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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After a long hiatus, I have been back taking lessons and playing/practicing fairly consistently for 2.5 years or so now. Thus far, my lessons have focused on the fundamental aspects of sound production and technique like tone, articulation, time, support, etc. I feel fairly comfortable/confident with the progress made in those areas and I am at a point where I get compliments on my sound/tone at jam sessions. Have been working on soloing as well: guide tone lines / voice leading and targeting notes, ascending vs descending vs flat lines, sparse vs dense phrasing, scalar vs intervallic, call and response, using space, syncopation, etc. and feel like I am getting a decent handle on the horizontal aspects of creating coherent diatonic melodic lines.

However, I am far from satisfied with my playing. I feel like my solos all sound kinda similar and lacking in feeling. I am not using much embellishment like glissandos, bends, approach notes, enclosures, turnarounds, vibrato, etc. that add emotional nuance and use of devices like color notes, substitutions, and outside playing that add tension and harmonic complexity.

My teacher has told me he is against teaching anything pattern-based such as ii-V-I or pentatonic patterns and licks, but I just don't see how you can get around the use of them to some degree, if only to allow you to go on autopilot for a bit while your mind thinks of what to play next. He arrived at this conclusion after having drilled patterns and licks extensively himself, so I can see why one would eventually feel the need to move away from a rigid approach. However, now I am feeling that my current approach is holding me back, and I just don't see my mind and fingers reaching the level where all these aspects are being incorporated coherently on the fly, producing hip 16th note lines at 150bpm over complex changes.

So my question is what should I be focusing on next? Continue with the same teacher, go to a different teacher, or go buy ChadLB's packages and shed patterns and licks? Do I focus on general technique, or should I be working on applying to a specific piece of music?

Obviously if I could do all of the above, I would, but a job and family means one thing at a time.
 

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Ultimately, what you do is up to you but, you asked for advise so I’ll give mine…

There is no one way to learn but there is a tried and true “historical” way to to learn. If you have been focusing on sound quality that is great… for sound quality. It doesn’t have much to help you with facility on the horn though and, doesn’t help you with rhythm. The most historical way to learn to do this is to internalize what you are hearing. That means learn to listen a lot. Learn to feel the rhythms in what you are listening to a lot. Then, as in all areas of learning, you learn to mimic what you are hearing.
No slight against someone like Chad LB. He is a great player. I don’t personally “like” his playing but, I respect it. What he is focusing on is just technique, not application. Application comes from listening and feeling. Patterns and scale to chords can work but not if you don’t know why. A solid theory foundation would go further and then you find ways to practice things in your playing to help those. Composition lessons would also help. They would help you understand melody and how they interact with harmony and rhythm better… just a thought.

Now back to my original thought… sing the solo you want over the changes. Learn to play what you can sing. If you don’t enjoy what you are singing, your saxophone playing won’t be more interesting. Train your ear and you hands and you’ll get there. Insert licks and you won’t necessarily be you. Hope it helps.
 

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A lot of great advice above from Saxophone Strange. Listening is a huge thing. A lot of your post focused on solos, so I'd say listen widely across periods to great soloists, (some of my go-tos: Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Eric Dolphy, Lee Konitz, and many more). Find players whose solos you love and dive deeply into their recordings. (Sometimes it's also helpful to hear soloists you don't love!) Also, check out how great players on other instruments improvise. For me, the Earl Hines recordings where he plays Ellington tunes was revelatory for hearing the melding of two distinct sensibilities.

I'll recommend one general technique book series: Dann Zinn's "Zinn and the Art of Saxophone" is great; it is both challenging and clearly laid out.
 

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As @Saxophone Strange says above: listen more. Also, learn to "transcribe" solos by playing along with the recordings. This forces you to listen very carefully and repeatedly so that you pick up on the subtle things (e.g., scoops, bends, subtleties in articulations, accents, vibrato, ghosting, etc.).

From your description of your situation, what you almost certainly don't need is another technique book or a collection of printed patterns and licks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I've transcribed a few solos off records (albeit simple ones by Miles) that are at my level of playability, and I record and transcribe all my teacher's solos (that I like) from the lessons. I'm totally tuned into the subtle nuances and can replicate them to some extent, but it still feels like I am performing written music and it hasn't really translated into my soloing in any authentic way.
I guess it is like asking how van Gough why did you use this color and brushstroke on this sunflower petal, but not on this other petal? Even if I understood the answer, and imitated a bunch of his paintings, where would that get me? My frustration seems to come from my limited vocabulary, yet also feeling constrained by the idiom and wanting to avoid re-hashing cliches.
So, after having played a standard number hundreds of times, how do you keep things fresh and interesting? How do you structure your approach to a solo? Do you have a framework of cadences over the changes and kind of fill in the gaps? How do you approach your practicing for a piece? Do you "compose" a solo then refine it over time or do you try something new and different each time? When you go to a practice session, what do you hope to accomplish?
 

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I really like this Digging Deeper series of vids from Jeff Antoniuk. Each one is a quick nugget that imo can focus you on a digestible task to apply to your playing. I’m recently retired from teaching, but I wish I’d known about these to share with my old students, I can see them helping pretty much anyone. Have a look!

This first vid is just the intro, browse his channel, there are like 200 of these vids with no particular order— if one mini-lesson doesn’t apply to your situation, go on to the next. You’re liable to find something you can be inspired by!

 

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I really like this Digging Deeper series of vids from Jeff Antoniuk. Each one is a quick nugget that imo can focus you on a digestible task to apply to your playing. I’m recently retired from teaching, but I wish I’d known about these to share with my old students, I can see them helping pretty much anyone. Have a look!

This first vid is just the intro, browse his channel, there are like 200 of these vids with no particular order— if one mini-lesson doesn’t apply to your situation, go on to the next. You’re liable to find something you can be inspired by!

Similar to Jeff is Greg Fishman with presenting a "nugget" that you can really navigate and expand. For example, the first one I watched from him:
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Jeff is fantastic. One of the best pedagogues on utube if not the best full stop.
I’ve also checked out Fishman. He’s a great player, but seems to be oriented to teaching cool licks.
 

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So… going back to what I mentioned earlier… it will mostly have to do with your ear but another thing too… do you like the solo you are working to transcribe? When I mentioned your ear, I wasn’t just mentioning transcription. That is a technique to try to help marry the two but, in all actuality, it is a deeper thing than just transcribing. I like to say it like this… when you are in the car and singing along with the radio or whatever, you are internalizing music. So do you sing along? Can you mimic the inflections of what you are hearing? Do you try? Do you only listen to music passively unless it is in an educational setting like transcription? These questions are supposed to directed at the fun and enjoyment of listening to music. It should show you what you like to listen to but if you like it a lot and want to sound like that, then study it. The focus and approach matters so much. Music can’t just be academic, it needs to be part of life.

The thing about scales and patterns to work on facility is just that, it is an exercise. Just like exercise you do repetitions over time to get better. Scales are a building block. Patterns are a building block. Patterns are not full through chord change motion things… they are groupings of notes designed to make a feeling be able to be heard. Patterns should be a small 2-8ish note series of repeatable note groupings intentionally designed to move around the horn. Just the most basic of which which is by no means basic, just arpeggiating triad in a scale.

Example (triads; ascending only; Single octave at a time)
C maj
D min
E min
F maj
G maj
A min
B dim

Start at a metronome speed of 60 quarter notes. After completing, with no mistakes for 5 times up the metronome to 70. Repeat… perfect 5 times then 80 repeat until you get to 120. Then start again with with notes at 60 (same as quarter notes at 120) the. Proceed to eighths at 70 then 80 then 90… on up to 120… then sixteenths rinse and repeat… then do descending only… That is just C major… then move to another key… now that you have done all the major… then melodic minor… then harmonic minor… the natural minor… then Dorian minor… then Phrygian minor… at some point diminished and whole time… this is just a start… note… if you want to be able to do this into the altissimo, you have to practice it into the altissimo…also if starting at quarter notes at 60 is too fast start with half notes instead and work to quarters then eighths etc…. After this you can do the same with inversions and even quartal or quintal patterns

Ok now that you have started doing these hearing them in the music you are listening to should be both easier and help you understand… then go find a tune that allows you to use what you have been working on and SING a solo. Record yourself and then go back and see if there are parts you like. Try to play what you sung. Keep doing this process until it is easier and was sure to play what you hear. At that point it is continuing to increase what you hear…
 

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I've transcribed a few solos off records (albeit simple ones by Miles) that are at my level of playability, and I record and transcribe all my teacher's solos (that I like) from the lessons. I'm totally tuned into the subtle nuances and can replicate them to some extent, but it still feels like I am performing written music and it hasn't really translated into my soloing in any authentic way.
I guess it is like asking how van Gough why did you use this color and brushstroke on this sunflower petal, but not on this other petal? Even if I understood the answer, and imitated a bunch of his paintings, where would that get me? My frustration seems to come from my limited vocabulary, yet also feeling constrained by the idiom and wanting to avoid re-hashing cliches.
So, after having played a standard number hundreds of times, how do you keep things fresh and interesting? How do you structure your approach to a solo? Do you have a framework of cadences over the changes and kind of fill in the gaps? How do you approach your practicing for a piece? Do you "compose" a solo then refine it over time or do you try something new and different each time? When you go to a practice session, what do you hope to accomplish?
When I listen to people who’s soloing I like I listen for what I think they had to practice to get to that level. So if I hear a cool repeated pattern in different keys. I think. They must have worked on that. Or if the phrasing is amazing. Same thing. How did they work on that aspect. First of all don’t get frustrated. We all are slugging our way to better. It takes. Time and focused practicing. Second of all. Be clear on what. “ better “ means. For me better might mean. Using all the ranges of the horn. Or using less inflection s and relying on basic tone. Or adding whole tones or diminished or altered sounds to my solos. So here’s what I’d do. Go to your iPhone or music list of sax guys you like. Listen to 10 different artists and answer the question of why did I buy this persons music. What do I like about it ?? That will point you to what you like to hear others do and maybe next steps for yourself. Every completed house starts with one brick. Then you build slowly. I ( at 68 and playing for 45 years ) still take sax. Flute and sometimes keyboard/ singing lessons. I also signed up for Eric Marie thanks artist wirks site. So I’m getting plenty of next steps from better players than me. I personally prefer a live teacher to a website instruction site. I like the relationship side of music. Just me. Good luck. Your post is a great one. That truly is the problem we all face daily. What don’t I like about my playing and what am I going to do about it systematically to make better.
 

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Lots of interesting ideas above and one can pick several different ways to proceed. Reading between the lines the OP seems to want more to practice that could be based on theory or patters, but has been steered away and wonders where to go next. The replies seem to straddle the divide between pattern playing and making the horn your voice. Personally I favor having the horn sing your song that comes from you as an individual. However not everyone has music in their heads that's original or theirs. This is where you need to know yourself. Copying and developing excellent technique won't make you a creative melodic player, but it may be a very satisfying goal.

Saxophone Strange said it briefly: "sing the solo you would want to play". That can be your unique voice, but bringing that into your hands requires a lot of work (it can take years). You can also spend years copying others and playing riffs and arpeggios and the standard theoretical stuff. It's the same as "you are what you eat". You become the player that you practice as those patterns become ingrained. E.g. go to most "jam sessions" based on playing "standards" and you can hear one player after another sounding quite similar with the only distinguishing thing being their level of competence. It's a discipline for sure but where does it lead? If it gives those people a purpose/goal, then maybe it doesn't need to lead anywhere. I just hope they derive enjoyment.

It's good that you recognize that you're at a crossroad. You can follow a path that explores what you have to offer as an individual, or learn and practice a lot of stuff to play as "cut and paste". That's not denigrating those who do that, as this is about what satisfies each of us as individuals and our musical goals. Know yourself and your goals so that whatever way you choose it's moving forward and satisfying.
 

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I’ve been taking lessons from Chad and he’s fantastic!
 
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I really like this Digging Deeper series of vids from Jeff Antoniuk. Each one is a quick nugget that imo can focus you on a digestible task to apply to your playing. I’m recently retired from teaching, but I wish I’d known about these to share with my old students, I can see them helping pretty much anyone. Have a look!

This first vid is just the intro, browse his channel, there are like 200 of these vids with no particular order— if one mini-lesson doesn’t apply to your situation, go on to the next. You’re liable to find something you can be inspired by!

I went through a bunch of his videos last night and I feel inspired again. There are so many cool ideas here. And I really like how he applies it to specific tunes. And the tune choice is perfect; songs that I love and have been working on/struggling with! Case in point is "Side slipping on Speak Low". Really love this song and tried it out at a jam last week, but just felt like I was playing the changes without any coherent approach. Then, BOOM!, this video outlines how to use side-slipping to build tension at specific points in the form. This is exactly the kind of idea/lesson I was looking for! Thanks for the suggestion!
 

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I went through a bunch of his videos last night and I feel inspired again. There are so many cool ideas here. And I really like how he applies it to specific tunes. And the tune choice is perfect; songs that I love and have been working on/struggling with! Case in point is "Side slipping on Speak Low". Really love this song and tried it out at a jam last week, but just felt like I was playing the changes without any coherent approach. Then, BOOM!, this video outlines how to use side-slipping to build tension at specific points in the form. This is exactly the kind of idea/lesson I was looking for! Thanks for the suggestion!
Right? What I love about it is it’s often all you actually need, one little thing to apply yourself to, rather than embarking on like a whole new system or approach. I think when we’re dissatisfied and unsure what to do next, we tend to forget about how much we already know and just putting the focus on one task like this can work almost like a key to liberate your intuition and let what you already know pour out. It’s actually a matter of assigning some sort of limiting parameters to organize your practice rather than considering all options at once. Really effective!
 

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Also, on a related note, I’m a firm believer that if you have a feeling of “stuckness”, the antidote is to find a way to do something that feels easy. The sensation of ease specifically is a really necessary experience, we are playing music and from time to time it needs to feel like play, child’s play. So limiting the “toy” (idea, shape etc) to focus on is also useful for that!
 
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