Practicing Jazz Saxophone With Focus

One of my biggest weaknesses when I was a kid was practicing without a specific focus. I wanted to do it all, play everything, be the best. I wanted results now. I would spend endless hours in the practice room practicing everything. The problem was, I wasn’t focused. I didn’t set goals. Instead of getting excited that I was getting good at the one thing I was practicing, I would feel anxiety that I was missing out on something else because I was too focused on that one thing. I would bounce from one thing to another, learning bits and pieces of things, but not truly mastering them.

The greatest thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown older, is that I do best when I focus on one thing and set goals. The times I’ve grown the most in my musical journey, are when I did just this. Here are a few examples:

  • One summer I spent the whole summer practicing my major and dominant bebop scales
  • One time for 4-5 months, I just practiced my major approaches in every key.
  • One time, I practiced my major and minor scale patterns in every key for 2-3 months.

These times stick out in my memory because I focused on one thing, set some goals, and practiced like crazy. I really mastered each concept I was working on. I might get a little rusty, but I can still play those things I practiced even now, twenty years later.

Many of my students tend to make the same mistakes I made. They just play to play or they have a list of twenty different things they are working on everyday. If you can do that and it’s effective, great. As a teacher, I recommend getting focused on one major concept and working towards mastering it.

I tell my students they have to learn things so well that they don’t even have to think about it. My point is that jazz happens at such a fast pace it has to be almost like a reflex. You don’t want to spend all your mental energy thinking about scales, chords or licks. You want to be spending your time thinking about what you will play or listening to the rhythm section you’re playing with so you can communicate musically.

My advice is to usually work on three things:

  • Ear training
  • Learning a tune
  • An improvisational device

For me, this has been the most effective way to practice. If I do those three things everyday I keep moving ahead and growing as a musician. Thanks, Steve

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

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