What do you do if you want to learn saxophone but can’t find a teacher?
You go online!
The last few years have seen a massive growth in online learning.
According to UNESCO, 6 billion people around the world now have access to mobile phones and digital devices. With such easy access to the internet, there are more opportunities than ever before to learn something new –wherever you are.
Two sax students tell their stories of learning online.
Mindy works full-time as a zookeeper in Illinois, in the United States.
Some friends of mine have a band called “LHP” and I go and hear them all the time. A sax player joined them, and it made me realise how much I loved the sax on all my favourite records. I decided I really wanted to learn to play the saxophone!
But, I had never played any musical instrument before, and I couldn’t read music.
I bought a cheap alto sax and it arrived in the post on 27th December, 2012. I went to my local music store and bought a tutor book, but I felt this wasn’t enough.
I couldn’t find a teacher locally. The nearest sax teacher was around an hour’s drive away, and charges about $25 for half an hour. When you include fuel costs as well this starts to look very expensive, and was unaffordable to me. There is a really big Jazz School at a college near where I live, but you can’t just have private saxophone lessons if you aren’t a student, so that wasn’t an option either.
In desperation I looked on YouTube for some tips. I watched a few different videos by different teachers, but then I came across Nigel McGill. I really liked Nigel’s style and found his free videos on YouTube really useful.
Then I found a link to Sax School.
Initially I liked Sax School because it was really good value for money. Nigel provides the sheet music for each song he teaches, and I reckon the subscription is worth it for that alone! It was more structured than just trawling through YouTube, as well.
Nigel does requests, so I have asked him for a few different songs that I have been playing with the band, and he has provided a Sax School Lesson on that song including the sheet music!
As well as the songs, I really like the technique lessons. They cover just about everything you need.
I upgraded from that first student instrument after 6 months. I got a great deal on a cosmetically damaged alto. Then the sax player in the band was changing his tenor, so I bought his old one from him. So it’s great for me that Sax School has lessons for both alto and tenor saxophone.
Fitting my practice into my life
I work between 7am and 4pm. I tend to practice in the evening, and I practice a lot at the weekends. I probably practice for between 1 and 3 hours a day!
One of the things I love about this style of learning is that I can log in anywhere. I can watch a lesson in my break at work, on my phone.
Broadening my sax horizons
Another thing I like about learning saxophone this way is that it has introduced me to different styles of music I probably wouldn’t have tried. I really love rock, but I’ve been encouraged to try different genres. For example, there was a lesson on Grover Washington’s “Winelight”, and I really loved it. It got me listening to jazz and I even went to a Boney James gig! I would never have done that without being introduced to the music through my lesson.
I’ve made loads of friends through the forum. I get great advice on gear, for example, I’m looking to get a clip-on mike to use when I’m playing gigs, and forum members have given me tips on what to look for. It’s really supportive. We share recordings of our playing too.
My First Gig – A Big Milestone
On my second “saxoversary” (Dec 2014) I played my first gig with LHP at a local bar restaurant in my home town. I had some sessions with the guitarist, learning how to play with a band. I played David Bowie’s “Modern Love”.
It’s actually a baritone sax solo, but Nigel helped me to transpose it for tenor. I had to write an ending for it myself, and the improvisation lessons really helped with that. It was in a really tricky key too (C#)! It was a great feeling to play something I had actually written myself, and for people to love it. I felt on top of the world! It was great to play in my local bar, all my friends were there.
“I can honestly say I’m a Sax Player now, and SAXSCHOOL is the only teacher I’ve had!.”
Nigel was a great support in helping me get over my nerves for this first gig, and gave me pointers to increase my confidence. I feel like I really know Nigel even though I’ve never met him! He gives me great advice.
I’ve played with the band twice now. I am going to stand in for the sax player for some sets too.
Playing music with the band has really motivated me to practice and get better too; it gives me something to work towards.
I can honestly say “I’m a Sax Player now!”, and Sax School is the only teacher I’ve had.
Will is Director of Technology in IB International Girl’s Boarding School, Jeju Island, South Korea.
I played saxophone for two years when I lived in the UK. But when we moved to China 7 years’ ago, I couldn’t find a teacher, so I stopped playing. I didn’t play for the next six years.
In July 2014 we moved to Jeju Island. I looked on the island for a saxophone teacher, but with no luck. Then at Christmas 2014 a friend from the UK sent me a link to one of Nigel McGill’s videos on YouTube. I made a New Years’ Resolution that I was going to start learning to play again.
My saxophone had been stolen during one of our house moves in China. So, my wife bought me a student saxophone, and promised that if I kept playing for a year, I could have the saxophone I really wanted.
I have been learning with Sax School for three months, and last Friday I played at my first ever live gig!
What I like about Distance Learning
The island where we live is very small, with a population of around 600,000. The school is part of a new initiative called the “Global Education Village” and is in the middle of nowhere! We are half an hour from the nearest Starbucks and an hour from the nearest MacDonalds. Surprisingly, I found a saxophone teacher locally but she only speaks Korean (I speak Chinese but not Korean). So Sax School works really well for me.
I have Skype lessons once a week, and I use the Sax School video lessons in between as part of my practice routine. I find using the backing tracks, the videos and the sheet music together has really helped to improve my reading.
The Skype lessons can accommodate the difference in time zone for me, and we can be flexible to fit round my work commitments.
Nigel is a really great teacher. I teach teachers, and observe them all the time, and I see Nigel as an outstanding teacher. I practice every day, and with Nigel’s encouragement I have gone from only having the stamina to play for ten minutes at a time to being able to play for an hour. The practice sessions and routines have really helped me.
My First Gig – A Big Learning Experience
Where we live, my neighbours are my work colleagues, so they had all heard me practising. They heard me playing “Ain’t No Sunshine” and suggested we form a small group to play in a school talent contest. There were 400 people in the audience, including our students. I also played “One Step Beyond” by Madness, as a solo, using Nigel’s backing track. It had always been an ambition to play this track. The gig went really well, I made a few mistakes, but I got such a great response from people afterwards, I definitely want to do it again.
I speak in front of large groups of people all the time, but I was shocked by how nervous I was before the gig. Nigel’s teaching really helped to give me confidence to keep playing even when I made the odd mistake. I have always found playing in front of other people really difficult. (Initially I even found it hard to play for Nigel in my saxophone lessons). But I’m really glad I did it, and I’m looking forward to doing it again.
“The gig brought such a sense of community.”
After the gig we took some of the students to the Fire Festival. I thought people would only have heard my mistakes, but one student said to me “the mistakes don’t matter”, and that was great. The gig brought such a sense of community.
It also inspired the school the school to get involved in “Playing for Change” (playingforchange.org). We are going to make a music recording and video involving the students and staff.
We try to encourage balance in our students, for example between sport, academic studies, classical music, etc. We also encourage them to be risk-takers, so the gig was a great lesson for them to see their teachers playing music and taking risks in that way.
We will be staying in Asia for the foreseeable future so Sax School will be my saxophone lifeline!
Will’s school: IB international girls’ boarding school, Jeju Island, South Korea – Branksome Hall Asia