Without a Song

Yesterday I said that waking up has been hard. Today I admit that my focus hasn’t been sharp for a long time, maybe over a week. Life was full of distractions from true practice; from the death of a friend to gigs to big exams, and I changed jobs twice in the past month.


Today I felt calm, healthy, and ready.


The short version:

20 Minutes Flute

25 Minutes long tones

15 Minutes scales

1 Hour “Without a Song”

30 Minutes flute

30 Minutes “Green Dolphin St”


Long tones on the flute are taking on a meditative quality for me. The flute, being still new, demands my complete focus, which in a way clears my mind. I also feel excited to continue progressing because the marginal benefits are huge right now (being able to play new notes on the flute, getting my tone up to par, means way more than being slightly better at melodic minor scales on sax for instance).


After the flute, I did long tones on the sax. I noticed my mind kept drifting, so I would ask myself specific questions like “can I open my throat more?” “How can I use my air more efficiently?” And paying attention to the finer details of my embouchure.


Lately, between the flute and severely limited time for the sax, I haven’t been able to practice really advanced things at fast tempos. So today I felt priveliged and grateful to finally run some scales.


At 120BPM, I did half-whole diminished scales. Using the Jim Gailloreto method (basically an ascending-descending pattern that covers all the modes), I played in 8th note triplets. I mixed the accents to add extra polyrhythmic effect. I also did 16h notes, which I rarely practice, but I was pleased that I could execute 16ths at that tempo.


After a break for class, I picked up a new tune called “Without a Song”. Like most other tunes I’ve learned, I simply asked someone better than me for a tune I should learn. I began by listening to the Frank Sinatra version because vocalists usually perform the head relatively straight, whereas instrumentalists will alter the melody in various ways.


I learned the A section from Sinatra by ear, but it was in a non-standard key, so I switched to the Sonny Rollins version and learned the B section from him. His guitar player did the B section pretty straight. Overall, I had the head down in about 5-10 minutes.


The rest of the hour I spent on harmony. First I analyzed the changes, which are fairly simple and in a pretty easy key. Then I played my chord tone exercise, but only for a little while. I soon moved on to the more advanced exercise I learned earlier in the way connecting chord tones and scales. It’s similar to playing all chord tones in time, but sometimes I use appropriate scales to connect chord tones. Sometimes I artificially use more scales or more chord tones. Below is a video I took on my phone (since my laptop camera isn’t working) demonstrating.

After a break, I later sought out a flutist in the practice rooms to help me. She taught me much better fingerings for a few notes, helped me with some technique and tone, and ran me through a few basic scale exercises. Super helpful and set me on a good path for the next few weeks. She also gave me a technique book. Shoutouts to you, Kelsey Akers.


So I spent about half an hour on flute with her (longest flute chunk of time yet for me). I couldn’t practice anymore because of how taxing it is on my hands and mouth still.


Around 7pm, when rehearsal was over, I practiced another 30 minutes on sax. Green dolphin street, mostly improvisation. One thing I’m becoming more aware of is connecting with audiences on stage. I have noticed just how much you have to give, how the audience can tell when you push yourself. So I tried to be less methodical today, and let myself play as expressively as possible.


So happy that I finally enjoyed hearing myself improvise. Not that I am “great”, just that I have a decent amount variety of rhythmic and harmonic and melodic ideas that I can employ well, and I was doing the things I wanted to do in my mind. For so long I struggled to get to this place, this place of satisfaction.


Happy practicing!

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