Sax School Live #5 2nd July 2018

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This week we talk about palm keys, reeds and answer loads of your questions!

We have a new Jazz Performance Pack, on Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” in our member’s area. In this pack, you will learn the melody on alto or tenor sax, as well as learning about the harmony of the tune, the theory behind the chord progression, and tactics on how to make your own great sounding solos over it. Plus you get a backing track and worksheets!

Over on our YouTube channel we’ve put out a great new lesson this week about creating memorable melodies, with TV composer Jamie Forsyth. Check it out here:

Plus – did you know the answer to our “Taxi Driver” quiz?


Palm Keys – what are they and do they work?

Nigel doesn’t use palm keys but explained why you might want to try them.Palm keys are small rubber devices which slide onto your palm keys to make the keys stand out a little further. If you are playing a vintage horn you may find the palm keys are very flat in comparison with modern instruments. Palm key risers can be useful to make the keys fit into your palm more comfortably. They can also be useful if you have big hands. They are inexpensive so worth trying if you are finding your palm keys difficult or uncomfortable to use.


Octave Keys – is there an easy fix?

If you are struggling to switch between notes with and without the octave key this may help you. Nigel suggested a couple things to try if you finding it hard to get down to the lower octave.

  • Open up your throat cavity as if you are singing or yawning
  • Look at how much mouthpiece you are using – too much or little will make it difficult. Try to hit the spot where the reed comes away from the mouthpiece.


Growling on a Low C or D

There are lots of lessons in Sax School on this! Nigel suggested that to begin with, try it on a middle D with the octave key on. There are two techniques to get a growl which Nigel demonstrated.

  • Try rolling your tongue (making a purring sound with your tongue) – first try without making a sound, then increase the air through the mouthpiece to make the growl. You need to open your throat and relaxing your embouchure.
  • In Ska and rock’n’roll, it’s more of a singing technique, making an open, uncontrolled “aaah” into the mouthpiece whilst playing. It’s harder at the bottom of your range, and can be easier on a tenor because the mouthpiece is bigger.

Try both techniques and see what works for you!


Natural Rhythm – How do you get it if you don’t have it?

Nigel explained that everyone can improve their rhythm even if it doesn’t come naturally, just like other skills such as tone. There’s a rhythm skills mini course within Sax School, and our Horn Section Workout course, which might be available later in the year, is all about rhythm.

  • Make rhythm a part of every time you play.
  • Use a metronome every time you practice – even scales and long tones.
  • When you listen to the radio, tap your foot to the beat!
  • Think about the rhythm when you walk or run!
  • Learn the rhythm as part of learning a melody, not as an add-on afterwards. This way it will become more natural to you.


Reeds – How do I know which reed size is best for me?

Nigel explained that if you find that you don’t need to blow very hard to get a sound, or that the sound is “thin” rather than warm and round, or you have to be careful not to squeeze the reed too hard, it probably means the strength is too low for you. This might happen when you start out on a 1.5 or even and 2. Try going up half a reed strength.

But then you will need to spend some time on the new reed, getting a nice warm sound. Be careful that you aren’t getting a tired mouth or a sore lip or making bite marks in your mouthpiece.

Changing brand can mean changing reed strength too.


Can heat affect reeds?

Reeds are made of cane – it’s a porous, natural material. They can really dry out and warp in hot weather. Nigel recommends a tool such as a Reed Geek to adjust the reed to make sure the back of the reed is really flat.

Keep you reeds in a reed safe or a zip lock bag with a damp sponge, or use a Reed Juvinate to stop the reed drying out.



Tom Scott:


Challenge for this week:

Find an idea from a piece (just a couple of bars) and turn it into a practice exercise – try playing it in different keys and at different speeds.

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