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



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Six (6) Benefits of Playing Solo Saxophone

Here's a list of things I've discovered of ways in which playing solo saxophone can be beneficial to ones development. They're not listed in any order of importance.

1. Increases your awareness of your sound:
Believe it or not, it's easy not to really know our own sound. My theory is that we spend so much time practicing fast stuff that we rarely take the opportunity to slow things down to do an in-house sonic examination. When you're playing unaccompanied, you end up doing this whether you want to or not.

2. Helps to expand your sound palette: 
When you play solo using a single note instrument, such as a saxophone or clarinet, you quickly yearn for other sounds to play other than lines. And trust me, streams of eighth notes for about 20 – 30 minutes played by the even the most skilled improviser will induced yawning. That's when I began to heavily explore extended techniques to expand my musical as well as sonic options. Often times, not only did the sounds give me more ideas, but the process by which I discovered them was very creative.

3. Teaches you how to pace your solos:
 Learning how to pace yourself is probably one of the most important skills you can develop when playing solo. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble 10 minutes into your 40 minute set. Learning to pace yourself over a 40 minute period teaches you to think like a long distance runner. It’s not just about moving from change to change, or from bar to bar, but more about learning how to navigate a much larger musical terrain.

4. You become more autonomous and independent:As with most saxophonists, most of my playing is done with other people--whether it's a quartet that includes a rhythm section or with three other saxes. So the dependency on other players is very justifiable. However,  when you get to the point where you can play an hour set by yourself—dictating the direction of the tune as well as the harmony and rhythm--playing with a band afterwards will make you feel like you're flying.

5. Develops your endurance:
Most of us can practice pretty intensely for an hour without feeling the need to take the next few off days to recuperate. At least I hope so. However, if you perform solo for that long, that might actually be the case. That's why I wouldn't recommend doing an hour long solo set right away. Start off playing an unaccompanied intro or two on gigs, and then try some modest 15 to 20-minutes sets, just to build your endurance, and before you know it you'll be a one-man show. Easier said than done, but very possible.

6. Teaches you to better utilize space:
When playing solo, space can be your accompanist. Almost like your silent partner, so to speak. And more importantly, it helps to give your ideas clarity and structure. I've often equated using space with being like using punctuation when writing. It keeps your ideas from sounding like one big run-on sentence. However, this is easier to do when you're playing in a room with nice acoustics.

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