How to Practice the Giant Steps Cycle: Video Tutorial and Supplementary Material

My preoccupation with John Coltrane's tune "Giant Steps" now ebbs, now flows, but always continues. I'm not the most fabulous alto sax man who has ever played the changes, certainly not in the league of Kenny Garrett, but I have my own approach, which I strive to make less digital and more lyrical. I've even had the temerity to write a book of licks and patterns on "Giant Steps" titled The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, available for instruments of every key. In the following video tutorial, I share a couple approaches to practicing the Giant Steps cycle that I have found profitable in my own practice sessions. The video begins with a bit of theory; however, the theory behind "Giant Steps" is more than adequately covered elsewhere in greater depth, as in this excellent article by Dan Adler, and it isn't the thrust of the tutorial. Rather, I address a more pragmatic concern: How do you wrap your fingers around the Giant Steps cycle? The tips I share in the tutorial certainly aren't the only way you can or should tackle the cycle, but I think you'll find them helpful. Briefly, I explain how to run both a one-bar pattern and a more extensive two-bar lick through the cycle. The two patterns used in the video were taken from The Giant Steps Scratch Pad. For your convenience, I'm supplying them for you here. Note that these excerpts are from the Eb edition, suitable for alto and baritone saxophonists; if you play a C, Bb, or bass clef instrument, you'll need to transpose (though editions of my book are available in your key). Click on the images to enlarge them. One-bar pattern: 002     One-bar pattern through the cycle: 003     Two-bar lick: 004     Two-bar lick through all three keys of the cycle: GS 1-Bar Pattern       And now, here is the video. It's obviously a homespun effort, so please bear with its flaws. I haven't figured out how to read from my PowerPoint notes and still look directly at the camera, and as for that stupid deer fly that lands on my forehead while I'm signing off and roams around like an astronaut exploring the lunar surface, I wasn't aware of it till I got home and viewed the clip. You think I'm going to do a redo just for that? It's part of filming outdoors: mosquitoes setting up drilling operations on my nice, pink flesh, deer flies exploring my noggin—I deal with it and you can too. Go ahead and chuckle. But if you're a jazz improviser who's tackling "Giant Steps," then I think you'll nevertheless find this tutorial worth your while.  

Rob Dale on Free Learning Resources for the Prerequisites of Meteorology

I owe the following content to meteorologist and Ingham County, Michigan, emergency manager Rob Dale. With his permission, I'm duplicating it here from Rob's Facebook post, as I think some of my weatherhead readers may find it relevant and useful. That has been my experience; thanks to Rob, I've actually begun to look into tackling high school algebra--a subject I did horribly at back in my teen years--with an eye on laying the groundwork for calculus, and thence, meteorology. One is never too old to learn, right? Perhaps the free resources Rob has listed below will inspire you too to expand your learning horizons. In any case, the legwork Rob has done is too valuable to be buried beneath the Facebook landslide. Here's Rob. -------------------------- Let's say you're interested in REALLY learning about meteorology? You have NO idea how many resources are available today compared to just 5-10 years ago! You can take most of the core courses that currently cost thousands of dollars at a university for free at your own pace... For example, a met degree requires Calculus, Physics, and Chemisty off the top. Once you have that background, you can start reading intermediate (and maybe advanced) textbooks and actually learn how to forecast. You still won't be a full fledged met, but I guarantee you will make better forecasts than now and you will feel better knowing your knowledge is the reason why. You can find them elsewhere, but many of these from MIT have full video lectures which makes the process easier. 18.01, 18.02, 18.03 8.01, 8.02 5.04, 5.60 Now you've got the basics! You can get meteorology books, will understand what you're reading, and actually start to make sense of the "why" behind the process. Some of those books can be expensive, but buy one at a time and you'll be able to sell them for about 80% of what you paid (if not more.) Does this sound hard? Yup. Necessary if you want to really know meteorology? Yup. Impossible? Nope. Just think how much time you are wasting drawing lines on Microsoft Paint and how those hours could actually help you learn! If you really wanted to be a guitar player would you be better off spending time on Guitar Hero or learning chords on a real guitar? One of them is fun in the short term but offers no advantage towards your goal. Same story here. So there you go. If this is REALLY your passion, make it something valuable. If you end up going to college, think of how much easier those classes will be since you've already invested ahead of time! If you don't go to school, imagine how much more interactive your conversations can be with meteorologists and how much of a service your posts will be to followers. -------------------------- Now, if you, like me, totally sucked at any form of math back in your high school daze (daze being a fully appropriate word for a child of the 1970s), Rob has also provided a link to KhanAcademy, which provides a blizzard of tutorials on the prerequisites for college-level courses. And yes, they too are free, free, free. Considering the education you can get online today without paying a dime, the only thing that can cost a person is to remain ignorant. Learn at your own pace for your own enrichment and satisfaction. What's to stop you? Hey, Rob--thanks! You rock, Pilgrim.  

Video Tutorial #3: Circular Breathing

Circular breathing has something of a sensationalist aura about it, but its mystique exceeds its mystery. There's no secret to acquiring the skill other than to learn how it's done and then work at it till you own it. And it's worth the effort, because circular breathing is a useful tool to have. When you find yourself playing an extended passage and need to come up for air, circular breathing will let you replenish your lungs without having to break up the flow of music. This video tutorial piggybacks on a post I wrote a couple years ago on how to circular breathe. I highly recommend that in addition to watching this video, you read that post as well. Either may provide that flash of insight that you might not get with the other. By the way, contrary to what all my fidgeting may lead you to believe, I do not suffer from Tourette's syndrome. I shot the video at a nearby park in the evening, and mosquitoes as big as fruit bats kept trying to establish fracking operations on my skin. Between swatting constantly at the little blighters and puffing my cheeks out like a blowfish and then thrusting my face into the camera, I will probably not secure my reputation as a suave, cool kinda dude. But that's okay as long as this video achieves my goal of helping you to learn circular breathing. If you find the tutorial helpful, drop me a note and let me know. It helps to know that my efforts are making a difference, and supportive comments are like bars of gold in my emotional Fort Knox.

How to Flutter Tongue on the Saxophone

Most days back when I was in elementary school, my friend Pete Rogers brought his submachine gun to school. It was a formidable weapon that Pete employed with withering effectiveness during the war games we boys played at recess, and it possessed the added advantage of instant disassembly into just two components which bore a striking resemblance to Pete's right and left hands.

As the enemy approached us on the battlefield, Pete would make pistols out of both hands, jam the barrel of one pistol into the other hand behind the base of the thumb, and presto! Instant Tommy gun. "D-D-D-D-D-D-D-DOOOWWWWWW!" Pete would yell, doing a convincing imitation of a kid simulating automatic weapon fire. "D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-DOOOOOWWWWWWWW!!!" And into the fray he'd charge, he and his handufactured submachine gun. Pete was impressive.

I envied him. Like the rest of the boys, I had to consign myself to plain old bolt-action--until one day, I figured out Pete's secret for making his machine gun sound. The sound, after all, was the thing. There's no point in having a machine gun if you can't fire it. I discovered how.

By placing the tip of my tongue lightly but firmly against the roof of my mouth--not directly behind my teeth, but more toward the center of my palate--and then directing a steady stream of air against it, I could get my tongue to flutter, generating a rattling t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t sound. Mimicking Pete's machine gun was then just a matter of adding my vocal chords to the mix.

Now that I was onto Pete's secret, naturally I customized it to fit my taste. Pete's sound was loud. I opted for a subtler approach--a Tommy gun with a silencer, if you will. A stealth machine gun. By fluttering my tongue right up against the top of my clenched teeth, and by not using my voice, I managed to produce the coolest, most convincingest machine gun fire you ever heard. It outclassed Pete's prototype hands down. From then on, my lunch hours were littered with the bodies of scores of enemy soldiers who fell under the subtle but deadly chatter of my .50 caliber finger.

Years later in high school, long after my boyhood war games had ended, I discovered another use for my machine gun sound. By employing it while playing my saxophone, I was able to produce a wild, burry kind of effect. I didn't realize that what I was doing had an actual name--flutter tonguing--or that R&B saxophonists such as Junior Walker incorporated it as part of their trademark sound. I thought of it as simply an interesting but useless curiosity.

Of course I was wrong. Flutter tonguing can be eminently useful depending on the kind of sound you're after. I don't use the technique often, but I can and do pull it out of my pocket occasionally, and so can you whenever you wish. Flutter tonguing is not hard to learn.

Here's How to Flutter Tongue on the Saxophone

Actually, if you were paying attention, you already know how to flutter tongue. Re-read the fourth paragraph. It describes the basics. Give it a try. No saxophone--just make the machine gun sound (leaving out the vocal part). You want to use my buddy Pete's approach, not my refinements. Your tongue needs to touch closer to the center of your palate rather than directly behind your teeth.

Once you're able to produce the rolling, machine-gun-like effect I'm talking about, try it with your horn. Bear two things in in mind:

• You'll probably need to take in less mouthpiece than you normally would.

• You should not let your tongue touch the reed. Flutter-tonguing isn't really tonguing in the usual sense; it is not a form of articulation such as single-tonguing or double-tonguing. Rather, your tongue flutters rapidly against the roof of your mouth as you blow into the mouthpiece. If your tongue actually touches the reed, it will choke off the sound.

Flutter tonguing is easiest to use in the middle register of your horn. With practice, you can work your way higher. And with practice, you can also play reasonably in tune. I say this because flutter tonguing can flatten your pitch if you're not careful. So while the basic effect isn't particularly difficult to produce, getting it to a point of usefulness may take a bit of work. Overall, though, flutter tonguing is in my experience one of the more easily acquired effects. Compared to mastering double-tonguing or the altissimo register, it's a cinch.

I may create a video clip of my own to demonstrate the flutter tonguing technique. Meanwhile, this one by Phil Baldino does a great job of letting you see and hear how it's done.

Video Tutorial #2: The Tritone Scale

A while back, I wrote a post on the tritone scale. For my second video tutorial, I thought I'd supplement that article with a brief audio-visual clip. Supplement is the operative word. Besides describing the theory of the tritone scale in somewhat greater detail and probably a bit more lucidly than the video, the writeup provides written examples for you to work with. But the video helps you hear the sound of the tritone scale, and in so doing, allows you to come at the scale from every angle. People's learning styles differ, so maybe this tutorial will be more your cup of tea. Regardless, if you haven't read my written article, make sure to do so after you've watched the clip. On a side note, the video was shot out at the Maher Audubon Sanctuary in rural southeastern Kent County, Michigan. I'm discovering a fondness for producing these tutorials in outdoor settings when I can. With winter closing in, my future productions will soon be relegated to the indoors; right now, though, nature is singing "Autumn Leaves," and it has pleased me to capture a bit of her performance. If you enjoy this tutorial, check out my Jazz Theory, Technique & Solo Transcriptions page. And with that said, enjoy the video.