Sax School Live #10 24th September 2018

Why you should be learning jazz standards (even if you hate jazz!)

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Show Notes

This week we talked Jazz Standards – what they are and why you should learn them. Nigel shared his top twenty – you can download the list here to get you started!

Plus Nigel answered your questions on managing your breathing, storing your sax, mouthpieces for rock, and more!

Did you know the answer to our Billy Joel quiz?


News from the Sax School Members Facebook Group

Beverley has passed an Open University introduction to music theory course after learning with Sax School for just a month, having never learned to read music before. Fantastic achievement Beverley!

Richard posted a video of his beginner jazz band playing “Blue Bossa” at a school fair. Richard had picked up lots of tips from the Sax School mini course on this tune. Great playing and they looked to be going down well with the crowd!


News from Sax School

Nigel has had a new carpet in his studio, and noticed the change in the acoustics in the room when it was completely empty with no soft furnishings – the sound bounced off the walls and sounded terrible! Good reminder about the importance of choosing where you practice carefully. For more on this topic, watch last week’s Sax School Live (#9) on the blog.

Nigel has also been recording lessons for a new Performance Pack for the Sax School Member’s Area, on “I Got Rhythm” – so look out for that this week!

Jazz Performance Packs are a great resource for learning jazz standards. Included in the pack are lessons on tenor and alto on the melody, lessons on the harmony, and then practical tips on creating great solos over these tunes. There are backing tracks too, so you have everything you need to really get to grips with these essential tunes.


Why Learn Jazz Standards?

Jazz standards are classic jazz tunes that all musicians will know. They are like a common language, particularly amongst sax players. So it’s important to know a few of these at least. By learning different standards in different styles you will develop your stylistic playing, and you’ll understand the difference between a swing tune such as “Basin Street Blues”, and a more funky tune such as “Maiden Voyage”. This will really help your development as a player, even if jazz is not really your thing.

Jazz standards are really nice melodies to learn, and they’re also a great gateway to improvising. You will learn all the basic chord structures that are used in music and this will help to structure your improvising learning.


Here is Nigel’s list of his top twenty jazz standards.


Your Questions:


Learning To Breathe

Why do I run out of breath when I’m playing?

This is a common problem particularly when you start out playing. Try to approach it strategically.

When you start to learn a new tune, try to see where the musical phrases begin and end. Mark this on the music (sometimes this is shown as a tick or a comma) and breathe at this point, just as you would at the end of a sentence when you are speaking.

It’s important when you are playing that you think about breathing really deeply. Think about pulling the air round down to the bottom of your lungs, and then pushing it out from your diaphragm when you are playing. Sometimes you might feel you need to breathe out before you can breathe in, especially if you are playing something slow or quiet. So again, you need to plan this as you practice.

Think about your breathing when you are doing long tone exercises or scales, and soon it will become second nature.


Storing Your Sax

Should you keep your sax out on your stand or store it in the case?

It’s probably not a good idea to leave the sax on a stand if you have kids or a dog running around and the sax could get damaged. If you have space where your sax will be safe, then leave it on the stand where it’s handy. Either option won’t do the instrument any harm.


Mouthpiece Choices

Can you recommend a mouthpiece for rock music?

Nigel demonstrated the different sounds from a couple of his mouthpieces. First he played using his Theo Wanne Slant Sig Hard Rubber mouthpiece, size 8, which is quite an open mouthpiece. This is perfect for studio recording as it is versatile and this environment doesn’t need a lot of projection.

In contrast for a rock sound people often use a metal mouthpiece. Nigel demonstrated his Theo Wanne Durga 2 metal mouthpiece, which is much louder and more powerful, with a brighter sound. It has a baffle (a little ledge) inside the mouthpiece.

Nigel played both mouthpieces to show the difference in the sound quality. The metal mouthpiece with a baffle would generally be a good choice for rock to cut through the other instruments and get better projection.

We had some great suggestions for mouthpieces for rock in the comments too.


Nigel’s saxophones

We’ve had a lot of questions about Nigel’s saxophones so here’s a run-down:

Tenor: Dave Guardara – no longer available, bought in the early 1990s.

Alto: Yamaha YAS 62 Classic Purple Logo. This was also bought around 30 years ago but Yamaha have recently reissued this model.

Soprano: Yamaha Custom Z with a one-piece body.

Baritone – Selmer Mark VI.

Challenge for this week: Learn a Jazz Standard!

Check out the Performance Packs in Sax School. Get your 30 day free trial here:


Downloads for this session:

Get your free download : 20 Jazz Standards Every Sax Player Should Know

Nigel McGill

After 25 years touring, performing all over the world, I setup Sax School to share what I have learned. Today thousands of players in more than 70 countries use the huge library of online saxophone lessons in Sax School. Find out how it can help you too!

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