Lockdown has begun
24 Mar 20

Lockdown has begun

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Well there we are, that’s it. There’s literally no excuses left whatsoever to not practise, the government is actually enforcing you to stay at home. I tune out a bit when Boris talks but I’m pretty sure what he said was…mandatory 3 month shed.

So where do you start? Tidy up some scales, finish that diminished pattern your started last summer? or just jump in at the deep end and transcribe Coltrane’s solo on countdown?

Well, the truth is I don’t know because firstly we all have different learning styles so can’t absorb this stuff in the same way and secondly, I don’t know everything…. far from it, in the grand scheme of things I know sweet FA.

Now that you’ve got no gigs (soz to bring that up), no rehearsals, no exams, no recitals you can be a little bit more methodical with your practise rather than just cram in some general maintenance before frantically learning the horn parts to Conga by Gloria Estefan then leaving for another ‘unique’ wedding in the middle of nowhere with ‘quirky’ hay bails for seats and too many men wearing formal shoes without socks.

My advice (for what it’s worth) would be to break down your practise to the following:

  • Tone

  • Technique

  • Tunes

  • Transcriptions

OMG - I promise I didn’t try to do that it literally just happened! TTTT! I should copyright that, or at least get it printed on a tote bag or tattooed on Johno or something.



I start every practise session playing long notes, fingering bottom Bb but lipping it to the Bb above and then go up chromatically as far as C or Dd or something. This gets you warmed up quickly but also over time strengthens your tone, and helps your altissimo range. There’s a million different ways to get improve your tone and this is just one of course, but I found this masterclass with Marcus Strickland very enlightening as well, especially the bit about drones with that I,V,III(X) exercise thing- watch it

Finished watching that? well there’s 1hr 27mins of isolation DONE right there. We’ve totally got this.



I’m no super technician on the saxophone but I’ve done my fair share of practice and what I can promise you is that there’s no point sticking a backing track on and meandering around a certain tonal centre or changes, it just doesn’t work. You have to be methodical, pick a pattern, understand it’s harmonic function and apply it to all twelve keys.

The only backing you should be doing this to really is a metronome, but if you’re working on stuff that benefits from context (for your ear’s sake) then there’s some good resources like this which just comp common changes in all keys for you, I believe this one is from the Jamey Aebersold II,V,I book which if you haven't already perused is definitely worth checking out.

Maybe I just breached a bunch of copyright laws, who knows…. IT’S LOCKDOWN BABY! NO RULES!!

Make sure you switch up whatever you're practising every 10 minutes or so, if you over play the same thing you’ll eventually ‘un-learn’ it and basically start learning how to play it wrong. Know when to stop…keep it fresh.


Tunes (repertoire)

By far the weakest aspect of my playing, I literally have a memory like a sieve for actual heads and changes. It doesn’t matter where you’re at with your playing, there are always more tunes to add to your repertoire.

I’m strictly talking Jazz here, but here’s a good list of essentials that someone else made so I don’t have to:

I know some people who’ve had success with the ‘tune a week’ regime which will see off that list in little under a year, but I find I work best learning about 2 - 4 tunes at the same time just to keep it interesting.

Just to clarify, ‘knowing a tune’ doesn't mean you can play the head from memory and blow the changes comfortably, I would give you a ‘pass’ for that. To get a ‘merit’ you’d need to be able to blow over the tune unaccompanied in time without losing the form and outlining the changes confidently. You’d get a distinction for being able to do that in any key having fully comprehended the tonal centres and harmonic structure of the tune. once again, strictly talking about Jazz (sorry, it’s all I know).

Wanna hear what really ‘knowing a tune’ sounds like:

£50 of reeds for anyone who can transcribe that before they find a cure….lolololol #goodluck

…Which brings me to the fourth and final T in my practise regime:



Oh did I say that knowing tunes was my biggest weakness…. I meant transcribing, yeah that’s DEFINITELY my weakness.

I would be a far better musician if I’d taken the time to transcribe things properly over the years, but I’ve still learnt a lot from the sporadic scraps of transcribing I have done because even if you transcribe a few bars, a nice lick or just a pattern, it’s worth it. In a way taking just a small element of a transcription and dissecting it is more useful than getting the whole solo down to memory. Nobody wants to hear you play the Countdown solo note for note because you’re not John Coltrane, but if you take a small pattern from the solo and understand the mechanics of it and shed it in all twelve then you might start to discover some of the things which Coltrane worked on which eventually resulted in him being such a galactic badass.

So make sure you're stocked up on reeds (we’re doing free delivery at the moment) buy an epic bag of coffee beans and hit the woodshed for a few weeks. If any of you are struggling to keep motivated and would benefit from some distance tuition via Skype/Whatsapp/Zoom etc, email us on and we can team you up with an appropriate teacher.


…oh yeah and don’t go outside / avoid deadly virus.


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