the jazz authority; random dubiously zappy rants about 'the musicians music'.: June 2005

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sax Made Simple

Below is a lengthy post of great advice for sax players at any stage...


The saxophone (or any other instrument for that matter) doesn't need to be a freaky thing. If one steps back and looks at what they need to know right now, one can set simple goals that won't be too big. For example, a beginner would do well to get down to business with their scales and arpeggios in all keys. That way later on they will be able to nail lines in advanced scores or effortlessly float through crazy changes using their seemingly natural feel for strange keys.

What I'm going to do is break it down into categories for you. This stuff will for the most part apply to other instruments as well, but there are some sax specifics that I'll give to you here. Below we have BEGINNER BASICS, INTERMEDIATE BASICS, and ADVANCED BASICS. Seriously, this stuff is too good to just skim over. Of course, if you don't care if you become a great player, you don't need to know this. For those cats, I suggest that you keep your noodling confined to your basements in order to save us all the unnecessary grief. Everyone on!!!

What do you like about a particular sax player? Most often we forget that their 'sound' is made up of different aspects: tone quality, melodic lyricism, emotive quality (urgently frantic or sedately mellow), and the band that backs them. One needs to consider all of these things in their quest to be a good player.

There's no way around practicing to improve your tone quality. Nobody will hear your wickedly intense patterns/riffs/licks if you sound like a sick goose. Make sure that you practice through the entire range of your instrument, including the bell tones and palm keys. Extend scale exercises up and down as far as you can go.

A good improviser is 1% talent and 99% hard work. This is a fact, as opposed to the myth that someone may be blessed with good talent. One may be more inclined at the outset to play comfortably, but in the long run tenacity and straight-out unmitigated hard work is the key to becoming a killer player.

As long as your gear works (horn, mouthpiece, reeds), then you should only give it secondary consideration in your quest to get better at your craft. Many try to buy their way into becoming a better player, through a fancy horn or expensive reeds. Others are afraid that a student horn will hold them back and that they need a pro horn at the outset in order to sound good. Well, this is partly true, but as I've already stated, a good musician is created through hard work – not fancy gear. Make sure your sax has no leaky pads( with the use of a leak light), and that you have a reasonable setup (refering to you mouthpiece an reed).

There are many good mouthpieces for all kinds of different sounds on the market. If you want a standard jazz mouthpiece that's versatile, go with the mouthpieces suggested here. Alto players will do well with a Selmer C* and a #2 ½ to #3
½ strength reed. Also Meyers are great mouthpieces that have edge but aren't too bright. Highly recommended for alto players. Stick with the above reed strength and use a 4M, 5M, or 6M facing. Tenor players should can go with hard rubber or metal. Avoid giant baffles – they make your sound buzzy and shrill and you'll lose body and depth of tone. Otto Links are great mouthpieces, if you can find one that's well made. Try a few and compare them to each other, as they are sadly inconsistent in quality. A tip opening from 6* to 7* is appropriate for jazz and classical, with lower volumes more easily achieved with the 6* (it has a smaller tip opening). Meyers are o.k. for tenor too, but go with an equally wide tip opening. Match this with a 2 ½ to 3 ½ strength reed.

There you have it. Solid tips to help you become a solid player.

Your at the point where you've recently started improvising and you want to take this a little more seriously. Here's where it's at: the next level is for serious cats only. There's no point in wasting your time unless you expect to be able to commit to at least two hours of blowing time daily. This is the stage where you pay your dues.
I once heard it broken down like this: you gotta shed like crazy, getting all the patterns licks, and riffs, under your fingers that you can, learning tons of harmony theory, and then after a few years, forget it all and just let it flow naturally. You say “aw, I want to be a fluid, organic kind of player. I don't need to learn all of those patterns and that theory stuff.” Well, the point here is that it shouldn't sound like you are playing out of a text book, but you need to be able to call on that knowledge in a split second without thinking about it when the moment is right. You can tailor your studies to best suit the sound you want. I like minor keys personally, so over the years I've focused a lot on melodic minor scale patterns, modes, and transcriptions of solos over tunes in minor keys. Whatever your goal is you can achieve it if you practice efficiently, and put some solid effort into your studies.

What you should be practicing is transcribing, memorizing tunes and applying riffs and patterns directly to specific changes in specific songs, and tonal exercises like long tones with dynamics and overtone exercises. I won't get into a long drawn out music lesson right here and now. My aim in writing this is to just point players in the right direction so that they don't waste countless hours in their basement learning the wrong things.

Jam lots. Nothing replaces real people jamming out and learning the dynamics of a solid jazz band. Go to local jam sessions and let yourself get schooled – if you aren't humble enough for that you can just stay in your basement with your Aebersold play-alongs and keep on doing your own thing. You'll get there one day, and the sooner, the better.

Use your practice time wisely, and expect to spend long hours memorizing things in all keys over the entire range of your horn, with variations when wanted/needed. At one point in my teens I copped a riff that was so great I had to learn it inside out. It was inside enough that it didn't sound to distinctive (preventing me from using it often), and it was fluid enough that I could cannibalize it and insert bits in my lines when it felt right. I spent almost a year focusing my allotted 'patterns and riffs' time in my practice to this riff alone, and after that span of time I could tear things up like never before. Of course, In high school I could afford to practice for three or four hours a day, and I wisely broke my practices down into mini-sessions that had slots for specific subjects. This isn't over the top gang – it's the best way to make use of the time we have for enjoying our instrument.

Obviously at this stage you should have a pro horn and a private teacher. If you don't you're making it that much harder on yourself. Buy cheap reeds & refrain from blowing your paycheck on that fancy metal mouthpiece, because you need to get a jazz player to give you some solid direction. They will be able to help you find the right gear.


It's all about opinion now. What I say may not be what another is into, so I'll keep this part brief.

You may or may not be practicing a lot. If you're gigging frequently and know a lot of charts, payed your dues and are settling into a groove, then you probably don't want to kill yourself with overplaying. Of course I'm of the obsessive and compulsive variety, so I never really want to put it down for long, but you get the idea.

Be a nice person. None of the pros that I know are jerks, and the ones that I've heard are/were temperamental were world famous, and so good that they got repeat gigs even if they showed up late in their underwear stoned and spat on the event organizer. As a sideman your style is second to your reliability. If you try to pull that stuff, bands and clubs will look to the next guy for future gigs.

Aside from that, one should have their own direction. I could get into advanced improvisation stuff, but instead I'll save that for another time.

Stay cool gang. If you have something to add go ahead and post it. If you disagree, you can direct your complaints to 'the office of fancypants whiners'. Seriously, I like a good debate/discussion, so go ahead and tell us how it is according to you.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Injuries & Pain

Q. How can you tell if the stage is level?
A. The drummer drools out of both sides of his mouth.

Injuries & pain when playing

It happens to a lot of us. Sometimes there's a dull pain in the start, gradually progressing to a sort of pain that makes you want to shoot yourself. The worst part about pain for a musician is that it can end a career very quickly. Yeah, so what if buddy there has a migraine – I can't play my instrument. For those who don't play, you may or may not be able to understand the gravity of this situation.

My personal experience was with tendinitis. I was busking for a living and sometimes played for ten hours a day. Over time, my hands started to get 'tingly', and in the mornings I'd awake to find my hands dead asleep. This led to nerve damage in only my left little finger. It could have been a lot worse.

You wont want to hear this, but I gotta tell you like it is – if you have symptoms like that you have to stop playing for at least half a year. That's no joke – you need to give your wists time to heal. I put my horn down for a little longer than that, and eventually got back in the game. I've known people who played through the pain self medicating, and now they can't play. Period.

Stretches will help this sort of pain. I learned early on that posture played a big part in how many injuries I get. Apparently if you play sax you should lean forward so your hands don't hold up the weight, but only stabilize the horn as it dangles. BUT – you should stand straight up with the sax resting on your body so that you don't ruin your back. Yes, that's confusing and I still go between the two (mostly I stand straight up). Never press the keys harder than you have to. The same goes for typing. If you're hammering against those keys imagine your hands doing twice the work they have to. Why?!? Obviously proper technique and posture are the keys to keeping the pain to a minimum. Muscle exercises help too.

Diet and supplementation can make a big difference. Sadly, deep fried foods, coffee, smoking, and other assorted indulgences can be very inflammatory. I won't suggest that you become a vegetarian, but you should be reasonable with your diet, only having treats once in a while. Green drinks are great for preventing inflammation. Mixed with your favorite juice, you can add a whole bunch of healthy nutrients to your diet. How'd we get on the diet topic? Well, this is a very big part of staying pain and injury free. Eventually if your pain gets bad enough and is diagnosed as an 'injury', you'll be told to take stuff like MSM, glucosamine, Vitamin C, Dolomite(Cal Mag), and other things like Ibuprofen. I've used all of that list in the past, and you might do well to look into them at your local health food store(except for the Ibuprofen). The bottom line is that you can stop it from getting worse if you take care of it instead of ignoring it.

So back to my tendonitis. The first time was from overplaying, smoking too much, and a bad combination of bad diet and bad 'substances'. The second time was after getting in shape and putting my life in order. I started gigging a lot (surprise! the clubs wanted to hire me at that point), and the pain and numbness came back. I saw a physiotherapist and they said that the numbness in my wrists was caused by inflammation brought on by pinched nerves in the back of my neck due to years of pressure on my vertebrae from my neckstrap. Go figure. I did wrist strengthening exercises and had electric muscle stimulators put on my neck once a week. It really did help, and when I added glucosamine an the occasional anti-inflammatory, the pain, swelling and weakness all but went away.

So if you're getting a nagging ache in your whatever, you should stop and take a look at the cause, how to correct it, and how to prevent it from happening again.

If you've had nasty pain, tell us all what happened to you.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Best & Worst Instrument Cases

I'm just going to spew forth a bunch of random thoughts on instrument cases here. I'm not in the mood to compose a smooth flowing essay on this subject. Bear with me as I let loose the waters of my 'dam' brain (I love puns, but it hurts to write so cheesily).

I'm a sax player, so I talk about saxes a lot, but most of this stuff applies to all instruments. Hard shell is better than gig case. Trust me – overall they are usually way more protective, and there are many other perks to them. If you want a gig case, get one that's got a shell, not the soft ones, unless you are so careful that your friends call you 'Mr. Fancy-Pants Coordination King'. Gig cases are very confining, so any little bumps will jostle your horn. That said, you don't want your sax bouncing around in your case – that'll really mess things up. With most cases I recommend placing dense foam padding in strategic places inside to secure the main body of your horn (I'm not referring to key clamps, which I don't recommend and is too far off topic to get into right now).

Forget about locking cases. If you buy one that locks, stash those keys where you'll forget them and never lock your case. I guarantee you that you'll lock that thing and lose the keys one day, and you'll regret it.

So, what are some good case companies? I'll start the list with SKB. Good prices, and good selection. PROTEC is another decent case company, but for sax I say SKB all the way. You may find a Reunion Blues case. They're great too. On and on it goes, with dozens of other case companies out there. Often the best fit will be a case from the manufacturer of your instrument.

Some companies seem to like to put furry lining in their cases, as opposed to the more logical felt or velvet type of lining. Vacuum your case occasionally if it has a hairy lining. In the long run you'll be glad you did.

Looking for extra storage? Why? Want to put all your eggs in one basket? This should really be a distantly low ranking priority in all but the strangest of circumstances. This is where I contradict myself by admitting that I bought a hard shell gig case with no extra pockets or space, but then bought a case cover with a huge pocket on the side. This is a great way to go. I have extra padding, it's securely snug, and can carry my music and stuff in the side pocket. The only downside is that it weighs a lot. I used to busk on the streets, and this case was great for that. It stores nicely in the corner of a small stage or tucked under a table too.

Well, I've lost steam, so that's all for now. If you have any questions or anything to add go get that taken care of. I hate nothing more than lazy freeloaders that surf like they're watching TV. C'mon, put a little effort into your life and give something back to those who are doing the majority of the work on this planet. Woah, O.K., that was a bit too harsh. I'll let you go now so you can call your therapist. Anyway I'm sure you get my drift.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

your role in the band

Ever think about how you fit in when your band is performing? Are you a horn player or a member of the rythm section? The reason I ask is because one can significantly modify & improve their bands sound by stretching the boundaries of each musicians role.
As a horn player, the biggest role is to create melodies. The saxes, trumpets and other wind instruments are there to be at the front of the band. There are exceptions to this, but for the most part it works this way.
As a drummer, bass player, pianist or guitar player, the role is to lay down the goove. Also, the piano and guitar provides harmonies to frame the melodic horns. There have been drummers that get into the role of leader, but again, they most often do so through simply playing more solos.
Now why haven't more bands switched up their instrumental roles? I've heard bass players double the melody, and horn players lay down the rythm at times, but what I am talking about is a total reversal of roles. The horns would outline harmonies and rythms, the drummer would lay down the eighth note melodies through the use of varied sounds on their kit, the bassists would play melodies and even harmonies, and the guitar or piano could go anywhere. Why not?
Check out Ray Brown on Tricotism. He doubles the melody on the head, and it gives the tune a neat sound. When busking solo, I used to play whole choruses on my sax as bass lines, or rythmic shots. This is just a starting point. As musicians we are bound by only our imaginations (I know, that's a cheezy cliche...). Let's mix things up with our roles in the band.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Busking for Big Bucks

When I was about 15 years old I started busking back in my home town. It was a tourist town, and in the summer I could make easy money playing my sax on the street corner. In some towns busking (or street performing) is strictly regulated, but no matter where one does it, they have to learn the basic buskers code of conduct.
Don't set up near some other cat and drown him out. He'll come back the next day and do it to you, and no one makes any cash with bad karma like this.
Slip a buck to the guy who's playing before you. If you're waiting for his spot, he'll notice, and the crowd notices when other people put cash in a hat/case. He'll do the same for you one day, guaranteed.
Be nice to the panhandlers. You don't need to, but on those late nights when there aren't many people around it's nice to know that you have friends on the street and not enemies.
There are more guidelines, but I won't get into it now. Thinking of busking? Learn the theme to the Pink Panther. That was my money song, and it'd make me big money so I played it all the time. I've come to hate it now, and the store keepers used to pay me to NOT play it. That crap gets old fast.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sheet Music

If you want sheet music, you'll have to ask for specific songs. You won't find many (if any) more random charts posted here, without someone requesting it. I've had many requests for more sheet music, but I need to know what you want in order to post it here, and I won't post copyrighted music.
It's easy to request: just ask in the quick comments spot at the left column of this page, or ask in the 'comments' link at the bottom of any post. You can look up my e-mail in my profile and ask that way too, if you have a list. I'll do my best to get them posted right away.
What I don't get is why so many ppl want tunes, but no one is asking for specific ones. Maybe it's because we all want what we want and we want it now, and nobody wants to put any effort into getting something if they can help it, even if it is free and hard to find.
On a brighter note, the jazz authority sites are doing very well. We're building a community of sax players and jazz fans and I'm proud to see this project taking off! See my other posts or the links area for the links to the jazz authority forums and sister blog.
Allright cats, time to give some serious feedback! No more quick and easy one click poll answers or scan-and-leave attitudes here! How does the saying go.... "communication goes both ways."

Cameron aka The Jazz Authority

By the way, upcoming topics include:
- best and worst cases for your instrument
- musicality vs. technical proficiency
- mouthpieces and you
- jazz history in 500 words or less
- injuries and pain when playing
- how to get paying gigs
- Wayne Shorter interview
- and much much more!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Our third (and final) forum!!!

Well, I think I've got the forum bug out of my system now. Wait, that didn't sound right - there's no problem/bug in the system - I had a bug in my system...not my computer, I mean metaphorically speaking "a bug in my system". The forums are fine - no bugs. (I'm sure you got it the first time but I'm prone to cheezy over-done humor).

Now one of these forums should take off, and when it does the others will be left to sit in limbo anattended for as long as the webhosts allow. I'm very pleased with this newest forum, and I hope to get some posts there soon.


Monday, June 13, 2005

A genre to call his own

Categories in Music

I've always been annoyed and confused by the need to categorize different kinds of music. I suppose that when one is talking about a certain artist and another is unfamiliar with them, it helps to put their music in context. I just think we've taken it to the point of absurdity.

When I'm talking with someone who is not familiar with jazz at all, and I tell them I play jazz, I have no idea what concept they have of that music. Usually I go into a description of the specific kind of jazz I play and explain the style and feel.

I guess my issue is with the opposite of this: trying to categorize musicians that don't fit the mold. When someone asks me what kind of jazz I like I don't beat around the bush – I tell them flat out what artists I'm listening to, what period of their lives I'm into, and even what records specifically.

To me the subcategories in music seem like a huge waste of time. We can just say who we dig. How's that for a specific category?

I'd like to know what everyone else thinks about this subject.

What's next for Jazz Authority...

Well, unless someone is looking for a specific chart, I think we'll hold off for now on the song posts. If you want it, you got it, but I ain't gonna push it on you.

Short term focus here is on scraping up some forum content, posting on subjects like improvisation theory, sax related stuff, and - show 'em mah motto - random dubously zappy rants about 'the musicians music'.

Stay in touch gang, because Jazz Authority is due for an influx of content!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

My revelation

Jazz is like politicians passing bills
and sausage making.
The less you know about
how it's done,
the better you sleep at night.
Take that Robert Frost!

Another Forum?!? What For?!?

Well, I couldn't resist. I want a good forum for us to get together, and I figure the best way to find a good free one is to create a few and pick the most popular one after a few months.

So here's our newest addition to the Jazz Authority empire (yes, I have delusions of grandeur) and it's provided for free by bravenet webhosting. This service doesn't come without a cost though - every time we come here now we get a pop-up. As much as I hate that, these are harmless pop-ups that can be easily closed. If it really bothers you, let me know. I WILL get rid of the services that are causing pop-ups if it means that you won't just give up on us.

So like I said, it's new forum, and the link to it can be found at the left under the 'archives' section. You'll need a code to post there and the code word is jazzauthority so go there and post your questions and/or answers.

Call me crazy, but there will be more on this forum subject...

Friday, June 10, 2005

New Forum for Jazz Authority!!!

Check out our new forum! Jazz Authority has a second blog now, where we can all interact in a forum setting too (and check out the chatroom).

Simply register for free (by creating your own blog) and post away! Unfortunately you can neither view or post on the threads if you're not a registered member. There will be many questions (and answers to them) posted there in the near future.

Thankfully, this new addition to the Jazz Authority community is completely and entirely pop-up and spam free.

Watch for a bigger & better Jazz Authority forum coming in the next few weeks!


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Flying Pop-Ups Of Fury !!!

I really dislike pop ups, and I apologize for the ones here that sometimes come up. I guess when you build a free blog with all kinds of free features, you get pop ups. Anyways, the only thing I can say is ignore them, close them, and don't let them get under your skin.
Dig these anti spam tools. They're free, and they work. If you don't already have 'em, get 'em.

Canadian Saxophonists

Well, I can't pretend to know all of the best canadian saxophonists, but I have met and heard a few, studied with a couple, and jammed with my fair share. It seems to me that for someone to make it to the "top", one needs to have a good attitude, in addition to being a phenomenal player. After many years of experience I can tell you that if you've got killer chops, but your attitude stinks and you're unreliabe, people won't want you in their band. On the other hand, if you're a nice guy and are dedicated to making good music, then you'll get there one day.
Improvisation is 99% effort and 1% talent. Seriously, there seems to be a lot of confusion about that. Talent shmalent; I've seen cats who suck during their first few years of playing, only to see them tears later kicking @$$ at a jam.
Anyways, here are some links to some canadian jazz cats websites. Sorry if I left any out - you can leave a comments post on this subject if you have someone in mind.
Keep your ear to the ground for Brodie West and Jane Bunnett among others!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Jazz Is Crazy

Jazz is crazy and I like it that way. The crazier the better. I say the best jazz musicians were and are crazy, and by crazy I mean creative genius. There's a fine line between the two, and sometimes being a genius and crazy goes hand in hand.

I don't know if you can relate, but sometimes when I'm playing for long periods of time I get into the zone. It's a place where I stop thinking about what I'm playing and instead I just try to keep up with the flow of ideas. This doesn't happen every time play, but when it does it's like a runners high, or good sex. This is why I think so many great jazz musicians did what they did and did it well. They knew what it was like to be on top of their game.

Years ago I came across the concept of consistency as it applies to improvising. This is where one is able to play equaly as fluid every time they perform. I wish this was true for myself. Didi you ever have one of those off nights where you just couldn't get your lines off the ground? Maybe it happens to all of us. People listen for that consistency and expect it, and when we let them down they lower their expectations and their opinion of our blowing. Scary thought, when one considers the scarcity of gigs or the fierceness of competition.

I never played for the ego boost. This I can honestly say. It's great when the crowd digs my playing, but that's not why I do it. The other side of the coin is that I love to perform. I guess I just enjoy sharing my creativity with others. I'm sure there's more to it though.

That brings me to the woodshedding. We practice for hours in our rooms alone, every day of the week, every month, every year. If we step away for a week, our technique and tone goes to hell, but maybe we'll find a new creative flow. This seems extreme to me, even though I'm the guy who sat in my basement playing scale patterns and transcribing blue note record solos for hours upon hours. If I hear a great solo, I want to own it. I want to get inside that cats head and blow it exactly like he did, then take a riff and learn it in all keys, with variations. This is something I used to do, and maybe one day I'll get back to it.

I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on woodshedding - why you do it, and what it is to you.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Quiz: What Kind Of Sax R U ?

Ever wonder what kind of saxophone you'd be if you came back in your next life as an inanimate object made of brass? Me too! Well, now you can know, by taking my way-too-cool quiz. Try it over and over and watch the hilarity ensue. Hooray.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Altissimo... unecessarily high notes

I've been asked by a few people to post some thoughts regarding the altissimo range. Whether we dream of popping out nasty squealing lines like that cat who plays with the Saturday Night Live band, or we want to tear it up in the upper stratosphere, we have to do the work to get there. Here are some of my suggestions and insights about this coveted ability.

The altissimo is the uppermost reaches of your horn – the upper range that is always moving higher. This is one end of the spectrum, and it only makes sense that in order to do it right, we should have a balance... meaning we should work on our low register too. Overtones, tone matching, scales & patterns, and long tones with dynamics all help to improve the upper resister through embouchure control and flexibility. Overtone/tone matching is a great technique for improving your ability to really use your embouchure for zeroing in on notes, and that's what altissimo is all about.

Always work on your altissimo at the end of your practice. If you do it at the start you'll tire out your embouchure before you have the chance to get in a solid practice. Same goes for long tones and the like. If you're unable to do the work because you're mouth just can't cut it, put your horn away and come back to it later. Never push through a weakened embouchure because you'll develop bad habits like biting your bottom lip. Only go until you feel that inevitable burn in your lips... this shouldn't happen until 2 or 3 hours into practice (if you're burning out in less than an hour, you need to practice more often).

You will probably want to show off your new altissimo abilities when you start to get some things worked out, but I strongly recommend that you use this register discreetly and sparingly. Keep it in context; learn your riffs and patterns up there. It really helps to work out the chromatic scale up there too.

A great lick on this subject involves matching the upper palm key D, Eb, and E notes with the upper register (just below these palm key notes, that is) G, G#, and A, respectively. You do this by blowing a high D, and then without articulating you change your fingering to G (with the octave key) while still playing the D note. You should be able to do the same on Eb and E. Joe Henderson used this technique at times and the effect was great. Trane did something along these lines too.

The 'front F'. Even if your horn has a high F# key you should still learn the front F fingering, and an alternate fingering for F#. There are many fingerings for each altissimo note, and a great chart on this is found in the book 'The Art Of Saxophone Playing' by Larry Teal. I use more than one fingering for some notes because I get a different effect with each one. Some are sharper, pop out more, sit better in fast lines, hold their tone easier, and come out nastier than the others.

I'd say the basic range is up to A, then when you have that down work out the fingerings up to C, then go as high as you can (F above high F is reasonable and should be readily possible). Each of these mini-goals should take you a number of months to get under your fingers. Try working at a note a week, working your way up to get the next one to come out without a struggle. You know – slide into it chromatically. Also try playing the note an octave below to get the sound in your head first.

A great trick is to curve up the middle of you tongue so that you get more of a jet of air. You can also voice a strained 'hum' in the back of your throat and this might help you to get the notes to come out, but I don't recommend this until you first get the notes under your fingers and it then becomes more of a matter of consistency. Play around with this and see what you can get.

Got all that?!? Great. Now it's time to look at your set up.

I play mostly Tenor sax, so keep that in mind while I talk about mouthpieces and reeds. The Alto is a whole other ball game. Over the years I've found that a harder reed ( 3 to 3 ½ strength ) will get the notes out easier, and a mouthpiece with a smaller tip opening ( Otto Link 5*, 6, 6* ) will lend itself more readily to the higher notes. I have a couple of mouthpieces and set-ups, but I really like my Otto Link 7* with a #2 ½ or 3 Rico reed. I can still get those high notes to come out fine, but that's because I've used this set-up for many years and really worked on it. With an open mouthpiece and softer reed it's easy to sound strained and pinched off in the upper register. Those exercises I mentioned earlier were great for helping me to get these notes to ring out and speak almost effortlessly. I once stumbled across a vintage Selmer D long shank hard rubber mouthpiece, and bought it for $30.00. I got it home and found it too closed, so I put it away for a few months. Upon further research I discovered that this could be a great mouthpiece, so I gave it another shot with a very hard reed ( Rico 3 ½ to 4, or Vandoren 3 to 3 1/3 ). The sound was great! See, this mouthpiece has a very long lay – this is the length of the curve on the facing from the tip to roughly the mid-vamp of the reed - which mad it more resistant and 'finicky'. I had a hell of a time trying to control it at first, especially in the low register, but once I got it figured out I had a blast with the thing. Those high register notes just sing with that mouthpiece. Alas, I hardly play often enough these days to be able to control it properly, so I just honk away with my good old Otto Link.

Well, there you go. I hope you find this information useful. It took me years to figure all this stuff out, and I wish I had someone around to tell it to me when I was getting it under my fingers.

If you have any questions or suggestions, post it in the comments area at the bottom of this article and I'll post back. Good luck!