Sometimes Less Is More

Have you ever had one of those moments where you saw something, and then, once you did, it was all you saw?

I remember once watching a movie with my kids, when my youngest boy started to chuckle. I asked him what was up, because it was a drama we were watching, and so I didn’t think it was something in the lines of the actors or anything.

As it turns out, he had picked up on something the film editor had done: he had made use of the “Burns effect.” But just a little too much....

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Is Your Playing Like That?

I remember the amusement I first heard when I was listening to Eric Marienthal talking about how when he played music in high school, they called him “scoops Marienthal.’

Apparently, he scooped so much that this one thing was what stuck out in his style. It made his style noteworthy, but not in a good way.

Do you like how you sound?

There is so much that makes up your playing style. When you listen to different sax players you like, you might not quickly be able to tell exactly what it is about their style that makes you recognize it as their style, but you do.

The thing is, though, that once you hear it, you hear it more easily when you hear them play - for better or for worse.

The advantage for you (if you like how you sound) or the disadvantage for you (if you don’t like how you sound) is that if you listen to yourself - particularly if you record yourself practicing and listen to yourself afterwards - you might well pick up on a particular aspect of what you like or don’t like.

With Eric Marienthal, it was the scooping. And I've heard myself before and there were a couple things I've had the blessing of picking up on in my style that I didn't like.

Sometimes, improvement comes from avoiding something in your style.

In my case, I noticed that I scooped a lot, too. And so, for a while, I made it a conscious effort to change that part of my style. But here’s the thing. I didn’t stop scooping so much by deciding to “not scoop.” I stopped scooping by deciding to focus on starting each note right on pitch.

Do you see the difference?

The idea is not to focus on not doing the bad habit all the time. Sometimes, it’s easier to simply replace a bad habit with a good one.

In my case, the scooping didn’t stop because I was always thinking, “don’t scoop! Don’t scoop!” The scooping stopped because I made a more conscious effort to start each note on pitch.

Listen to yourself once in a while and pick out the one thing you can work on - something good to do more of or something bad to replace with something else. And often, it's easier to pick up something you don't like in your style, and replace that with something else that you like better.

Summary

  • It's good to listen to yourself in recordings to hear what you sound like when you're not in the moment
  • if there is something that jumps out at you once you hear it, and you really like it, try to "make it a lick." Work it up to 12 keys. Make it a point to incorporate it into your style.
  • more likely, you'll hear something you don't like. Learn to consciously replace what you don't like with something else you do like, and then focus on doing that instead.

Rome wasn't built in a day. And neither is your playing style.

But sometimes it means doing a course correction. And sometimes you can make great strides by simply working on one item at a time, as you go about your playing and practicing.

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