"That's not gong fu.
We stared at each other for a long time, then he raised one eyebrow. I could fix it, if you wanted. I must have nodded, because then he asked me if I could chi ku, eat bitter, the Chinese expression to endure suffering."
(pg. 68 Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman)
Playing things on saxophone that are comfortable can be fun.
In fact, you want to get everything you play to be comfortable. That’s when you will sound the best.
When you perform on stage, you want to be comfortable! Otherwise…. you’re probably going to be frustrated and not sound great (or as good as you would like).
Imagine two areas: comfort and panic on a spectrum. It turns out, some discomfort is crucial to improving. But when you experience that discomfort should be in a particular environment.
Struggling to play tends to sound bad and feel frustrating. Not be able to play as you wish.
Frustrating because you do not have the control you want.
Not being in control and not even knowing where to go from your current situation can be extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, that is the situation for many musicians. I have been there in the past. It turns out you need to experience some discomfort in order to escape the plateau, the ‘sounding okay, but not good’.
Our minds have mechanisms in which things become habit. And to change habits and sound better, you need to step away from what is comfortable.
Unfortunately, you do not improve when things are comfortable.When things are comfortable that really means you are not thinking about them, they happen automatically by habit. And if you don’t think about something, it tends to stay the same.
There are things you do in your life in which you improved rapidly at first. Take driving as an example. But then you get ‘good enough’ and you do it automatically. You’re not really getting better at driving most of the time after you initially learn it. You just do it and unless there are major problems, your skill level stays about the same.
Taking lessons with an effective saxophone teacher can be uncomfortable. There is the expectation that you practice your instrument before you arrive. Then the teacher will likely be able to hear things in your playing immediately that you don’t always notice.
All the problems get noticed. Then you can work on things.
The teacher likely knows what things are important to spend time on. How to effectively practice.
It may not be ‘fun’ but the results you get are definitely fun. The part where you start sounding better and continue to improve.
It’s all right for things to be uncomfortable in lessons and when you practice. Between comfort and panic you learn and improve.
What you can play expands and music becomes more interesting.
You need challenges in order to progress. That means moving away from comfort and towards panic a little bit.
It takes more effort and control. With music, it means really listening and figuring out what to work on.
You don’t want to completely switch gears and go all the way into complete panic though! That is also a problem.
How much you push yourself depends on your willpower and ability to handle challenges.
It’s easy to develop habits which can be good or bad.
Fingers that move inefficiently. A strange position with your embouchure. Not knowing about different ways to articulate. Being only comfortable in a few keys.
Without a sense of direction, which a teacher can provide, it’s much easier to develop bad habits.
Knowing what to do
In the first weeks and months of playing saxophone, it can be somewhat clear what you need to do if you know some of the basics already and are on the path to developing good habits.
If you don’t know how to play any notes, you learn your first notes. Having a teacher and/or taking a beginning saxophone class is important to establish good habits from the start. And working through a solid book can also be helpful.
You learn about the basic rhythms. Then you play some songs with what you know. You start to learn about dynamics and the language of music.
At some point though, you exhaust the low hanging fruit. Learning a new note is a substantial improvement if you only know three notes. Beyond a certain point it becomes much harder to add notes and may not even be the most important thing to work on.
After a little while it can be unclear what your priorities should be. What you should practice. How you should practice.
If music is something you care about then you probably want to sound better.
Sounding better requires stepping away from what is comfortable and putting in some work.
To expand your awareness means focusing on listening and being aware of your sound.
Listening to records of great music and reading about ideas can help.
The feedback on your playing from an effective teacher can be critical to improving your sound. Someone who has learned the saxophone and can hear the things you cannot.
- If you have not done so already, go to the day 1 on saxophone page and leave a comment about how you sounded on day 1 of playing the saxophone. No one sounds great on day one. Check out how some others sounded and read some comments that are there already.
- Leave a comment below about what you are going to do this week to step out of your comfort zone and improve something about how you play the saxophone. (Other comments will not be approved)
- Focus on a scale that is uncomfortable.
- Go to a saxophone lesson with an effective teacher.
- Sign up for a class.
After you have done those things, go to this page and ask a question to get some help.