Recently, Music to Your Home interviewed Jim P, one of our saxophone teachers and a current gigging musician all over NYC. Jim indulged our curiosity about his experiences with teaching, playing, learning and inspiring his students. His philosophies on teaching sax lessons in NYC are not to be missed, so read on:
1) What advice would you give to parents who are considering getting saxophone or other woodwind lessons for their children?
Jim: I would say this about any instrument really, but take the plunge! How often does your child get one on one attention from a highly trained professional working in their field?
I also like the idea of mentorship when it comes to learning music. Having somebody to look up to, imitate, and question is really important. I know the student-mentor relationship has been and continues to be integral for me as I master my craft, and I want to share that experience with others, as well.
2) What is the best woodwind instrument to start young students on?
Jim: This is a really good question – For flute and clarinet players, students should start on their instrument of choice, but for saxophone players, there is some discussion. I know my teachers started me on clarinet before switching to saxophone, because the clarinet requires more technique and control. I also understand the argument for starting students on sax right away – if that’s the instrument they want to play and it’s going to keep them interested and involved in music, then maybe it’s right to skip the clarinet and go right to sax. I think it’s okay to start a young student on saxophone, especially if they’re getting a dedicated lesson time once a week.
3) What are some obstacles that saxophone or clarinet students face when learning how to play and how can they be overcome?
Jim: I think a lot of it is just patience – with yourself and with the instrument. When you pick up a woodwind for the first time it can feel very awkward. You’re shoving a hunk of metal and wood and rubber into your face and it has all these buttons and levers and you can’t see what you’re doing with it.
Our modern culture in a lot of ways is centered on ease of use – if we can’t operate a new phone or app within two minutes we give up. Saxophone, and other woodwinds, they’re different. They take patience and perseverance. You have to pace yourself, and give yourself time to grow and learn.
4) How much daily practice time does a beginner need to realize steady progress and become a proficient player?
Jim: The short answer? About 15 minutes. With beginning students, getting acclimated and adjusted to the instrument is essential, and usually about 15 minutes of daily, uninterrupted, focused practice will help with that acclimation and learning the fundamentals of playing. There is also a lot going on with the muscles of your face and hands as you start a new instrument, and you don’t want to over extend yourself.
Depending on the student and their goals on the instrument, 15 minutes can expand into longer periods in the first weeks or months. Personally, I think about my own practice from a more goal-orientated perspective, but for a lot of students, timing their practice is very helpful.
5) What benefits outside of music can come from learning the saxophone?
Jim: Well I was talking about the patience aspect earlier, and I really think that’s huge. When I pick up a horn it can be very meditative for me. Working slowly on difficult passages, while it stresses some people out, really helps me to slow down and think about my problems methodically.
Beyond that, I mean you could go through a ton of benefits that studies attribute to studying music. Improved test scores and all of that. Problem solving skills, motor skills, spatial skills, learning a new language, they all come into play when you’re learning music, and in real time. To me, when people talk about that stuff, what they’re getting at is that studying music (or really any other art) helps you to become a more complete person.
6) What do you love about teaching and being a performer in NYC?
Jim: My favorite part about teaching and playing in New York is the people that I meet and work with, without a doubt. The people I know on Music To Your Home’s teacher list are great examples – Lena H. (woodwinds), Manuel S. (piano), Daan K. (guitar), Tim T. (drums), Owen B. (woodwinds). These men and women aren’t just formidable musicians, but amazing and inspiring people to be around. Honestly, they are the reason I work so hard to be the best musician and person I can be.
7) What was your most memorable teaching experience?
Jim: I was working with a student when I lived in the Midwest. He and I basically started together while he was in middle school, and we had a really good rapport all the way through high school. When I moved to New York we stopped working together, but we kept in touch. When he did his first solo recital as a high school senior he wrote a very heartfelt thank you to me in the program – knowing that I couldn’t be at the performance and that I would probably never read it myself. An old professor of mine actually sent me a picture – I’m not actually sure that the student ever knew I read his thank you. I think about that to this day, and how much of an impact a teacher can have on his or her students, and vice versa, and how cool that can be.
8) When and where was your most memorable performance?
Jim: This is a really difficult question – the “big” performances either featuring my music or at important venues or with important people, they’re memorable in their own way, but the performances I really cherish are the times that the music was really happening. I remember one time specifically, we were playing with this jazz-funk band at this dive – and for whatever reason, the whole band just clicked. We opened up to all these new territories and opportunities; it was like everything was brand new. It was really a beautiful moment. And even though we were on this little stage with only a handful of people in the audience, everyone was laughing and smiling by the end. Those are the moments I really live for as a performer.
9) Who are you musical influences?
Jim: I probably have too many to list. For jazz; Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Warne Marsh, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and Mark Turner are just a few of my favorites on a long and ever-growing list.
For more rock or funk influenced music (because I end up playing a lot of it) I look to Maceo Parker, Lennie Pickett, John Scofield, and Kenny Garrett for inspiration.
10) Do you have a preferred woodwind method book for beginner students?
Jim: The Standard of Excellence series by Bruce Pearson or the Rubank books are my favorite methods for people just starting out. There are some great jazz methods by Lennie Niehaus and Jim Sniedero I really like once the student has some faculty on the instrument.
I also use a lot of my own material in my teaching – not only do I work on pedagogical material for all my students’ benefit, but I like writing stuff for individuals as well. I think about teaching – especially one on one lessons – as a two way street. There are a lot of ways to solve a problem; why not cultivate an individual’s problem-solving capabilities instead of just telling them what’s “right” and what’s “wrong?” In this way, we’re learning how to be human beings and artists instead of just pushing buttons on a shiny noisemaker. Plus it’s just way more fun.