Why do we learn classic pop solos on saxophone?

Over the years I have broken down and taught dozens of classic pop and rock solos in Sax School. I have also interviewed a bunch of Pop Sax superstars like Nigel Hitchcock and Snake Davis (Take That, M-People etc).

Pop solos are a great entry point for skills like Pentatonic Scales, but even more importantly, they are a fun way to learn about “style“.

How to play sax with “Style”

As saxophone players, understanding how to get an authentic style is so important, but so often overlooked.

Have you ever thought to yourself that your playing sounds “ok” but it just doesn’t sound “authentic”?

I hear this a lot from students and the reason always comes down to the detail in your playing. The breathing, articulation, the way you start and end notes, your vibrato. All of these small details are your weapons for creating authentic, jaw dropping playing. Small things make BIG differences!

How to get more detail in your saxophone playing.

The first step to getting better at identifying these small details is to spend time analysing and copying classic recordings. And in my opinion, classic pop and rock solos are a great starting point because for lots of us they are so ingrained in our memory already.

We just need to learn how to listen to them more clearly.

So start with re-listening to a classic solo like the one we are learning in Sax School this week: “I Can’t Go For That” by Darryl Hall & John Oates.

This tune has a killer pop sax solo by Charles DeChant. I love it because this solo has got both feet right in that 80’s pop sax sound and style. In fact, this solo is a great framework for lots of other pop sax solos from this era.

What you are listening for:

✪ Learn the notes – obviously this is a pretty important first step towards learning the solo (I show you note-by-note inside Sax School on alto and tenor sax!).

✪ At the same time listen to where Charles DeChant starts and ends his phrases. Where he breathes.

✪ Listen to his vibrato. Is it fast or slow?

✪ Check out his articulation – which notes are short, long, slurred.

✪ And finally check out the attitude he plays with. He isn’t just half hearted – he is going for it in this solo. Create that energy in your playing too!

Check it out the original solo here:

Putting it all together

I think it’s always best to try and learn the solo incorporating all these elements at the same time, rather than just learning the notes, then adding everything else later. The details MUST be ingrained in the way you play the solo. It’s part of the “fabric” of the solo. And, learning this way will help you to absorb the style faster.

Once you are feeling confident with it, record yourself alongside the original recording. Look for differences, adjust, repeat.

You’ll get there with some patience and careful listening. And when you do you will have this “style” permanently in your playing repertoire which will put you head and shoulders above most other players out there.

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