid back style and clever lyrics.
December 9, 2011 @ 1:54 pm
What a refreshing point of view! I remember the first time I heard Snoop, back in about ’92 or ’93. I was immediately struck by how distinctive he sounded, and particularly, his rhythmic trademark. A true original! The take home point here to me is to pursue our authentic self expression, whether on saxophone, or in life in general. To quote Monk, “A man’s a genius just for looking like himself.” Snoop fits in well with that description. Thanks, Doron.
December 9, 2011 @ 10:24 pm
Hey Bill, so glad you liked it! For us instrumentalists in particular, it’s easy to let our authentic voices get lost in the quest to “sound good,” so this article is a little reminder to myself to, as we say in the hood (HA!), “keep it real.”