Spanish Phrygian

Following a commitment I made a couple of weeks ago, I began practicing with a 3-minute meditation. I was surprised by how hard it was to do just 3 minutes. It's truly a daily practice that I need to follow more closely.


But it worked in the sense that I felt calm and filled with mental energy. I started with flute; it has been a little neglected recently. I've played it for various reasons, but not really practiced. So I began with long tones from middle B down to low C. I was very focused on making minute adjustments to my embouchure, really stretching my facial muscles in accordance with proper flute technique (very different than sax technique).

Next I played a scalar pattern up to about middle C (where I had done long tones). I then played the descending version in a different key. In the video, I played Eb major from low to high, then E major from high to low. I didn't want to play anything too fancy so that I could focus extremely hard on the fundamentals. How my fingers pressed the keys (gently/smoothly), how my tone sounded, posture, etc.

After that, I had to rest my flute chops so I switched to sax and started long tones. The more I play in real settings, the more I see that technical ability matters less and tone matters more; few people want to hear shredding jazz solos. I enjoy focusing on tone anyway. If certain types of scales and modes are one way of exploring sound (tonality), then tone is another way of exploring sound.


While playing long tones, I alternated between a focus on tone and a focus on tuning. I would usually get the tone I wanted, check the tuner, then adjust as necessary while trying to keep the good tone. Sometimes I would play a note in tune then try to move it up and down just 10 cents. It's a great way to train the ear to be extra sensitive to tuning.


Following a break, I started up again with flute, knowing that my flute endurance is still low. I played long tones going up from middle B this time. When I reached G, I switched from long tones to overtones. Overtones (fingering a low note and using embouchure to play an octave or octave and a half higher) train the facial muscles to play higher notes efficiently and with more control. It honestly hurt, but it was a good pain. Growing pain. After a few minutes of overtones I played a few more long tones in the higher register.


Then I switched to sax and started my latest obsession: The Spanish Phrygian scale (SP). The SP is really more of a mode, the fifth mode of harmonic minor. But it has more possibilities, for instance, by raising the 7th.


The SP is constructed as follows: 1-b2-3-4-5-b6-7-1(8). In solfege: Do, ra, mi, fa, sol, le, te, do. Like I said, you can change "te do" to "ti do" for a different sound. It's very middle-eastern.


My teacher and I worked on this scale a bit before the semester ended, and discovered it can work over a dom7#11 chord pretty well.


To gain control over this scale, I simply applied the Jim Gailloreto method. Practicing it in all ranges of my horn in different rhythms and patterns. When starting a new scale, something cognitively demanding, I always remind myself to remain focused on playing with good technique and tone as well.

Triad pairing is a concept I learned about recently. Without going into too much detail, it is finding different triads that exist within scales and using them for certain effects. Usually it's applied to diminished scales. In a SP scale, there are actually two major triads; a very rare quality (aside from major and minor scales). Even more interesting is that they are a half-step apart. Below is a quick demo I did mixing the sounds of these triads.

The SP took me to the end of the day. It felt great to be back in full force. Noticeably, tunes were absent from my practice today. That's because I've grown tired of standards for the moment. I want to use winter break as a time to explore things that light my soul on fire. Maybe tunes will come back in the next few weeks, or maybe they'll wait until next semester begins.


Happy practicing!


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