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Saxophone Chop Building

Billyjon McPhail

By Steven Thompson

I have a confession.  I am not overly fond of scale books. This, in and of itself, is okay since I am not fond of scales.  I didn't care for them when I was a student and now that I am a teacher they seem to be the bain of my existence.  Let's face it, students don't enjoy the study of scales any more than we did.  Where scale books are good reference guides, they are often too difficult for the young player, confusing in their organization, or ridiculously expensive.   So, I wasn't enthusiastic about reviewing yet another scale book.  


Saxophone Chop Building the brainchild of Texas-based saxophonist BillyJon McPhail. The title, Chop Building, is a bit misleading.  McPhail doesn't actually delve into any discussion of embouchure, articulation, or tone production per se.  Rather, this is more of a method of building one's technique through the use of scales.  On the surface, the layout of the book seems rather simplistic.  Major keys and their relative minor are situated on one page each.  The minor is presented in the harmonic form with each scale being presented in full range, modes, arpeggios, thirds, and ending with the dominant of the key or the diminished arpeggio of the key.  


Having the key presented on a single page gives the student a sense of accessibility. The font and note spacing is open and is void of ink density that is common with scale books. One might not think this an important factor, yet it was the first thing my students recognized when examining the book.  


McPhail has managed to combine the best elements of a number of scale books while managing to make it accessible and relevant variety of levels.  For example, the student is first taken through the full range scale, but only taken to the highest note of the key in thirds and arpeggios.  This allows younger students to accomplish at least a two-octave range while allowing the teacher to extend the pattern to include full range if needed.  I appreciate the inclusion of the diminished arpeggio on the minor.  There is no presentation of the melodic minor, yet the layout of the book is such that it would be easy for the student to make the necessary chromatic adjustments.  


Lastly, and most appreciated, is an adjustment for those players who do not have a high F# key.  This is useful for those students who are apprehensive in the high register as well as for those unfamiliar with the front high E and F fingerings. 


I have to say this book is a nice little addition to the myriad of technical books on the market.  And at $14.99 it will be a book students can purchase without having to tap into their college fund.