The best way to understand how to play authentic “Funk” sax is to work through a Jam Session.
In this lesson, we’re going to have fun with my Easy Funk Jam for saxophone, plus I’ve got a free PDF and Practice Track for you too!
Easy Funk Jam
We’re going do a jam session together, trying to get that authentic funk style. This is a super-easy lesson, even if you’re pretty new to saxophone, you can follow along with me.
Watch the video below, so you can follow my fingers. I’ll have the music on the screen, but even if you can’t read music, it doesn’t matter.
And if you’re a more advanced player, then check out the rhythms that we’re using here today. I think you’re really going to enjoy them.
Funk in Sax School
This month is Funk Month in Sax School. Our members are learning a fun challenge song in the style of funk, called “The Turkey”.
We’ve been looking at different artists to understand the style of funk and how we can get that sound on saxophone.
Even if you’re not into funk, it’s still a great idea to go and check out these different styles. Because every time we learn a new style, it helps us to improve our saxophone skills, to become more rounded as players and to learn some things that might be outside of our comfort zone.
Take a look at this blog article all about Maceo Parker, with a video from Chris from our Sax School tutor team. Maceo Parker is one of the greatest funk saxophone players around today, and definitely somebody that you need to listen to to understand the style.
You can get the backing track and the PDF from today’s lesson too. It’s in the Sax School Locker. It’s completely free – get it from the link down below.
Funk Jam Rhythms
Before we really dig into the funk saxophone jam, I want to talk about the rhythms in today’s lesson. The thing about funk music is it’s really all based on an underlying subdivision of 16ths (sixteenths). So, for every beat in funk music, there are four subdivisions.
And that rhythm goes underneath every piece of funk music that you’re going to hear. You’ll hear that subdivision in the way the saxophone player plays. You’ll hear it in the way the rest of the band plays as well. The bass is often doing those sorts of 16th lines.
I like to think of it as a grid system. When you’re listening to funk music, imagine that there’s a grid going over the music, where for every beat, we’ve got four subdivisions – like this:
Now it’s really important to understand this grid underneath funk music, because if we can get everything that we play to fit neatly inside that grid, we’re really going to get a more authentic funk sound. With some other jazzy styles we can be a bit more flexible with the rhythm, and maybe we’re swinging rhythms, and pulling things around. In funk, it has to be very, very accurate.
Next time you listening to something by maybe Maceo Parker or James Brown, or maybe even something like Tower of Power or even Stevie Wonder, have a listen to the rhythms. See if you can imagine that 16th grid pattern over the top of everything that’s going on in the music.
Easy Funk Jam: The Notes
Okay, let’s get stuck in and have a look at the notes that we’re going to use for today’s jam session. I’m going to demonstrate on the alto sax, but I’m also going to show you the notes on tenor sax too.
On Alto Sax
I want us to focus on the rhythms here, so we’re only going to use four notes. This jam is in the key of B flat Concert, which means on the alto saxophone, we’re in the key of G. We’re only going to use these notes – watch the video for the fingerings.
- The first note – the naming note of the chord – which is the G
- The flattened third, which is the B flat
- The normal third, which is normal B natural
- The flattened seventh from this chord, which is an F.
On Tenor Sax
On tenor sax we will be in the key of C Major, so we will be jamming over a C7 chord.
Again, watch the video to see the fingerings I’m using.
These are the notes:
- The first note of the C scale which is C
- The flattened third – which is E flat
- The normal third – which is E
- The flattened seventh – which is B flat
The Easy Funk Jam for Saxophone
Let’s get stuck in and have a jam session using those four notes.
I’m going to demonstrate in the alto sax. You can play along with me on the tenor if you prefer. This is how it’s going to work.
I’m going to put the backing track on, and then I’m going to play a 1 bar pattern. I’m only going to use those four notes and I’m going to use some simple 16th rhythms.
Now, if you’re familiar with reading the music, then I’ll put the music down below so you can read along with me.
But if you’re not sure, just listen to how I’m playing it and watch my fingers. What’s most important here is that we get the 16th grid subdivision of rhythm really accurate. Try and keep it really in time.
I’ll play a bar then it’s your turn to copy me. Then I’m going to do that same bar again, and then you can copy me again.
Then we’re going to go onto the next pattern. I’ve got eight patterns in total. They get a little bit more complicated as we go through.
If you find that you’re struggling with some of them, just rewind the video and go back and work on them again. And as we get to the end, the last one’s a little bit more complicated, but I think we’re going to have some fun with it.
Are you up for the challenge? Grab your alto or your tenor or your soprano or your bari sax, and let’s have a go at playing through this easy funk jam for saxophone, together.
Don’t forget, you can download the PDF from the link below.
How did you get on? Some of those rhythms are a little bit more complicated and I reckon most of us are going to have to go back and practice them a few times to really get them in focus and absolutely accurate. Because remember it’s the 16th rhythms that are so important with this exercise – you must get them as accurate and tidy as possible.
The next step with this exercise is to take those rhythmic ideas and those little melodic nuggets, and to try to use them in your solo as building blocks – so you can build your solo around them.
Building a Funk Solo
I’m going to put the backing track on again, and I’m going to use a combination of those rhythms, plus some other notes, to see if they can be a starting point for my solo. Watch the video to see how it works.
There were some good ideas in there. There were some things I might do different next time, but it gives you an idea of how you can work on this in your practice too.
The next step now is to spend some time with this exercise and with the PDF, and really work out all these rhythms so you’re super comfortable with them. Then you can try and mix them up, and see if you can put them in different orders, or use them in a melodic line, to try and get that authentic funk sound.
I hope you have enjoyed my easy funk jam for saxophone. There’s so much more that you can do with these sort of simple ideas. And in fact, inside Sax School, we’ve got tons of other lessons like this, that will help you to really open up the doors for funk and all other styles as well, whether it’s classical or ska or jazz, or blues.