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Saxophone lesson

Learn about the alto saxophone from an expert musician with the U.S. Marine Band. Includes daily exercises for intonation, long tones, intervals and more.

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Video transcript

("Lincolnshire Posy 3. Rufford Park Poachers" by Percy Grainger) Playing saxophone in a wind band can be kind of a strange experience because you are often not playing as a section. Normally there are four of us and we tend to play with other sections; the alto or soprano players will be playing with upper woodwinds or trumpets, the baritone saxophone might play with the low brass, tenor might play with mid brass or low brass and we find ourselves listening all over the ensemble, not necessarily listening in towards the section. ("New England Triptych Chester" by William Schuman) So you're not only listening into your section, perhaps, but you're having to listen to the flutes or you're having to listen to the euphoniums and you're having to adjust very quickly. That requires that you know how to play in tune. So this is what I do to practice playing in tune and to learn how to make those kinds of adjustments in pitch which I think can be very confusing and difficult for a lot of people, particularly for young players. Basically what I do is, I use a tuner. I have a tuner here, it's an old Korg tuner but I don't look at the needle. There's a needle on there to tell me whether or not I'm in tune but when I'm in an ensemble I can never use my eyes to tell me if I'm in tune, I have to use my ears. So when I practice playing in tune, I always practice with a sound and I'll show you what that sounds like. (sustained note plays briefly) What I do is I pick a note on my horn; the lowest note on a saxophone, or an alto saxophone anyways, is a B-flat. So I will play a B-flat major triad. So that's the first, third, and fifth notes of a major scale and I'll demonstrate this for you. I play those with the tuner and I listen, lower the pitch so it's out of tune, bring it back into tune, and then raise the pitch so it's sharp and out of tune and I bring it back and I try to focus on it being in tune. (sustained note playing) So I'm gonna play my middle B-flat with this... (saxophone playing) And then I'm gonna lower the pitch... (saxophone playing) So you hear the waves that happen when it's out of tune and I purposely make it like that and then I bring it back in tune. And then I try to raise the pitch enough so that it makes waves for that. (saxophone playing) And then I'll move down to an F. (saxophone playing) I'll move down to a D. (saxophone playing) And then I'll move down to the lowest note, it's a low B-flat on the saxophone. (saxophone playing) So, you hear what I'm doing is I'm playing a note and I'm purposely making it out of tune and then I'm bringing it back in tune. And essentially I do that when I said the B-flat, F, D, and then the low B-flat, that's the major triad I was talking about. The first, third, and fifth notes of a B-flat major scale. Once thing that's important for me to note is that this instrument is in the key of E-flat, so if I play a C on this instrument it sounds an E-flat. So when I play a B-flat on my instrument I actually have to set the tuner to play a concert D-flat. ("Symphony in B-Flat for Concert Band" by Paul Hindemith) I'm going to demonstrate the exercise that I do all the way up and down the horn. The complete range of the instrument. (sustained note playing) (saxophone playing) Nope, that doesn't sounds very good but it's something that's very useful to practice. It can be really frustrating at first, especially when you get up into the upper register of the horn to hear that pitch and know where it is. Especially for a lot of us who've gotten into the habit of looking at the needle to tell if you're in tune. It's definitely very frustrating to try to just listen and use your ears but if you can get better at doing that it will really serve you well when you're playing with other people. ("First Suite in E-Flat for Military Band" by Gustav Holst)