Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jazz Improvisation for Beginners

Today I want to share with you a jazz improvisation technique that I used in high school with great success.  For most beginners the idea of having to improvise in front of others is quite daunting.  They really have no idea where to start.  They typically can't read chords and they have little experience on their instrument.  This leads to a fear of improvisation.  I can't tell you how many peers I had in high school and jr. high that were afraid to improvise just because they had no idea where to start.  I want to help with that fear and concern.

Jazz improvisation can be a tricky subject so I understand a beginners concern, especially when they are required to improvise but they're not ready.  Personally I found the idea of learning to improvise a challenge so instead of backing down I took every opportunity I could to improvise.  This led to me getting the first tenor parts  even though there were older  more experienced students around.  In my journey I discovered a lot of things, but I found that most methods of learning jazz improvisation just didn't help a beginner.  Often times your told read the cords, use scales, play notes that fit, transcribe the greats and so on.  These are helpful for learning to improvise in jazz, but just plain overwhelming for a beginner. What scales do you use, what notes fit the chords, how can I transcribe the greats when they play so fast?  These are challenges and questions that beginners have.  To get through these challenges a beginning saxophonist just needs to simplify things.  That's what I did in high school and it worked wonders.  Let me explain.

In high school I was reading a lot of jazz charts.  So many in fact that I never had time to truly learn the chord progressions.  What I ended up doing was looking at the key signature of the chart, and figuring out what key the piece was in.  I would then look to see if the chart had any accidentals that showed up frequently.  Then when it came time to improvise I would just use the major or minor scale that fit the key signature as my base.  If the tune had accidentals I would add those too.  From there I just played by ear.  When I started doing this I no longer had to worry about the chords, or what scales to use, or even what notes to choose.  This technique worked great for me and it gave me so much more freedom.  Instead of having to think about a million things all at once. I was able to focus on creativity and music. So in a nut shell here is the technique that I recommend beginners use as a starting point to learning to improvise jazz.
  1. Use the songs key signature as a basis of finding what scale or scales you should use in your improvisation
  2. See if the tune has frequent accidentals.  If so use those accidentals in your jazz improvisations.
  3. Play and have fun.
It's that simple, find the key and use that scale as your base.  If you do this the notes you play will for the most part fit, and you will be more free to be creative and to experiment.  The jazz improvisation technique I just mentioned is a great one for beginners.  It is fairly simple and it's a good starting point.  I do have to say this however it is not a start all, end all technique.  Meaning you will still have to work at it and that there will become a point where for you to progress you will have to learn other techniques and you will have to learn how to read and play over chord progressions.  For beginners this technique works great because the music they play typically stays in the same key and doesn't have crazy stuff, but when you get more advanced music this technique won't work nearly as well because advanced music changes tonality from time to time and if you try to play the key signature when the tonality changes it will sound wrong.  Also for this technique to work well you will have to listen to jazz so you get an idea of how to build your ideas.  I hope this is helpful for all those beginning improvisers.  Later I plan on sharing other drills and techniques that help with learning to improvise jazz.  Good luck


Friday, August 27, 2010

Three Keys to Long Tone Success

I realized that in my last post on the mechanics of playing long tones that I forgot to mention a few key things to remember.  Here they are,  First remember that as your practicing your long tones that you want your sound to be as consistent as possible.  Don't let the pitch go all over the place  you want your sound to be centered.  Try to make it one pure sound.  Also don't add vibrato, this can hide problems that you may have with your tone.  Second,  have smooth transitions between notes.  If you slur make sure that the notes stay centered.  If you tongue make sure that it is a clear clean articulation.  Don't use a breath articulation, slur or tongue only.  Third, remember to take it slowly.  Long tone practice isn't supposed to be done quickly.  There you have it three key things to remember while practicing your long tones.  I know this post is short, but your probably sick of hearing about long tones so I decided to keep it short.  In my next post I'm thinking about discusing a jazz improvisation technique that is great for beginners.  Until then,


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Mechanics of Practicing Long Tones

It's another day and I have more to say, on long tones that is. So grab your saxophone and get ready to blow.  Today is the the day you learn about the mechanics of practicing long tones on the saxophone.  For many saxophonist the big question is " What note do I start on?  How long do I practice long tones? Or  Do I practice long tones like scales or chromatically.?"  I hope to answer these questions today.

For the first question, "What note do I start on?"  I suggest you start on middle "C", or in the middle of the saxophone.  I know this differs from others who say you should start on lower "C", but for beginners this note might be to hard.  The goal is to work to the point that you can start anywhere on your saxophone low or high, but in the beginning starting in the middle is best.  This allows you to start in a comfortable spot and work your way to the more challenging notes.

Now, "How long do you practice long tones?"  This is more a personal preference.  It also depends on your goals and the amount of practice time you have,but I would say the minimum is 5 minutes.  Personally I will practice long tones for 15 to 30 minutes.  It really depends on the day.  I will say this however,  when I do practice long tones I try to make sure that I have enough time to practice my long tones through the whole range of the saxophone.  I start on middle "C" then go all the way down to "B Flat" chromatically then I go chromatically back up the saxophone until I reach the "F Sharp" in the palm keys.  I then go back down chromatically  to middle "C" once I've done this I have practiced every note on the saxophone excluding altissimo.  Some times I do add altissimo to my long tone practice but that really depends on my time.  The important thing is to become comfortable with your saxophone and to be able to play in all the ranges with equal clarity.

OK, for the last question.  "Do I practice long tones like scales or do I do it chromatically?"  The answer is do both.  To start I would suggest doing your long tones chromatically, however you should be just as adept at practicing them like scales.  From time to time I will break up my chromatic long tone practice by practicing my scales at a really slow tempo.  By doing this I treat my scales just like long tones and am able to focus on getting a smooth transition from note to note.  Once you are really comfortable with long tones you will want to practice them in intervals too such as fifths and fourths.

Well that's really it for the mechanics of practicing long tones.  Find a comfortable note to start on. Play it for a while then smoothly transition to the next note.  Follow this pattern until you have covered the full range of your saxophone.  Do this for at least 5 minutes a day and your sound will improve trumedoulsy.  Good luck practicing.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Essence of Practicing Long Tones

Essence, it’s a funny word when considering something like long tone practice, but it is descriptive.

When you hear essence what does it make you think of, the life of something maybe, or how about the core or inner working; its characteristics.

All these things are used to describe the essence of something, and this is what I would like you to keep in mind today as I discuss essence and its relationship to practicing long tones and jazz improvisation. 

So what are long tones and what does essence have to do with it?

Most people think practicing long tones implies taking your instrument and then playing a note for awhile.

Well this is partially true, there really is more to practicing long tones. 

Long tone practice is really a form of focused practice that develops your tone, sound, and your musical voice.

Keyword being focused practice.  Otherwise long tone practice is pointless and just plain boring.

Believe me when I say that the only way long tone practice is going to be productive, meaningful, and not plain boring is if you have a clear focus on what you want to accomplish.

This is where essence comes in.  You need to ask yourself, “What do I want the essence of my sound to be?   What is my musical voice?  What elements do I want in my sound?  Is it smoothness, or maybe a bright buzz, or do want a light breathy sound?”

Whatever you want the core of your sound to be, whatever your sound conception is, your sound is developed, made, and created by figuring out how to bring out the essence of your sound through the practice of long tones.

Where Musical Essence comes from

This brings up the question, “Where does musical essence come from?”

Well, your musical essence will come from within, and this can only happen if you relax, take your time, and really get inside your sound.

Hear the different shades and colors in each note.  Feel the life within the sound.  Let your instrument become a part of you.  

When you are relaxed, yet focused, really trying to create something real with your sound, that’s when your personality, self, and musical conception will shine through.

I know that when I say things like feel, hear, and see it might sound funny but if you want your music to have life to it.  If you want your music to ring true with others, and if you want your music to be timeless you have to give it life

The only way to give your music and your instrument life is to breath that life into it by hearing, feeling, and seeing the possibilities and nuances.  This is what I call essence.

Really when it comes to developing essence in your sound through the practice of long tones you need to be conscious of the fact that you’re striving to bring life to your music and playing.

People like music because it connects with them both emotionally, and spiritually.

Bringing your life force, or essence into your music will allow you to more completely connect with your audience and share something that is truly meaningful.

The proper mindset

What I’ve shared with you today is really the mindset that you need to have while practicing your long tones, and any musical exercise for that matter.

Strive to bring your musical conception along with yourself to all aspects of your music through focused practice.

Long tone practice is a great way to go about bringing essence to your sound and creating life in your music.  
It is the one exercise where you can put all your time and effort into creating your own personal sound.

So here is the mindset that you need as you are practicing your long tones.

Focus on the idea that you create beautiful and creative music only by instilling your personality and life into your instrument.

The deeper you dive and delve into the various ways you can express emotion, thought, and personality in your sound the more real your music will be, and the greater you will progress.

Well that’s all for now. 

I hope that the concept of creating essence in your playing will help you create the musical voice you desire and make it so that your music will have life.  I know the above has helped me greatly and it will do the same for you.

I’d be interested in hearing how you have gone about creating your own unique voice.  Whether this is through the use of long tones like I’ve described or some other method feel free to share.

Until next time,


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

5 Reasons Why Long Tone Practice is Important

You’ve all heard it.  Practice those long tones, but the question is why should you?

Well you’re in luck.  Today I have 5 reasons why you should practice long tones.

People only cheer for those who sound good

Let’s face it; no one wants to listen to a musician that sounds bad.

You may have the coolest, most burning saxophone solo ever, but if your tone is bad you just won’t be convincing.  Believe it or not, people can tell if you have worked on your sound or not.

Besides, the best way to sound like a professional is to do what they did, and guess what they practiced their long tones.

Everyone needs a warm-up

Long tones are a great warm-up. They prepare you both mentally and physically.

When practiced properly long tones get you in the right state of mind to have a successful and productive practice session.

Don’t forget that long tones are simple. This makes it so you can really pay attention to little nuances.  This will make all the difference in the world.

Believe it or not daily long tone practice will do wonders to the way you sound, practice and progress musically.

Trust me when I say long tone practice makes your practice sessions better.

Gain complete control

Who doesn’t want to master their horn?

To gain mastery over you instrument, whether it’s a flute, saxophone, or even a trumpet, focusing on your sound is important.

Complete control comes from spending time mastering the little things.

Really you want your instrument to become an extension of yourself.  This only happens when you become intimate with your horn.

Long tones might not seem like much, but they really are the key to unlocking a professional mature sound.

By practicing long tones you develop your embouchure, lungs and your ear.  It also gives you the control necessary to being expressive on your instrument.

Instead of just having notes come out, you will have shades of colors in your tone.

Develops your own personal sound

This is my favorite.  We all have an idea of what we want to sound like, but the question is do you do something about it.

I know I sure do.  That’s practice long tones.

Practicing long tones on your instrument gives you the opportunity to turn your conceptualized sound into a reality.

It won’t happen by accident.  You have to take time working on developing your own personal sound.

Long tone practice does this by allowing you to experiment and figure out what you need to do with your throat, larynx and oral cavity to get the sound you personally desire.

Foundation for success

Everything you practice will benefit from the work you do on your sound.

Long tones really are the foundation of your success.

With long tones you learn how to blow, and I mean really blow.  You gain balance throughout all ranges of your instrument, and you understand what needs to be done with your whole body to handle your instrument.

High, low, middle it won’t matter long tone practice gives you what you need to play consistently everywhere on your horn.

Then don’t forget that with a stronger embouchure and greater lung strength comes a smoother airstream.  Something important for those really fast passages you play.

You can’t become a monster player without that smooth and steady airstream.

Putting it all together

Well there you have it, five great reasons why you should make practicing long tones a part of your daily practice.

It makes you sound better.  Gives you complete control, and don’t forget it is a great warm up that helps you develop your own personal sound.  All this while being a great foundation that all you’re musical endeavors can rest upon.

Need I say more? Yes I do.

Practicing long tones is the simplest and most beneficial thing you can do to improve your playing dramatically. 

I hope that’s not too much.  I just want to make my point clear.  Just do it. 

Well I would have to say that is all.

Until Next Time


PS. Feel free to share how practicing long tones has helped you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Caruso the Creator of Caruso's Saxophone Tips

So you want to know who heads Caruso’s Saxophone Tips do ya?

Well that would be me, Michael Caruso, an avid student of music and life. 

I’ve taken a journey, a journey that has taught me a lot.  A journey full of ups and downs, highs and lows, but one that is worthwhile and rewarding.  From this journey I have gained knowledge.

It is this knowledge that I wish to share here on Caruso’s Saxophone Tips.  With ten plus years of learning and playing the saxophone it’s time I give back.

Caruso and His Thoughts

I’m a Saxophonist and Flutist, but most of all I’m a musician.  Jazz is my first love. When it comes to music I love the expression, emotion and pureness of it. 

I have many hobbies like chess and reading, but music is the top.  I’ve spent many years studying music at the college level, and privately.  To truly express myself to the fullest while playing is what I work for every time I play and practice.

It is my wish that all those visiting Caruso’s Saxophone Tips can learn and grow from the experience and insights I have to share.

The Best of Luck to You all,


For a more in depth Biography of Caruso check out Caruso Mini Biography

Friday, August 13, 2010

Welcome to Caruso's Saxophone Tips

Welcome and thanks for stopping by Caruso’s Saxophone Tips.

On this music blog you will find ideas, tips, and interesting exercises meant to help you grow as a musician.

Though I am a saxophonist Caruso’s Saxophone Tips is meant for any musician wishing to improve.  Especially those interested in creating their own jazz voice, and in becoming creative improvisers.

It is my hope that you will join me on a journey of self-expression, musical beauty, and learning.

The Best of Luck on your musical journey,