"David - You've offered up so much great practice advice here on your blog. Do you have any tips for practicing away from the horn? I've heard of people closing their eyes and fingering an imaginary horn, and I've tried that but it really hasn't seemed to be very effective for me. Any other ideas? Thanks, Roman."
There are several ways to practice without your horn. Here are a few techniques that I have used over the years:
- Bilateral Finger Coordination Exercises- these exercises help to get both hemispheres of your brain working together to control digital dexterity. For the sake of explaining the exercises we'll call the thumb on your right hand R1, right index finger R2 and so on. Your right pinkie of course is R5, left pinkie is L5 and your left thumb is L1. The goal when doing these is to get both hands acting exactly together. Most people have one hand that reacts faster than the other and of course this is not good for saxophone technique. These exercises would of course be helpful any instrument that uses both hands. Start each exercise slow and concentrate on getting your hands working together. Slowly speed up to a blistering speed. Remember to keep your hands and fingers totally relaxed at all times. Set both hands comfortably on a flat surface in front of you with your fingers spread out slightly. Tap each finger lightly on the flat surface.
1-2-1-3-2-1-4-3-2-1-5-4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3-2-1-2 - repeat
This last exercise isn't bilaterally symmetrical.
At the same time as you do-
Do the right hand-
- Perfect pitch exercise- carry a small pitch pipe or tuning fork with you throughout the day. Each day pick a pitch and try to sing it at various times during the day. Use the pitch pipe to check your accuracy. Sing the pitch loud enough to feel the way it makes your throat and chest vibrate. Every note physically feels unique. Over time you will be surprised at how much better you can recognize pitches. It doesn't take long to develop a really perfect A, E or G. From there you can slowly add other notes that are solid inside you. I call this 'Relatively Perfect Pitch' because you start out with only a couple of note that you can recognize.
- Sing along to solos! Duh. This seems so obvious but not many players do this regularly. Load your iPodod or Diskman with great tunes and try to sing along to every note in the solos. Singing is great for ear training. Don't worry that your tone sounds like crap, just try to sing in tune and in time. This will internalize and solidify your sense of pitch, and time for that matter.
- Try to read though solo transcriptions without your horn. Take the Omnibook with you on the subway. You don't even need to sing out loud, just try to hear the lines in your imagination. This is great for sight reading and ear training (or pitch visualization).
- Of course the next step here is scatting. You can do this to music or unacompanied. If you can clearly hear and sing something then you will be less likely to let your fingers do the walking. Play what you really hear, don't play what you can't hear or sing.