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I realize that there is nothing absolute you can say about practicing, but a few generalizations, I think, can be made. For years I practiced one to one and half hours as day and the progress was truly glacial. When I retired last year, I started practicing two hours a day just about every day. The progress after one year of this is quite noticeable. The upper register is more solid and sounds better. I tended in the past to play things down low if possible, but now when I play something like Beseme Mucho (B minor on alto), it is quite effective in the 2nd octave. I also invented a system of improvisation based on the 17th century Partimenti (Naples School),and this,combined with more practice, has upped my game in the solo area. Still, two hours a day does not a great sax player make. I think to get to the limit of your ability, you need to do many years of five and six hour practice days. It takes, I believe, an extreme amount of practice to re-wire your brain to function at a very high level. Starting young, of course, is also almost necessary. The upshot is that I will never be a particularly great player due to starting very, very late (age 60), and only practicing two hours a day. But I will continue to get better perhaps into my 80s.
 

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I'm in almost the same situation and pretty much agree with you. In addition I find that I don't have the physical or mental stamina to practice more than an hour or two a day, so I've just had to reconcile myself to the fact that with the few remaining years I have left I will never become the love child of John Coltrane and Michael Brecker.

Having worked in the educational field (and having studied and researched the dynamics of knowledge creation), I especially agree with the concept of maximally concentrated practice. Taking, say, 50 hours of practice and spreading it over a month (about 1.5 hours a day) accomplishes only a fraction of what that same 50 hours would accomplish if spread over a week (about 7 hours a day).

But there is still joy in being able to pick up the sax every day, if only for a couple of hours.

The other thing that will help to amplify what you practice is to play in bands. I started a few years ago by playing in a weekly adult student jazz ensemble at a local music studio (which I am still doing), and now play in three gigging jazz bands (all created with other musicians I met at the studio) and a jam band. In total I do about 30 - 40 gigs per year, and it keeps me focused on what I need to work on.
 

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Yeah, the learning curve begins to get very flat as you get older. It seems to take many many hours of practice to make any real headway. I've also found that as I've gotten older and have more responsibilities and more stress in my life when I do have time to practice I find it more difficult to focus. As a result, I often find myself playing during practice time but not really "practicing" which keeps my chops in shape since I'm spending a couple hours blowing on the horn but is not effective in terms of improvement.

I suspect, and this is just my feeling based upon my own experience, that it's not just the extra practice time that helps but it's also the off loading of the mental energy that was being used for work. I teach at the college level and I've found I can get more done in fewer hours during the summer than what I accomplish the rest of the year when I have far more things competing for my mental energy.

I also tend to agree that all hours are not created equally. I get a lot more out of practicing in the late morning or early afternoon than I do practicing at night after dinner which is a lower energy time of the day for me. Likewise, spending a lot of hours over the course of a couple of days is much more productive for me than if the hours are spread out. When I went to Aebersold's Jazz Camp several years ago I saw a noticeable improvement in my progress over the course of a week spending 8+ hours a day immersed in music. It became obvious to me why kids going to music school improve so much because they are basically doing this same thing, more or less, for 30+ weeks a year for 4 years.

Several years ago my jazz combo played a high school graduation party for a kid going to music school. He sat in with us on a few tunes and was okay but really not a particularly good player. 5-6 years later he had graduated and had become a much better player than I'll ever be. While I was becoming only marginally better he had become a professional sax player and woodwind doubler. This would lead me to agree that, for most normal people, it's necessary to spend many weeks/months/years playing and/or studying music for 5+ hours a day to really reach a high level of musicianship.

I'm not offering this as fact just as opinion based upon my experience and observations. I believe everyone is traveling their own path and there is no universal method or process that works for everyone. The key is to figure out what works for you and is most effective in helping you reach your goals.
 

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This is a really useful post guys. I started learning the alto sax a couple of weeks ago. i practice 2-3 times a day for about 30 minutes each time. I find if I practice for more than 45 minutes, my lips / mouth / cheeks get really tired and the quality of the sound goes downhill quickly.
However, from what you are saying ai need to be doing a couple of hours a day rather than the 90 minutes or so I do at the moment.
So based on that - what would you do in a typical practice session/ Do you have a routine that you follow? e.g. 5 mins warm up, 10 mins scales, 20 mins exercises, 30 mins song learning, 10 mins improvising... ?
 

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I think the time of day thing is huge. I currently practice after work and I'm not satisfied with my progress. There is some reason to hope that exercise interspersed with the practice may help. I may try that next, if only I can find a way to practice in the mornings, that would be better yet.
 

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However, from what you are saying i need to be doing ...
Careful, now.
In learning it is almost impossible - if not dangerous - to extrapolate from one persons experience to another's needs. It's even more hard to generalise rs for mature folk.
Some people are better in the mornings, others at other times of day. Some have prior music playing experience others not... And every thing in-between; a music sight reader? A good ear? Solid sense of rhythm? If not, such things are being learned at the same time as learning to push air down a tube... And make the brain tiered sooner.
 

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I have to agree about never being a great player. I've played on and off since grade school. I'm now in my 60s. I'll never be a competent jazz musician. There's just too much to learn and not enough time. Besides that, age is taking its toll and it is literally painful to practice more than an hour or so. I still enjoy playing and seeing improvement. Since I know I'll never have lightning fast finger speed I've decided to work on the tone (which I should have done decades ago). Woulda coulda shoulda...

As for Chris in UK: Since you are just starting out you need to start slow and build strength in your embouchure before trying to extend your practice time. Once you feel your control slipping you should put it down and do something else. This is a function of building the muscle strength of your lips and jaws plus the diaphragm. As they get stronger you can practice longer.
 

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Great thread, and recent! I'm retired and I try to do two hours a day. I prefer the morning, and we are lucky to live in a place where neighbors can't hear me, or don't mind. I've told them a few times to let me know if they have a problem with it. So I start at 10 and try to go to noon.
I feel the same resignation as most of you, starting at 70 (you're way ahead of me!), there's no chance of being truly competent. So why do I bother? That's easy. Although I will never be competent in the sense of being able to go to a jam and play on anything, I may still in a few short years, be able to play my own tunes with heads and solos and improvise on very simple standards.
I've been playing the alto for almost 6 months. When I was maybe 10, I took clarinet in grade school. About 10 years ago, I bought a WX5 and revisited a few scales. I wrote and recorded some simple tunes on that, mostly with a flute patch, but I never put in any hours of real practice. When I decided to rent a real sax, being a little sick of the sound of the Yamaha VL70, the guys in the store explained to me that a real instrument was totally different. Boy did I get that, trying it the first day.
Through them, I found a great teacher who lives nearby and comes to my studio. Unlike my bored clarinet teacher when I was a kid, this guy is a practicing jazz player who's passionate about the same music I've listened to for dozens of years.
I highly recommend finding a patient teacher who's used to teaching grown ups. Yes, there's a million free sax lessons on YouTube and most of the people doing them offer paid lessons. When you can, practice early. If you have the time practice early AND late :)
 

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By far the two best things I've done for my sax playing in retirement is 1. Workout everyday following the book Younger next year. 6 days a week in the gym . My health and how I play at a gig are soooooo sooooooo interrelated its not funny. Working out has decreased the RSIs and hand/wrist probs Iused to have. and 2. Picking up flute as a double. I've gotten alot of tech work done on flute that has definitely made me a better sax player. It is subtle but there are different muscles involved so I can get faster on flute without messing up the sax tech muscles and yet some of the speed transfers. At least for me. And it allows me to play longer. My skill level has gotten better and better in the 8 years of my retirement and I think will continue to improve for a few more. I have no expectations of the end game. My only focus is playing better than I have in the past, not passing anyone else. K
 

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I started playing at about 40 with realistic goals.
Now 20 years later, my friends and I have a band which plays 2 hours of standards every week.
What a joy!
Kenny Werner's book Effortless Mastery can help you be kind to yourself and go on your musical journey wherever it will take you.
 

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i'm a late bloomer too. I played in 4th, 5th, 6th grade and then stopped.Heard Charlie Parker and Jazz for the first time at 20 and listened like crazy to Bird. Tried to learn for a few years in my 20's and gave up. Now I have been playing seriously for the past 3 years. Probably averaging 4 hours per day. I feel like i'm just getting comfortable with the blues and I'm adding to my tune list. The pros I know have dedicated their life to music and played many hours everyday for years and still do. I think it takes complete and total dedication. i also see gifted kids who are playing well enough to get into top music programs and most were listening as infants and practicing seriously for at least a few years. Yes it seems like in a few years a kid can get really really good. That fascinates me.

Personally I had targed 6 hours per day and did that on about 4 days per week average with at least a couple of hours on 'off' days. However over the past few months I've had to work more.
 

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First, I don't know in what kind of profession you are (or were), but in mine (which is not music by the way) it took many years to 'get there', meaning to get to a cutting edge level. And even then, it is something that has to be practiced daily. Why should music be different ?

Second, even if the hours spent on the sax are unavoidable to 'get there', even amongst professional musicians, Coltrane, Brecker, etc were not exactly the 'average pro'...

Third and most importantly, I get a very weird resignation vibe from this thread. One I am not exactly comfortable with, actually. And that's probably because of how I see music.
Being realistic is one thing, but resigning putting yourself in front of a public because you think you're not that good and/or didn't put enough hours to the sax sounds definitely contrary to what I think music is for : sharing.
If you want to play music, by all means do, whatever the age. But not alone !

Keep training alone, never putting yourself in front of a public and 2 things will happen:
1) you will miss a lot of fun, challenges and feedback, all 3 being helpful in many ways to improve,
2) there is a fairly good chance you will stop playing because without motivation and feedback it is just too difficult.

So... do not stay alone in your corner !
Find a teacher and/or a group to play with, you'll see that everything else will come much more easily !
 

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I consider myself a late bloomer, as i took the sax on my twenties, being primary a guitar player. I had no teacher but was inspired but then left the thing for some years. On my thirties i took it seriously and began searching for good teachers. I put a lot of work on it, maybe 5 hours per day, to say a number. I was brave, crazy enough to leave my job and study a jazz degree with success.
Now i am 41, just finished my degree and had some teaching experience, looking for a job. I am very happy with what i have got so far but...
I know i still have a lot to work on technique, musicality, learning the instrument as an extension and singing thru it. At the degree i saw younger players who played like monsters. I think at first i was not ready to confront this reality but now i am aware and patient.
I play some casual gigs and i am the first critic of my own playing. No matter how bad i play that day, when driving home i feel motivated again, and think about things to work.
You have to be motivated to keep on it, wether you spend half an hour or 7 hours. Motivation comes from the success on reaching goals. You have to recognize your little successes every day or week.
 

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I picked up an old flea-market alto when I was 50, without any prior experience playing an instrument whatsoever. I had listened to all manner of music all my life, especially classical. From when I was a little kid, I was obsessed with movies, and would regularly cut school to stay home and stay up to watch vintage American films from the 30's and 40's (could average 4 movies a day, going to bed at 3:30 a.m.). I had asthma, used it as an excuse, and my mother blithely wrote me notes for school. I had watched hundreds of movies by the time I was a teenager, could drive, and started watching the great foreign films at college campuses. All this turns out to be musically relevant

Cut to age 50. I found a teacher, a heavy-hitter middle-aged alto professional who had just started teaching. He steered me over to jazz, and I switched to tenor, which turned out to be my natural voice. Lo and behold, it turns out that I already knew most of the jazz standards, used as background and incidental music in all those American films! (Mark Twain: I never let schooling get in the way of my education.)

At the time, I had a killingly stressful job, and I was a single parent with a son in travel hockey, so I was carrying quite a load, but my obsessive nature came to my aid, and I forced myself to average at least an hour a day of practice. Some evenings, I would come home after a 16 hour day and force my arms to pick up the horn. If I didn't, I'd feel terribly guilty the next day.

Starting so late, I absolutely never expected to be able to perform music publicly. My stated goal was to get to a point where, if someone walking by heard me playing, he/she would recognize it as actual music.

After twelve years of lessons, and practicing moderately but religiously, I retired and stopped the lessons, which had become, for me, expensive. At this point, I've been to open mics and jams, and have been in several rock bands and jazz ensembles. Going on 20 sax years now, the rock band I'm currently in has performed to crowds large and small, and they've all loved the sax. During spring and summer, my practice is spotty, but I'm also playing and rehearsing with the band, often doing 4 hour gigs. I've taken up mandolin, and play that with the band as well, which gives my mouth a rest now and then on stage.

My favorite practice season is winter, when, here in the eastern snow belt and cooped up inside, I can easily get in 3 hours of practice a day, plus time on mandolin and a little keyboard. Each winter I play through the Joe Viola books, hammer and hammer the scales and chords, play to jazz, rock, and country on the stereo, and do long tones as a meditation exercise. On mandolin I practice scales and do a lot of rhythm and soloing to youtube.

I know that I am not nor will I ever be a great player. I don't know if I even play at a low professional lever (although the audiences think I do). But I will continue to play, practice, and perform until until it becomes physically impossible. Why?

1. The addictive excitement of performing before an appreciative audience.

2. The necessity, at my age, of keeping the gray matter working so that it does not atrophy, as it is wont to do if idle. In other words, fighting off Altzheimer's.

3. The love of music.
 

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Another older beginner on sax here (though I do have jazz chops on other instruments). I notice two things that seem to make my practice sessions more productive:

1) Commit to making the process of practicing comfortable. It's very easy to make the session hard work, stressful, a chore. When you can practice and feel ease, comfort, joy, playfulness -- then the practicing becomes its own reward. You're practicing specific things, but on a larger scale you're practicing getting into the state of making music effortlessly.

2) Don't let your practice routine get static. It's good to have a small routine that's done in a ritualistic way, such as long tones or fundamentals. But a considerable portion of your time should be spent doing things you've never done before (because they're unfamiliar, or because you avoid them because they're difficult). There's not much benefit to practicing things you can already do.
 

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I grew up playing drums and played in bands since 14 yo. I seldom had a chance to hear others play because of band practice and gigs. Music was work, there was no love.
I am now learning music for me. I have no interest in people hearing me play. I do have an interest in keeping my mind working. My joy is hearing a beautiful note. When practicing a tune I will sometimes stop in the middle and repeat a note just because of the beauty of it. I practice so as to be able to do that more often.
 

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Great thread, guys! Very motivating! I definitely need to spend more time practicing! I always try to get some lick or trick into my sessions, that extend the limits of my skills, and find that to be a very gratifying way to end a session.
Being a "by ear" player, I'm still working on getting the voice of my horn into my head enough to work through all the normal range of keys and know where to find the right notes. I'm getting there, but I don't quite feel ready to get out there and find a group to work with. I'm hoping I'll know, when the time comes, that it's time.
Thanks for the inspiration!
 

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I've been back at it for about 5 years now after taking 8 or more years off. I was an ear player before, and could hang in a pop or blues type setting. I don't really have the luxury of a regular practice routine. I tend to practice in fits and spurts but when it's on,... it's on. Sometimes 5-7 hours sessions. Sometimes nothing for a week or two. Always listening though, and studying the books. This time around I'm really digging into the theory, and trying to understand functional harmony and the different ways to sub chords in order to create diverse kinds of movements and resolutions. Lately trying to wrap my head around things like tritone subs, diminished passing chords, altered dominant extensions, borrowed chords, modulation, etc... I beginning to notice everything is connected. A lot of different chords are permutations of one another and you start to grab ideas outside the diatonic realm and things get really rich.

I know I'm behind in the game as far as the clock is concerned (I'm soon to be 50), but I don't for a second think that there are limits to what I can grasp. Things are making more and more sense in exponential increments. My practice is a mix of working on technique (arpeggios and scales tonguing either upbeats or downbeats or syncopated patters) at blistering tempos machine gun style and working on playing various chord sequences and looking for interesting and colorful resolutions and chromatic chord movements.

I don't think about licks. I think about melodies that move through chords and have a certain kind of poetry in the way they climax and resolve.
 

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I think the time of day thing is huge. I currently practice after work and I'm not satisfied with my progress. There is some reason to hope that exercise interspersed with the practice may help. I may try that next, if only I can find a way to practice in the mornings, that would be better yet.
Practicing at your peak time of day is a great idea. I am much more creative and alert in morning hours than later in the day. I"ve always practiced in the evening due to my work schedule. But retirement is right around the corner. Would someone warn my wife that she may have to adjust her sleep hours accordingly?
 
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