There I was, just a few days until a run of gigs started and I was, post holiday, out of practice!
(In case you missed the start to this story, you can read it here)
But what did I actually practice?
Well, the first thing to say is, that I knew I wouldn’t get back into top shape in just a few days - that would take much longer. So, I had two main short term goals:
- To be able to play for long enough. The first gig was x2 45 minute sets, so that was the goal.
- To play with a good sound, tuning and intonation.
A further note on the set length; this 1st gig was with a Soul band, so I wasn’t playing all of the time, just a few solos and then various brass riffs and fills through the tunes. This is relatively labour un-intensive, which made for an easier target!
As I said in the last article, the way I built up my stamina was by playing little and often.
Essentially, I would play until my embouchure was tired and then stop. Then go back to it later in the day and do the same.
Sounds simple and obvious, but I’ve found through experience that being wise enough to stop at the right time is one of the most important things.
In the past I’ve gone on for "just a couple more minutes”, and the results have been bad; once your embouchure has gone, it’s gone!
It’s possible to keep playing but what starts to happen is that the bottom lip gets used more and more to maintain the pitch…
…and before you know it you’ve got a sore lip and you’ve started developing a bad habit!
It’s taken me years to transition from pushing up with my lower jaw and biting with my top teeth to my current embouchure - which is only my lips touching the mouthpiece, no teeth and virtually no pressure.
And I’ve done this because it sounds so much better!
Using this embouchure works the muscles in your cheeks a lot more and they get tired more quickly, so these muscles were what I was focussing on building up.
And here’s a picture of me in the practice room (with my new glasses!) enjoying the process.
Initially, I knew I didn’t have long in each practice session before my muscles gave way, so I did 2 key exercises:
- played long notes with my tuner.
- practised tonguing with my metronome.
1 - Long Notes
There were 2 stages to this.
Firstly I would play a long note, then use the relevant harmonic/overtone to create the same pitch, all the time making sure that I was playing tune.
You can find out more about this in my Saxophone Super Food course, also in the course I go through a highly effective way to work with a tuner.
Secondly, I practised playing intervals. For example, I would play a low F#, then a middle F# or maybe a C#. I did all sorts of intervals be honest. The main focus was playing them as long notes and playing them in tune.
And remember, all the while I was using a good embouchure and I focussed on keeping my body relaxed.
2 - Tonguing
With my tuner and metronome on, I played one note, say a low A, then went through the various beat sub divisions on that one note.
All of the time I was intensely focussed on synchronising my sound with the metronome click; in between each beat subdivision I had a short pause to give my tongue a rest.
So for example, I’d set the metronome to 90 beats per minute, using a low A I’d then play:
- a semibreve (whole note)
- x2 minims (half notes)
- x4 crotchets (quarter notes)
- x4 quavers (8th notes)
- x3 quaver triplets
- x4 semiquavers (16th notes)
Then I’d repeat it all at a faster speed and keep increasing the tempo until my embouchure gave out.
During those first few days after my holiday I did these two practice exercises increasingly more, and that’s what built my stamina up just enough to manage the 1st gig.
And of course after that, with each gig I did and the continual practice, my stamina got better, my sound got better and so did my general control.
Honestly, I’m still not back to where I want to be, but it’s an awful lot better and I did, as I say, last week manage a 2 hour set of pretty intensive playing.
There was one more side to my practice during those first few days, but I’m going to leave telling you about that until the next article - I know, what a tease!
And before I say goodbye, I'll just let you know that I've put all of the best SAXOPHONE Studies technique tips and lessons into one package, cunningly called Focus On Technique, so check it out.
Have a great weekend.