Show Announcement - Last Chance at the Velvet Note

Hi Everyone! WHB has a show coming up at one of our favorite haunts, the Velvet Note in Alpharetta, Saturday, September 14th.  Playing this club is always a joy and we hope you can come out to see our LAST performance at this venue for the year (I know, now the pressure's on).  Details on the show and tickets can be found below, on the Calendar, on the Velvet Note site, or you can RSVP via Facebook.

A note that this is a more intimate venue and the last two times that we've performed here we've sold out or oversold both sets, so BOOK YOUR TICKETS ASAP.

  • WHB @ the Velvet Note 4075 Old Milton Pkwy, Alpharetta, GA 30005
  • Saturday, September 14th
  • 7:30 & 9:30
  • $20 Cover
  • All Ages
  • Click for Tickets

Featuring: Trey Wright, Keenan Meadows, Dave Worley, & Jared Lanham

New York Pt. 1

For those of you that didn't know, I took a trip to New York for 5 days last week.  While I'll go in depth as to the why's, who's, and how's in later posts, I wanted to quickly share one of my experiences that I had and won't forget.  Before going out, I contacted as many friends and colleagues as I could.  One of those is a great friend and guitarist with whom I did my undergrad.  One of the things that makes this so memorable for me is that it was fairly unexpected.  He called me up to say "Hey, some friends and I are going to see Bobby McFerrin in Central Park for FREE." Shwhat!?...  I replied, "Awesome, see you there," and got ready to meet him.  A little admission here: I have never liked Bobby McFerrin.  Gasp! I know, right.  How dare I?  A jazz musician NOT enjoy the work of another jazz musician?  A response to that question will be handled in a later post.  But, I figured it would be a great way to hang out and see some good music (I said I didn't like, not that he wasn't good). The event series is called the Summer Stage.  It presents free music on a first-come-first-serve basis in the middle of Central Park.  There's beer, wine, over-priced food, tourists, New York hipsters, what's not to love?  ONE catch: in order to get in, we got there about 2 and a half hours early, but we had our choice of seats and got to watch some Central Park LARPERS in the process.  Music started and I was really enjoying the concert, the company, and the overall hang.  Then, this happened:

This is a duet between Bobby and his daughter Madison titled "Mere Words", written by Bobby, and originally from his album Bang! Zoom (which I now own).  It was one of those moments in music where your brain just stops.  Everything stops.  All the people around me faded away, I forgot that my butt hurt so bad from sitting on metal bleachers; it was transcendent.

I have to say that I'm now a huge Bobby McFerrin fan and this will become a treasured memory of this trip.

Show Announcement: The Velvet Note - Part Deux

WHB at the Velvet Note..... again. If you haven't been to this club yet, you're missing one of the gems of Atlanta.  We loved playing there the first time and we hope you'll join us for our second show coming up August 4th.  If you missed us at all this summer, when you had all that free time ;-), then this is your last chance to catch us before school (kind of) begins.  As always, the information will be in a few different places (Calendar, Facebook, Twitter, ReverbNation, etc.), but here's the rundown.

8/4/12 - The Velvet Note, Set 1: 7:30, Set 2: 9:30 (Alpharetta)

  • Cover: $10
  • All Ages
  • 4075 Old Milton Pkwy Alpharetta, GA
  • At the corner of Old Milton & Alexander Dr., before Publix off of 400, next to Jersey Mike's
  • (855) 583-5838
  • RSVP on Facebook

Find the Velvet Note on Facebook

GMEA All-State Auditions 2012-2013

Here are links to the GMEA website resources for All-State Band audition material for Middle and High schools.  Chromatic scale ranges (required for all instruments) can be found by following the link to your age group and looking at the chart provided by GMEA.

There are 3 things on this and almost every audition, 1) Scales, 2) Etudes (aka prepared piece), 3) Sight reading.  Scales and Etudes are listed below by grade then instrument.

All-State Middle School Band - 6th through 8th Grades:
All-State Concert Band - 9th & 10th Grades:
All-State Symphonic Band - 11th & 12th Grades:
All-State Jazz Band - 9th-12th Grades:

Show Announcement - WHB in ALPHARETTA @ The Velvet Note

Mazel tov! There's a brand-spanking new jazz club in town called The Velvet Note.  WHB will be performing there this Saturday, June 30th! The Velvet is doing a jazz club the way it should be done. With Justin Varnes, renowned drummer and teacher, as their music manager, the great menu they provide, and the care they've taken in setting up the room, we are very excited to bring our brand of jazz to it's shiny new stage.  You can find the details below, or on the Calendar, or on the FB Event Page, OR at

6/30/12 - The Velvet Note, Set 1: 7:30-8:30, Set 2: 9:30-10:30 (Alpharetta)

  • Cover: $20
  • All Ages
  • 4075 Old Milton Pkwy Alpharetta, GA
  • (855) 583-5838
  • RSVP on Facebook

Hit It, Then Learn How to Aim -- The Misconception in Early Tone Development of New Saxophonists

After the first few lessons with a new student, inevitably they come in frustrated saying that their band director told them that they (and the entire sax section) are playing too loud.  I tell them to calm down and do what their band director tells them.  Then we talk about the “Why” and “How” of dynamics. And, in my opinion, band directors often seem to get it wrong when it comes to tone and dynamics with their saxophone section more than any other.  I admit that I have, and I like, a louder sound.  This doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t want to play soft, but I prefer to have, and believe musicians need, a sound that projects.  I recently attended a master class with Jeff Coffin here in Atlanta and heard him talk about this very thing. (Disclaimer: I’m certainly not comparing myself to Jeff Coffin). Think about any time you’ve been to watch young kids play instruments in a group.  Cousins’, brother’s, sister’s, niece’s, nephew’s concerts in their school gym.  It wasn’t very loud was it?  When you have new musicians on Flutes, Clarinets, Trumpets, Trombones, Bassoons, basically any instrument that’s not Saxophone, these instruments are not naturally loud for a beginning musician.  While air production is consistent from instrument to instrument, it takes a lot of training of embouchure muscles to get a sound that projects on many of these instruments.  The exact opposite is true of Saxophone.

Saxophone doesn’t require a muscular embouchure, at least if you follow the teachings of Joe Allard or possibly even Larry Teal.  After embouchure, the only thing left is air production.  This is where band directors fall into a trap without knowing it:  Saxophonists have to first learn how to control their air and support their sound.  This usually means putting LOTS of air into the horn.  I equate it with the first time I hit a correct backhand in tennis.  The instructor showed us how you have to hit through the swing.  The first time anyone hits the tennis ball with the correct form, the ball goes over the fence and into the parking lot.  We then were told to keep the form but to try and aim more accurately.  THAT’S WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN WITH SAXOPHONE!!  So many directors are interested in immediate balance and huge volume changes that young saxophonists do not have the capability to do well.  Instead, everyone in the section bites down and backs off on air. This results in pitch and tone quality issues which is why their saxes sound so ‘bright’ or ‘tinny’, why they can’t articulate with speed and accuracy, and why they can’t play in the upper register or lower register, let alone play these registers in tune.  Worst of all, the students learning the instrument are developing terrible habits and having a lousy time since they can’t play what’s on the page.  It’s like giving a pointillist painter a roller to use and then telling them just to paint lighter.  If you don’t have the proper base, in this case air control, you can’t start practicing subtlety.

My Advice: To get a great sounding sax section, students should start by doing overtones (the saxophone version of the brass section’s ‘lip trills’, although a very a different exercise).  Then introduce dynamic long tones.  And, directors and teachers, don’t worry about getting the right balance the first couple of months.  Let the students build the warm, lush sound that the saxophone has, then teach them ‘how to aim’.

New Tune - "Finally" Live

Well it's been a little while since you've heard some new music on this site... yes I blame: me. But, with my group doing a series of recording sessions today and in the coming weeks I thought I'd put a little teaser of the 6 completely new tunes that we'll be recording and posting here. This tune is very aptly named "Finally (I Can Dance This Thing Out)" as in, there's FINALLY some new music on here...

[wpaudio url=" Finally (I Can Dance This Thing Out) - Live.mp3" text="Finally (I Can Dance This Thing Out) - Live" dl="0"]

I will also be putting part of the session LIVE on UStream at 5 pm EST.

Check out this track and my other music on the Music Page under Media.

Students' Accomplishments - 2011

Before we get too far into 2012, I want to take a minute to recognize the hard work that my students put forth in 2011. This is by no means a full list of all of the amazing things they've done. However, I do want to let everyone know how proud of them I am. Great Job Guys! Let's get ready for another great year.

2012 All-State Winners:

Stephanie Lopez Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: Glen C. Jones Middle Director: Dr. Tonya Millsap Grade: 8th Chair: 3rd

Rishi Rao Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 5 School: Rivertrail Middle School Director: Angela Reynolds/Jennifer Compton Grade: 8th Chair: 8th

Jason Herrera Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: North Gwinnett Middle School Director: Mary Wilson Grade: 8th Chair: 2nd Alternate

2011 Encore! Camp

*These two students scored within a half point of one another and twenty points above the rest of their section.

*Connor McClelland Instrument: Alto Saxophone School: North Gwinnett Middle School Director: Mary Wilson Grade: 8th Chair: 1st Chair Recipient of the Junior Director Award

*Stephanie Lopez Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: Glen C. Jones Middle Director: Dr. Tonya Millsap Grade: 8th Chair: 2nd

Kristyn Nowak Instrument: Bass Clarinet District: 13 School: North Gwinnett High School Director: Brian Lambeth/Marion English/Rudy Gilber/Hunter McRae Grade: 9th Chair: Principal Encore! Honor Band

2012 All-State & District Honor Band Finalists:

The following students made their District Honor Bands. If they are noted as an All-State Finalist then they also passed on to the second round of All-State auditions.

Brendon Ayestaran Instrument: Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet District: 13 School: N/A Director: Grade: 10th Chair: N/A All-State Finalist – Scored 4th out of 50 at State

Jeremy Heit Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: Northwestern Middle School Director: Christy Naughton Grade: 8th Chair: N/A

Jason Herrera Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: North Gwinnett Middle School Director: Mary Wilson Grade: 8th Chair: 3rd All-State Finalist

Kaitlyn Lopez Instrument: Clarinet District: 13 School: Mill Creek High School Director: Erik Mason Grade: 10th Chair: N/A

Stephanie Lopez Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: Glen C. Jones Middle School Director: Dr. Tonya Millsap Grade: 8th Chair: 1st All-State Finalist

Connor McClelland Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: North Gwinnett Middle School Director: Mary Wilson Grade: 8th Chair: 2nd District Concert Band All-State Finalist

Kristyn Nowak Instrument: Bass Clarinet District: 13 School: North Gwinnett High School Director: Brian Lambeth/Marion English/Rudy Gilbert/Hunter McRae Grade: 9th Chair: N/A All-State Finalist

Jamie Park Instrument: Clarinet District: 13 School: North Gwinnett Middle School Director: Mary Wilson Grade: 8th Chair: 6th All-State Finalist

Mandy Peskin Instrument: Tenor Saxophone District: 3 School: Ridgeview Middle School Director: Michael Gibson Grade: 8th Chair: N/A All-State Finalist

Stephen Thomas Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: N/A Director: N/A Grade: 7th Chair: N/A All-State Finalist

Tito Tomei Instrument: Baritone Saxophone District: 13 School: N/A Director: N/A Grade: 8th Chair: Principal District Concert Band All-State Finalist

Rebekah Warnstrom Instrument: Alto Saxophone District: 13 School: N/A Director: N/A Grade: 8th Chair: N/A All-State Finalist

Special Recognition:

Despite some observed oddities for the high school district auditions for students in District 13 this year, many students did well on their audition in that district.  Their names are listed below.

John Brocksmith Zach Compton Joon Kim Kaitlyn Lopez Jessica Morton Alex Wise

Clarinet Tone Exercises

I get questioned all the time by my students about how to get a better sound.  It's a great question and an important one at that.  However, the worst thing that can happen is if someone has never even asked themselves "how do I work on tone?"  If someone new to an instrument is using their ear when they play, really listening to themselves, they usually have a pretty good sound.  This allows them to do all sorts of new music, new concepts, extended range and techniques, even if their embouchure and air stream aren't perfect.  The flip side is when someone is fighting a 'bad' sound.  They'll find that it holds them back from doing so much more on their instrument. Tone work should usually start off your practice session.  It allows you to warm up, use air correctly before working on technical or musical aspects, and get mentally prepared for your practice session.  Here's a list of Clarinet tone exercises that I've picked up over the years and a Saxophone version will follow shortly (but, feel free to reference "Ramon Ricker Overtone Exercises" in the meantime).

PDF of Clarinet Tone Exercises

Practice Logs/Journals

I know, everyone's wretched band director had them bring their instrument home everyday, not practice, then convince their parents to lie at the end of the week and sign this arbitrary sheet called a 'practice log' saying you had practiced an hour a day. This is truly unfortunate because this is the exact opposite of what a practice log should be. A practice log is an objective recounting of how much time you spent doing what in your practice time: no more, no less. Some people get really fancy with them, writing down detail after detail. That's not what I'm doing here. Above is a very simple practice log that I thought would be helpful for anyone looking to improve their practice routine, either by practicing more efficient, or by keeping better track of their own progress, or both. While you don't want the log to go on for pages, it is helpful to keep small notes as you progress (e.g. faster tempo markings, new exercises, etc.). Write down the individual times per exercise or concept and then add them up at the end to see how much you practiced in a day. It's pretty self explanatory, but I'll take you through it. The first field listed is "Instrument", that's mainly for anyone who is a multi-instrumentalist and is juggling multiple practice schedules, in which case, a practice log is almost necessary to track of everything. The next is the date for the beginning of that week. Below that field are the goals for that week. This will help you keep track of your progress from week to week. You write down what you and your teacher have decided you'll work on for the week. The table is a breakdown of time spent on each category and total time per day. That's it.

This table is simple on purpose. You want to spend as little time as possible 'book-keeping' and as much time as you can practicing. Remember, this is for you, not for someone else (so no need to lie). It's a way for you to objectively evaluate where you're at, how to set goals, how to proceed with your practice routine, and the results of those efforts.

I've included a link to Word document so that people can open it on their machine and edit it as need be:

Practice Log in a Word Document (.doc)

Who Died and Made You King?

One of the more troubling things I’ve seen in the music world lately manifests out of nowhere.  It happens whenever I talk to one of my students about reed choices.  Now, if the student is on a decent to good set up I rarely bring up the idea of new equipment (or at least I try to).  But, if the student feels that they’re at an impasse and is interested in trying something new I like to give them all of their options.  I say, “Well there’s these types of Vandoren’s, these types of more boutique reed choices, these types of Rico’s…..” and right there, the student inevitably goes “Rico’s SUCK!!” or “My band director said Rico’s are bad”.  And, inevitably, I start to suffer an aneurism.  More than likely, the student has never tried Rico reeds, ANY Rico reeds.  What is also unfortunate is that a lot of times the person (usually the band director) that gave this student this well-intentioned, but wayward advice ALSO hasn’t tried Rico.  A lot of times, but not always, this is because they were originally a brass player and don’t actually have years of experience playing woodwind instruments.  So, I’m asking the question, who died and made Vandoren the king of all reeds, mouthpieces, and other related music products? Is it because of the number of reed options?

Rico Has: Vandoren Has:
  1. Rico Reeds
  2. Rico Royal
  3. Reserve
  4. Reserve Classic
  5. La Voz
  6. Grand Concert Select
  7. Grand Concert Select Evolution
  8. Mitchell Lurie
  9. Mitchell Premium
  10. Rico Select Jazz (which for years have been known as Rico Jazz Select, but whatever)
  11. Plasticover
  1. Traditional
  2. V12
  3. V16
  4. ZZ
  5. Java
  6. Java Red (A very recent addition versus Rico’s RSJ which always had the filed or unfiled option)
  7. 56 Rue Lepic (Specifically Clarinet)

Is it because of artist endorsements?  To boil it down, Rico seems to have more jazz and a fair amount of Bass Clarinetists while Vandoren more classical and definitely more Clarinetists.

Is it because of reed consistency?  Ask anyone that plays Vandoren and they’ll probably tell you that their reeds aren’t the exact same from reed to reed.  In fact, reeds are inconsistent in every brand.  Some vary more than others, but the brand and sizing are estimates; you’re going to find pure consistency issues with just about any brand.  And, if musicians work on their reeds, does that mean the reed manufacturer is good or does it mean that the musician is a good “reed-tweeker”?

Is it innovation?  Rico has just come out with a huge series of products trying to regain their name.  For example: the Rico Ligature, the Rico Cap (almost a Brilhart mouthpiece cap reissue), the H-Ligature (a throw back of the old Harrison ligatures), and the ReedVitalizer humidity packs.  Even if someone uses Vandoren reeds, a lot of times they’re using a Rico ReedVitalizer along with their reed regiment, NOT a blue Vandoren reed holder with a “humidity control” that makes your reeds moldy.

Is it quality of cane?  I can name at least 5 brands that age their cane longer, use more choice cane, and have higher quality control than Rico or Vandoren (Gonzales, Riggotti, Roberto’s, Alexander, Daniel’s).

Is it because Rico (kind of) doesn’t make mouthpieces?  Well, they certainly have not delved into the world of mouthpieces yet.  However, they do have a neck strap that people tend to like.

I guess my big point here is that I find this debate ridiculous (which is why I ironically continued it on this blog).  You use what works.  If a Rico Grand Concert gets you a better sound than a Vandoren 56 Rue Lepic, fine.  Yes, you can take facts about the reed manufacturing process to help in the selection, but the second that someone uses brand recognition to make that decision for them, they’re not thinking about sound.  And, isn’t sound really all we should care about?

Rhythm Exercises: #1 Rhythmic Subdivisons

This is the first in a set of rhythmic exercises that I'll be posting to this site. So many times we overlook the importance of having Really. Good. Time. This is something that will help in every aspect of playing, e.g. improvising, playing etudes and solo pieces, playing in an ensemble, playing pieces with no definable time, and even sight reading (yes, I said sight reading). This was first shown to me by Mr. Kim, one of the teachers that I met at Georgia Governor's Honors Program when I was in high school. He said then, and I've found in my own teaching, that students working on their sight-reading always think that the thing holding them back is their ability to read notes when, in actuality, it's their sense of rhythm that keeps them from reading something fluidly. This is an exercise that he gave us to help with that: It looks simple, but let me explain how to play this. You can't just set a metronome and count. If you're going to internalize these subdivisions, you have to keep time and rhythm in two different ways - you can't just use your foot. First, set your metronome on quarter note equals 40. Now, clap along with the metronome; your hands are now keeping the time. Then, you're going to say the rhythm (the part that's written on the staff) while you continue to clap the time along with the metronome. Repeat this for at least a couple of minutes checking that you're not rushing or dragging and get use to going from groups of nines all the way back to quarter notes to notice how changing the subdivision feels. To solidify this, switch the time and rhythm. Keep the time with your mouth by saying "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, etc..." and clap the rhythm. For some of you the first way will be more difficult, for others, the second will. Here's an audio clip of this being played with wood block keeping the quarter note pulse and snare drum keeping the rhythm:

[wpaudio url="" text="Rhythmic Subdivisions (Snare & Wood Block)" dl="0"]

Above & Beyond: To make this more interesting you can use drumsticks and a drum pad. Time in one hand, rhythm in the other, then switch. This will show you two things 1) how truly accurate you have to be with rhythm to keep time well and 2) how keeping accurate rhythm will later help you keep time well.

Show Announcement! July 2nd @ Smith's Olde Bar

Did you miss us?  Because we're back, and back in style.  WHB will be doing their next performance in the Atlanta Room at Smith's Olde Bar.  This club is a staple of the southeast that hosts both local, national, and international acts with a laundry list of past performers that rivals most arenas.  Details for the show are listed below, or as always on the "Calendar" page,  OR on the FB Event Page.  While you're up on facebook, don't forget to "like" the Will Hollifield Music page and keep checking back for more videos, show announcements, and posts.

7/2/11 - Smith's Olde Bar (Atlanta), music starts at 8 PM

  • Cover: $8
  • 21+
  • 1578 Piedmont Road Northeast Atlanta, GA 30324-5232
  • (404) 875-1522
  • RSVP on facebook

Show Announcements! April 8th & April 16th

When good things happen, I guess they happen in pairs. I'm really excited to announce TWO, count'em, TWO upcoming shows in April. One is at a fairly new venue, Studio 281 on April 8th.  The other is at a Decatur mainstay, JavaMonkey, on April 16th.  Show details are below, on the "Calendar" page, or on their respective FB Event Pages:

4/8/11 - Studio 281 (Atlanta), 9 PM & 11 PM
  • Cover: $10
  • All Ages
  • 281 Peters St. SW Atlanta, GA 30313
  • (404) 524-7247
  • RSVP via FB
  • Featuring: Jared Lanham, Jon Strength, Madoka Oshima, Ben Whetherford
4/16/11 - JavaMonkey (Decatur), 8 PM - 11 PM
  • No Cover
  • All Ages
  • 425 Church St Decatur, Georgia
  • (404) 378-5002
  • RSVP via FB
  • Featuring: Tauseef Anam, Eric Maples, Jon Strength, Madoka Oshima

Joshua Redman Master Class

A buddy of mine gave me these a while back and I thought I'd share them with you guys.  Redman was in Atlanta a little while ago with his trio at Spivey Hall and HOLY CRAP was that a good concert!  Make sure to check out Josh's website and pick up a copy of his latest release, Compass.  There's also a new CD in the works with his James Farm Band which you can read about in this related post.  The sound is a little low in both Master Class recordings, but that's fairly normal.  The third is a recording of a live concert with Bill Stewart (drums), Larry Grenadier (bass), Taylor Eigsti (piano), and of course Joshua himself.  Happy listening and hope you enjoy! Joshua Redman Master Class 1

Joshua Redman Master Class 2

Joshua Redman in Concert

Music Blogs

Aaron Parks Blog - not updated regularly, but Aaron throws some pretty cool posts up there every so often.  This is where I found out about described below. - this is a staple of the jazz community.  This has anything and everything, far too much for me to list in fact.  Definitely take advantage of the daily free mp3, check out the articles, and look at the CD release dates.  This site really helps you keep track of what's going on in the jazz world.  This is also related to at least one Podcast, The Jazz Session. - Site that is dedicated to jazz in Atlanta.

Bob Reynolds BlogLessons - Bob is a saxophonist that is fast becoming a household name.  He's just released his second of two albums as a leader, but has performed and recorded with such artists as John Mayer, Richard Bona, & Guy Sebastian to name only a few.  Make sure to sign up for his e-mail list and keep an eye out for the Stablemates forum currently in beta testing and expected to launch sometime... soon.

Casa Valdez Studios - GREAT jazz blog.  David Valdez really has some superb resources on this site.  He's been maintaining this blog for years and has provided excellent information.  From harmonic exercises, live bootlegs, new jazz language, reed prep, and master classes, David's blog is filled with great jazz gems.

Christian Howes Blog - This New York-based violinist shows an insight into the NYC music scene.  There's some heated debate on this site which is both eye-grabbing and informative, but overall I think you get a feel for Christian Howes and the daily workings of a NYC musician. - Not really a blog per say, but it's a great resource for music, equipment, flute competitions, etc.

Jaleel Shaw's Blog - This is a cool look into the life of a young, incredibly talented, and TOURING JAZZ saxophonist. Jaleel, along with being part of Roy Haynes' and Dave Holland's bands, and the Count Basie Big band, has his own group with the likes of Lage Lund, Aaron Parks, Aaron Goldberg, Joe Martin, Ben Williams, Otis Brown III, etc. So, yeah, this is a pretty cool blog. - Atlanta Jazz out the wahzoo.  Maintained by a local trumpet, their are excellent resources on here for what's going on in the Atlanta scene, jazz time, ear training, trumpet specific material, practice - Do you like Jazz? Do you like the Baritone saxophone?  If you answered yes to either of these questions then this site is for you.  This is one of my favorites.  JBS discusses anything and everything related to Bari sax.  Not only that, but this site points to some great resources on top of all the information provided on the site.

Jazz Corner - This is a site dedicated to, you guessed, just Jazz.  It has sections for all different types of people, arrangers, instrumentalists, vocalists, and a hefty forum.  It has another feature called their "Jukebox" which lists and plays all sorts of contemporary artists. - Jazz videos out the yin yang!

Jazz Video Guy - The JVG provides a series of phenomenal jazz performances, artist interviews, and master classes.  In addition there is a ton of them.  You can also take a look at his YouTube channel. - This is an organization started by some Joe Allard alum.  They talk about their experiences, Joe's teaching methods, and even Joe as a person.  There's lots of helpful info in getting insights into Joe Allard's methods on tone production and practicing. - Just recently found this.  It's an

interesting take on your usual music blog.  They work with featured artists, keep you up to date on their projects, give you insights into their development.  I know, I know, that sounds pretty usual, BUT, you have to see the artists that they feature.  There are some of the best known on there, but the majority are somewhat unknown outside of the New York scene (at least that's my take).  The people they name, big or small, are ALL some of the baddest musicians around.  CHECK IT OUT!

Pat Neaude Blog - A little difficult to get a sense of all the resources on this blog, but dig through chronologically and you find that Pat has some cool posts.  Saxophonist, radio announcer, resident of Albany.

Rico Reeds Blog - Written by woodwind player (saxophonist :-)) Tim Price, Tim offers up a myriad of information on tone, career knowledge, practice habits, and a host of other topics.  He takes you through step-by-step and is incredibly active on the blog-o-sphere.

SOTW - Sax On The Web Forum.  Everything Saxophone from here to kingdom come. - I've got a couple of interviews from this site on my blog already, but they've got some great interviews from a myriad of artists, jazz and otherwise.

Urge2Burge - This site is filled with many, many live recordings.  There's stuff there for one and all. - This forum is a little confusing to navigate at first, but is a great resource for all woodwind players, but especially doublers.  The community is very welcoming and so far, unlike a lot of blogs, is filled mostly with people that are working to keep it that way.  Enjoy!

Bob Reynolds Lick

Ok, so let's talk about the amazing saxophonist that is Bob Reynolds.  Bob is a graduate of Berklee in Boston and has since played with heavy hitters both in the pop and jazz realm.  He's got a couple of great albums out that I would highly recommend.  And, his long awaited Stablemates forum has just debuted this week.  I'll keep you posted on what it's like.  In the meantime, I found one video of him playing with John Mayer that was EXTRA appealing.  Check this out first:

In the video, there's about 20 seconds of what you might expect.  Then, at 26", Bob lays out this jaw-dropping line.  I was transcribing it and thought that I'd share with everyone to see what they thought.  I've annotated what's going on theory wise.  Hope you like it and leave your comments down below.

Equipment Matters

For professional musicians and advanced students, this is a fairly obvious statement: equipment matters.  You’ll see a host of jazz, classical, R&B, rock, Latin, etc. musicians all with different equipment and in many different combinations.  For the beginning student, the subject of equipment is rarely discussed even though it is actually fairly simple, plays a major role in the student's overall development and, more importantly, overall enjoyment in playing an instrument.  There are 5 major components of saxophone equipment, all of which I’ll discuss here to save you money in the long run and make sure that you’re getting the most out of the instrument right off the bat. With people that are new to learning an instrument, you might notice that at the beginning there’s this seemingly huge monetary investment.  Reeds, then renting a horn, then a book, then a mouthpiece, then if there’s further interest you need lessons, etc., etc.  It’s overwhelming.  Confused customers can fatten up the cash registers and still not end up with what they need.  There are SO many different pieces of equipment out there claiming to do this, that, and the other it’s difficult to either a) spend ANY money on anything waiting for better information or waiting to be advanced enough to buy something, or, b) leave the store without spending a hundred bucks every visit.

It’s this scenario that plagues parents of new music enthusiasts and stifles students’ growth.  Hopefully, this information will give you a nudge in the right direction.

UPDATE: I've also included a link to Bob Reynolds' site where he talks about equipment.  I completely agree with everything Bob says.  Remember, the info on this page is a basic starting point; there is no piece of equipment that will automatically make you a "saxophone god".  This is a list of reliable and fairly inexpensive materials that should take some of the worry and stresses out of the first few months or first year of learning.  No piece of equipment is going to substitute for hard, sustained work.

Bob's Thoughts on Equipment


Don’t overlook a good mouthpiece.  I know, some of these mouthpieces (especially for saxophone) are ridiculously expensive.  There are tons of them and everyone you talk to gives you different information.  The mouthpiece with rental equipment is rarely given a second thought and is, quite frankly, often a PIECE OF JUNK.  I can’t stress that enough.  Starting out on a good mouthpiece is not only going to make learning an instrument easier, it’s going to help with overall long-term development.  Whether your interest is in Jazz or Classical, and if you’re a student in K-12 get a classical mouthpiece FIRST before delving into the world of jazz, there are really only a few options.

  1. Selmer C*
  2. Eugene Rousseau 4R or 5R
    • This mouthpiece is a step up from the C*.  I recommend it ONLY if you’ve tried a C* side by side with a Rousseau and you can pick your favorite.
    • Rousseau Classic Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece Rousseau Classic Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

    • The Rousseau brand has a few other types, one of which is the New Classic (NC).  These are a re-release of the type of mouthpiece released before the Classic.  I haven't tried these new versions, however, I have not experienced good things with students or heard many good things in comparison with the Classics or the NC's vintage counterpart.
  3. Jazz Mouthpieces:

Keep in mind these mouthpieces are equipment that most professionals, even jazz and classical ‘superstars’, have either played on or still use for their setup, however, usually with modifications (re-facings), or the vintage versions.  Another disclaimer is that these are just suggestions for starting points.  The jazz mouthpieces listed are fairly 'middle-of-the-road' mouthpieces without a lot of bells and whistles.  This is usually where people start to make sure that they're developing their tone correctly and because these mouthpieces have a handful of sonic possibilities depending on what kind of sound you're going for.  Other mouthpieces to check out: Berg Larsen; Vandoren Optimum, V16, & Java; Jody Jazz; Guardala (the PMS version, but pricey); Morgan; Yanagisawa.

If it were me, I would look at one of the Otto Link 'New Vintage' models on the Sax-ccessories website.  I play an Otto Link New Vintage model.  It has a nice sound, however, if you just get one off the shelf (like I did) it comes with one huge flaw: the tip of the mouthpiece is shaped for a reed type that no longer exists (for shame Otto Link!).  The ones on Sax-ccessories have been hand-faced by one of the highest recommended mouthpiece re-facers in the country.  I feel this is the cheapest and best option for someone looking for their first or second jazz mouthpiece.


Looking in the stores there can seem like a million different types.  This is even easier than mouthpieces: Classical, check out Vandoren Size 2 – 3, LaVoz Mediums, Hemke 2-3 (Vandoren’s are usually preferred, pretty much based on some random popularity contest that happened way back when at some point, but pick whichever YOU like best).  Jazz, look at Vandoren Java 2 – 3, Rico Jazz Select 2M – 3H, or Vandoren ZZ’s 2 – 3.  And, yes contrary to popular opinion, Rico reeds are a fine.  There is no right or wrong, there's just what sounds good.  Obviously, there are a ton of other choices out there.  You’ll have to find what you’re comfortable with as you go along; these are just some starting points.  If you’re interested in upgrading from these, check out Roberto’s Reeds or Alexander Reeds (DC, NY, Superial, Classique).  I’ve played/play both and while they’re more expensive, virtually each reed out of the box plays (compared to 4-6 out of 10 with Vandoren).  Other brands that I've heard great things about but haven't tried: Rigotti Gold, Grand Concert Select, & Daniel's.


This is a point of contention between the band community and myself.  Your band director may recommend a Rovner ligature.  PLEASE, for the love of all that is holy, don’t start using this ligature until you’ve played on your regular brass ligature that comes with the horn.  I know this seems odd not to move to something more expensive, but leather ligatures tend to stifle vibration in the reed.  And, it’s vibration in the reed and to learn to control the vibration that is of the upmost importance to tone on single reed instruments.  While it may make the sax section play quieter in band, it is detrimental to the long-term development of playing saxophone.  Learning to play at different dynamic (volume) levels is part of learning an instrument.  The Rovner ligatures are good, I’ve played on them, most people I know have played on them, but we moved on to something better or use it for the exact sonic properties that it achieves.

Also, make sure that the el-cheapo brass ligature fits ‘correctly’.  If the ligature is placed on the mouthpiece where it sits in the middle of the skin part of the reed and it is too loose after tightening the screws all the way, or requires the screws to be hanging on by one thread, then it’s not the right size.  This is a $2 fix at any music store and will make set-up/tear down much easier.

Neck Strap

This particular piece of equipment is based on personal preference, but will save you some pain and some time.  Find something that will securely hold the horn, that’s comfortable, and easily adjustable.  Here are four things to look for in your decision on the right strap:

  1. Connection – Metal Hook coated with heavy-duty rubber:  Plastic hooks have a tendency to break at any time.  Avoid this by using a strap that has a metal hook.  But, make sure that the hook is coated in a durable material, usually some type of rubber.  If there’s no coating you risk scraping up the part of your horn surrounding the loop.  Some people will tell you "Don't buy one that has an open hook!"  Well, from a woodwind doubling stand point, you just don't always have time to unclasp.  If you're putting the open hook in the CORRECT way, you probably won't encounter this very much.  However, I get the argument.
  2. Shoulders or Neck?: Check out what part of the body the strap sits.  Some sit on the back of the neck, others rest more on the shoulders/Traps.  The ones resting on your Trapezius muscles, in my opinion, are more comfortable.  The weight is distributed over more surface area of the body and over a more secure part of your body.
  3. Padding – How much is too much?: You are eventually going to want SOME padding.  However, some straps (somewhat revised in recent years) have rigged up a rubbery material that sits on the back of your neck but is so elastic that the horn actually bounces like a bungee jumper.  Others take a regular nylon strap and throw a 10-pound cotton pad around the portion that sits around your neck and bulges everywhere while being worn.  This is TOO MUCH PADDING.  You want some padding that’s going to make this god-awful contraption feel somewhat ok, but anything that is bulky, looks too weird, is difficult to maneuver, or doesn’t keep the horn in a secure, steady location, is not going to be ideal.  Trust me, I probably spend 10% of a student’s lesson time EVERY lesson waiting while they fight and tussle with a less than ideal strap.
  4. Cord:  I mentioned before about the nylon strap.  This is usually a ¾ - 1” wide piece of nylon that acts as the main harness material.  Shy away from these.  They may have come free with the horn, but they have no business around your neck.  They hurt and, especially for younger students, are impossible to adjust correctly.  This adds to the wasted time that accrues fiddling with a neck strap.
  5. Length: Probably the most important point here is that the strap be a good length.  Follow the sizing instructions that come with every neck strap (Alto/Soprano, Tenor/Bari, some are labeled Tenor/Alto).  You want to be able to raise the neck strap to the proper height without it feeling like a neck tie that's trying to strangle you as you play.

Here are some suggestions:

Last, and surprisingly pretty much least, The Horn:

While this is a huge part of learning an instrument and eventually you will want to upgrade, most horns that are in good playing condition are going to be fine to begin learning on.  If you spend the effort looking for the four previous items, the horn isn’t going to be as big of a factor as you might think.  There are a couple of tips I can give you, though.

  1. Have it adjusted: You may not want to hear this, but it’s been my experience that some stores renting instruments will rent about whatever horn in WHATEVER CONDITION.  Some of the places I’ve taught have actually tried/wanted to rent a student an instrument that I’ve told them does not work, but were just going to advise them to get the insurance rather than fixing the aforementioned instrument before it could be used in the rental pool.  Of course, you’re going to want to get insurance on the horn especially if you’re renting for a young beginner.  You never know what can happen.  But, have it tested by someone you trust before renting.  Also, get the insurance and if something doesn’t work have them fix it, even if it’s something minor (e.g. screws missing, corks/felts missing, minor leaks, etc.)
  2. Don’t mess with adjustment screws:  You know those screws on the side of the horn that don’t seem to screw anything down, and they kind of look like they’re not screwed in all the way, right?  DO NOT TOUCH THOSE!  Those are called adjustment screws.  It can turn your average saxophone into a terrible intonation and leaking nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing.  This is something to leave up to a tech to make sure everything seals and is in tune.
  3. Palm Keys & Side Keys: Horn manufacturing has changed since my days of playing on my student model Yamaha.  One thing in particular that pains me to no end and causes so much grief with students is the set up of the palm keys.  These are the keys that you access with the palm of your left hand (the three tear drop looking ones). Manufacturers have seen professionals like myself add risers to some or all of these keys closing the distance between these keys and an ADULT’s hand.  Well, they think they’re pretty clever and have started manufacturing these keys with a greater distance from the horn body.  They almost fit an adult’s hand, but if you’re a young person whose hand can barely grab an apple, these keys have to be the DUMBEST things created.  Students have trouble with this because this added height puts the rest of their hand out of position for the keys for their first, second, and third fingers – the MAIN keys for your left hand.  And, since these keys force people to bend their wrist while playing (did someone say risk for Carpal-Tunnel?), it affects the ability to access the left hand pinky keys.  The placement of the side keys (next to your right hand, look like small rectangles) is another difficulty in beginning saxophone technique.  Manufacturers have designed these, for some reason, to be higher on student horns than on professional model horns - I don't know why.  This is going to hinder correct usage of alternate fingerings (side C, side Bb), notes in the upper register (high E & F), and notes in the altissimo (fingerings depend on the horn - however this is something that you may not deal with much or at all as a beginning saxophone student).  Realize that as you upgrade horns, this won’t be as much of a problem.  However, keep an eye on your left hand and wrist.  If your wrist is bent, up, down, side-to-side, whatever, the horn may not be the best fit.  Try and find one with as little height skewing as possible.  If your horn isn't quite right and there's no way to trade it out, don't fret.

Plenty of people, including myself, have learned to play saxophone on less than stellar equipment.  As with most musical concepts, the work is largely in the hands of the player.  If you put in earnest time, explore the possibilities of music, and most importantly make sure you enjoy playing, you'll find your way through.  And, never be afraid to ask questions of many different people, both piers, teachers, and mentors.  Everyone has a different take on things, equipment especially, so make sure you listen to everyone's opinion, try out different things, and find what's right for you.  Be wary of information coming from anyone who "know's the mouthpiece for you", but you're better off listening to 100% of suggestions and getting 5% bad information rather than dismissing any and all opinions.

If anyone has any thoughts on equipment (and I know you do), throw them down in the comment box.

Artists' Set Ups

So, I was looking around for certain players' set-ups recently and was having to hunt more than I thought I should.  A lot of the more modern players' set-ups, unless they're endorsed by a particular mouthpiece or reed company, were really difficult to piece together.  Theo Wanne has an excellent set up chart on his website.  I took some of my information from that, some from hunting and pecking around SOTW and some other forums, and added a few of the younger guys that I was interested in learning about.  This is a chart of saxophonists' set ups broken down into instrument, horn, mouthpiece, reed, & ligature.  As you can probably tell, there are some artists missing.  But, I've tried to provide as much information on each artist as possible.  The list is organized to read reverse chronologically, where the most recent set up is first.  I also include their clarinet, flute, bass clarinet set ups as well where applicable.  If there's anyone you guys would like to know about that's not on the list already, leave me a comment and I'll try and fill them in as soon as I can. Click the thumbnail below for a larger version.

Recommended Reading That Will Help Your Playing

Effortless Mastery – Kenny Werner

This book is pretty widely known in the music community.  It’s about… well, check out the book.  This book tackles the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of creativity.  Kenny uses accounts from his own development as an artist to explain how to think and create effortlessly.

There is also a DVD version of a Kenny Werner master class where he deals with a lot of the same ideas as in the book.  I’ve got both and it’s definitely recommended to check out. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within

Excerpt from "Living Effortless Mastery"

Zen in the Art of Archery – Eugen Herrigel

Currently on my “To Read” list.  This book deals with the idea of developing motor skills and control and turning this process into something as natural as breathing.

I should say however, there is some contention with Zen Buddhists and kyudo practitioners.  This book is very old in terms of the building of an infrastructure over the cultural gap.  There are some things in this book that don't really hold water with purists.  There is an essay entitled The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery by Yamada Shoji that explains some of the holes in what the book deals with.

Having said all of that, even with it's short comings this is supposedly a great starting point for westerners trying to understand the art of Zen.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I first heard about this on a DVD highlighting Terence Blanchard’s CD release of the same truncated title: Flow.  This book deals with the idea of complete immersion in an activity; how one can 'lose themselves' in music.

The Science of Breath – Yogi Ramacharaka

Recommended by Bobby Shew via Maynard Ferguson for improvement in the Trumpet’s extreme register and overall tone development.  This book is complete with all the information you’ll ever need to know about how inhaling and exhaling air works, along with tips on how to improve these processes.  However, being a yoga book, it also keeps the spiritual in mind.

View the complete book for FREE here

View a breakdown of techniques here