I love to play the Blues on saxophone. It’s an awesome style to learn.
But the problem is for most people starting out with learning to play the Blues on saxophone, they’re focusing on the wrong thing. The solos don’t sound very convincing or authentic and it’s just not fun.
Learning to play Blues on saxophone
In today’s lesson, I want to share with you three essential Blues techniques that will help you to capture that Blues style, and make the process of learning to play the Blues on saxophone much easier.
This will work for you, whether you are a beginner player, whether you’re coming back to the saxophone, or even if you’ve been playing for ages but now you’re finally starting to learn about improvising.
I’ve got a PDF and a practice track that you can use to start learning to play the Blues as well. It’s free – click the link below.
Get the PDF and practice track for this lesson – plus all of our other free resources, inside Locker.
This month in Sax School, it’s Blues Month. I’ve written a really cool challenge song that our members are learning called Ramblin’ Blues.
And so we’re talking about Blues and we’re learning about Blue skills and our members are having fun, sharing videos about their process of learning the Blues on saxophone too.
One of our Sax School tutors, Dean Hilson, who is a fabulous Blues player from Australia, put out a video this week about a legendary blues player called Sam “the Man” Taylor. He’s one of Dean’s favourite players and a big inspiration for him. If you’ve not seen it go and check it out.
Sam “the Man” Taylor is one of my favourite Blues players too. The reason I love Sam “the Man” Taylor though, is because not only was he an iconic player that sort of changed the direction of Blues saxophone, but because his style is really easy to understand.
And I think if you’re starting out learning to play the Blues on saxophone, players like Sam “the man” Taylor are a great template, because they do all the things that we’re going to talk about today.
I mentioned that there’s a free PDF and practice track for today’s lesson. And you can check that out from the link down below – It’s completely free. We grab all of the free stuff that we give away here at Sax School (and there’s loads of it), and we stick it in the Locker. You just need to register and then you get access to all the free stuff too.
Get the PDF and practice track for this lesson – plus all of our other free resources, from our Locker.
Tip #1 Simple Rhythm
The very first tip I want you to really focus on sounds simple, but is super important, and most people miss it when they are learning to play Blues on saxophone. Your lines must be simple rhythmically. You’ve got to focus on having really simple rhythms. That applies for all improvising, but for Blues it’s essential.
And it’s particularly important if you’re talking about the sort of down and dirty, simple groovy Blues that you hear from someone like Sam “the Man” Tayor that I mentioned earlier. You’ve got to remember that this was dancing music. It’s music that people would listen to, connect with, move to – so the rhythm is so important.
Keep it simple
When you’re improvising (and this is such a great thing if you’re just starting out learning Blues on saxophone), you can just stick to a simple rhythm. So whole count notes and half beat notes; we’re talking about crotchets and quavers, or eighth notes and quarter notes.
Now on the PDF, I’ve got three little rhythms that you can use as a starting point.They’re simple, and these are all crotchets and quavers, or quarter notes and eighth notes. Now I’m going to demonstrate on the tenor saxophone, but if you grab the free PDF it’s also transposed for alto saxophone.
To keep things simple, I’m using a backing of tracking the key of A flat concert. Why? Because the “Midnight Rambler” transcription from Dean Hilson’s Sam “the man” Taylor video, is in the key of A flat concert. I think it’s good to learn some skills over that key area, because then if you want to grab that free transcription as well and have a go at improvising on it, then you’ve got a bit of a headstart.
Let’s look at these three simple rhythms. They’re dead easy.
Watch the video as a demonstrate them.
Just to prove that you can actually make a solo using these simple rhythms, I’m going to put the track on now and have a jam through, trying to combine these rhythms and see if I can make a solo that feels energetic, but is simple. This is a brilliant first step. Have a listen on the video.
I got a bit carried away toward the end there, but you can see that just a simple rhythm can really work if you use it in the right way. Keep your rhythm simple as you start improvising and have some fun with that.
Tip #2 Simple Melodies
Now, if you’ve watched any of my other blues lessons or improvising lessons, or even if you’re a Sax School member, you’ll know that one of my favourite sayings is to “keep your melody lines simple.”
And that’s exactly what I’m suggesting we do here. this is even more important if you’re just starting out with improvising and learning to play Blues on saxophone. You’ve got to keep your note choices really simple. There are so many ways that we can expand on our melody choices. I made a great video about how to make your lines more interesting.
But if we’re just getting started out, the most important thing is that we get a clear framework and some clear guidelines about how we can improvise. That means we’re comfortable, we’re confident in how we can make lines and solos that actually work, and from there we can build things out.
And this is why I think it’s super-important to start with really simple melody lines. In fact, I’m going to suggest we can just start with the first four notes of a Blues scale. You can start with two notes, but let’s make it a bit more interesting.
On the PDF I’ve written four notes out. I’m going to put the backing track on now and see if I can use those four notes to make up a solo that sounds good.
The thing is, if I keep my rhythm simple, and couple that with a simple melody line by having clear, simple note choices, you’ve really got a winning formula for a solo that is going to work.
Remember we’re talking about getting the foundations right. Then we can build on this to make something that’s a bit more flamboyant and a bit more exciting. It’s about getting the principles right.
Watch the video as I demo this.
Tip #3 Attitude
Our third tip is attitude. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s actually really important.
When you listened to a great Blues saxophone player, you’re not just listening to the notes. You’re listening to the attitude, the physicality of the way they’re playing. And let me tell you those players are working hard.
They’re not just playing the notes. They are really connecting with the music. And they’re playing with attitude. How do we do that? How do we connect with our music and get that same attitude in our playing?
What is Attitude?
Well, if we were going to break it down into its elements, I’m talking about using aggressive articulation. I’m talking about timing – being really firm about where the music fits on the beat. Remember, this is dancing music. We’d also going to be experimenting with dynamics to create interest. We’re going to be making notes short; we’re going to be making notes more emphasised. And we’re going to be trying to feel in our body, the energy, and the excitement that we hear when we listen to these great recordings.
Let me give you a quick example.
If you look at the PDF, here’s the first phrase. I’m just going to play it straight as if it’s a classical piece.
I swung it, but it sounds pretty normal. But what if I play with some attitude? Imagine that I’m in a Blues club, and there’s a room full of people that are going crazy. The band are grooving behind me, I’m excited. I might play it like this. I might even play it up the octave.
Do you hear how I play the first note harder, and then I accented the second note? And then the last note, I cut nice and short so that it had more emphasis and more energy.
This is a small point, but it’s something that’s most commonly missed. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people who’ve joined Sax School and said, “My solos sound just a bit boring. They sound humdrum. How do I make them sound more exciting?” And one of the most important things that are most commonly missing is attitude.
Grab the PDF from Sax School Locker and then spend some time practicing along using those three techniques that I spoke about today.
Start by making some simple melodies using just crotchets and quavers or quarter notes or eight notes.
Expand it out to use two or three or maybe four note choices.
And remember all the way along, keep that attitude in there so you are really trying to connect with the music.
Now there’s another lesson coming up soon where I’m going to be giving you an easy blues jam, where you can put all this into action. But in the meantime, I’d suggest that you spend plenty of time listening to artists like Sam “the Man” Taylor. Or check out the other articles on my blog about guys like Lee Allen.
If you’re a Sax School member, or if you have the Blues Mastery course, Red Prysock is a saxophone player that we dig into a lot. He is incredible for this style of playing, using these elements we’ve talked about: simple melodies, simple rhythms, and attitude.
Have some fun with that. Don’t forget to explore the other things on the blog here. Don’t forget to go and see what we’re doing over at Sax School as well.
And if you’re serious about really making amazing progress on your saxophone then click here to get started with Sax School.
Then you can be part of our monthly challenges and I’d love to see you start to make some great progress with learning to play Blues on saxophone – with your improvising, with your stylistic playing, and with your musicality in general, that’s all waiting for you over at Sax School.