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Can't Practice Sax? Do THIS Instead!

Apr 07, 2024

In this video, Jeremy tackles a common challenge for saxophonists: practicing when you can't make any noise! Whether it's due to a sleeping baby or apartment noise restrictions, we've all been there. But fear not! Jeremy has you covered with four game-changing practice tips that don't require blowing a single note. From honing your intonation skills with a clever app, to uncovering the secrets of the sax masters through 'active listening', these strategies will ensure you always stay on track, no matter your circumstances.




As sax players - we can’t always practice whenever we want. Whether its a baby sleeping in the next room or noise restrictions in our apartment building - sometimes we just can’t make noise, no matter how beautifully we play! But what you might not know, is that there are some incredibly powerful things we can do without a sax in our hands - that can still massively benefit our sax playing. In fact, I’d even go so far to say that if you’re not doing at least a couple of these things already, you could be seriously holding back your progress on the instrument. So, without further ado here’s 4 simple things you can do without playing your sax - to still massively improve your playing.


Coming in at number 4 is ‘intonation’ - and I can already hear you saying, but how are we supposed to practice intonation without actually blowing our instrument? That’s because for most of us, when we think about practicing intonation, we think about playing long tones with a tuner. Now, whilst that is still a very important exercise, it’s really only addressing half the problem Why? Because what we’re actually doing here is reacting to what the tuner is telling us - whether we’re playing sharp, flat, or in tune. But what happens when we’re in the middle of a performance, and there’s no tuner? Will our ears be trained enough to pick up that we’re out of tune, and if they can, can they go one step further, and actually tell us if we’re sharp or flat? This is one of those skills that a lot of sax players really struggle with and the solution of course is to train our ear to hear the intonation independent of the saxophone or the tuner. One simple, inexpensive tool you can use to train this skill is actually an app called inTune - right now it’s only available on iOS, but fingers crossed for an Android release sometime soon. This app was developed by students at Wittenberg University and its actually a simple game that plays 2 notes, one after the other. You simply swipe up if you think the second note is sharper than the first, or swipe down if you think it’s flatter. With increasing levels of difficulty and points awarded after every correct guess, you can easily track your progress and watch your pitch discrimination improve every time you play. This is such a simple and surprisingly fun game, if you even give it 2 minutes of your attention every day, I think you’ll be quite shocked at how quickly your ears will improve in just a few weeks.


At number 3 is the rather massive topic - Rhythm! Now, quick story - a few years back when I was living in LA and studying my Masters of Music, I had the incredible honour of getting lessons with the legendary jazz drummer Peter Erskine. For those of you who don’t know - Peter played in Weather Report, he played with Michael Brecker, Joni Mitchell - everyone. Now he has sax players, trumpet players, keyboard players - all these great, often young lions of the jazz scene come to him asking for lessons and advice. And the first thing he generally does, is to ask them to play a simple jazz head by themselves. He would record the tempo they started playing the melody at, and at the end of the 32 bars, he would write down the tempo again. Even the most talented, virtuosic players were stunned when he told them how much they had sped up from the start of the piece - and yes, it is almost always a case of speeding up. It seems so simple - but just developing a really strong internal pulse is actually one of the most challenging and fundamental skills a musician can have. Now, Peter wrote a book on this topic called Time Awareness For All Musicians - I highly recommend it, and its full of exercises you can try on and off your instrument to develop this very skill. But one of my favourite exercises that I like to teach on this topic - is to set up a click on your metronome, turn down the volume so it’s relatively quiet, then just try clapping along . If you can still hear the metronome click as you clap, then you’re actually not clapping on the centre of the beat, it’s more likely that you’re actually clapping slightly ahead or behind the beat. When all you can hear is the sound of your clap and no metronome click, that’s when you know that you’re right in the pocket - right where you ought to be. Now the secret to getting this exercise right isn’t about trial and error, it’s subdividing as you clap. So as you’re clapping quarter notes, you’re thinking about 8th notes. [Demonstrate] These subdivisions are the connective tissue that keeps you in time and links one beat to the next. Try it, and see how you go!

Quick side note - this video is sponsored by you guys - the wonderful saxtuition community. Whether you’re starting the saxophone from scratch, or you’re an intermediate level player looking to get into jazz, blues and R&B and unleash your full potential - check out our website at sax On there, you’ll find some incredible courses I’ve developed to help you get the most out of your saxophone journey and give you all the essential tips, teachings songs and techniques to really conquer this instrument. Thousands of students all across the globe have already learnt with us - so head on over to because I’m sure there’ll be something to help you!


At number 2 - is a practice technique that really doesn’t feel like it should work - but somehow - absolutely does - it’s Air Sax! Now let’s be clear - you can’t work on your actual saxophone technique - by playing air sax. But what you can do - with surprising efficiency - is practice a song just by going through the motions and pretending like you’re playing it. Think about it - if you’re looking at a page of sheet music - even without your saxophone, you can still read the notes and the rhythms, you can still make the motions for the fingerings, and either out loud, or ust in your head, you can sing the song. By singing the notes you’re pretending to play, you’re actually connecting your ears to the page, you’re taking an abstract concept which is looking at musical notation - and turning it into a piece of music. The simple fact that you’re not relying on your saxophone to do this for you - is a tremendous skill. There’s a reason why sight singing is something students are often tested on in a music degree and why it’s such an essential skill for any musician. So - don’t feel awkward to practice your air sax every now and then - it can still be incredibly beneficial.


And finally - at #1 - is the single most important thing you can do outside of actually playing your sax - listening. Let’s face it - at some point, we all got into the saxophone because we loved the sound - and the thing that I love most about the sax, is how much we - as players - can bend and shape the tone to our desire. It’s the reason why the sax can be at home in almost any genre of music, whether it’s jazz, blues, classical, R&B, rock, pop, funk - even electronic music. But - so often, I encounter students who love the sound of the saxophone, yet don’t have a strong concept of what or who they want to sound like. And if they can name a player that they aspire to sound like - what is it - exactly - about their playing that you’re trying to emulate? The reality is if we don’t have this musical imprint etched into our brain, when it comes to actually playing the sax, or even making decisions about equipment, like reeds and mouthpieces, we’ll always be flying blind. That’s why we need to practice ‘active listening’ - that is - listening to another sax player for the purpose of musical growth. When we’re actively listening - we should be listening to their tone, their inflections, their vibrato and their rhythmic placement - and we should be taking note of all the things that we want to channel ourselves. The central idea here is that our playing becomes a tapestry of all our saxophone influences - and in doing so - becomes our own unique sound. It’s the foundation of Clark Terry’s famous quote - Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate. Now, if you’re still new to all this, I highly recommend downloading my free handy PDF guide on active listening which you can use to uncover some of the secrets of your favourite saxophone players. You’ll get an insight into their playing you’ve probably never had before, and take a few big steps towards achieving your ideal saxophone sound. To download it, simply use the link on screen or in the description below, enter your email address and I’ll send it to you for free. Well thanks again everybody for watching this video, hopefully you took away some valuable tips next time you get stuck in silence and can’t play your saxophone.


Don’t forget to download that PDF guide (link below), and as always if you’ve got any questions about anything from this video, please leave them in the description down below. If you enjoyed it, hit the like button and subscribe to the SaxTuition YouTube Channel - I really do appreciate the support - and of course, I’ll see you all again soon!

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