This month the Sax School team and I wanted to celebrate a student who’s making amazing videos, and making recordings that are a real inspiration for all of our other members, and who’s learning saxophone online, remotely. It’s a fascinating story and I wanted to know more.
Our Legend for December 2021 is Lloyd Neilson from Malaysia. Lloyd started learning saxophone online with Sax School in June 2020.
Lloyd bought a saxophone over 20 years ago, but never got around to playing it. “I used to play the piano a little bit…and I played a little bit of flute. Then I decided to buy a saxophone. but I never got to play it because kids were born. You can’t play saxophone with newly born kids!” says Lloyd.
Saxophone in Lockdown
After travelling extensively with his work, between Zimbabwe and South Africa, Lloyd found himself in Penang, Malaysia, at the beginning of Lockdown 2 years ago. Unable to go home to see his family, Lloyd decided to take the opportunity to start playing saxophone.
“I thought to myself, well, in the dark, there’s always a little bit of light – saxophone! …I just hunted around. There’s a store over in KL [Kuala Lumpur], so I found a YAS 62 and got it shipped over here.”
Finding Sax School Online
Next, Lloyd needed to find some saxophone lessons. As he was far from from, learning saxophone online seemed like a good option. Searching the internet, he found Sax School. He joined up, and dived straight into our 30 Day Challenge. “So I got to the end of my 30 days, and I just kept going!” says Lloyd. “And you know, to this day, I have not dropped one day. … I get in on average about three hours [practice] a day. And then at weekends, I also play, probably a lot more than that.”
This dedication has paid off, and after just 18 months, Lloyd has made amazing progress on his saxophone. He’s shared some great videos in our Sax School Community including our Blues Challenge song ‘Ramblin’ Blues,’ and great pop tracks including ‘Parisienne Walkways,’ ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Lily Was Here’. Lloyd’s videos sound like real performances, which is a great achievement especially as he is still relatively new to saxophone.
“I tried to take things that are difficult because I know that I’ll learn something from it,” explains Lloyd. “although I didn’t know what I was walking into when I picked up ‘Lily Was Here’“!
Lloyd has a couple of methods that help him to tackle difficult pieces. “I always slow it down, and sometimes I need to change my articulation,” he says, “and I always play with Nigel or another artist in the background, so I’ve got somebody to follow. Once I’ve got it right, I drop it and play by myself.”
Lloyd’s Practice Set-Up
Lloyd uses a Reaper Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for PC in his practice. “I use my DAW to slow tracks down – I’ll slow something down to halfway sometimes. I slowed down ‘Lily Was Here’.” With ‘Hallelujah’ I actually speeded it up a little because I found it too slow.”
Lloyd also uses the DAW as a visual reference to help in his practice. “You can also look at the wave forms and you can put markers in. So if you’re not sure of the rhythm or a beat, – especially if you’re trying to do jazz, a lot of it is offbeat all the time – then I’ll stretch the wave form right out and then I’ll drop markers in. So when I play it, I can look back and I can always see what’s going on.” This attention to detail is another key to Lloyd’s great progress on saxophone. “I can play one bar or two bars over a hundred times because if it’s not right,” he says.
Using the DAW, Lloyd can really focus on the sections he needs to practice. “You can actually highlight a section of what you want to play and you just put it on, and play play, play, play. When you’ve got it right, you start bringing the speed up and you just keep playing and playing it until you get it to where you need it to be. Then you start recording it, and listen back.”
Like many saxophone students, Lloyd found getting started with improvising a challenge. But again, Lloyd used his DAW and a methodical, detailed approach to tackle this challenge. “I found an F major backing track with a guy playing guitar. And I pulled it off the internet, and stuck it into my DAW. And then … I sat down and went through the chords [on piano] – because the visual representation on a piano is also a lot easier to follow…. I put the markers in, so there’s F, and then it’s changing to this key, and then it’s changing to that.”
With the chord structure worked out in this way, Lloyd could pick up his saxophone, using what he had learned in Sax School. “I’ve done a lot of my chords, the arpeggios, the chromatic scales, which I got out of Sax School. And I can apply that what I’ve learned there to what I’m doing, so that I’m kind of not just playing one scale and I’m able to change between.”
The Accelerator Programme
Lloyd is also part of our one-to-one Accelerator Programme, working with Chris from our Tutor Team. “He’s excellent. I mean, he’s got the patience of Job! I don’t know where he finds it, and I’ve never come across anybody who can clap, sing, wiggle, do 101 things all at the same time to try and get his point across,” says Lloyd. “There’s no way I would’ve been able to make the progress that I’ve made by just on my own, because you pick up bad habits.”
For Lloyd, the Accelerator Program helped him to structure his practice to make the progress he wanted. “Sax School is great and there is so much in there, but I think that’s also where I kind of got stuck. I was doing a lot of technical work for about four months but I was asking what do I do next? What should I be practicing? When do I move on? So when Accelerator came along, I joined it.”
With Accelerator, Lloyd’s progress really took off. “I went forward very quickly. …”Looking around, nobody else had the flexible, individual tuition that Sax School offers. If Chris was going to be teaching me and we didn’t have this [online video exchange,]… I’d have one lesson a week and it would be in the middle of the night! That’s not ideal. So learning saxophone online in this way works very well. It’s a very flexible program and it works very, very well.”
Lloyd’s Saxophone Goals
When it comes to goals, Lloyd’s are quite simple. “I just want to be able to record really great music,” he says, “and be able to share it around with people who want to listen. I enjoy putting stuff into [Sax] School because I hope that it helps people along as well.”
Lloyd chooses music which challengse him in his saxophone playing, so he’s worked on a wide selection from pop, to blues, to jazz, to classical. “I’m just trying to get a good sound, good rhythm, good timing, and just kind of perfect what I’m doing,” he says. Lloyd has found classical saxophone a particular challenge. “They can be very difficult to play, to get that feeling out of them, that you’re not just playing notes in a straight line,” explains Lloyd. “When you’re playing fast, pop [tracks], it’s easy to get away with a lot, because it’s moving very quickly. But when you’ve got to work on your dynamics and keep everything moving so that there’s feeling in it – that’s a big challenge.”
Like many sax players, Lloyd wants to play music which he connects with, whatever style it is. “You‘ll listen to something and I think if it moves you emotionally, you think ‘I love that – I want to play it’ and then you’ll hear something else, ‘I love that.’ And they can be this far apart from each other, but it’s just with what you hear and what you feel.”
And it’s when he listens back to his recordings of his playing that Lloyd can hear his progress on saxophone. “When you play something on the saxophone, and you listen back to it, or you even just playing it and you can hear it coming through your headphones… when you actually can get that goosebump feeling – it moves you what you’re playing, then you know ‘Okay. I’m hitting it exactly where it should be’. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a great feeling when it does happen.”
Tips for New Sax Players
Lloyd has these tips for other new players learning saxophone online.
One of the biggest challenges Lloyd found was getting his mouthpiece right. “Currently I’m playing a Jody Jazz HR Star, which is an amazing mouthpiece,” says Lloyd. He’s also tried the Yamaha 4C and the Theo Wanne Durga. “The reviews that you do [in Sax School] on mouthpieces are really useful.” adds Lloyd.
Lloyd recommends digging into the resources and lessons inside Sax School. “At weekends I catch up on whatever I can,” explains Lloyd. “So I was watching the Masterclass with Leo P, and I remembered it, and went back to it to help me when I was playing ‘Ramblin’ Blues.'”
Get the basics right – Lloyds recommends working on long tones, dynamics and scales. “I used the Chromatic Workout in Sax School,” explains Lloyd. “It’s a chromatic scale in arpeggios. I learned right from low B flat, I memorised all the different keys for those arpeggios. So then when you get into doing things like improvisation, you’ve got an idea of your foundation notes. You know exactly what those notes are, and where they are on the saxophone, because you’ve also got a visual representation of them”.
Practising scales in thirds is also really useful when in comes to creating your own solos.”even practicing your scale in thirds helps you when you get to improv, when you’re looking for ideas,” says Lloyd. “But all the basics that I’ve learned from Sax School – your overtones, chords, of course, are very useful, and it doesn’t take long to learn it.”
Lloyd recommends using the piece you are learning to focus your technique practice. “If you’re playing a piece in A flat major, or you’re playing in D, or whatever it is, work only on that. Otherwise it’s just so much to do. You can’t fit it all in.”
Congratulations to Lloyd for being our December Legend. He’s a great inspiration and a great example in his approach to learning saxophone online!
If you want to make great progress on your saxophone like Lloyd, Start today with Sax School!