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question for all you music teachers:

The Fonz

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my younger cousin is playing sax. he picked up the instrument in grade shcool and is about to enter his freshman year in high school so he's been playing for at least five years. augmenting his school band classes he's been taking private lessons for at least a year.


the kid doesn't know what a minor scale is. does this seem f@#ked up to anyone else?

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Often music lessons on band instruments give you lots and lots of exercises which are all written out. Sometimes they don't tell you the theory behnd the exercises.


Unfortuntately this often leads to players who are great readers but cannot play a solo.


Which is not a good idea for a saxophonist.


But your cousin is still at the beginning of his learning process, so hopefully he will be getting the information he needs.


Meanwhile, I wonder how many bassists who have playing for that length of time can read.

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Its actually not as messed up as it may seem. Learning a brass or woodwind instrument in a concert band setting is entirely different from what is taught to people who play stringed instruments. I began my musical studies in 7th grade on trumpet. By 8th grade I had learned 2 major scales (concert Bb and Eb). In high school I learned all my major scales and we practiced those frequently and were tested on them several times. However throughout the whole time I played in the marching band and concert band we rarely discussed minor scales. We only touched on them every now and again, and even then just enough to help understand a particular song we may be playing in a minor key. I happened to pick up bass during my sophomore year in high school and as I learned my different scale patterns I realized that minor scales play a much more integral role on stringed instruments than they ever did in the concert band setting. If you'd like your cousin to put more emphasis on soloing and learning minor scales and different modes try to get him into the jazz band at school. It'll do him worlds of good, especially if he lands a solo spot.
You think you know... but you have no idea...
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My main instrument is sax. I started in 6th grade and took lessons all the way through middle school, high school and college. When I was auditioning for colleges, I remember one of the professors being pretty impressed that I knew all my minor scales and variations (natural, harmonic, melodic). To which I replied, "You mean you actually have kids coming in here wanting to be music majors, who don't even know what a minor scale is?" He said I was the first out of 10 that day. Wow. It seems to me that a lot of high school music directors are mostly concerned with making sure the ensembles sound good (which is definitely a major undertaking), so individual musicians often don't learn the theory and skills that are important. I knew a lot of "fakers" in high school. Kids who couldn't even read music. They'd just sit around the kids who *could* read and eventually learn the parts by ear. And the band director had no idea. If you want to actually "learn" an instrument in high school, you've really got to take the initiative on your own. Lots of practice on your own, and definitely private lessons if you're serious about learning it the right way.


Your cousin is the norm, unfortunately. But he's still got plenty of time to get in gear.

All your bass are belong to us!
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This is an interesting discussion. This propted me to have a discussion with my younger (only by two years) brother, who spent several years in his young(er) days learning trumpet in the school band. I was curious about his experience learning an instrument in that setting, especially a brass one. He was as shocked as some of you at the thought that a player of any instrument for that many years might not know what a minor scale was. Apparently he was not allowed to touch his trumpet for the first year, and was tought only basic theory and sight-reading. Perhaps that explains why his progress on guitar has been much faster than my progress on bass (though I started earlier, thankfully!).


My own experience in concert choir, however, in high school comes to mind when I read about "fakers". I was one of those people who, at first, had no clue about reading the music and simply learned all my parts by ear from the baritones and basses sitting around me. Those were the days...


I hope some others chime in with their experiences. I'm always interested in the status of music education in various institutions, especially elementary and high school settings. I hope that my former high school does not continue in it's current direction, which is towards a totally minimized, or non-existent even, music program. Are the sane people becoming an endangered species, or are the insane just growing at a faster rate? :)

unkownroadband.com - step into the unkown :-)
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Might be slightly OT, but...


Second-to-last band I was in was a Texas Blues band with a guitarist who memorized the Grimoire, and could probably write volumes, himself.


Band I'm in currently had a guitarist who was a music major and knew scales like Michael Moore knows all-night donut shops.


This guitarist had a falling out with our singer, who brought in a new axe-man, who proudly stated 'I play by ear'.


His arsenal consisted of a few barre chords and dropped D tuning (which are two big peeves of mine)


We were working on an original, when I said 'Try playing it in C minor'.


He looked at me like I just grew a third nipple and said, 'You're speaking Greek to me.'


Did not make this bass player (with 15 years' experience) too happy.


So I feel your pain, brother.

"Women and rhythm section first" -- JFP
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that's another thing. i asked him what he knows and he started telling me which major scales he knows. which major scales? i've always thought there was only one.


let's say, for example, that the schools band teacher doesn't teach any theory (mine didn't). wouldn't the private teacher? and why do woodwind players learn scales one key at a time: this is B major, this is Eb major. then you wind up having to go through all the different variations teaching this poor kid which specific notes are in ever scale with an augmented this or a flat the other thing. wouldn't it be easier to teach the intervals: half whole whole half whole half whole? then it becomes this is a major scale, this is a minor scale.

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Originally posted by Ace Cracker:

that's another thing. i asked him what he knows and he started telling me which major scales he knows. which major scales? i've always thought there was only one.

BenLoy gave the short answer, but I'll add that there are indeed 12 major scales, and on sax each scale brings in its own set of fingerings and muscle memory. Then there's the range - playing a one octave scale is far different from playing the scale through the entire range of the horn.


Example: C Major scale can go one octave or two octaves from C to C (easy way). OR from C up 2 1/2 octaves to F, back down 2 1/2 octaves to B then up a 1/2 step to the original C. This involves all the buttons that you can reach with fingers and a few keys that are activated with the palm of the left hand.


And if you need a Bb, choose between 3 standard fingerings, an overtone, or a tweener.


I would not expect a player to be playing full range scales at the high school level unless they have had a very good private teacher and they actually practice as prescribed. As for minor scales, it has been stated above, but even though the student may have been playing in minor keys for years there's not enough theory included in the books to tell them that.


Perhaps one of the downfalls of our music ed system is that Theory class is generally taught apart from Band class. In the high school I attended Theory was offered once every three years and only those of us bound for music programs at college dared attend.


Well, I added more than I started out to... sorry for the minor soapbox, of course I'm open to input from DBB and Steve and anyone else who has .02.



- Matt W.
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Lots of good information here. Of course, the bit about each scale having vastly different fingering is important.


Also, of course, if you know a major scale, you know its relative minor scale.


Now the discussion becomes what makes a functional ensemble musician.


Our curriculum focuses on many things...some scales by name, but scale fingering for sure. Reading and counting rhythms, sight reading, articulation, tone production, intonation.


What we are looking for is musicians with a degree of independence who can perform together while reading a music selection. And we do a good job of that, I believe.


In general, in strings, for example, junior high students only know 7 scales...some one octave, others 2. But (as Jeremy intimated) they can read pretty damn well.


Remember...knowing what something is named is not important. And teaching music theory (which I know is vital) is still, for most kids, unneeded information. The kids know that; they can filter out what they know to be important. I mention major and minor scales all the time (in fact, in elementary school general music it's covered.) The kids in my classes don't hear "e minor scale." If I rehearse a unison scale, they are listening to the sound and paying attention to the fingering. But mostly, they are just putting up with it until we can get on to what they love: playing music. And when they play, they play minor keys and scales...all the time.


Ensemble (bands and orchestra) players can play all their life, reading more and more difficult charts, playing more and more difficult music, and never know what a I chord is.


You and I do the same thing. Are you aware every time you play a secondary dominant? Or when your bass line functions as a sequential melody? Generally, you focus on playing. I know when I'm reading music I'll blow through the chart pretty fast, reading accidentals without really focusing on the fact that virtually every accidental is sending me into a localized key change. I don't focus on the theory unless I crash, maybe 'cause something didn't sound right and I have to look and decipher and understand the harmonic dictation to play the passage correctly.


Remember, music theory simple gives names and rules to things we already do.


Of course, in Jazz (which generally begins in HS around here) teachers begin to relate names to things the kids already have been playing...Dorian, mixolydian, minor.


And the reason is simple. In band and orchestra music, I want my students to play exactly what's on the page, without question. In jazz, I want them to have the knowlege to stretch out.


In my private studio, I also rarely talk about theory, other than to say that "This lesson works on the d minor scale." The more important theory for orchestral bassists is to identify leading tones so they can brighten them up (a little lecture I just went through today) and understand the harmonic series, the tempered scale and pure intonation.


As they become interested in writing their own basslines (jazz, rock, pop, country) the lessons become increasingly theory oriented.

"Let's raise the level of this conversation" -- Jeremy Cohen, in the Picasso Thread.


Still spendin' that political capital far faster than I can earn it...stretched way out on a limb here and looking for a better interest rate.

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Originally posted by jeremyc:


Meanwhile, I wonder how many bassists who have playing for that length of time can read.[/quote


I am guilty. I've been playing almost 7 years. Took lessons on and off for awhile, but they often turned into jam sessions. Basically I wasted my time and money.

Took a music theory class at Penn State. Was beginning to get a handle on theory and reading (like how a 1st grader can read Dr Seuss). Like a dumbass, when the necessity to read music fell by the wayside, so did my reading. Soon, I will be taking lessons from a respected teacher, who's been at it a long time, and I won't waste his or my time...

Insert inaccurate quote here
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In High School, I had a band. I went to one school, and the other guys went to another. We were all in the music program. I played bass and trombone, the other guys were trumpet players. I learned how to read and play a warm up scale. They learned intense theory. I learned my diatonic modes back then, but didn't really know what they were for until I started taking lessons at 16. I thought

"D" Dorian is for every time you played something on "D" always. When I got into Jazz Band, I could read but I wasn't having to much fun being creative with the charts.

I teach kids from high school, and Jr. High from about 8 different schools. Some of them already play another instrument. Some of them learn some theory, and some of them don't. Just reading to perform songs. Personally, I feel ripped off. Even did back then when I heard the things my bandmates were talking about and it went right over my head. None the less, I liked my high school music teacher. I hated my Jr. High music teacher, I quit playing drums because he was such a turn off. What a temper?

Mike Bear




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Ace - as you see, the focus in schools or lessons isn't theory. It's reading and technique. Using concerts as a "deadline", there isn't time to work on improvisation and related theory activities. It's enough to get the trumpets to play pianissimo during the oboe solo.


My guess is that the school offers music theory as an elective in some form. My son took a combined MIDI-Theory class in HS. They did little with understanding MIDI, and lots of theory. One time when I was struggling learning an Allman Bros. run by ear, he said "Dad, it's just an A diminished chord", so he got something out of it.


Since I took years of sax and no bass lessons, I know it was a rudimentary theory class I took in the 9th grade that provided me with enough foundation to play/improvise/whatever simple music forms (like most rock and blues).


Rmember - the lessons are focusing on building a virtuoso concert sax player. Not a jazz or rock or anything-else player. The good news is that once he learns theory, those other skills will be put to new use !!




Acoustic Color


Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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