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Saxophone Lessons Learned

Playing Saxophone with Singers

When playing with singers, the most important rule is you must stay out of their way. You can't solo while they are singing! You must compliment what they are doing and enhance the musical end product.

I personally like to see their mouth when playing live, so I can end the phrase when they start singing again and start a fill just as they are ending there line. This is called overlapping or to dovetail fills with vocals.

If you are playing Sax while they sing, you must stay out of their way by playing a more simple line and at a lesser volume. I play at least half as loud on lines while the singer is singing.

Doubling a Bass or Guitar part is always fine since that rhythm and line is already in the mix.

Just make them sound good! A singer will really like working with you if they feel like you make them sound better. If you set the goal to be about them and not you, they will want you around all the time. If your goal is to show off the latest licks you lifted off a Brecker CD, you will have even more time to practice at home because this gig will go on without you.

Just standing there makes a lot of guys feel real lame but sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out all together. I had a leader once tell me that I was the best Sax Player he ever used because I could lay out once in a while. If the track is busy and the singer is filling along with background vocals and an overly excited Guitar Player; just stand there until space needs to be filled. There is a point that a color added to everything starts to be invisible. Leave some space so your lines and fills have more significance every now and then. An example might be laying out on the verses and playing fills on the chorus.

As far as scales, I use my ears more than my brain. I know my scales, can read music and like seeing a chart to get a feel for a song or arrangement.

Ideas come from the song parts, melody and singers interpretation. The old classic is still 'call and response'; when you take what the singer just sang and play it back, modified to be appropriate to the fill space while obviously quoting from very recent history.

When playing Pop with a singer, a more simple harmonic structure will sound better. I would say stick to the changes and use blues scales for flavor but not the base for all of your lines.

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To practice this stuff, just put on the radio and blow. If there are background parts and lead vocals all over the place then there is not a need for you to add anything. Your job is to fill the holes and improve the overall.

Teachers can only teach what they know and understand. Too many sax players live in a world that stopped expanding 20/30/50 years ago. Listen to sax players that can play all styles and all eras. Kirk Whalum, Eric Marienthal are 2 guys that do it all.

Get a few favorite pop sax players and begin stealing everything you can from them. Grover, Boney James, David Sanborn, Everett Harp, Warren Hill, Dave Koz, even Kenny G; all have something they do well and you can steal from them to put together the mix that you like best. If you have 1 sax idol, you will sound like him which sucks. If you have 3 or more and keep changing from time to time, you are an original.

EXAMPLES - 1 Audio Track and Article explaining by example how to work with Singers.


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