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Technique Development for the Student

by Paul R. Coats

Spelling and vocabulary are fundamentals necessary for writing. Similarly, scales, arpeggios, thirds, etc., are components of the language of music. When a musician begins to recognize these patterns in the music he is reading he can play much more fluently.

It is not necessary to learn the scales in stepwise fashion. That is, C, Db, D, Eb, etc. It is much easier to learn them by adding one sharp or flat at a time to the previous scale. Thus, the student is adding only one new note to the previous scales learned. For the major scales I suggest the student learn them in this order: C (no sharps or flats), G (1 #), F (1 b), D (2 #'s), Bb (2 b's), A (3 #'s), Eb (3 b's), etc.

Since the Saxophone's normal range is only about two and one half octaves, the student should learn them running the entire range of the horn. He should start on a note in the middle of the sax’s normal range, run the scale up to the top of the upper octave (into the palm key region), back down to the bottom of the horn, and back up, finally arriving at the starting note. The scales are written out in this manner in Larry Teal's The Saxophonist's Workbook (University Music Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1958).

To play the scales smoothly it is necessary to use the correct fingerings. Alternate fingering studies are included in this book, just before the scales on pages 12--13. The scale studies are pages 18--21. The most important thing for the student to remember is to practice slowly. If he makes mistakes, he should slow down. Remember the adage, "Practice makes perfect." If a mistake is repeated by continuing to play too fast, the mistake will be engrained into muscle memory. If the mistakes are practiced, they will be perfected.

As stated above, the scales should not be learned in the order printed in the book, but C, G, F, D, Bb, A, Eb, E, Ab, B, Db, F#/Gb. Do not worry about speed at first, this will come with practice and experience. Use of a metronome is recommended. In 12 weeks, all of the major scales may be learned by adding only one new note each week. Point out to the student that F# and Gb Major are the same fingerings, the notes are just read differently. Also point out to the student that by the time he gets to 6 #'s/6 b's, he has already learned C# (7 #'s) and Cb (7 b's) in the previous weeks. Db (5 b's) is the same as C#, and B (5#'s) is the same as Cb, so the student is ahead of the game.

For each practice session, all previous scales should also be practiced. After the twelfth week (6 #'s/6 b's), give him a month or so to develop familiarity and speed with the major scales. Now introduce him to the melodic minors. Point out the fact that the upper notes of the minor scale are the same as the major scale of the same name--when ascending. All of the fingering patterns needed for the melodic minor scales have already been learned with the major scales. It is only necessary to combine them a little differently. The melodic minors may be learned in a little shorter time frame.

Low register mechanisms, use of the articulated G# (by leaving down the low C#, B, or Bb key), and other difficult low passages can be practiced with exercises on page 37 of the Teal Book. Palm key problems and the first few notes of the altissimo register (high E and F using the "aux" or "front" F key) are improved by practicing the exercises on page 38. These should be practiced using both palm key E and F, and altissimo E and F. These exercises do not include high F#, as this key was not generally available when the book was written in 1958. The exercises may be modified by simply adding F#'s to those passages with F's. These passages should be practiced with the palm key fingering and altissimo fingering (aux F key, middle finger left hand--C key, high F# key, octave key). Make up similar exercises for high G (aux F key, first finger right hand--F key, high F# key, octave key).

Another excellent book, one that every saxophonist should study from, is 48 Famous Studies for Oboe or Saxophone, Ferling (ed. Hymie Voxman, pub. Rubank). From the etudes in this book you will learn to play musically. These etudes are excerpts from the classical literature arranged into solo fashion for the player. All of the player’s musical skills will be polished in properly executing these etudes: breathing, phrasing, vibrato, dynamics, articulation, and baroque ornamentation.

Other more specialized books include:

Saxophone Altissimo: High Note Development for the Contemporary Player, by Dr. Robert A. Luckey. Olympia Music Publishing, 909 Dafney Drive, Lafayette, LA 70503, USA. This book contains more than 300 altissimo fingerings, altissimo studies, excerpts with suggested fingerings.

Two books, Dynamic Etudes, and Modern Etudes, by Santy Runyon. These were the books such players as Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt studied from at the Runyon Studio in Chicago. They are, in fact, credited for proof reading the material. Parker used one study from Dynamic Etudes as the basis of his "Ornithology". Runyon Products, P. O. Box 590, Opelousas, LA 70571, (800) 624-1729,

Alternate Fingerings, Ron Diehl, Pub by Ronald G. Diehl, 224 Mallow Hill Road, Baltimore, MD 21229, USA (410) 646-7299. This book contains many of the special jazz effects, and special fingerings to facilitate them.

Contemporary Saxophone and Rock and Roll Saxophone by John Laughter. These books cover the various techniques used in modern commercial musical styles. The recorded examples demonstrate these techniques. Centerstream Publications, P.O. Box 5450, Fullerton, CA 92635, USA

Also, please examine Tim Price’s etudes on Sax on the Web. This monthly series has etudes that may be downloaded and printed to further aid the player’s technical skills.

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~Paul R. Coats
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