There are a TON of books out for saxophone. Go do a search of Amazon.com. Everyone seems to have a book out, be it on jazz improvisation, or perhaps a book just dealing with cool patterns or ways to play over certain types of chords, or using a specific scale in jazz. Lots of books. I know, I own just about every saxophone book known to man.
But while I love the pattern books, the scale books, the improv books, what books can I point to that I can say to anyone, regardless of what style of playing they want to do, as a reference to acquire technique on saxophone? The obvious one that we all know are the three Joseph Voila books Technique of the Saxophone: Scale Studies. Another contender for acquiring technique would be Walt Weiskopf’s book Around The Horn: 21 Modal Scales and Arpeggios Every Jazz Musician Needs To Know
With any one of these books, anyone can acquire some great technique on saxophone. But having a book or set of books isn’t the complete solution. How does one use the books? Once you get through the books, is that it? Is that the end? Did you reach the goal and now you are the master and you don’t need to practice anything anymore? You can acquire a tremendous set of skills if you can play through all the Joseph Viola books. But how do you maintain those skills? Do you start the books over again? Play them backwards?
Saxophonist Dann Zinn has been pondering this issue for over 20 years now. Perhaps longer….it is hard to tell, Dann is a man of few words (other than “go practice”). His new books Zinn and the Art of Saxophone is the culmination of decades of teaching, and thought about saxophone. What skills should one acquire in their pursuit of saxophone? In what order should one acquire the skills? How does one go about acquiring the skills?
When I studied with Dann, he had a prototype system that he would sort of mash together for lessons. It involved buying the great flute book De la Sonorite and Top-Tones for the Saxophone: Four-Octave Range and lots of scales, arpeggios, and intervals.
You did all this according to a time schedule. So if you had 30 minutes to practice, you should do 10 minutes on Long Tones (part one above), 10 on scales (part two), and 10 on pieces (part three). Or you could divide it out 5, 15, 10. Etc. All things needed to adhere to T.E.A. (Tone, Even, Accurate). So if you can’t play something at 120, you need to slow it down and play it at a speed you can play it with Tone, Eveness and accurately.
I did a sort of sketch of what Dann wanted students to do (at the time I was more a visual learner), called the Zinn Regimen. I found it very useful, especially the schedule part, as a lot of practice sessions can go off the rails pretty quickly without some structure. In his new books, Dann has refined the the schedule. 30 minutes now equates with 5 minutes on long tones, 5 on chromatics, 5 on scales, 5 on intervals, 5 on arpeggios, and 5 on misc studies. And so forth. Nearly 20 years later, he has changed things quite a bit….
The Zinn and the Art of the Saxophone books are divided up into six books. They are ordered by color, White (level 1), Yellow (level 2), Green (level 3), Red (level 4), Brown (level 5) and Black (level 6). Notice they sort of follow martial arts belts (not sure which martial arts as most seem to flip Red and Brown, but that doesn’t matter). The books though all have the sort of exercises (i.e. both are divided up into a Long Tone section, a Chromatics, Scales, Intervals, Arpeggios, and Miscellaneous exercises). However, the difficultly of the exercises are way different. I would NOT say that if you have been playing a while, you should just jump to the Black book (an Dann mentions in the Introduction in the White Book that everyone should start with the White Book). And there are a exercises in the White Book that are quite challenging (a couple of things in the miscellaneous section caught me off guard).
I started with the White Book about 2 weeks ago, and have just started the Yellow book. Going through the White Book with a metronome and applying T.E.A. to everything I played was not easy (triplets are not my friends). Skimming through the other books, I am looking forward to 7 notes over 4 in the Green Book (not really), octave displaced triads and Wide Leaps (Black Book).
Dann has decided to offer these books as a package deal. 6 books for $99. They come printed on nice heavy paper, and spiral bound. The typography is nice, the text being some sort of arial or helvetica skinny font. The music notation looks like it was done with Sibelius using whatever that sorta handwritten font but not really handwritten font is. It’s better than having everything in the “Jazz font”. I swear that is NOT a professional font at all people. STOP using it for books. I don’t dislike the music font Dann went with, but I’m not really liking it. There are a couple of places where the spacing is off. And I am just used to seeing stuff in a more “mature font”. I use Finale and Maestro, so a similar thing might be Opus for Sibelius. Anyhow, the notation is clear enough even though every now and then there is a place where the accidentals collide with notes. And there are a few spelling/labeling mistakes (like Wide Leaps in the Black book, the first group of them is called Wide Leads).
What I would have REALLY liked to see with these books is some sort of electronic version. PDF or eBook or something. It’s great to have a book out, and I applaud Dann for the achievement (I’m looking at you Mr. Fazio…the pressure is now on), but who is going to carry around a book in this day and age? Seriously, an iPad version would be ideal. You could bookmark pages for study, etc. It’s not like someone couldn’t simply undo the spiral binding and run it through a scanner. The pages are standard 8 1/2 x 11. If piracy is a concern, I suggest printing the books on a slightly bigger format to make it more difficult to copy or scan. Or if someone buys it, why not send them a PDF that has some DRM on it to limit what they can do (like printing or putting some sort of tracking tag in there). Seems a step backwards. It is like making a CD but then not putting it out on iTunes or Amazon or whatever.
Zinn and the Art Of The Saxophone is an investiment. The books are way more comprehensive and structured than Joseph Viola’s books. They are by far the most comprehensive books I have seen to date for learning saxophone. I think everyone would be wise to stop buying all those “lick” books or pattern books that everyone seems to publish, and focus really on something that will develop one’s core saxophone technique.
So, if you are serious about saxophone, forget about Joseph Viola. Forget Rubank. Forget just about all those books out there (maybe keep the Bugs Bower Rhythms Complete book. I like that one) and get these. Doing the exercises out of these books will allow you to develop technique in a structured, well though out, and well paced manner.
(and Dann…iPad version…now…)