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Greetings forum,

I am a junior in high school and I am a lover of all things Saxophone. I regularly read the forums and I own not only Larry Teal's book on Saxophone, I also own the Orchestral Saxophonist- so yeah, I'm kind of nerdy about it. For some reason, I have this personal ambition to play Saxophone with a full symphony orchestra. This is something that very few high schoolers can do, and I don't know why but I feel such a strong urge to do this. I'll be honest, I do practice regularly and I would consider myself "advanced" for a high school musician. That said, I'm certainly not the best. My youth orchestra (which I take pride in being a member of) has a wind ensemble where us Sax players are relegated to, thanks to the miniscule amount of orchestral rep we possess- but the top orchestral ensemble is playing Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and most of you may know that there is indeed a saxophone solo :shock:

I'm in line to audition for the piece (deadline is February 1st!) and thankfully it is a digital submission, meaning I can "do over".

The task is simple: Play the Ab major full range scale, its arpeggio, the corresponding scales in thirds (the classic tertian scale pattern + its inversion) and then the F Harmonic Minor Scale and the F Melodic Minor Scale and the corresponding arpeggio, the scale-in-thirds for Harmonic Minor (both patterns) and the same for Melodic. Then I have to play the Solo excerpt (skipping rests etc.). But here's the trick- It has to be video, and it has to be one take for all material- no stopping the recording.

I can play everything well enough, but when I attempt to play everything consecutively (with small breaks in between) I always flub like two notes or something in a part of the scale and I get frustrated and make myself start all the way at the top (with the basic Ab scale) and re-do it and see how far I get without messing it up. I get discouraged easily because I always make some sort of minute error on something that is seemingly simple and it never works out the way I want, and it's almost always a different error each time. I've played each scale countless times- I think I've played each one perfectly, but the odds that I play it perfectly are like 1/100. I just can't get it right.

I admit that I don't know how conductors listen and choose candidates from auditions- For this solo, I have a competitor who is my age and is about the same as me skill-wise. I think he's a bit better than me, since by trade I am a tenor player, but the gap isn't too big. A chance to play this solo is a lot for me; it's a personal dream of mine. I fear that one little mistake on the audition tape would eliminate me from the running. Part of me thinks that its impossible for a high schooler to play an absolutely perfect rendition of the facets and faculties of the key of Ab/F minor and then play a full Orchestral Excerpt in quick succession with NO errors. Then the other part of me thinks that every tape will have some sort of small error or blip, but it is overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps most of this conundrum is simply teenage angst and naive-ness, perhaps I just need to shed and quit thinking so much.

But I guess my biggest questions are:

- How do I improve my chances of landing an audition when I have stiff competition?
- What are conductors really looking for besides technical facility and quality of playing?
- How do I make a good video tape with minimal errors that will sound good to the listening panel?
- How do I practice scales and passages so that I get it right every time, instead of playing it right most of the time?
- How do I eliminate these little problem spots in the scales? How can I hope to play like the famous sax players of late if I can't even play two pages of a scale book perfectly?
- Am I really good enough?

And perhaps more technical questions,

- How do I play a full-range scale without frail palm notes and honky-blasty bell tones?
- How do I stay relaxed and not tense up while playing?


Sorry for my endless words and questions, but this topic is constantly festering in my mind. It's a big source of anxiety for me right now :mrgreen:

Please help me!!!

Yours Truly,
A young and clueless Saxophonist
 

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Well for your technical questions the first thing I think is that it sounds like you may be using a reed that's too hard. What is your alto setup?

Other than that, I'm sure you'll plenty of good practice suggestions from people here. Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I'm just sporting a Vandoren Blue Box 3. I was using Java Red 3s but that was frowned upon by my saxophone teacher. I'm using a Selmer S80 C* too.
 

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"- How do I practice scales and passages so that I get it right every time, instead of playing it right most of the time?"

Go so slow that you cannot get it wrong. Do that over and over. Increase tempo gradually. If you make a mistake, stop completely, go back to the beginning and go slower again. Do not practice mistakes. Practice playing correctly, only slowly. Eventually you will be able to play any speed you want, no mistakes.
 

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Don't practice the parts you can play. Just practice the things that need fixing. If it's one or two notes, just concentrate on them.

If you need to improve on your palm-key and low notes, then you need to focus on them. Practice them slowly and listen for the tone quality.

You could try to make a perfect audition tape for the rest of your life and not succeed. You may make a few technical errors, but if you have a good technique and tone and clearly know what you're doing, that will overrule any minor flubs.

Make sure your tape is of as high quality as possible. Hire someone who can produce a good video with high-quality sound (maybe the head of your school's media department?). Record it in a space meant for performance; e.g., your school auditorium.

Don't worry about the competition. You have no control over them. Just play the best you can play.

Conductors are looking for positive, confident people. All other things being equal, it will do you good to appear that way in your video. Most importantly, you need to know that they WANT you to do well. They love hearing excellent musicians, and they want you to make it easy for them to choose you.

Best way to relax is to be confident enough to say to yourself, "I've done the work, and now I get the chance to show off. These guys would be crazy not to accept me!"
 

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Here's a tip for musicians auditioning. At times while playing look or glimpse directly at the main person who needs to be impressed. That shows you can follow them while they are directing or conducting and still play your parts correctly.
 

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Sometimes it helps to play the tricky part in backward order to loosen the fingers up, or figuring out a new fingering. Play it on the piano. Find the solo on youtube and listen to it played correctly. Not practicing mistakes is really the key, and figuring out how to do that is our job. I have had sections that I could play in isolation, but fumbled whenever I integrated them. I try to back into these, adding one note at a time, making them longer, until I fit them in. But I still finish up by playing right through without a mistake, even if I end up at 1/4 speed to do it. Metronome.
 

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I assume by "full range Ab major scale" you mean from low Bb to at least high F?

The way to play full range scales accurately is to always practice them that way. As I always say, music doesn't chop itself off at the root note.

As far as maintaining a consistent tone over the full range of the horn, the way to do that is to do tonal and interval exercises over the full range of the horn at the complete range of dynamics. There's an interval study that I recommend and if you do a search on my userid you should be able to find a description of it. I also recommend long tones done starting at pppp and crescendo to ffff and back to pppp. From the very bottom of the horn to the very top. You will have both drop-outs and crack-ups, and that's OK because the purpose of this exercise is to train your mind and body to control the tone of every single note at the dynamic extremes. With time this kind of exercise will expand your dynamic range. It's like working out; you have to do it and keep at it and the benefits are only apparent over an extended period.

The interval exercise I mention above will also help with accuracy of scale or pattern playing because it forces you to concentrate on the act of changing from one note to the other without the distraction of playing fast. The individual notes are of long duration, but the change from one to the next is (you try to make it) as near to instantaneous (and without tonal changes) as you can make it.

As far as equipment, a C* and VD #3 reeds is a pretty typical setup, but if you are having "frail palm key notes and honky-blasty bell key notes" it sounds like it might be too stiff for you. But, before deciding that, I would suggest you have the horn carefully checked for leaks.

I would be leery of making any significant changes to your setup with a short time frame to accommodate them. MAYBE a reed change as below, but give yourself enough time to internalize it.

I'm in my mid-50s and have been playing sax for 40 years (in other words, a pretty well developed strong embouchure), and when I use a C* or similar MP I use the same reeds I always use, which is Vandoren #3s, but usually shaved down some. So you might benefit from going a half size smaller on the reed. If a softer reed closes up for you on the high notes that will tell you that you are biting too much.
 

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"- How do I practice scales and passages so that I get it right every time, instead of playing it right most of the time?"

Go so slow that you cannot get it wrong. Do that over and over. Increase tempo gradually. If you make a mistake, stop completely, go back to the beginning and go slower again. Do not practice mistakes. Practice playing correctly, only slowly. Eventually you will be able to play any speed you want, no mistakes.
The above is good advice. Another trick is to learn how to visualize, i.e. play all those exercises in your head without a sax in you hand. Then you can practice this wherever you are; at stoplight or in math class (don't do that). When I first started playing sax 10 years ago, I made couple of videos about visualization. I was a terrible player back then (still am) but I thought these videos might be useful to students.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FJF3YczCE4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2oWqXji6Sw
 

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Good tips. One thing I don't see is your mentality while you play. It's a funny thing about playing that seems contradictory. In preparation you have to be a perfectionist and yet, when you perform, you also, for your mental relaxation, also have what I call, "A healthy give-a-sh*t attitude", meaning go with the flow when you perform. And take your ego out of the equation when you play. Good luck.
 

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All excellent tips in the above posts. Regarding some of the practice tips, this all takes time and it appears you have less than a month to do the audition. So your best bet is to keep practicing the material, but also take gary's advice and relax. One very important skill, that I bet they are looking for, is the ability to play right through any minor mistakes. If you have a few glitches along the way but continue to play in tempo keeping the flow going, that will work in your favor. And this is easy for me to say, having left my high school (and college) years WAY behind me, but try to have some fun with it and don't worry about 'winning' the competition. You are obviously an intelligent and disciplined young person, so you will do well in the long term no matter what happens with this particular audition.

And just adding to that last statement, I have to compliment you on your excellent writing! It's kind of rare these days, and very refreshing, to see a high school student who can write (not just text, using idiotic 'computer jargon'). If you can play the horn half as well as you write, you're doing great. Music and writing have some things in common, clear communication being one of them. Let us know how it goes, but I bet you do just fine.
 

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Very good questions.
  1. Find a good private teacher who plays classical saxophone to help you prepare.
  2. Play each scale/arpeggio 10 times without an error. If you make a mistake start over at 1.
  3. Memorize every part of the audition. The repetition required to do this helps with the accuracy as well.
  4. Listen to as many orchestral recordings of "The Old Castle" as you can. Select the one with the soloist you like the best and copy the tone, style, and phrasing.
  5. With "Smart Music" you can play the "Old Castle" with a piano accompaniment that follows you. Unfortunately there are no orchestral backing tracks.
  6. When you are a bit more advanced, Music Minus One furnishes the Glazunov Concerto with a full orchestral accompaniment and a version by Lawrence Gwozdz.

Good luck with your efforts. One last tip: Those judging your audition will base their decision by how musically you play.
 

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I think this is worth trying as a practice technique for solidifying your scales and thirds:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPNT6S3wGp4&t=237s

Similarly, when working on smoothness, I am fond of playing in groupings that do not match the written (or common) subdivisions. For example I will practice a difficult passage of sixteenth notes as triplets or quintuplets (so the beats do not line up with the written music or with the usual ways I play the scale/thirds).

I suspect/hope that due to the lyrical nature of the sax solo in Pictures, your sound, intonation, vibrato, and expressiveness will be of primary concern to the conductor -with the scales being of slightly lesser importance --unless the scales are really terrible or unless multiple players seem equally gifted with regard to musicality.

Good luck!

Alan
 

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Very good questions.
...snip...

Those judging your audition will base their decision by how musically you play.
So completely unlike the real world then?

In the real world, those judging your audition will be affected by many factors including but not limited to: How they feel at the moment; Who's distracting them at the moment; Who their coworker wants to get the spot; Any decision they may have made even before you started playing; Who is buttering them up more; Who has the best smile; Who has the best ****; The text they just got; The text they just sent; Whim

So.....Do your best, but don't sweat it if you don't make it this time - and this may go against the grain, but visible enthusiasm puts you ahead of other candidates in almost every life situation. If I were a band leader, I'd pick an enthusiastic player over someone perhaps more skilled who seems not to care. I can teach someone what I want them to know, but I can't teach them to be excited about it.
 

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So much good advice here. To reiterate what others have already said:
-Practice SLOW! With a metronome. Slow, consistent, perfect repetition is what makes you play without errors.
-Practice what sucks. Touch on the stuff that's fine once every day or three, but spend your shed time working on what you mess up.
-Break things down. Work on passages that mess you up in 2-note groups, then add the note ahead and the note behind, etc., until you're adding the phrase ahead and phrase behind. Then do it in context.
-Memorize the stuff. You don't know it unless you really know it.
-Always shed scales, arpeggios and patterns full range. It's a pain in the *** to start, but well worth it. The Mickey Mouse way of just doing an octave is only useful for learning key signatures.
-In the scales you've listed, the only technically awkward bit is the top of F harmonic minor. If you're like me, that Eb occasionally likes to flub its way in between Db and E. BUT! For this scale, there's a better fingering: use front E and F instead of the palm keys. Works great in 3rds, too. Not so much in triads.
-Long tones and overtones... work on those low notes until they're easy. Breath attack them at ppp. If you can't do that, start at mf or f, then decrescendo to a whispering ppp and hold them steady. Live at the quiet dynamic on the low notes for a while. Anything else will seem easy in short order.
 

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So completely unlike the real world then?

In the real world, those judging your audition will be affected by many factors including but not limited to: How they feel at the moment; Who's distracting them at the moment; Who their coworker wants to get the spot; Any decision they may have made even before you started playing; Who is buttering them up more; Who has the best smile; Who has the best ****; The text they just got; The text they just sent; Whim

So.....Do your best, but don't sweat it if you don't make it this time - and this may go against the grain, but visible enthusiasm puts you ahead of other candidates in almost every life situation. If I were a band leader, I'd pick an enthusiastic player over someone perhaps more skilled who seems not to care. I can teach someone what I want them to know, but I can't teach them to be excited about it.
And the cynic of the year award goes to. . . . . :)
 

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There are a lot of helpful tips here. First don't worry about your competition. Worry about the things you can control, you don't always know who your competition is or how they will perform so that is out of your control. Second, I agree with Gary, mentality has a lot to do with it. Just relax and do your best when it comes to audition time.

For your scales, I would memorize them, and just play them repetitively to where your muscle memory takes over and you can play it without a second thought.

For your audition, think of the positives. Like Fader said, it will be different than a 'real world' audition since you do have the ability to tape your audition. There are a lot of advantages to this. First you have the advantage of playing on your time and terms and have a while to get it just right before February. Video could be easier than the nerves of a live audition, so thats an advantage. Although you can't stop recording, it sounds like you should have time to pause for a second or two between pieces/exercises. Take advantage of this gap. Take a second to clear your head from what you have just played, think about what you are about to play, and take a few deep breaths. Its surprising how much a few deep breaths can help to calm your nerves, so just make sure you take a pause between each piece, and make that an opportunity to get the nerves in check, instead of trying to move right on to the next piece. Doesn't have to be a long pause, just make sure you take a second to collect yourself in between.

Also as you practice, when you start feeling yourself getting frustrated or consistently make the same mistake, walk away. 10 minutes, half hour, whatever you need. I used to get frustrated in high school and college when I'd struggle with a passage and it was to my detriment. I would want to sit and just do it over and over till I got it right and would just get more and more mad each time i messed up. The frustration didn't make me better and was actually a hinderance. It took me a while to learn when i got to this point to get up and walk away for a bit. Usually when I did and had time to chill, i'd come back and be able to work out what passage had been troubling me. Unfortunately it took me a few years to realize that. Now with age I've gained more patience, but definitely understand where you are coming from!

Good luck on the solo, wishing you the best!
Kristy
 

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Great advice from Kristy right there ^ especially in regard to the OP's specific situation. Hope you're reading these, Lou.
 
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