Guest Post: Saxophone and Storms

Every once in a while I like to feature a post by a guest blogger from the worlds of either storm chasing or jazz. Today let me introduce to you my buddy Neal Battaglia. Neal is a tenor man who maintains a wonderful blog on jazz saxophone called The site covers acres of territory of interest to saxophonists. If you're not already familiar with it, then you owe it to yourself to check it out. After contemplating the nature of my own site, with its odd blend of wild winds and woodwinds, Neal is here to share his thoughts in a post titled...

Saxophone and Storms

By Neal Battaglia, Initially, storms and saxophones seemed an odd combination to me. On this site, I would read Bob’s posts on saxophone, but not always the ones about storms. However, when I thought about it for a minute, a number of musicians enjoy nature and are inspired by it. And storms are some of the most extreme examples of nature. One of my favorite trumpet players, Freddie Hubbard, had a record called "Outpost." The cover shows a lone farmhouse out in a wide-open plain with a storm beginning to brew overhead. When you listen to the tracks, you really hear the movement of the storm--the lead-in to it, the calm in the middle, and the conditions afterward. My all time favorite saxophone player, Stanley Turrentine, recorded an album called "Salt Song."  On it is a tune that I like a lot called "Storm." These two masters both took musical ideas from many places, reminding me that music is a reflection of our experiences. Your life comes out to be shared with the audience when you improvise on saxophone and write music. In October of 2009, I took three planes across the country to Nashville and eventually arrived in the backwoods for a "music and nature" class. It was an awesome experience. The guy in charge of that class recorded an album called  "‘Thunder." Nature in general and storms specifically seem to act as a muse for musicians. They are something that we all experience (although possibly less if you’re an extreme city slicker). And music transcends language barriers.  So you can feel storms by listening.

How to Growl on the Saxophone

After rereading one of my older posts on how to ghost a note on the saxophone, I'm reminded that even simple sax techniques--or tricks, if you wish--seem like a mystery at some point in a saxophonist's learning curve. So it is with the growl. It's easy once you know how to do it, but until then, you listen to players who use the growl--Phil Woods does so to great effect--and wonder how the heck they do that. Let me enlighten you. The technique is so easy to acquire that if you've got your horn in your hand, you can be growling in fifteen seconds and have a pretty good feel for the growl in a few minutes. What's the secret? Sing or hum into your instrument while you're playing it. Pick a tone lower than the range you're playing in. That's it. I repeat: Just sing or hum into your instrument while you're playing it. The extra source of sound creates conflicting overtones that jostle with each other to create a growling effect. (That's my simple, non-technical explanation.) You can experiment with humming certain pitches relative to the notes you're playing--an octave below, a fifth below, and so forth. I don't worry about such stuff myself, and maybe I should pay more attention to it. But I've never had any problems getting the essential effect. Note that growling is not the same thing as flutter tonguing. The two techniques may sound somewhat similar, but I think that most ears can easily tell them apart. They're very different approaches that produce different effects. If you enjoyed this article, check out the many other helpful articles, exercises, and solo transcriptions on my jazz page.

Double Tonguing: It Doesn’t Come Easily, But It Does Come

Last November I posted an article on double tonguing on the saxophone, a technique I was just beginning to incorporate as a regular part of my practice sessions. Eight months have elapsed since then. I'd like to say that I've mastered double tonguing, but I'd be lying. I have, however, kept at it, and the gains, if slow, have nevertheless been significant. This is a HARD technique to master! At least, it has been difficult for me. Maybe it has come easily to other saxophonists, but not to this one. By comparison, when I took up circular breathing years ago, I was quite comfortable with it within a few months. But double tonguing...well, the best thing I can do is to keep on keeping on with it, and to strive to apply it increasingly in my playing. I have in fact gotten to the point where I've finally begun to use double tonguing when I'm playing out. It's not a steady feature of my sax solos, just something that I experiment with. But it's in my practice sessions that I've been pushing myself, working on scales and licks using double tonguing. Does it sound polished? No. But it's coming together, and at times it even sounds reasonably convincing. As is true of any other musical challenge, repetition and perseverance are undoubtedly the key to mastering this technique. It's a discipline, trying to get my tonguing to not only coincide with my fingerings, but also to make the results sound halfway musical rather than clunky. I seem to be able to handle about ten minutes of double tongue work, after which I move on. My patience is probably integrally tied to my tongue and embouchure's endurance, and my philosophy is, work it and then leave it be. At the time of this post, I'm capable of executing sixteenth notes at a tempo of around 135-140 mm. Not gracefully, to be sure, and not on the turn of a dime. I have to work into it. But that's better than where I started. Why am I even writing about this? Well, I'm not aware of anyone else who has actually chronicled their efforts to master this technique. If you're working on it and it's coming easily for you, then bully for you! But if you're one who, like me, is finding double tonguing to be a real challenge to bring to a point of usefulness, then you might find it reassuring to know that you're not the only one.  You might also take courage in hearing that improvements, while slow, do come.

How to Use the Flat Sixth of the Major Bebop Scale

It was when I picked up some David Baker books on bebop scales back in my junior year in college that I finally began to make some sense out of how jazz worked. Nobody had told me that one of the secrets of those bop musicians was to smooth out the seven-note scales and modes by interpolating an extra note--typically a raised seventh in Mixolydian modes and a raised fifth, or flatted sixth, in the tonic major scale. Once I latched onto that concept and began to flesh it out with various licks from Baker's great publications, things slowly began to gel for me. g-major-bebop-scaleThe thumbnail your right shows a G major bebop scale, with the D#/Eb serving as the raised fifth/flatted sixth. Click on the image to enlarge it. .
NOTE: All examples on this page are in the key of G major. Because note function changes relative to chord function, all references to the flat sixth in the following discussion are understood to mean the flat sixth of the major bebop scale.
The flat sixth most likely came into use as a passing tone designed to create an eight-note scale which could smoothly take a player from tonic to octave. But the note has applications that make it useful as more than just a linear connecting device, and I suspect that its insertion into the major scale also involved harmonic considerations. Chordally, the flat sixth of the major bebop scale helps define structures that a jazz improviser regularly encounters. g-major-triad-with-b6The most apparent harmonic use of the flat sixth, as the flat sixth (or flat thirteenth) of a tonic major chord, is not as common as other applications. But it is nevertheless an interesting and colorful tone which imparts an augmented sound to the tonic chord--a suspended sound that wants to resolve downward to the fifth. The second example on this page outlines a GMb6 chord, ending in a lick that emphasizes the b6. iv-chord-major-and-minorThe flat sixth crops up much more often as a minor third of the IV chord. It's common to encounter a change of modality from major to minor in the IV chord, and the flat sixth is the tone that establishes this shift. The third example shows both CM7 and CmMaj7 chords. It's common, in the shift from major to minor, to also lower the seventh, as shown in the bebop lick that's included in the example. v7b9Another extremely common use of the flat sixth is as the flat nine of a V7b9 chord. This next example outlines a D7b9 chord. Because the V7b9 is so ubiquitous in jazz, the flat sixth, far from serving as merely a passing tone, can often become a target tone. Also, as indicated at the end of the example, it can serve as a chromatic bracketing device. v7b9-bebop-scale-lickThe final example shows how the b6 fits into a V7b9 lick. The harmonic applications of the flat sixth that I've just described are just three of its uses. It also functions as the b5 of a IIm7b5 chord; as the major third of the V7 of VI chord (ex. B7 in the key of G); and in other borrowed-chord applications that easily relate to the tonic key. I'll leave it to you to figure out the rest. This article should give you a good start. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out other articles of interest to saxophonists and jazz improvisers on my jazz page.

Augmented Scale Triad Patterns

Judging from my blog stats, there seems to be a lot of interest in the augmented scale. I'm not surprised. It's a fascinating scale, and I've personally been having a lot of fun as I continue to work at getting it into my fingers and my ears. One of the interesting and colorful aspects of the augmented scale is the fact that it gives rise to both augmented triads and major triads in sequential order. In this post, you'll find three exercises that focus on augmented triads. However, the last one also hints at the major triads contained in the augmented scale. Click on the images to enlarge them to readable size. As always, take each pattern up and down through the full range of your instrument. Other than that, the exercises are fairly self-explanatory, so I won't say more, other than practice hard and have fun! Oh, yeah...and make sure, if you haven't done so, to check out my jazz page featuring other exercises and articles of interest to saxophonists and improvising musicians.