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Why You Should Learn Saxophone Like a Language

by Neal

Imagine you go to to Brazil to learn Portuguese.

And you realllly want to learn how to speak well.

In the first week, how many days would you practice speaking?

One day? Then you would completely avoid speaking for the rest of the week? Find a bunch of people from your own country and hide out with them, avoiding Brazilians for six days?

Would you learn the language quickly that way?

Or do you think you would learn some things and then begin to forget them over the next six days until you practiced again?

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People have said that learning music is much like learning a language and that some consider music a language.

Why do I teach saxophone?

‘Talent’ is not what many people think it is.

You develop ‘talent’ with dedication and applied practice. Aimless practicing leads to slow and frustrating progress, deliberate practice with feedback can allow rapid improvement.

No one is born knowing how to play the saxophone. But you can learn to play if you want it enough and apply yourself. All of the best saxophone players dedicate their lives to music.

Some people seem to catch on faster. Part of that is due to growing up in an environment filled with music. And part of it you can be born with. But that part is much less important than you may think. And sometimes people who seem to play much better early on will end up giving up their practice.

If you believe you can and apply yourself, you can share your soul through the saxophone.

It will not even take 10,000 hours. Twenty hours of deliberate practice can result in a surprising amount of improvement. Slow and deliberate practice with the help of a good teacher mean you will focus on the right things and know when you play with good technique or when you need to stop on fix things.

Trying to learn the saxophone without any help will be much slower than getting help from a good teacher.


Speaking with the saxophone

Language allows you to express yourself. It transcends other languages. Music makes it possible to share feelings and emotions with people across the world and in different cultures. Playing as a band and making people dance is amazing.

I studied physics but love music and dance. Spoken languages are also something I have worked on and enjoyed.

A number of years ago, I started Sax Station to write about music and help some fellow saxophone players. Just a few visitors back then.

The thing that encouraged me to work on it more was when a sax player named Jim Glass aka ‘Gandalfe’ stopped by and wrote about Sax Station on his own site. The day was . He poked a little bit of fun about the design back then. When I knew that people were checking out Sax Station and it was helping them, I dedicated more time to this site.

My approach to music is often different than other musicians. Rhythm is my main concern. I play music that requires a tight sense of rhythm to make the music lock in. Rhythm includes articulation and knowing how to use space. On top of rhythm, you add tone and note choice.

Early on, I wrote about music and shared some videos that I found. Later on I began recording videos and creating classes on playing the saxophone that go into much more depth.

Because of my background in physics I sometimes approach music in a scientific way. As well as enjoying the soul, funk, beauty, and groove of music. Learning foreign languages has also been a useful connection to learning music.

Saxophone as a language

Victor Wooten said that children all quickly learn to speak their native language. They are constantly encouraged by ‘professionals’ (adults) and practice a great deal.

Practice and feedback are fundamental to learning language and learning music.

Languages have alphabets with letters, music has notes with letters.

You combine letters into words of language and phrases of music.

Books and poetry have style and clarity just as good songs do.

The tempo, intensity, and rhythm all affect the message you deliver in language and music. Letters are connected into words and then separated. Punctuation also determines space.

My experiences with languages

My native language is English, after that music could be considered the language I know second best.

With some other languages I can speak and hold conversations- German and Spanish. After those, the language I know next best is Mandarin Chinese.  Sometimes similarities between languages mean that you can know more than you realize. I know a little Italian (a bit of it from music) and a little Sinhala.


Similarities between language

You can consider playing the saxophone to be a language. All music might comprise one language. But in my experience, I would say that some languages are similar and other languages are quite different. In that way, you can think of instruments as individual languages.

Clarinet and saxophone for example are quite similar. Both have reeds and similar technique. Some of the fingerings for notes are almost exactly the same (in certain ranges).

Likewise Spanish and Italian are quite similar. They are both in the same family of languages. Just like the clarinet and saxophone are both woodwinds.

The flute is also similar to saxophone, but not as similar as the clarinet. The language equivalent might be to compare Portuguese and French. Same family, but not quite as much in common.

An instrument different from the saxophone could be guitar. Some elements of music apply to both saxophone and guitar, but the technique is quite different.


Learning incorrectly……

You can learn bad habits in languages and in music easily. You can learn to speak a language incorrectly, though you may still be understood. And you can learn to sound decent on the saxophone despite many bad habits. Bad habits on the saxophone make it harder to sound good and slow down your progress significantly.

Having examples to follow is important, which involves listening intently in music.

Getting feedback and following a systematic approach helps a lot. You want to reduce frustration and wasted time you must spend correcting bad habits.


Methods and feedback

Teachers have helped me learning languages. Had a few teachers in high school with Spanish, the most helpful (and most challenging) was Señor Zahrobsky. My mother speaks several languages including Spanish and German and helped me with them quite a bit. Had a couple of good German Professors in university.

On saxophone I have had some helpful teachers as well. The most systematic has been Gary Meek . He has taught me an effective approach to working on technique. That style was passed on to him from Phil Sobel who learned from Henry Lindeman.


How I teach saxophone

Playing music is the fun part about playing the saxophone. So I teach pieces of songs in videos.

In a few videos I literally show you where to put your fingers using diagrams. That can be helpful if your level of playing saxophone is similar to my level of speaking Sinhala. Step by step helps a lot when you’re unfamiliar with something. After a little while, you want to get to the point where you don’t need to look at diagrams. You want all the fingerings memorized. Then you move toward reading music and playing by ear.

In other videos the approach is more to learn music by ear, slowed down and broken into pieces. Learning music by ear is important in sounding better. Reading music is important as well. Doing both is what you should try and do.

Enter your name and email address to learn more and get some lessons. And check out the classes I have put together which are more systematic and in depth.You will find out about more steps.

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