Improve Timing on the Saxophone

Counting using a metronome

Let’s start off with a (deceptively) simple exercise. Pick an easy major scale like F major or G major. Get the metronome and set it to click at a slow tempo, somewhere between 60 and 80. Now play the scale slurred (legato, no tongue), in quarter notes. Every new note should coincide exactly with the click of the metronome.  Record yourself doing this and listen to the recording. You will probably catch yourself playing some notes a bit too early.  Most people tend to rush a bit on such a slow tempo.

Playing such a slow tempo does not mean your finger action is slow too. Press down the keys quickly, deliberately. In fact you could try this without actually playing the saxophone. Make sure that the clicks of the keys are in sync with the clicks of the metronome.

Don’t switch on the metronome and just start playing right away. Give yourself time to really feel the tempo by counting yourself in. Take two bars for this count in.

You should be able to hear the metronome at all times, even when you’re playing with a strong sound. Using an online metronome and connecting your computer to some decent Speakers works great.

For a portable metronome I would recommend the Korg KDM 2.

Repeat the exercise untill you succeed in hitting every note exactly on the click, then speed it up untill you get to around 120 beats per minute, still playing quarter notes, a note on every click.

Now set the metronome back to 60 and play eight notes. Speed it up again until you can play the scale in eight notes, slurred and even with the metronome on 104.

Now it’s time to change the role of the metronome. Let it become a drummer’s Hi Hat by having it click only on beats two and four.  This might take you some time and effort to get used to. One way of getting in to that “2 and 4 groove” is by counting yourself in properly.

Set the metronome on half speed, 52 if you succeeded in playing eight notes at 104. Now just say (out loud) TWO and FOUR on every click.  Then insert the words “three” and “one” BETWEEN the clicks on 2 and 4. So you count: TWO three FOUR one TWO three FOUR one TWO three FOUR one TWO three FOUR.

Do this until you’re comfortable with having the metronome click on the second and fourth beat of the measure.

Count in like I just explained and then, just before you’re ready to play your scale add a little emphasis on “one” and breathe in on the last “four”

So the count off should sound like: TWO    FOUR    TWO   FOUR    TWO three FOUR one TWO three FOUR one two three (breathe) Play on one  !

If you catch yourself starting on the click, you’re too late, that’s the second beat…  Try again! And keep trying until you get the hang of it.

This might feel a little awkward at first but the rewards are huge.

You are in fact preparing yourself to play with a real drummer instead of just a metronome by doing this.

Good luck !

Improve Timing on the Saxophone

Improve Timing on the Saxophone

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