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Ask Neal

Ask Neal

Leave a comment with any question you want here!  Thanks

{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

KT December 28, 2012 at 12:40 am

I listened to the critiques again and reviewed your instructional videos. I feel like I know I need to slow down, but pick up speed when I have played the song or measure often.
How do I land between too slow and letting familiarity and enthusiasm suck me into ramping up the speed?


Neal December 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I suppose it’s a matter of developing control. Things like Lindeman help with that.


Gil February 4, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Hi Neal, I hear you say hear the note in your head before you play it, I don’t understand that concept, I hear like jazz players can hear music in their head before they improvise, how is that developed, hoping Im making myself clear to you, thanks Gil


Neal February 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Hey Gil,
One way of doing that early on is to play a note that is sustained. Then stop. You should have an idea of the note in your head.

With practice, you start to hear things in your head. And a lot of listening. I have music ‘playing’ in my head a lot it seems like.

How much do you listen to music?


Gil February 5, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I hear what you say by sustaining the note, and differentiated the notes, that does take practice,the other i dont listen enough I feel, thats another aspect to work on to understand the concept of hearing inside of your head,
thanks for the info,


KT February 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I finished every for steps 8 to 12 a long time ago, except the Jamaica by ear. I have no idea why I can play other songs better with practice and seem to be getting nowhere on Jamaica.

Did anyone else get stuck there and find a solution?


Neal February 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm

What you might want to do at this point is write out the rhythm, could help to see it, gives you another sense to work with.


KT February 20, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Let me check my understanding of rhythm and tempo first. Is tempo more like pace/speed, and rhythm more like beat…like ///u short long pattern?


Neal February 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Yep, that’s right.


KT February 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Thanks. That is too important to be unsure about.


KT February 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Saw the intermediate series for sale. Am I at that level yet? I am playing songs I have heard often with improved rhythm, but my ears seem to think all they have to is hear my mistakes to tell me where to practice more.


Neal February 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm

You could probably handle the improvisation class. The ear training class would be more of a challenge, you could do it if you’re up for it.


KT March 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm

My comfort level is so connected to written music that it is probably tome to try improv. I will be lucky to practice enough to add anything new for a few weeks.


KT March 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Is reviewing really beginner stuff, and scales and the sections Linderman on step 8 too much of a step backwards? I cannot access much music in either place I am staying.

I have to play very softly and find that difficult. Suggestions for nextbtwoweeks?


Neal March 2, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Reviewing fundamentals will never hurt. I was talking to a friend the other other day who also plays saxophone, and he had been talking to Gary Meek about how we don’t really get worse at saxophone usually, but we do become more aware. You’re probably aware of things that you weren’t before, so working on the fundamentals won’t hurt.

Another thing you can do is ear training. Bring some music with you to work on.

Will you have internet where you will be?

Also, I was thinking of starting to learn Moondance, I think you might have said you were interested in learning that one.


Neal March 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Do you know the melody of Norwegian Wood?

Try playing the first part, starting on your D. There won’t be any sharps or flats.

I was playing that earlier since I thought it could be a good one to do a lesson on.

And when you don’t have music, try figuring out other tunes that you kind of know. It may be difficult at first, but it’s good practice and will help expand your musical vocabulary.

When I went camping last summer, I brought a clarinet. Really, I don’t know a lot of tunes on clarinet, but I know a couple and I could figure out a few more. Probably figured out four melodies from memory in a few times I was playing. Plus I was playing around people, so it’s better to play melodies! Basically I played a few tunes and improvised around them.


KT March 3, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Norwegian Wood. Vocal melody? To me, listening one earlier today I think it repeats a LOT of notes in vocal melody. You are giving me another Jamaica challenge!


KT March 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Yes, MoonDance is one I want to play. I can only play it up to the bridge.

I know Norwegian Wood s a Beatles’ song, but really do not recall the music ir even the chorus. I remember it is pretty.

Yes, I feel playing around people melodies are better. I never play even my best if/when others are around.


KT March 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I do know Norwegian Wood. I recall now after one listen. It is gentle, pretty and lyrically vague…I think it was intentionally vague. Blackbird and Norwegian Wood are the soft guitars and no strong drums…subtle rhythm. I like both.

I am up for trying that and Moondance. Using Moondance to get the D above high C, but it is hard. You will not like to hear that because I play only up to the bridge, I speed the rhythm up a bit as I learn it. I am not at the bpm it was written and performed in.

Have to work more on E when doing scales for the song I wrote.

Do you know Donny Piela? Of course, you do. Is he a friend, teacher, or SaxTribe grad?


Neal March 4, 2013 at 2:00 am

Hey Kate,
Seemed like you might have at least heard it.

What seems to go wrong when you play D with the palm key?

Donny’s a member of Saxophone Tribe too. He took my improvisation class before that, has been playing about 12 years.


KT March 6, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Neal, listening to Norwegian Wood and working on the ear training. Made me want to get music for Obladi Oblada…I know it is fast, oh kt tonk ish, but I think it might sound really ood on alto sax. Ya think?


KT March 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Correction: honky tonk-ish.


KT March 20, 2013 at 10:54 am


I play often and clean my sax after each practice session. Nonetheless, lately I hear what sounds like water inside when I play. There is no water, of course, what might be causing this sound?


Neal March 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm

There is water within your breath as you play, it condenses inside the instrument. So it is water.


KT April 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm

I heard something crazy that might just be true. Is it true you can submerge your sax in a tub of water for a minute or two to really clean it, especially sticky pads? I use dollar bills, tried the papers the sell ( they rip) and slide my cleaning cloth in and under keys gently.

I know I would havee to dry the sax well just like cleaning after playing, but if it really cleans better I will try a weekly bath…for the sax.


Neal April 3, 2013 at 11:49 pm

That sounds like a terrible idea….. where did you hear it?

You want to figure out what you are doing to make your pads more sticky than they might be usually. I use bills to clean G# and a couple of other pads sometimes. Maybe I’ll do a video showing that.


KT April 4, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I don’t remember where I heard it. It scared me…expensive sax on my budget. Did not want to take a chance. I am wondering if it is a trace of toothpaste. I brush before I play every time and swish water around if I get thirsty or dry playing.


KT May 10, 2013 at 11:59 pm

My sax came with basic cleaning supplies. Two brushes, on soft padded, one wired like a bottle cleaning. The kit also included an oil for pads…it says apply from tip of toothpick.

Do you use oil?


Neal May 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

I clean my sax with the cloth squares with a weighted string – body/neck/mouthpiece after playing.

For the oil, I get that done about once a year by the guy I go to for repairs. Have to be pretty careful with it.


KT May 12, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Thanks. I clean the way you do, and use a dollar bill to clean pads every month or when that one key with a tendency to stick gets bad.

I will save the oil…let pros do that. Good advice.


KT May 14, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Yeah, I am working on the first part of Moon Dance. When I hit it right re rhythm nd accurate notes no schmutz, I love it! I do ave to slw it down when I have sed my time on Lindeman and scales etc. I save it as my reward for a good practice.


Neal May 14, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Yep, you build good habits that replace the bad ones.


KT May 14, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Neal, I think my annual subscription runs out soon. I have now been paying a year and a half. I need to renew my membership to keep improving.

How do I do that? PayPal?


Neal May 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Should be automatic, make sure your credit card is updated on there though.


KT June 1, 2013 at 7:30 pm


Two questions:
1- I sometimes see a dot above a note, not beside it like a dotted note. What does that signify?
2-there are a couple of Stevie Wonder songs I would like to, obviously, Sir Duke on alto. I want to get the sheet music, but only see it in 50.00 sets of jazz music. Can you place it for sale on your site? I loved learning God Bless the Child-Stevie Wonder version. I felt competent!


Neal June 1, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Dot means staccato, you play the note for half of its indicated value. That gives it some separation since the other half of the notes indicated value becomes space.

A dotted quarter is like an eighth note, a dotted eighth note is like a sixteenth note.

For the sheet music, you can get a choral arrangement for under $2 of Sir Duke that I just found. The other option is to learn it by ear.


KT June 2, 2013 at 5:15 am

I like the challenge by ear…but I also like reading music…it beats Soduko as a memory exercise in my opinion. Thanks. I will check out Sir Duke first. Then other Stevie Wonder songs as I work my way up to some classic sax songs. I think Sir Duke is go a be fun.


Luke Bong August 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Hi Neal!

Sometimes when I blow the sax, I can hear ‘watery’ sound in the background. The sound is not ‘clean’. What could possibly be the problem in this case?



Neal August 11, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Probably some water building up somewhere. I will blow through the mouthpiece, not making sound, but causing air to move the water forward and then shake out my neck sometimes.

Sometimes it builds up under certain keys, seems like the palm keys especially (the openings under the pads for them).


Luke Bong August 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I tried this method last night and it worked. Thanks!


Brooks August 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

Re: Triplet Challenge #12
I understand that the duration of each note in the triplet should be 2/3 the duration of the other two in the measure but you seem to be playing the eighth and quarter notes identically (in length) both to ear and chart.


Neal August 14, 2013 at 11:11 am

Thanks Brooks, you’re correct.

Recorded it at one tempo and then rerecorded it at a slower tempo, but wasn’t looking at the notation the second time around.

Removed the second bar for now, just work on the first bar.




Edward McDonald August 16, 2013 at 11:48 am

Hey Neal,

I really like the lesson of slowing down the music when playing to get a better feel for the song and proper finger position.

I wanted to know if you have the rest of Harlem Nocturne?

My other question is when I’m playing the soprano I’m able to play the C and B an octave higher without hitting the octave key.

This is weird to me and I’m having problems controlling it when playing.

Am I bending the reed improperly or something?



Neal August 16, 2013 at 11:56 am

Hey Edward,
Yes, slowing down can help a lot.

Harlem Nocturne is in the New Real Book Volume 2. You can probably find it some other places too.

You can play an octave up on all the saxophones without using the octave key. You can actually play multiple notes using those low fingerings.

Does it seem difficult to play the lower note? If so, there might be a bent key. If it’s just possible, then that’s not a problem, you just need to be more aware of hearing the note in your head before you play it.


Edward McDonald August 16, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Hey Neal,

Thanks for responding, wasn’t expecting it that soon. I just got it back from repair to make sure anything wasn’t physically wrong with it. So I don’t know if I need to break it back in again or what. Initially when I played it it reminded me of when I played it for the first time, notes sounded a little wavy. I’ve been playing my alto for quite a bit and kind of neglected it. So that could be cause. What do you think?


Neal August 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm

If you just got it repaired, it should be in good shape if the guy knows what he’s doing.

You don’t really need to break in a saxophone. Getting used to it again is a different story. Especially if you’ve been playing more alto for a while.

You might want to just try a different reed too to make sure that’s not the cause. Also, just keep practicing it so you get used to it again.


Edward McDonald August 16, 2013 at 7:09 pm

The alto was my first so I’m more comfortable with it. My soprano is my Kenny G sax because I was hook on his style of play and would play nothing but his music. Since I got an invitation to play for my job with my fellow co-workers they have been patient with me but only want me to stick to one sax which is the alto. I’ll start practicing more with the other sax and include the Lindeman exercise. I’m really blown away by the timing of your response and detail advice. I’m looking forward to continuing


Neal August 17, 2013 at 10:51 am

Thanks Edward. The alto and tenor, in general, are going to be more practical horns to fit into more musical situations. The soprano is different and can cut through, sometimes that’s desirable, but not always. Soprano will also be a bit more difficult to control in terms of intonation.


Bill August 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm

It seems like I was hitting the low notes more often a week or so ago. Now it seems I am struggling more with those. Can the reed wearing out cause problems hitting the low notes?
Thank you,


Neal August 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Hey Bill,
Yes, that can happen. Reeds break down after sometime. Usually two or three weeks and they’re about done.

Depends on how much you play too though.


Brooks August 17, 2013 at 7:05 am

Do you use or recommend a lower lip curl? A couple of sax men on youtube say never curl.


Neal August 17, 2013 at 10:49 am

Most of the time I don’t curl my lower lip. Seems to work better for me that way.

On clarinet I did and I have before on saxophone.

You probably just want to try playing both ways and see which works better for you. But be aware that something different may feel strange at first.

Some respected sax players also say to not put your teeth on the top of the mouthpiece, I haven’t jumped on that one and don’t plan to.


Neal August 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

How long do you play a reed for (weeks)?


Brooks August 18, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Re: Bb

When I took lessopns and thorough my H.S. career Bb was normally A plus side key. What fingering is your normal Bb?


Neal August 18, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Hey Brooks,
I usually use the same, ‘side Bb’. It’s usually the one that sounds the best and is the most in tune.

Other options are bis Bb and the fork Bb. Sometimes I’ll use bis Bb (B and the little key immediately below it). Occasionally fork Bb is useful, but not really that often in my experiences.


Brooks September 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Re: Swing
In Rubanks method books swing eighth notes are to be played like doted eighth note followed by a sixteenth. A youtube teacher says that is old fashioned and they should be played as eighth notes with accent on the upbeat and slur into the downbeat.
What say you. How would “In the Mood”
look like when you plat it?


Neal September 1, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Yes, dotted eighth sixteenth is a more old fashioned swing. In the Mood is an older song, so the older style would probably fit it if you want to play it like it was performed back then.

The more modern style would be 2/3 of a beat and 1/3 of a beat. Two parts of a triplet and one part of a triplet.


Brooks October 18, 2013 at 2:40 am

Guilty feet have got no rhythm

Hey Neal, how about a little more Careless Whisper?


Neal October 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Hey Brooks,
Are you working on that one?


Brooks October 21, 2013 at 9:56 am


I think I have that first like down pretty well and would like to see if we can move on. A fellow on youtube does a cover over a background instrumental but I haven’ been able to find it.


jeff patin November 9, 2013 at 7:03 pm

neal , where do i find the st. james music to play and send to you? don,t know if Iam following the class.


Neal November 9, 2013 at 8:07 pm
KT December 17, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Hi Neal,

OK. I played for the first time in months. Tried twice after broken arm was out of brace, but couldn’t recall notes and always struggle with playing by ear. Tonight I got in a solid hour by going back to Christmas songs I played over a year ago. Need to work on scales and Lindeman for sure.
Should I try Feliz Navidad by ear challenge or just basics for a few weeks. Tone seemed same as always…breathe control a but weak. It has really been 7 months…unbelievably long!


Neal December 18, 2013 at 12:00 am

Hey KT,
Start with some simple melodies. The Christmas songs are probably good.

You could try Feliz Navidad by ear if you want, the notes are visible if you need to scroll down. Couldn’t hurt. Learning music by ear is always good.


KT December 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Thanks. The Christmas songs are easy as a return…a few f# and c# s nothing too tough to jump back into. I will let my lips, breathe, tone and timing comecone back then give ?Feliz a shot by ear.

Glad to be playing again. Friends say I have been smiling non stop since I played yesterday!


Neal December 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Good to hear that!


KT May 2, 2014 at 4:54 am


Sheet music i am practicing has trills. How do I trill on a sax? Is it like a vocal run ir a jump from lowest to highest? Fo i play every note between the two notes written?



Neal May 4, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Hey Kate,
A trill alternates between two notes. Starting on the note you see and going between that and the next note higher according to the key signature of the piece.

Sometimes you would go between the note there and a different note than the next one up, but that would need to be indicated in the music.


KT May 15, 2014 at 1:55 pm

So if music dhiws low G, trill /steps looking thing, then high D, then tril dign to high G, i plsy low G, every note quickly up to high D the high E, F to the high G?

Or, i plsy low G, Highg D then High G?


Neal May 15, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Check your comments for spelling, not really sure what you’re saying.


KT May 15, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I know I am either near the end if steps 8-12 or starting at 13. Do you know where I was/am now that I can play again?


Neal May 15, 2014 at 3:52 pm

You’re on the steps with rhythm. Emailed you a password.


Y. Rideaux November 15, 2016 at 9:18 pm

Hi, Neal did you get my Lindeman recording. I sent it a couple days ago?


Neal November 19, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Got it the second time you sent it.


Y. Rideaux November 20, 2016 at 9:27 pm

Hi Neal,

I think Cantaloupe Island would be a good song for me to play at the jam session as you suggested. I found my Jamey Abersold Vol. 54 book. He recommended D blues scale for solos. I have been listening to Freddie Hubbard solo which I like. What do you recommend-how I should approach preparing for jamming Cantaloupe Island?


Y. Rideaux November 25, 2016 at 9:59 am

Hi, Neal -Improvising Cantaloupe Island-
What do you recommend in preparing for a solo for this song?


Neal November 25, 2016 at 7:04 pm

I would say a first step is to learn the blues scale that fits in the song. Can you play it by memory?


Y. Rideaux November 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

Yes, the D blues scales is whats recommended in the book Vol. 54 by Jamey A. I have been doing that. Whats you think I should do next?


Neal November 26, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Record yourself playing a chorus using the blues scale and the Aebersold backing track and send it to me.


Y. Rideaux November 26, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Hi, Neal I have being listening to Cantaloupe Island for two weeks and the solos over and over and I attempted to play the D blues scale for my solo. However, what I noticed I’m not playing the pharasing correct and I do not seem to feel it. The solos are much faster. It seem like this style of blues is faster than what I capable of playing or really hearing. What you think?


Neal November 27, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Hey Yvonne,
That’s good you’ve been listening. However, you may not be ready to play in the same style as what you hear.

With the Charlie Parker Omnibook for example, someone can read that music. But without a very high level of technique, it will not sound at all like Charlie Parker.

I think you should reduce the number of notes you’re playing for now. Start by just playing the root, the D. Focus on the rhythm. Send me a recording of that over one chorus.


Y. Rideaux November 28, 2016 at 11:39 am

Hi, Neal
ok thanks.


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