This class handles issues that relate to all aspects of sound production: embouchure, tongue position, overtones, and equipment. From over 25 years of teaching, Bob has developed some essential and basic concepts, while at the same time considering individual skill levels. Some of these techniques are drawn from the late legendary teacher Joe Allard, who taught many of the most masterful saxophonists of our time including Mike Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Bob Berg to name just a few.

* Sound: It is Bob's contention that sound is everything. Brilliant technique means very little if it does not sound beautiful to the listener. Essential to improvement is for one to develop their own sound concept and perspective to compare to the masters. This constant focus in itself will put one on the right path. Understanding all the components that go into having a great tone are achieved over many years in this vigilant search for a personal sound. Here are some of his main topics related to the study of sound.

* Mythology: Bad habits are commonly developed on the sax. Misconceptions are passed down both from teachers and from player to player. The individuality of players and their physical differences also make it difficult to recognize incorrect embouchure and internal function inside the mouth and throat. The pursuit of individual style and tone and the fact that there is no standardized sound (one of the beautiful aspects of the saxophone), adds even more difficulty to the teaching process and the ability to identify problems. In his classes, he demonstrates in an interactive way how to test, recognize, and correct bad habits.

* The Set Up (Mouthpieces, Reeds, Ligature, Etc.): Bad habits are frequently caused by using the wrong set up. Misconceptions abound in this area and sometimes even pride and irrational attachment to one's equipment can hold back progress. Part of his class is devoted to understanding the importance of finding an efficient and balanced set up. Bad habits are too often caused by playing poor set ups. Understanding the dynamics between the mouthpiece, reed, ligature, and horn are very important. In his class he has students try and compare some of his personal set ups. They can experience the differences in response and timbre of sound first hand. Many times this alone can be a revelation and improvement can be immediate and dramatic. Once a balanced and efficient set up is found, the student can have more fun playing rather than fighting the instrument. An obvious but frequently overlooked concept.

* Harmonics & Overtones: Once again, this topic was taught and stressed by Joe Allard. The process of overtone production is multi-functional. Bob demonstrates how these exercises teach the tongue where to position itself inside the mouth. The correct arched tongue position enables the air to be funneled into the horn in a efficient and controlled way. The positive results are numerous and essential. This technique allows the tongue to tune the instrument rather than the usual tightening of the embouchure to bring the pitch up. Tight embouchure creates that pinched, nasal quality often heard in developing students. If the player can learn to loosen up and use the air stream it will dramatically help the sound because the reed will be free to vibrate as it needs to. The tongue has to learn where to be in the varying registers of the instrument. Once this is realized, skipping around the horn with facile technique is accomplished with little movement of the embouchure. Control of the air using the tongue is really essential to playing correctly and efficiently.

* Altissimo: High harmonics are not produced by biting or pinching. The air stream created by the arched tongue is essential in playing in the Altissimo register. Most players do some of this without realizing what is involved. Directing the air stream with the tongue combined with using the correct fingerings will lock-in the harmonics and stabilize the pitch.


How to practice like the professionals The only reason to practice and study this music is because your inner soul compels you and leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction and comfort.

"Equally and possibly more important than technique is the
ability to express emotion and personality"

* Practicing Jazz: What is your practice routine? Is practicing fun? Are you progressing? Are you self critical in a positive or negative way? There isn't one approach to learn how to improvise. Everyone understands the necessity of practicing but rarely how and what to practice. If you ask 100 great players how they developed, you would have 100 individual experiences with one core agreement: that it's essential to be fluent in the fundamentals of the language.
The overwhelming mass of information to which students are exposed, is daunting. It is important to learn how to practice correctly and use one's time efficiently. Bob discusses creating specific goals and not becoming overtaxed. The quality of practice is much more important than deciding what specific things to practice. A practice that's fun and interesting is a major component of achieving results.
What do great improvisers do? The self pursuit of jazz is stressed in his class including what that means. In an academic environment it is possible to lose touch with the essence of the music. Jazz can't be learned from a textbook or in a vacuum; it is interactive and organic in nature. The pedagogy that has been developing over the last 2O years is expansive and helpful. However, in his class he demonstrates some concepts that are innate to great players and how one discovers their individual path. The process has to be a joy. If the work is not fun, one is unlikely to succeed.

* Interpolating Intervals and Creating Shapes: This tedious sounding topic is actually great fun and is targeted towards medium to advanced players. Bob will demonstrate and discuss how one creates their own melodic shapes and becomes free on their instrument; the ultimate goal of every improviser. The ability to move intervals, patterns, and sequences all over your instrument in a melodic and rhythmic fashion is part of achieving this goal. He also discusses how to begin this process and how it will expand the student's technique in interesting ways, weaving these newly acquired shapes into the student's existing vocabulary.

* Pentatonics and Altered Pentatonics: Bob's approach to using pentatonics is discussed and demonstrated. It includes using basic minor pentatonics on modes, understanding how to alter pentatonics to highlight chord quality, creating "in and out" tensions, and how to apply these pentatonic shapes on standard tunes to move away from bebop type patterns.


In this interactive class Bob and his students play, demonstrate, and communicate many important functions, including the individual roles in a small group context. Young players often do not understand protocol and the democracy of the bandstand. Too often ego and enthusiasm take over. He will discuss playing too long, playing out of context, getting in each other's way, starting and ending tunes, and other similar topics. Rhythm section concepts include these: how to think about time and phrasing, and how to "comp" behind the soloist by using dynamics and varying the texture.

* What to Expect on a Gig: Bob likes to simulate what takes place jumping into the fire on the bandstand, calling a tune, the key, and the tempo. This experience used to be a natural function of growing up playing gigs. Unfortunately these real world experiences are not there anymore. He reveals how to simulate these essential learning elements of on-the-job training.

Big Band Workshop

The obvious power and excitement generated by a big band is inherent in nature. Bob's main focus in working with a big band is the importance of nuance and musicality. The most difficult element to achieve is subtlety with the detailed use of phrasing and dynamics. The rhythm section can be very helpful in achieving this goal for the horn section and providing of course the biggest challenge: getting the band to swing. By demonstrating phrasing and accentuation, students seem readily able to grasp concepts of feel. Picking charts that are easily accessible and conducive to this process is very important. Interpretation of written jazz is un-explicit and needs to be taught interactively. Lecturing about swing without demonstration is abstract. Sharing his 30 years of big band experience on the road and in the studio is a rewarding and challenging process. The feedback he receives from the players encourages him as he always tries to meet their individual needs. He finds that students respond favorably to practical and accessible information that can help them achieve immediate improvement.


Web Design and digital editing :My Keter Productions .  ©2010 Bob Sheppard.  Photography: Maria Sheppard / Suzuki K