Sam Newsome

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

Please check out my interview on THE JAZZ SESSION w/Jason Crane

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Linear or non-linear practice: Which is the path to originality?

Linear practice is pretty straight-forward. You know exactly what you want to accomplish, you just have to figure out how to get from point A to point B. This could mean trying to figure how to navigate your way to a set of chord changes; rehearsing a problematic fingering combination until it becomes natural; or merely doing long tones, trying to keep the pitch from inevitably going flat or sharp--pretty straightforward stuff.

Non-linear practice is not as clearly defined. First of all, there’s no point A to point B. You either arrive there, or you don’t. It either works or is it doesn’t. Of course, you can spend time fine-tuning any musical issue. But the objective of non-linear practice is to just arrive. 

Of course, this is no easy matter. It takes a lot of experimentation, and it requires a whole lot of failing. In fact, failing is the surest way to succeed practicing non-linearly. And this is one of the reasons many shy from this approach. We avoid failing at all costs. We are programmed to work our way methodically to perfection, which makes linear practicing the method of choice.

Multi-phonic production is an excellent example of non-linear practice. Typically, they work, or they don’t. And many variables come into play: reed strength, air velocity, embouchure pressure, instrument, mouthpiece, and if course, fingering combination—typically crossed fingerings. And the either-it-works-or-it-doesn’t narrative applies to my prepared soprano methodology. Many of those experiments heard on Sopranoville, like reed straw, tin foil, Scotch tape, and hanging chimes were all about non-linear experimentation. Many earlier attempts were total failures. But when it clicked, it clicked. As I’ve said with non-linear practice, you don’t rehearse your way to perfection, you simply arrive. 

Non-linear practicing teaches us to become original through practice, not perfect. And the way I see it, if it’s original, that in it self is perfection. 


  1. Chord changes and improvisation go hand in hand..hmmmm. Improvisation on the saxophone hasn't been easier with these methods

  2. Hi Opeyemi - I didn't mean to insinuate that chord changes and improvisation don't go hand-in-hand. My point was addressing two different objectives and outcomes. One form of practice is about hammering away at something until you get better at it. The other is about simply arriving at an outcome. I hope this is clearer. And thanks for reading!

  3. And both are valid. Two different tools for two different goals.


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