It’s All Relative (part 1)

Tuesday, 7th August 2018

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Singers don’t go on stage thinking “I hope I don’t forget the F#s"! They know the tune and simply sing it the way they know it should go. Scales, keys, etc. all become irrelevant – it’s about the sound.

You see, any tune can be played starting on any note and the specific notes themselves (A, B, C, etc.) don’t actually matter! What matters is the distance we have to move from one note to the next – that (along with rhythm) is makes up a tune. These jumps are called intervals. Assuming the intervals are correct for whatever tune we’re playing, we can choose any note to start from. If we start from a higher note then all the following notes will also be higher. We’ll end up with a higher version of the song, but it will still sound like the same song!

I love listening to a group try and sing “happy birthday”! Clearly everyone knows the tune however the women will usually start singing on higher notes and the men will start on lower notes and it often takes the whole song before the group negotiate their way to end together!

Each interval is given a name which is based on where the higher note would fall in the lower note’s scale. For example, C to D is called a 2nd because D is the 2nd note of a C major scale. Equally, C to E is called a 3rd, C to F would be a 4th, C to G is a 5th, etc. It does go a little deeper than this, with each interval also being called either major, minor, perfect, augmented or diminished. However, we’re going to start out by focusing only on notes from a major scale for now, so we can get away with just calling them 2nds, 3rds, etc.

There are lots of different ways to learn to recognise intervals and there are many online games and apps which will play us an interval and ask us to identify it. However, I’m always wary of trying to LEARN something by repetitive testing. It’s just pretty depressing at first! For me, testing is great for measuring our progress and setting targets, but not a good way to actually learn something! Instead, my approach is very hands on (actually playing the instrument!) and helps us to really absorb the sound of each interval.

So here’s the exercise:

Choose one interval each day (e.g. a 3rd) and try to play as many examples of that interval as you can, using the major scales you know. For example, C-E, G-B, F-A, D-F# and so on. Don’t forget to count the first note of the scale as number 1 and then carry on up from there! Play each pair of notes slowly (LONG TONE PRACTISE!) and really listen to how they sound together. Do they remind you of any songs? For example, a 5th sounds like the beginning of Star Wars (and many others!), whilst an octave is like the start of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Stick to only one interval each day (e.g. 2nd, 6th, 7th, etc.) so you can really get to know it. When you’re feeling confident, play only the first note of each pair (not both) and try to sing/hum/whistle the second note. Then play the second note and see if you were right.

This exercise won’t make you a virtuoso overnight, but if you commit to a couple of mins each day then you’ll gradually break down the barrier between what you hear in your head and what you actually play on your horn! It’s a slow burner but it works! Little and often is key!

#Sax #Tips #Tuesday

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