saxophone basics
saxophone warmup
saxophone tone
saxophone articulation
saxophone vibrato
saxophone technique
saxophone tuning
saxophone education
saxophone teaching
saxophone lesson/masterclass
beginner saxophone
counting, sightreading
saxophone performing
Joe Murphy, saxophone
saxophone techniques
saxophone altissimo
circular breathing
saxophone multiphonics
saxophone quartertones
saxophone slap tongue
improvising, transposing
saxophone resources
saxophone research
saxophone repair/reeds
saxophone literature, recording
jazz saxophone
saxophone history
saxophone humor

Saxophone Education

New Piece Preparation (weekly, monthly)


A piece of music is only a piece, not the whole. In music, to finish is not the goal.


Each new piece of music is only a vehicle toward improving many musical skills from counting, tone, articulation, and tuning to preparation skills such as planning and evaluating a practice session, monitoring and anticipating subtle aspects, and discovering and creating musical rationale.  Being able to play a specific piece is irrelevant, the process to get there is key.


Learn the music before first playing it.


Of the finite number of times through the piece the first time has the biggest impact on the final performance.


The goal is for each time to be flawless yet have enough practice techniques for new perspectives of understanding, new neural connections. Stay out of the rut of repetition with no plan and assumed progress.  Repetition by default de-sensitizes us to first impressions and the freshness of variety.


It¡¯s not enough just to do it right, control it, understand it, internalize it, recompose it, make it comfortable and confident.


Day one of new material (creating chunks/groups)


Depending on the difficulty of the piece and level of the player begin with step 1, 2 or 3. Grouping  should occur at each step. Rhythmic, articulation, & melodic groups may be in different places. These groupings are very important.


1. count the rhythm (beginners write it first or say without steady beat at first)  
    for some elaboration on counting see Basic Technique

2. say articulation (while thinking counting)

3. play in slow motion (out of rhythm); sing for more advanced students

-          Whatever I have trouble singing (or remembering the first time), the audience will have trouble hearing the first time.

-          Go until your brain has received enough information to play it by memory after two times looking (8-12 notes)

-          never play with poor (or arbitrary) tone quality

-          soon sing first so the ink will represent sound, not fingerings

4. blow and finger in rhythm (no tone)

5. finally play in rhythm.  By this time you should be so familiar with rhythm, articulation, tone, anticipating pitches (function) that the first time through should be very good.


Only begin 3-4 chunks of new material in a practice session.

Practicing old material (combining chunks)


Based on good internalization of day one, we are never in a correction mode but instead are in an awareness, modifying, transforming mode.


You don¡¯t have to make/fix mistakes to get better.  Why are mistakes made? (because the brain is not anticipating what is next)


Practicing old material in new/different ways not only allows understanding from different perspectives, but also focuses attention on a specific parameter, relieving the pressure of putting all of the components together every time you play.


Material is ¡°old¡± immediately after day one.  Don¡¯t let it stagnate by either neglect or lack of variety (mental freshness).


Consciously create groups for ballistic mode learning. Combine, examine, reinterpret, dissect for more understanding.


As we learn a piece we create cues to perform it the next time. We each learn in different ways and in different orientations to the music. Isolating or eliminating cues or orientations during practice can help strengthen other cues which in turn will lead to a better understanding of the piece.  

Below is a chart of practice methods and the cues/orientations which they isolate. The colored ones are listed in both ¡°eliminate cues¡± & ¡°strengthen¡±.













Silent playing

On 1 note

Every note gets 1 beat

2. all as triplets

3. artic. subdivision

Write it

1.From end

2.awkward starting points

3.skip lines





2. record

3. play w/recording

Sing (w/tuner)

On 1 note


Silent playing

2. technical troubleshoot

Every note gets 1 beat


Outline phrases

Write it

2. upside down


 The same practice techniques from other perspectives: 

 Red = finger tech, blue = air, green = no sax, black = mental agility

Troubleshoot technique
Silent fingering
With metronome
Each note gets a beat

All on one pitch, neck
With a tuner
Tongue subdivisions of each note

Arch map
Study the other parts
Sing it, with a sounding tuner
Write it by memory

Combine ways, (silent, with tuner, with metronome, each note gets a beat)
Record once through the piece, play with recording
Play 2 lines, skip 2 lines
Vary starting points, awkward places
Upside down


1. Each note gets a beat.  Specific purposes can include:

-          forcing the brain to move quicker through long notes and rests, and possibly slower through sixteenth notes.

-          A constant flow of notes can allow one to attend to the shape of the phrase more easily, and compare tone quality between notes.  When attending to this start with the good notes and make others sound/feel like the good ones.

-          It also allows one to attend to any finger tension

-          A quick review on a day with little practice time, this can still add variety and be a mental workout

-       Variation on this is whole piece as triplets (but puts emphases in odd places)


Example: Glazounov Concerto


Each note gets a beat:

2.  All on one pitch.  Specific purposes can include:

-          focusing on articulations and the phrasing aspects of its pacing

-          hearing only one pitch allows focus on the shape of the phrase

-          key to the success of #1 and #2 is transferring the feeling and sound of the isolation exercise to all of the notes or in rhythm.


Example: same Glazounov excerpt, all on one note.



    3. Vary starting points including:

-          broadly, don¡¯t start each practice session in the same spot

-          work a section ¡°backwards.¡±  For example an eight measure phrase play measure 8, then 7-8, then 6-8, then 5-8, 4-8, etc.

-          give yourself endpoints, don¡¯t go until you crash. Post-its are good tools to isolate visually.

-          Be able to ¡°end the piece¡± after any given phrase

-          when you know the piece well, for variety sometimes begin in awkward places

       Play 2 lines skip 2 lines. (combination 1=1, sequential)



. Arch map.  Examine the defined phrases for:

-          grouping, day one work should have created:

  now combine those:


-          ambiguous, contradictory information. For example maybe phrase 1 crescendos/decrescendos, phrase 2 repeats that same shape from approximately the same starting dynamic.  When combined the larger phrase has a different shape.  The local and broad shapes can co-exist.

The awareness of this ambiguity and the interaction of the phrases is the beginning of mature musicianship.  Internalize the dynamics/shape, play it because that¡¯s the way you hear (anticipate) it, not because it ¡°says so¡±

-          Idiosyncrasies such as abbreviated or elongated phrases



5. Characterize.

-          First you must define where phrases begin and end (as in previous ¡°arch map¡±)

-          I prefer to hear the phrase silently in my head to decide its character so as not to be distracted by the technique.  This is more successful if it¡¯s internalized on day one.

-          Characterize phrase one. It could be:

a story (¡°sounds like a Sunday bikeride in the country¡±)

an adjective (¡°distant¡± ¡°aggressive¡± ¡°playful¡± ¡°mysterious¡±), character rainbow

like a different instrument (voice, cello, flute, etc.).  See NASA discussion ¡°tone color¡± eg: James Umble ¡°If this were a piece for orchestra, what instrument in the orchestra might this phrase/moment be scored for?" ¡°sensitize students to tonal variation. Put on a recording of a shakuhachi flute, and have the student freely improvise along with the recording, striving to find the colors and flexibility that those beautiful instruments create. work for really moving beyond the "mainstream" sound of the saxo (if there is such a thing).¡±

A salient compositional feature such as prominent interval, motive, phrase lengths, range/contour, harmonies, or other groupings.  Parameters of the music include Sound, Harmony, Melody, Rhythm, Growth (SHMRG). S=timbre, dynamic; H= tonality, counterpoint; M=motion, shape, theme; R=meter, tempo; G=relation of previous parameters, (in)stability, predominant/surface.

-          Characterize phrase two, usually in relation to phrase one.

-          Just like in sight-reading, you need to discover the salient aspects and group the notes.  Perhaps more important than any other practice technique, do this within the first couple weeks of beginning the piece, while it is still fresh.

-          When playing the character think only the character. This is one of the few practice ways when wrong notes, articulations, etc. don¡¯t matter.

     you must have a story, the listener needn't have the same story




6. Expand memorized chunks, outline

-          outlining a phrase or groups of phrases helps group and therefore remember more and also helps sharpen analysis skills. Below is an example of two different outlines for the same melody.  One above the staff, one below.  Musical decisions can solve technical problems.

-          cues to discovering/creating outlines: long notes, notes on strong beats, range, first note, tongued notes


Example 1: Brahms


Outline 1, D pitch center, followed by C pitch center


Outline 2, pickups leading to descent




Example 2: Maurice


Outline 1: scalar


Outline 2: beat oriented, arpeggio, more sparse


7. Play silently

     -          eliminates the aural cues
-          good for a bad reed day
-          good to focus on efficient finger movement, no tension, curved fingers, always touching keys
-          try also ¡°fingering¡± the piece without the instrument, on a table top still send the impulses to the fingers

8. troubleshoot technique

segments of notes, play by memory

play forward, backward, outline, dyads backward, in rhythms, and even patterns not asked for in the piece

expand and combine these segments  

  opening gesture of Lauba¡¯s Balafon


Practice techniques,



9. articulation subdivision (eighth notes, triplets, or sixteenth notes) helps with the effortlessness of the tone, air.  The actual number of subdivisions is not crucial.  The example uses the Glazounov from exercises one and two above:



10. with metronome
not necessarily at tempo, mainly for steady beat
if this is too difficult do it silently (eliminate the variable of tone production)

metronome sometimes on eighth note, or quarter note, or half note

11. Play with sounding tuner on a pitch consonant with a majority of notes in the piece, you can never tune too much

12. study other parts (piano)  

13. combine previous ways (silently and each note gets a beat with metronome & tuner sounding)

14. Literally read the piece upside down. (but don¡¯t play it backwards, read from right to left & bottom to top)

15. sing it with a sounding tuner helps check intervals/pitch

16. record, play with recording; recording session
each of these steps is a challenge and opportunity for growth

 17. write it by memory


Practice techniques, suggested rotation 

After day one of memorizing (internalizing, recomposing) small chunks with good tone and accurate rhythm and articulation all of the previous practice techniques should be employed.  The order and effectiveness of them depend on the piece and the individual, in general:


First ten days
Troubleshoot technique (every day)
With a tuner
Vary starting points (skip lines)
Expand memorized chunk (combine small groups)
All on one pitch
With metronome (possibly silently)
Each note gets a beat

Start some time in week 2 (could be earlier) In addition to reusing above techniques that are helpful:
Arch map
Combine ways (silent, with tuner, with metronome, each note gets a beat)
Record a practice session, listen for practice ideas
Study the other parts

When the piece is very well learned In addition to reusing above techniques that are helpful:
Play with the recording by memory
Write it by memory
Sing it, (& with a sounding tuner)
Recording session
Upside down
Silent fingering without instrument by memory (on a tabletop)

For music learning to be most effective it needs to be varied (as previously shown), clean (as previously shown) and timely.

  If you don¡¯t practice daily not only are you missing time, atrophying physically, but also missing opportunities to internalize and transcend the various perspectives into an artful experience.  Missing days (arbitrary timing) is just as bad as arbitrary (not attending to) tone.


If you don¡¯t practice for two days you could still play the piece just as well, but the next practice will be purely for maintaining.  Use those two days to isolate one aspect to become a better musician.


Do not expect the next session to pick up where the last one left off, you will need to review but in less time, working toward the first time being correct and comfortable.


Three time frames: keep all three balanced

sight-reading ¨C abbreviated day one session (count, say articulation, finger silently, play). Do not sight-read the music you plan to prepare (too many arbitrary first impressions)

limited preparation ¨C (1-2 weeks) important to cultivate the ability to internalize new music and work on tuning, phrasing, etc. on different music.

Unlimited preparation tests problem solving, practice planning, patience, resourcefulness

Time away from the instrument is an opportunity to re-invent your sound and approach.  Begin carefully.


Theory of Fours

Play something four times even if correct the first time, for ballistic grouping

But not more than four times, unless varying starting point or other variable, to avoid a rut

Choose a task you can accomplish by the fourth time, otherwise should have chosen something easier

Stop after four items to remark. Don¡¯t stop for each one, but don¡¯t let them slide. Plan next session.

Do only four chunks in a specific way (tune, memorize, etc.), otherwise becomes perfunctory

To internalize a difficult aspect (or correction) requires four consecutive sessions (still with variety)

Don¡¯t ignore material after day one, spend 3 more consecutive days in very specific ways (i.e.: If the first 4 sessions days still focus primarily on notes, rhythms, articulations then window of opportunity has closed for character, phrasing, tone, etc.)


Tension arises from insecurity, insecurity from ignorance such as not knowing how the notes are organized, related, structured, and composed even if the tactile and mnemonic devise are functioning


Just because you play the ink doesn¡¯t mean music is happening.  The ink is a poor representation of emotion.


We cannot see the tool that created a sculpture, but are aware of its presence through the shape before us. Present music as a finished work of art.

Difficult music is only ¡°embellished easy music¡±  

Performance is always present tense.


Play as you think, not as you feel (spontaneous) because how about the day you are not feeling so well.

MANY PIECES, salient features


saxophone basics
saxophone warmup
saxophone tone
saxophone articulation
saxophone vibrato
saxophone technique
saxophone tuning
saxophone education
saxophone teaching
saxophone lesson/masterclass
beginner saxophone
counting, sightreading
saxophone performing
Joe Murphy, saxophone
saxophone techniques
saxophone altissimo
circular breathing
saxophone multiphonics
saxophone quartertones
saxophone slap tongue
improvising, transposing
saxophone resources
saxophone research
saxophone repair/reeds
saxophone literature
jazz saxophone
saxophone history
saxophone humor