“A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist” by Ben Britton

Recently, I received a copy of  A Complete Approach to  Sound for the Modern Saxophonist by Ben Britton.  Ben is a great saxophonist and educator in Pennsylvania.   I first heard of Ben many years ago when I stumbled upon a youtube clip of him trading fours with Chris Potter.   That, in of itself is very impressive……….  Since that time, Ben has been very busy creating his website www.benbrittonjazz.com .  Ben has also recently finished this new book on approaching the saxophone sound.


A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist

Now, I must admit, that I was a little skeptical about a new book on the saxophone sound.   I’ve been playing the saxophone for 33 years now.   My book shelf is full of books on every subject related to the saxophone.  I studied through the Top Tones for Saxophone book by Sigurd Rascher and studied with some great teachers through the years.   I’ve also been teaching for many years myself and have taught all levels of players…………..I say all this just to set the stage.   I was basically feeling like this book might be good, but………… I know most of what there is to know about the saxophone.  I assumed the subject matter would be all of the same material I already knew.  I was very surprised when I discovered some material and exercises that I was not familiar with.   I was also very impressed with the thoroughness and foundation that Ben lays out in this book.

One of the things about this book that is very unique, is that it comes with 34 sound clips.  There have been books before on the subject of saxophone sound.  The Rascher book “Top Tones for the Saxophone,  Dave Liebman’s book “Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound,  “The Art of Saxophone Playing” by Larry Teal, etc……………  Until this time,  I don’t remember ever seeing a book  that included sound clips demonstrating the techniques and exercises.    I remember being a young student and reading through all of the books above.   I would really try to understand the concepts being written about but what was missing was the aural ingredient.  I couldn’t hear what it was supposed to sound like……..  I couldn’t hear a “good” example or the “right” sound……….  All I could do is to try to implement the words on the page and hope that I was doing it right.    With the inclusion of these sound clips, Ben Britton has provided a new and great service to the saxophone community.  Now we can not only read about these foundational concepts and teachings but also hear them being executed.

What exactly is in the book?  The best way I can think to describe it is to say that the book is very foundational and practical.  It starts with concepts like correct breathing and support.  It moves on from there to address embouchure approach, control, air stream focus, vocal tract control and other subjects.  Ben does a great job of giving exercises for many of the subjects discussed.

In these days, where any student can go online and read different thoughts and advice on saxophone playing it is very important to have a resource that gives you the core elements of saxophone playing.   Many of us have read online about the mouthpiece exercise where you blow the mouthpiece alone and practice bending the pitch down. Ben’s first audio demonstration is of this bending exercise.   It’s like your sitting in the room with him listening to him perform the exercise.  Now,for the first time,  you can hear what it is supposed to sound like.

The next demonstration I found very interesting.  Ben talks about the importance of air stream focus and tongue position.  He then demonstrates the correct and incorrect  methods.  It’s great to listen to the clips side by side and hear the difference!  The correct method is focused, alive, in-tune and powerful.   The incorrect method sounds dull, flat, fuzzy, etc………  Once a student can hear these difference, they can be more motivated to practice the techniques and exercises to achieve the correct goal.   They know what they are shooting for and what the end result should be.

Ben writes further sections and exercises on long tones, low notes, air support, playing soft, overtones, altissimo, articulation and some final tips on daily practice and warm-ups.

One exercise that caught my attention is on page 15 and is called “Low Note Bends”.   I had never heard of this exercise.  Ben writes that the exercise will increase your stamina and air support.  I tried it for a minute or two and it was hard!!!!  I felt winded, out of breath and dizzy.   I’ve been doing it everyday since as part of my warm up and can notice a difference in my stamina already.

The book goes on with many more exercises on all these subjects.  The advice is solid and true.   I found my self reading and nodding my head much of the time in agreement.  I would highly recommend this book to any student of the saxophone with this caveat…….

Many of the exercises and foundational principles in this book can be read and listened to in a few minutes but the real work of mastering these principals can and will take years.   This book is not a magic bullet.   You will not read it and then  magically find your playing to be transformed.  What this book is, is a road map.  Ben Britton teaches you the foundations of good saxophone playing, gives you great exercises to practice and then demonstrates them for you.  He  leaves the rest to you.  Some of these concept seem deceptively simple but to master them will take focused and diligent practice.  The sound clips are there to not only demonstrate but also to motivate and give you a goal or target.

The goal of this book is not for you to have a mediocre or average saxophone “sound”.  The goal of this book is for you to create and have an absolutely rich, gorgeous and beautiful saxophone sound that will excite you and your listeners every time you play the saxophone.  For me that is a goal and dream worth having and working towards.   This book is the road map you need to get there.   Thanks Ben for providing this great and valuable resource to the saxophone community!

You can get Ben’s book here in print – Createspace, Amazon.com, or Barnesandnoble.com.
or as a Digital ebook  that you can download- payhip.com



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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