There’s a funny thing that happens in conservatories. While learning to become an amazing musician, you can easily get sucked into a mentality that alienates music from popular (e.g. anything other than classical) genres.
For me, this train of thought first took root when I stopped listening to the radio, frustrated with the uninspired, monotonous, commercially-produced noise blaring from every station. Soon, however, I deemed almost everything that wasn’t art music or classical saxophone literature “illegitimate,” spreading from pop and hip-hop to video game music and even some movie scores (John Williams I have always loved you and will love you forever). With a narrow, closed-minded worldview, I settled into the role of a music snob.
In the nearly five years since I graduated with my masters degree, my views have thankfully expanded. This is in large part due to the fact that I am surrounded by young musicians. The wonderful, tender-hearted young people I work with ha...
Every year during district and region audition season, I second-guess myself as a teacher. It's rather comical that the cycle is so predictable, yet it never seems to lose momentum. The pattern goes something like this:
1. I coach etudes ad nauseam
2. I preach the importance of slow, methodical practice
3. I meticulously scrutinize minutia so students can hear at a deeper level
4. I host a mock-audition to get kids used to the intense audition environment
5. My kids go off to their auditions
I'm rarely surprised at the results of auditions. (Most of the time, I can anticipate a student's trajectory within five minutes of their very first lesson.) I know which of my students get nervous and which ones thrive under the pressure of performance. I know their sweet little idiosyncrasies better than they do. And yet, though it is entirely out of my control and I do EVERYTHING in my power to prepare them (from making practice plans to writing specific weekly goals), I worry for them....
School is back in session! It may still feel like summer in Texas, but we are in full-swing into another great school year.
Each fall as I start teaching a new group of eager sixth grade beginner saxophonists, I never have a shortage of enthusiasm or excitement. They are always itching to play the WHOLE instrument, having stared at it during the summer and becoming simultaneously fascinated and overwhelmed with the number of buttons, rods, and springs. At the start of their first private lesson, I explain that the whole instrument is awesome and very exciting, but we must first spend time playing only the mouthpiece and neck in order to develop the embouchure.
As much as I am a fan of mouthpiece exercises and include them in my own daily practice, I prefer to start the students off with the mouthpiece and neck for two reasons. For one, it helps the student start to hear what the saxophone will sound like once the body is attached. Secondly, it also helps the student determine t...
As a teacher, I constantly push my students to practice more effectively. Goal-oriented, mindful, focused practice is essential to development. I have my students keep practice logs, with each practice session consisting of a warm-up (stretching, breathing, embouchure exercises, long tones, overtones, etc.), technique (scales, articulation, rhythm exercises, fingering patterns, vibrato, etc.), and repertoire. Although the benefits of this practice structure are unparalleled, most younger students don't have the attention span to follow it. The longer I teach younger students, the more I want to find ways to take the structure out of practicing and make improvements with a freer creative process.
At the end of my D'Addario training a few weeks ago, a wonderful colleague of mine, Josh Redman, described trying out fresh-off-the-machine reeds and mouthpieces as "sandbox time". For a couple hours, we tried prototypes of new mouthpieces, played and gave feedback to the r...