Pete Thomas: Saxophone, Composition, Music Production.

Saxophone For Absolute Beginners

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Extract from DVD: First Notes

Lesson 1 – “Oh No, Not Boring Scales!”

Yes, but to begin with scales are there to learn the set of notes that go to make up a tune. If you learn a tune (and even more important if you want to learn to improvise) without knowing scales you could end up with some vast gaps in your knowledge. In the first lesson I have gone beyond what you might learn in school or from a tutor: I have added some numbers underneath the scales and arpeggios. Obviously you need to learn the names of the notes, but I suggest that you learn the numbers too, even at this early stage. It is not necessary for grade exams, but will come in very handy if you want to do any jazz or rock improvisation.

Doesn’t that make it more complicated?

Yes, but it will be worth it. You will be learning something about harmony right from the start, and this will give you a feel for how the notes relate to each other instead of just learning scales and tunes “parrot fashion”. Trust me, this will help make that giant step into improvising just a bit smaller.

I am starting with G major, although not as straightforward as C because there is a sharp in the scale, the range of notes does not involve the higher or lower extremes so is easier for beginners. You must play these at an even tempo, don’t slow down for the hard bits and speed up for the easy bits.

To begin with you should alternate between thinking the names of the notes as you play them and thinking the numbers of the notes. And when you hit that last note, hold it for as long as you can while still sustaining as even a tone as possible (so take a good big breath at the beginning).

G major scale

The good thing about the numbering system is that it is always based around the “root note”. This means that when you learn other keys, you will start on a different root note, but the number of the root note is always “1” and you will learn the relationships between all the notes. In this case you will soon think of B as the 3rd note of G major. As you apply this method to another scale, e.g. the scale of C, you will soon learn that E is the 3rd note of C, F is the 4th note, and so on.

You will notice that the arpeggio is the same but with some steps left out. This is the simplest type of arpeggio and is called a triad because there are only three different notes in it. If the notes were all sounded together on an instrument capable of playing more than one note at a time this would be called a chord of G major. To differentiate from a more complex type of G major chord with more than three notes, (more on that later) it would be usually be called a G triad.

G major arpeggio

I have tried not to either duplicate or contradict any of the standard grade 1 techniques, exercises and repertoire. In fact I have never been involved in the formal side of beginners saxophone tuition and have only ever taught beginners in private lessons. If you are studying formerly it would be a good idea to discuss with your tutor what I have on offer here in case there is any conflict with his/her teaching approach, or any specific syllabus you may be working towards.

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