Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saxophone Students: This One Technical Error Will Block Your Career

Guest writer Sarah Ann Wolkowski writes:

Creativity is not spontaneous combustion!

If Creativity is the chicken, then Technique is the egg.

As a saxophone instructor, it pains me to see a student place his or her left hand thumb incorrectly on the instrument. It is a common occurrence. Without proper instruction, and left to instinct, students come up with a variety of positions that are usually doomed to fail.

You should be able to spot the error instantly

Positioning the left hand thumb correctly isn’t hard, but it does need to be taught, and monitored. It’s a foundational skill, and necessary for good technique in all styles of music.

Let’s get technical.

The middle joint on the thumb should be positioned on the button, with the top part of the thumb on the octave key, at a slight diagonal to the right. The thumb stays in contact with both the button and the octave key the entire time, operating like a lever to depress and release the mechanism.

To illustrate:

“Salt Peanuts” is a catchy be-bop tune from 1943. It was composed by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Kenny Clarke. For performances and recordings, Charlie Parker was often the saxophonist of choice. It’s a fast number, with quirky, syncopated rhythms. The main theme, “Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts” features four octave leaps in the space of two measures.

To cleanly and quickly execute the octave jumps, the saxophonist’s left hand thumb must be in the proper position. Without proper placement, this piece is unplayable!

The most efficient route for developing an excellent technique is through private instruction with a qualified instructor. Each instrument, including the voice, has a long and respected pedagogical history; a set of practices that allow students to develop the technical skills they need.

As technical facility increases, the process becomes fun and mentally rewarding. Intrinsic motivation starts to bloom. The creative possibilities begin to open up.

The correct thumb position. Did you get it?

Series presented by

Sarah Anne Wolkowski, B.Mus (McGill) M.Mus (U. of Alberta)
Saxophone Performance and Instruction

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