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Saxophone Lessons Learned
From your Head to the Bell

Used by permission from :: Written by Greg Vail

Knowing how to play Sax is only the beginning of getting better. Once you know what to do, you have to actually do it.

When I was at Long Beach State, studying with Leo Potts, a funny thing happened after a year or so of lessons.

I knew what I was supposed to do and was thinking the right stuff at the right time while playing, but Leo would say I needed to do the very thing I was convinced I had just done.

Since I was a bit pushy, I would argue with him that I WAS DOING IT RIGHT. He would say, “You are sharp on the upper register. You need to blow thru the tube,” and I would say, "I just did it right!"

Leo made me start bringing a tape recorder into lessons and I was shocked. He was right. I was sharp on top and not blowing thru the tube.

I think we both learned the difference between knowing what to do and then doing it. Leo started to realize I thought I was doing it right but was not. Thinking and doing are two different things.

Just because you are thinking good 'Sax Playing' does not mean it is coming out your bell. It took hearing it for myself to realize I was not doing what was in my head yet.

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I began recording myself all the time and learned a valuable lesson.

It is not your teacher’s talent that rubs off on you to make you good. Your teacher could be Michael Brecker and you could still suck. What makes you better is the ability to steal the good stuff from that teacher and make it your own.

The process includes learning what to do, developing your ears and brain for the understanding. But, it also involves teaching yourself how to do it and owning the principals. Learning is teaching yourself with the information you can gather on a topic.

A teacher can only make information available and give examples of technique. A student must internalize the information, develop the ears and understand this stuff, and then teach it to themselves. A tape recorder is a wonderful tool for this because it is a rude and honest representation of what you are doing without the confusion or complication of being the guy doing it.

Leo also taught me to appreciate the mirror. I did have fingers flying all over the place and a mirror can not lie.

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I learned how to be around great information and then learned techniques on how to actually DO what I saw, heard and liked.

Teaching is the easy part. It is the student’s job to learn and own the information for real progress. As I teach, I see it all the more clearly. I can show up and say the same thing week after week but it makes no difference in the students abilities until they make it there own. My sax ability is of no use to them unless the can steal from me and own the improvements.

Thinking the right things at the right times is only the beginning. It takes a thorough personal check and re-check to make sure the information you are paying for is actually sounding out your bell.

Thanks to Leo Potts for taking the time with me to discover where the problem was. It was not in the information but the application.

You’re a good man Leo Potts!

(c) Copyright 2004 Greg Vail Music

Greg Vail is an active recording and performing Saxophonist in the Jazz and Gospel Music genres, out spoken writer and webmaster providing help and support to the Saxophone Community.

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UPDATE :: July 30, 2005

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