If you love classic eighties’ pop sax, you’ll love this lesson.
In this easy pop sax jam, we’re going to be taking inspiration from that classic Hall & Oates track ‘I Can’t Go For That’. We’ll be pulling out 3 melody building blocks and then applying them, so we can get that classic sound on alto or tenor saxophone.
In this session I’m going to show you some easy techniques and some more advanced tactics as well. And most importantly, though, we’re going to have a load of fun. So get your 80s mood on, grab your saxophone and let’s get stuck in.
About this jam session
There’s a free PDF download and practice track for you to use in the lesson. Get these from our Locker – that’s where we keep all our free resources. Click the link above to sign up.
If this is your very first time doing a jam session with me, you might want to check out my easy beginner jam lesson first. In that session that I talk you through how to play all the notes and get you started from the basics.
But if you’re ready to dig into something a bit more advanced then stick around, because we’re going to cover loads of stuff in this lesson.
We’re going to look at the original solo and take some more clues from it. We’re going to take some little melody chunks, so we can understand the style.
Then I’m going to show you three of those melody chunks on alto and tenor saxophone.
And then I’m going to talk about how we can apply it, and we’re going to get stuck in with the jam session. If you want to jump straight to where the jam session starts, then go to this time (11:40)
Why learn this style?
Just before we get started, why are we looking at Hall & Oates ‘I Can’t Go For That’ today?
Good question. There’s a couple of reasons. First of all, I think this style of saxophone is awesome. It’s so much fun. If you’re like me and you grew up through the eighties, then these are probably the saxophone sounds that you were listening to when you first started playing.
But also inside Sax School, with our thousands of members, we’re focusing on hit song saxophone this month.
And that means we’re looking at classic solos like this. Our members are learning a challenging song called ‘Heartbreaker’ which is written in this style. And we’ve got a fantastic masterclass happening for members with Charlie DeChant, aka Mr. Casual, from Hall & Oates.
If you’re a member, then you can go and check out the replay. And if you’re not a member yet, then right now our the 14-day trial is still running. You can find the links down below. If you register you can watch the replay too.
The Solo: Opening
First let’s listen to the original solo and get some inspiration from the way Charles DeChant is playing in this particular recording.
So right out the gate, that opening was brilliant. I love the way it’s so simple. It’s a simple line, but it’s got such an energy to it and it’s so decisive. So he’s not just playing straight quavers or eighth notes there. He’s really accenting all of the notes.
I love the simplicity of that, and I love the energy. And I think the mistake that most people make when they’re copying something like this, is they miss the energy part. They just focus on the rhythm and the notes, but not the energy.
What happens next?
Again, it’s very rhythmical. But he’s also doing a cool little false fingering thing in there. I’ll show you what I mean.
So the basic rhythm is very, very simple But he’s swapping between the normal D and the Palm key D to get that sort of muffled sound. Yeah, I love that. It’s really cool.
The theme all the way through here is it’s very rhythmical, and very, very simple. Let’s see how we can apply that to our improvising.
The Pop Sax Jam Building Blocks
Let’s get stuck in and learn 3 melody building blocks that we can use in our pop sax jam session today.
Just before we do that, you’ll notice that all of these are based on a 5-note scale – a pentatonic scale. It’s a really powerful tool, particularly if you’re playing in this sort of eighties pop style. A lot of funk styles are the same. It’s used all over the place.
So the five notes on the alto saxophone are just A C D E G and A.
Alto sax: A, C, D, E, G, and A
Now the cool thing about the pentatonic scale is you can add passing notes in there as well. In fact, to go from a pentatonic scale to a blues scale, all we need to do is add in one note. So we go A, C, D, D sharp, or E flat, and then the E, G, A, and that gives us a blue scale.
And you’ll notice that Charles Dechant uses that passing note and other passing notes as well, between the pentatonic notes in his solo.
Alto sax Blues scale: A, C, D, D# or Eb, E, G, and A
Let’s look at the notes on the tenor sax. So for tenor sax, it’s a D pentatonic, the notes are D, F, G, A, C, and D.
Tenor sax: D, F, G, C, D.
And of course, if you want to stick that passing note in to get the blue scale, it’s D, F, G, A flat or G sharp, A, C, D. So we’re just sticking that G sharp or A flat in there.
Tenor sax Blues scale: D, F, G, Ab or G#, A, C, D.
When we’re doing our pop sax jam today, you can just stick to those five notes if you want to. But here are three melody building blocks that you can use as well.
Building Block #1
The first one is dead simple. I said we’re going to start easy and get to more advanced.
So this building block is easy. We’re just using quavers or eighth notes.
Now you might be thinking ‘Nigel, this sounds too easy.’
But the reason I’m showing you this is because a lot of our solos from this period are like this. They’re really simple. And it’s not about the notes. It’s about the attitude.
So the rhythm here is very simple. The notes are G for the Alto sax or C – you could use the octave key if you want to – for the tenor sax.
It almost seems too good to be true. Right? But trust me, if you play that with attitude – with good, solid air support, and a big sound, tonguing with assertiveness – then it’s going to sound awesome.
Building Block #2
Let’s look at the second building block. This one is a little bit more interesting. We’ve got a bit more movement in there. I’ll play it for your first.
Again, the notes are quite simple. We’ve got a passing note in there. We’re going from G, down to F sharp – that’s our passing note – to E.
And then, we scoop back up to the F sharp, quick to G, back to F sharp, and then back to E. So we’ve got the G and the E from the pentatonic scale that we learned before, and the passing note of the F sharp.
Alto sax: G, F sharp, E, F sharp, G, F sharp, E.
Let’s look at the notes on tenor. So on tenor, our passing note is going to be the B natural, but we’re going to start on the C. So it’s C, B, A, B, up to C, back to B, down to A. I’ll show you a trick with that. C, B, A, B, You can use the side C here but with our right index finger on the middle key there, pushing that in. That also gives you C.
Tenor Sax: C B A B, C B A
This is what it sounds like.
You’ll notice again, I’m playing that with loads of attitude. I’m pushing loads of air through it. And I’m tonguing it aggressively. Plus, I’m trying to get that big fat assertive sound. Imagine that you’re on stage there are 20,000 people in front of you and you’re strutting across the stage.
Building Block #3
Our third building block uses that D sharp passing note that I mentioned, that you can use to go from a pentatonic scale to a blues scale.
The notes are D sharp, D, C, A, G, C, A, A.
Alto sax: D sharp, D, C, A, G, C, A, A.
On the tenor sax, we’re starting on the G sharp (that’s your three fingers and our little G sharp key). And it’s G sharp, G, F, D, C, F, D, D.
Tenor sax: G sharp, G, F, D, C, F, D, D.
Have a listen.
You’ll notice that I’m tonguing all of those notes aggressively and I’m playing with loads of energy.
Putting it all together: The Pop Sax Jam
Let’s put all this together in a pop sax jam session. Here are the rules of how it’s going to work.
First of all, you’ll notice there are two bars of drums before we come in. And then we’re going to share two bars each. So I’ll play for two bars. You play for two bars.
We’ve got three building blocks and we’re going to go through each of those building blocks 4 times. So with billing block 1 in my first two bars, I’ll be playing billing block 1 for two bars. Then you get a chance to play it for two bars. We’ll go back and forth a second time, a third time, and a fourth time.
And as we go through the four times for each building block, I’m going to start to experiment with that building block and build some other solo around that building block. And I’m going to use my pentatonic scale as a foundation for that.
So we’ll do that all on building block 1, then we’ll do it with building block 2, then we’ll do it with building block 3.
And then the fourth time through, we’re just going to have some fun. I’m going to use all three building blocks and just explore the instrument a little bit. I’m going to see if I can put all the stuff that we’ve talked about today into action.
Now, the most important thing is, you don’t need to copy what I’m doing exactly. Instead, listen to what I’m playing and use that as inspiration. So please don’t ask me for a transcription of what I’m playing. I don’t want to give you that!
What I’d rather you do is listen to the way I’m playing, with the sound, with the articulation, With the overall attitude, and see if you can absorb some of that into your playing.
So take inspiration from me and then you come up with your own thing. You be you, because you’re a unique saxophone player. And I want you to try to find your style. Sounds good?
I’m going to use my alto, but you could use your alto or your tenor. Follow the music. Let’s go!
Join me in the pop sax jam!
How did you get on with that? I hope you enjoyed this pop sax jam. This is the sort of lesson you can use over and over again. Because every time you do it, you’ll explore something new about your playing. You’ll find a new sound that you love. So please bookmark this or make a note of it and come back and use this as much as you can.
And don’t forget to grab the free PDF and backing track from the Locker as well.
If you want to take things a bit further, then we’ve got tons of resources like this that our members use inside Sax School. There are over a thousand courses, lessons, and masterclass replays for you to go and check out as well. There’s a 14-day trial running right now, so go check it out here.
Most importantly, keep having fun exploring that eighties sound on your saxophone!