2.19 Improving your speed

Here are a few postings taken from a discussion in the newsgroup on improving your speed. I guess my own advice on improving your speed is to look carefully at your technique. You can't turn your back on the basic premise of 'Practise Makes Perfect', but perhaps if you are really struggling you could look at your instrument. Remember that badly seated pads will slow you right down (even if you don't realise it), as will a reed which is too hard or a mouthpiece which is too open. You can get palm-key risers to bring the palm keys closer to your hand if you have big hands, incidentally. Have a look at your local store or try mail order if that doesn't turn u trumps. I wouldn't use these palm key risers unless you really are a giant, though!

We all can play evenly at a slow enough speed. Smooth playing is not as much 'playing notes smoothly', as 'moving between notes' with smooth and consistant technique. Some note intervals are easy to finger and some are hard.

At some point, one or more of your difficult fingering intervals will start being more difficult than the easy intervals, and you will lose your smoothness. Here's what you need to do.

First, identify your most difficult note intervals. For now, only focus on intervals in a scales¬one or two half steps. (Of course, low A with your knee in the bell and ultrasonic altissimos with both feet off the ground make a hard interval. But you can work that one out later.) Use a tape recorder and listen to yourself playing with a metronome. Speed up your playing until you can identify the hard spots. Identify the worst 5 or 6 problem intervals to start with. (You will find that some problem intervals are made more difficult to play smooth because there is a super easy interval right next to it, so when I say interval, it could be 2 or 3 intervals of a scale played together that is the problem.)

Second. You've identified the problem spots. Now HAMMER THEM OUT with hours and days of sweat drenching, neighbor barking practice. That's about what it takes. Always go for total evenness. Never practice faster than you can play it perfect, except to identify problem spots.

Third. This leads us to the PRACTICE TECHNIQUE that can make your practicing much more efficient. There is a BIG reason for not practicing faster than you can play perfect. By doing so, you are ingraining imperfect technique into your body. It is MUCH harder to unlearn later, than to start out slow but perfect and build up.

Here's a simple technique for this (most of you probably know this). Anyway, lets say you have something you must learn that you can't play yet, either a score or a scale or exercise. Start out with your metronome slow enough that you can play it perfect. This might sound stupid and be totally unmusical, but do it anyway. Increase your metronome a little bit ONLY after you have played it perfectly THREE TIMES in a row. (You should break long pieces into smaller sections for this.)

If you make any mistake three times in a row, reduce the metronome back a little. The idea is to avoid allowing your body to learn imperfect techniques, such as moving more quickly between two easy notes than the hard ones.

Keep in mind that we already have ingrained certain problem intervals and techniques that have to be unlearned. (I doubt that there is anyone out there that STARTED playing sax perfectly and never quit. He or she must have played really SLOW!) Anyway, That is why we identify them and then hammer them out. Then modify your practice techniques to avoid reinforcing or learning new imperfections.

Thanks, just had to get in on this one...

Doug Findley

I assume you mean for a fast scale from c to shining c? :) Try this (It's also great for learning other fast passages): start at the end of the end of the scale, and play the last two notes over and over until you can get them really fast. Shouldn't be too hard with 2 notes. Then try the last three, and don't go on until you have it fast and especially SMOOTH. The smoothness is more important IMHO, because if you get something fast, but it's not smooth, you'll just keep practising it unsmoothly everytime you play, if it's smooth but slow, you can go faster just by playing a lot. I find this really helps a lot.

Jonathan "Jon-o" Addleman - [email protected]

Here is another way of saying the same thing, but which makes the underlying principle more explicit: "Speed comes from accuracy." I repeat this little mantra to myself whenever I run into technique problems with fast material.

Patrick Bruer

Check out the article "Speed Developement - or How to Play Fast" in the latest issue of Selmer Woodwind Notes. You can find a copy of this issue on the Selmer home page - The article was co-authored by myself and my graduate assistant. For further exercises I recommend obtaining my book - Scale Anthology - Linear & Vertical Exercises for the Contemporary Saxophonist. More info on this method book can be found on my homepage:

Miles Osland

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