Canadian Musician - May/June 2017 - Page 29

WOODWINDS Dr. Daniel Schnee is a multi-instrumentalist who has performed worldwide with 21 different JUNO and Grammy Award-winning musicians. He has been internationally recognized as a graphic score composer and is a former student of Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz musician Ornette Coleman. By Dan Schnee Rocking the Horn Section: The Art of the Chart O ne of the great pleasures of saxo- phone performance is playing in an R&B, soul, funk, or rock horn section. Hitting syncopated uni- son horn shots at high volume with a driving rhythm section feels so incredibly fantastic for both players and audiences alike. But this kind of work is becoming both increasingly rare and highly competitive, so the following tips about what is essentially the art of the chart will help you maximize your preparation and skills for horn section playing, as well as for musical theatre orches- tras and jazz big bands. The Steps You will often have to learn a full set of 35 to 40 songs in keys like C# major at fast tempos, so to be a skilled horn sectionist, you must first practice the hardest keys three times more than the others. Singers very rarely do songs in their original keys, so it is important to be extremely comfortable playing a wide variety of scales in the key of B, F#, C#, D , G , and C . This also helps you get used to see- ing a giant pile of sharps or flats in the key signature, while also not getting thrown off when accidentals appear in the arrangement. Once you have gained key fluency, you must then learn the rhythmic language of the songs, slowly clapping through the charts with a metronome to get a foundational sense of the flow. It is a good idea to use a metronome that has a rhythm feature where you can set the tempo to sound sixteenth notes to be as exact as possible, as most soul music charts will have segments of mixed eighth and sixteenth note flourishes, which need to be razor sharp for maximum impact. Charlie Parker once said, “If you don’t live W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M it, it won’t come out of your horn.” This is very true with being able to sing your horn parts, which is the next skill you need. Sing- ing through the charts is an essential way to discover just how well you really know the flow and feel of music. If you can’t sing it, you can’t play it, so to get started, use sung syllables for different rhythmic values. For example, as I study a chart, I will sing the rhythms using syllables like “diddle-did- dle” for sixteenth notes, “da” for unaccented eighth notes, “dat” for accented eighth notes, “bap” for unaccented quarter notes, and so on. This kind of prep is useful for any chart, from the classics by James Brown or Earth, Wind & Fire all the way to The Brecker Broth- ers’ fusion anthem “Some Skunk Funk,” or Frank Zappa’s powerful 1988 horn arrange- ment of “Oh No.” Then, when you actually pick up your horn and practice, begin by halving the writ- ten tempo (minus a metronome marking or two), practicing very slowly to really get the flow and feel down. For example, practice a chart marked at 120 bpm all the way down at 58 bpm or low- er for at least 30 minutes straight before mov- ing to 60, 63, and 66 bpm for 10 minutes each before finally shifting up to 120. When you get to the faster tempos, you will find that even the most insane sixteenth note runs flow like butter and you won’t have practiced flubbing it over and over at higher speeds until it somehow became correct. Playing it slow and perfect for 30 minutes means you won’t play it fast and wrong for an hour trying to just make it work. Remember, the goal is to make every chart inspiring, musical, and dynamic, no matter how slow or fast. Also, to have total mastery of a chart you must specifically isolate each individual bar that is even moderately challenging and specifically repeat them over and over, even though they are written to continue on as part of a phrase. This kind of practice also guarantees we don’t become complacent and fall into a semi-conscious comfort zone when we are playing a longer pattern that repeats itself for most of the chart. This is be- cause these kinds of patterns often contain clever variations in the latter half of the song that will have you stumbling if you are not paying attention. Even one “surprise” altered eight note in a pattern can throw off both your playing and your mental control, caus- ing you to have to stumble back into the right pattern, which creates a very notice- able mess in the music overall. A fumble in a solo saxophone piece is minor, but even a tiny fumble completely ruins the feel and power of a horn line. Another extremely important activity is taking very exact notes on any changes to the repeats, coda section, or dal segno mark- ings made by the bandleader, as these will often occur to accommodate the length of a performance. These changes are most of- ten made to solo sections to save time, or to reflect who is soloing in what order, or to signal that the solo now leads back to a differ- ent part of the song than originally arranged. Always have a soft pencil on hand to make delible marks on the score. No matter the style, horn section work is ex- citing and challenging, and I really hope you get the chance to play all the amazing, funky music that is out there. Good luck! C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 29