Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Problems Aren't Always A Problem

Many of you who know me are aware that in addition to writing wacky saxophone articles, I also divide my time between coming up with crazy stuff to play on the soprano and being college professor. Upon getting the job, many of my colleagues and I wondered if the time vested and responsibility of being a full-time professor would take away from my music and my artistic growth.

Oddly enough, I have found it to be just the contrary.

Studying music can be viewed as a means of problem-solving. You look at your objectives, what you want to learn, and you come up with a series of equations (or problems) to solve to help you process the information. Similar to being a scientist or researcher. Instead of working solely with numbers and scientific equations, we work with various degrees of sound and rhythm.

Saxophonist Gary Bartz once said in an interview that when you look at the music of Thelonious Monk, you see a series of musical problems that he was addressing. My guess is that learning to improvise over deceptive dominant seventh chord resolutions was a way in which Monk used to gain more harmonic and rhythmic freedom. And I say rhythmic because, once you get over your harmonic inhibitions, it tends to free you up rhythmically.

After identifying a problem, it is then important to come up with logical, efficient and sequential ways to solve them. In other words, learning to get from point A to point B in the most time efficient and least labor intensive way possible. Sometimes we tend to practice without clear objectives. Though it is true that you can’t rush the creative process, and the creative process doesn’t always fit comfortably inside a box, neither should one confuse nor blur the distinction between quality time and quantity time.

John Coltrane was famous for his long and somewhat fanatical practice routines, and I feel many have misinterpreted his obession. Here’s what I mean. He didn’t practice for eight hours a day because he felt that he couldn’t play, he practiced a lot because he had a vision. He had a musical vision that encompassed a wide array of elements and required him to have a specific kind of sound, technique and harmonic and rhythmic language. It’s obvious that he identified his objectives and set out to achieve them in an orderly and efficient way: One, he accomplished so much in such a short amount time. And two, it is impossible to practice for that many hours, for that span of time, with such amazing results, without being organized. There was definitely a method to his madness.

Remember that when confronted with musical problems, it's not always a negative. As long as you address them correctly, consistently, and methodically, they become your best means towards achieving musical growth. You'll wonder how you ever lived without them!

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