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Discussion Starter #1
I have no idea how to answer that question. Maybe you do.

A fan of early and mid-century jazz, I picked up the (tenor) sax a little over a year ago, in March '06. Found a teacher who was only so-so, but I didn't have a lot of options (I live abroad); after 3 months of lessons with him, I could hit notes without too much honking or squeaking, play a few major scales, and play some simple songs in simple keys (Moon River, Bye Bye Blackbird, Embraceable You). Then sax and I had to part for a couple of months (June-Aug) during an international move.

New country, new teacher (still not a lot of options). Now I'm playing blues riffs, scale exercises, and a few more songs. I like my new teacher, but I have no idea where I'm going. Every week he gives me something new to try, we talk a little theory, then I go home and practice scales, riffs, songs (practicing an hour a day, 3-5 days a week). It's all fun (which is the point), but I have no idea how to gauge whether I'm getting anywhere. My fingering is still clumsy, my embouchure still carries too many hints of the kazoo. My teacher counsels patience and the healing power of time.

Okay, long story short: it's been a year of part-time play. Where should I be? Where were you? Where should I be headed?
 

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Only you can decide where you should be headed. From your description, it sounds as if you and your teacher might need to set some long term goals for yourself to give you some direction. Talk to your teacher about a strategy to get you where you want to be.
 

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You are where you possibly can be after a year. I understand your question - you're on the road but have no idea where it leads nor what to do when you arrive at an intersection.

I was in a similar situation last fall. I could noodle my horn okay, I could play everything if I invested enough time and sweat, but I had no idea what for - playing duets with my teacher? Playing for my own pleasure? Playing for others (instead of passing vacation photos around)?

You need a vision, and you need short-term goals along the way that leads toward that vision. A vision might be "play in some band", short-term goals can be "improve sight reading", "improvising", "pattern recognition", "tackling that rhythm" and so on.

I for my part joined a community band. Now the short-term goals are taken care of automatically. :) We all grow with challenge...
 

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Hey Jazz Ambassador,

To answer your question, I spent my first year learning a lot of bad practice/playing habits that I'm still (+10yrs later) trying to unlearn. Based on my own experience, it sounds to me like you're on the right track a) because you've got a good teacher and b) because you're engaging in good self criticism/evaluation. The only thing I'd note from your brief description of your practice habits is that you don't mention long tones and other specifically sound production oriented stuff like mouthpiece slides. I didn't even know these things existed until I joined SoTW last year! Here's what I learned in my last year, which I did not know in my first year: good sound production technique trumps everything, makes practicing and playing a joy, and is the basis for all real progress.

Check out what Pete Thomas says here about his first year:

http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showpost.php?p=510824&postcount=13

Cheers,
Rory
 

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Congratulations, Jazz Ambassador!

I salute your perseverence.

I'll echo what tictactux said. I hope you spend time on long tones, overtones, and sound production. Recording yourself periodically may be helpful - see many posts by Keith Ridenour.

I also agree with rleitch about the importance of playing with other musicians. Find a practice buddy. It doesn't have to be a saxplayer. It might be a pianist, accordion player, fiddle player, oh, even a drummer. Music seems to me to be a very communal enterprise.

Keep blowing -- and keep us posted on your progress.
We're pulling for ya'.:cool:
 

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Hey Mr. Ambassador,
Good to hear you're still at it! Part of your problem may stem from the fact that you're already and adult and you expect to play the saxophone like some of the adults who have been playing for a long, long time. Some of us started when we were in grade school, and I'll tell you, after a year of taking lessons, etc. in grade school, we still sounded like grade schoolers. Part of our problem may have been we didn't know what we were expected to sound like, nor that which we may have been capable. We didn't start playing like practiced adults until we pretty much grew into it. You do have an advantage of being a fan of the kind of music that influenced those who preceded us, but you just need the time to work at the basics that have to be in place before the rest starts making sense. As an adult those things will come more quickly to you, but a year is still just part of paying your dues. As long as you listen to your instructor and weed out the good advice from this forum, you'll steadily improve. You're already a year better than before, and I can remember when you posted that you just got your tenor. It really hasn't been that long ago, and you've come a long way. Practice the long tones and breathe from your diaphragm, and the kazoo will become a memory. Also, there's nothing that says you have to stay with the same instructor forever, so if you have your doubts move on. In the meantime keep listening, and keep shedding you yourself will be the hardest to impress.
Cheers,
 

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I've not been playing much longer than you. I remember reading some of your posts, asking what sax to buy, should I get a new mouthpiece? Should I try a diferent reed? A different teacher? Hey, man the bottom line is what do YOU want to do with that sax?

As for me, also a late bloomer, I've realized my technique and skills will never be all that good; I'm too old and don't have the time. I still can have fun playing music. FOR MYSELF! NOBODY REALLY CARES HOW YOU PLAY BUT YOU. I spent my first year learning the basics. and as Lester said "just blow the MF." Sorry, No more long tones or scales for me. I play tunes. BAD HABBITS? No more drugs, drinking and smoking.
I used to play guitar in bands when I was a kid, and have built up a home 4 track recording studio. Guitar, bass, drums, sax, vocals--No stinking computers or midi. It's fun--and rewarding to create your own music. I'm surprised to find I'm attracting some other musicians (better than me) now too. Good Luck.
 

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Hey Ambassador,
If you think about it, one year is really not that long when compared to a life time.
I would agree with those who say you need specific long term goals.
In my case, I became part of our choir by default. I know I can't sing well and never will. The only way I can stay in the choir is either as an instrumentalist or a mediocre singer. It was tempting to just stay a mediocre singer but I figured if I put enough time and effort into it I can be a much better instrumentalist than I will ever be as a singer.
The only problem was at that time I have never played any musical instrument.
This became my long term goal: To learn a musical instrument that I can play in the choir. That was four years ago.
After considering some options I settled on the clarinet and enrolled with a teacher. A few months into the lessons I encountered the alto sax and found it much more interesting (in sound, music, looks, etc) than the clarinet.
To make a long story short I gave up on the clarinet and switched to the sax.
This became my next long-term goal: To learn enough sax to play in the choir.
By then I have learned enough from my clarinet instructor to start myself on sax. After that I have never looked back. Then I became too busy for regular sax lessons so had to be satisfied with getting tips from an old musician friend who also played sax.
In April 2005 I began practicing with the choir. (It was also at this time I discovered SOTW and began to use it as source of training tips, material, and inspiration) At first I got my share of dirty looks, frowns, criticisms (mostly from my wife), etc. Fortunately they were very patient people.
A year later the dirty looks and frowns have disappeared (the criticisms haven't but it's much less now and they're all from my wife so it doesn't really count:D ).
Now I even get compliments on my playing (not only from choir members).
The thing is when you begin playing in public there will always be people who're ready to be critical (even those who don't know anything about sax or music). Don't let them discourage you. Some of them may even be worth listening to. In the end you'll have the last laugh.:D
Good luck!
Ben
 

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Mr Jazz Music Ambassidor...
Here are some questions for you...
How's your sight reading Ability? on Classical... on Jazz...
Can you improvise to Aebersold records?
Do you go to Jam sessions?
Are you wanting to play full time professionally?
Can you play tunes from memory that the band leader calls?
Can you sight transpose?
Can you double?
Can you take it out of the key and bring it back?
Can you double time?
Can you quote other tunes in your improvisations?
Does your playing swing, or is it stiff?
Ask yourself these questions to see where your at and where you want to go.
And lastly listen to the sax greats of all time!!
Dexter, GENE AMMONS, Richie Kamuca, Stitt, BIRD, Hodges, Sanborn, Trane, Jan Garbarek,
Jimmy Forest, Earl Bostic, Art Pepper, Getz, Mulligan, Zoot, Eddie Harris, Shorter, Sam Rivers, Mobley, Klemmer, Bob Berg, Julian Adderley, Brecker, Harold Land, Charlie Mariano, Ernie Henry,and so many more!!!!
It's not about the sax, it's about the music!!
Let the music take you places...
Good Luck.
"KING"
 

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Or... you can let the State Department take you places...:)

Don't get overwhelmed. Mope is a Late Bloomer, King is not. Everything in it's time...

Sax playing is not like golf. When the golf pros turn 50 they qualify for the "senior" tour and really can't compete with the younger guys. By the time a senior is 55, the 50 year old seniors are pretty much kicking his behind... I was a late bloomer at golf, having started at 54. Imagine how I felt knowing that I was starting at the point everyone my age is going downhill. On sax, it's different. Phil Woods is 75, and Huston Person is about the same... They are as good or better than they ever were, and they're still doing new stuff. You've got something that only gets better. Enjoy it all.;)
 

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king koeller said:
Mr Jazz Music Ambassidor...
Here are some questions for you...
How's your sight reading Ability? on Classical... on Jazz...
Can you improvise to Aebersold records?
Do you go to Jam sessions?
Are you wanting to play full time professionally?
Can you play tunes from memory that the band leader calls?
Can you sight transpose?
Can you double?
Can you take it out of the key and bring it back?
Can you double time?
Can you quote other tunes in your improvisations?
Does your playing swing, or is it stiff?
Ask yourself these questions to see where your at and where you want to go.
And lastly listen to the sax greats of all time!!
Dexter, GENE AMMONS, Richie Kamuca, Stitt, BIRD, Hodges, Sanborn, Trane, Jan Garbarek,
Jimmy Forest, Earl Bostic, Art Pepper, Getz, Mulligan, Zoot, Eddie Harris, Shorter, Sam Rivers, Mobley, Klemmer, Bob Berg, Julian Adderley, Brecker, Harold Land, Charlie Mariano, Ernie Henry,and so many more!!!!
It's not about the sax, it's about the music!!
Let the music take you places...
Good Luck.
"KING"
All of these are part of my long term goals.
I can sight read well enough for my needs.
The ones I'm working on now are: sight transposing and playing tunes from memory.
The others are for longer term :)
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Wow! Thanks, everybody, for the suggestions and support!

I think it comees down to this: yes, I'm playing just for me, and I like noodling, learning a new Elligton tune here and a Dixieland standard there. I'm having fun, and that's the point.

At the same time, here's an analogy. I like to walk. But I don't like to take walks. I like to walk to the store, walk to work, walk home from an evening out -- in other words, walk toward a goal. But just walking? That's not me. I get restless.

I need to stop "just walking." It just doesn't work with my learning style. I have a lesson tomorrow, and you all have inspired me to sit down with my teacher (whom I do like, and who is a good teacher) and develop some specific, concrete goals, both near and long term.

I probably also need to find others to play with eventually, but given my own schedule and that of most people in town, I'll have to wait until August or September.
 

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Please keep us posted as to what what you decide, J.A.

I for one would be very interested in hearing how things go for you.

All the best,

Frank
 

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One good goal would be to get it together enough to play with others. That still might take a while. One year is not a long time when it comes to learning a musical instrument. Over time, you'll find that you go through stretches where you learn quite a bit and make some real progress in a relatively short time (say a year or two, or even less), then for a long time you seem to be on a plateau, where nothing is progressing. Then suddenly, you leap forward. And so on.

I think one fact can be stated: Perseverance is the key. If it didn't take patience and perseverance, there would be a lot more good musicians around. Goals do help a lot and maybe you can set some clear, attainable goals with your teacher. One goal you might work toward that will be valuable no matter what you do, would be to learn and memorize all the major scales, until you can play them flawlessly. That in itself won't be enough, but it will set the stage for further progress. All the best.
 

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Congratulations, J.A., on attaining one important objective..... you are still 'at it' :)
After a year, many have fallen by the wayside.

I personally found KK's 'checklist' very intimidating (No offence, KK, but I'm about where JA is, developmentally and age-wise... give or take a bit), and I'd be inclined to say take very small bites, like, as JL suggests, learning all the major scales..... Do discuss with your teacher.
I agree with the idea that one's walks need a destination, but let's get to the corner store before we think too much of the Andes :D

(OTOH, it's desirable, I believe, to have a 'vision' of yourself playing in a way which you'd find really satisfying and enjoyable...... that's your 'destination' and an awareness of it helps to ensure that your shorter walks are all in the right general direction!)
 

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Here's A Suggestion

I'm guess I'm a "re-bloomer," since I played the sax in high school and early college. I'm 48 and have been back playing for a year and a half. I play in a gigging blues band, a couple of jazz rehersal combos, go to blues and jazz jams.

1) Figure out some way to play with other people -- whether it's in a jam session, a basement jazz combo, a church group, whatever. To me, the joy of playing music is playing with other people -- ideally in front of some sort of audience. (Heck, play "When the Saints Go Marching In" for the preschool class with your cousin the the guitar player.) But start playing with other people. This is particularly true for the sax, which is a solo instrument, and particularly true with improvised music like jazz, blues, or rock. Playing with other people is what keeps me practicing. Play-alongs are fine for practicing. Recording myself wailing away with a backing track and sticking it on YouTube is not what floats my boat. I want to play with some other folks. Ideally in front of some people who are listening.

2) In addition to working on your sound in the ways already stated, practice first and most heavily what you need to play the music you want to play. I need to be able to sight read to some extent -- but it's not at the top of my list. Being able to sight transpose is not even on the list for me. I can understand where it would be for a pro. I play 80 percent of the time in situations (rock & blues) where there is never written music. The other 20 percent is combo jazz, so I do want to be able to read enough to not embarass myself any more the necessary. I put more energy into scales, excercises, working on tunes, and playing by ear, than I do into reading. I do practice some reading. I need to be able to read a lead sheet. But its not where the bulk of my work goes. If you want to play in a big band, then, obviously, you would need to spend more time on reading.

3) Learn a couple of tunes with simple heads and go out and play. The first jazz jam I went to -- after being back playing for around six months, I said to the guy running the thing: "Hey, I just started back playing six months ago. If you'll play "C-jam Blues" at a medium tempo, I'd love to get up and play." They did it. I played pretty well despite being nervous as a cat. I think I even got a polite round of applause after my solo. Most musicians are pretty cool about this sort of thing. You can usually get a feel for the level of playing expected at a jam if you listen for a while and talk to some people.
Pick a friendly one and give it a try.

4) Pick the low hanging fruit. There are tons of lists of all the stuff you should be able to do to really be a solid jazz player in New York or a studio muscian. Those lists are fine as a guide. I have them. I look at them. I find them helpful. But don't read them to mean you can't go out and play until you can do everything on the list. Practice the rule first and then move to the exceptions.

If you can play the blues in common keys and ultimately all keys, Rhythm changes in the most common keys, and II V I changes in most and ultimately all keys, you can cover a lot of ground. I'm sure there is some tune that uses Rythm changes in C#, but that would be the exception. So its not at the top of my list of stuff to practice. Working on standards every key is not at the top of my list right now either, based on the sort of playing I do. It would be cool to do it, but I use my practice time for other things . I practice things that help me with the playing I'm doing now and things that will help me play the stuff I aspire to play next.

5) If you want to play improvised jazz, ask your teacher or another musician to explain the idea of key centers to you. Or get a book. A good one is "Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers" by Antonio J. Garicia. It comes with a play-along. You can play many tunes pretty credibly using this concept. And you might find yourself building an actual melody in your solo rather than just frantically playing arpegios or trying to cram a different scale in for every chord you see in the tune.

6) Don't let anyone convince you that just because you can't play __________, you can't play. Learn to play something. Go out and play it. The more you get out there, the more you will want to practice.

My two cents.

Scott
 

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Keep pluggin away at it. Nothing in music is linear. You can't expect to get better every month. I promise though that if you keep up an hour a day every day you will get better. You will see spurts where you improve and other times where you feel stagnant. Even pros that I talk to get like that with there playing. Just think how hard it is for a guy like David Sanborn or Chris Potter to get better!!!! They are already so good but trust me I talked to Chris Potter he gets upset over his playing just like every sax player does.
 

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What an adventure!
I picked up the horn again after 30 years and it's been so much fun. I can't play well, spend too much money and annoy my neighbors! But when I put that strap over my head, grab the keys and blow on that piece I experience such joy form the noises I make.
I am getting ready to retire from teaching in a year or two. I feel like a kid.
The excitement of exploring the saxophone will fill my 'golden' years and my newly built 'shed' with music and a new purpose.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Well, everybody's been so great, I thought I'd give you all an update:

I spoke with my tutor last week about my concerns. He understood, and we spent some time bringing the overall project into focus. From his point of view, what we've been working on are building fingering fundementals combined with music theory. The short/medium-term goal is for me to be able to play reflexively in a given key; that is, for me to know the notes (and fingering) of an F major scale, an A minor scale, a D blues scale, etc., without having to think about it. The longer term goal we're moving toward is learning to improvise.

This is fine by me; more than fine, really, it's great. After we talked some about immediate and long-term goals, we roughed out a practice strategy for my (unfortunately) limited practice time. This has helped me see a relationship between my daily practice and my overall pursuit of the instrument, and it's also helped me sort through the scads of material I have (I went on a newbie shopping binge last summer) and figure out what I need to work with now, and what will come later.

I also learned something through all this that lots of late bloomers may want to remember. It's true, as jrvinson45 says above, that, because we're adults, we late bloomers sometimes forget how little we know. But I think it's also true that, for the same reason, sometimes our teachers can forget how little we know! My teacher knows I'm a beginner, but I think the fact that he doesn't have to talk down to me; that I can ask him intelligent questions; and that I can tell Sonny Stitt from Sonny Rollins all sometimes leads him to forget that I'm still taking my first steps. That'll be a useful thing for me to remember.

Thanks again, everybody!
 
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