Technique and Practice

A Few Words about Technique…

I would like to offer a few words about technique for the saxophone—or any other instrument for that matter. This is NOT going to be a page about which books to buy, which exercises to rehearse 3 hours a day, or how to improve movement of the third finger on the right hand. Rather, it is about the bigger picture that surrounds the improvement in this area desired by every player.

Here is the formula for developing this area of your playing:


Now following is the breakdown and discourse of each component of our formula. Speed and accuracy are essential to good playing. It can actually be argued that speed and accuracy are EVIDENCE of technique.

Let’s say you’re up for an audition and playing an etude at breakneck speed, but slaughtering a third of all the notes. Result: “Goodbye.” Or you’re carefully performing an etude marked at 144 bpm at 72. Result: “Thank you for coming.” You must possess speed AND accuracy.

However…notice that in the formula, ACCURACY comes first.

While you are practicing a piece or exercise, accuracy of pitches, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, and tone must be in place before you put any burn into the tempo. If you attempt speed before accuracy, it will take twice as long to prepare and you will experience additional frustration in the process.

Think about young players while they attempt to play a difficult passage. When they mess up and stop, what’s the next thing they usually do? Try again, only faster. That causes them to crash even harder! They need to slow down. Slow down to the point where accuracy is achieved. Ask your student to imagine standing on one side of the room and run as fast as he can into the wall across the room. Will he hurt himself? Now, stand on one side of the room and WALK to the other wall. Will he hurt himself then? Point will be well taken.

Once accuracy is attained, it is time to gradually ramp up the tempo. At some point on the metronome there will be the threshold where mistakes begin to appear. This is where the grunt work starts. The player must slowly push ahead to increase the speed and decrease the mistakes. It is not a sin to back off the tempo a bit to regain accuracy and then try it again a little faster.

Know that as you increase your speed the tendency is for the body to tense up. In fact, as you speed up you need to relax MORE. Remember to keep loose, especially the back of the hands and forearms. In order for the fingers to move quickly, they cannot already be in a state of constriction. Relax! Then your body will be in a freer state to move efficiently.

All of this takes time and practice.

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