My Interview with saxophonist and professor Greg Banaszak

WARM UP-talk about how you do your warmup?
For my warm-up on any sax I’m playing, from soprano to tenor, I always start with mouthpiece pitch. On soprano I use a concert C, on alto, concert A, and on tenor, concert G. On the baritone I use concert D.

This allows me to get the embouchure set and my airstream focused for a stable pitch. I also start articulating while keeping the pitch stable. This is important because if the pitch goes sharp or flat on the mouthpiece as you articulate then as you tongue notes on the saxophone the pitch will also go sharp or flat. I find that following this method each time I practice is remarkably helpful in establishing and maintaining proper pitch and intonation.

After I work on mouthpiece pitch I do long tones. I start on middle C and go chromatically down to Low Bb holding each note 8 counts at metronome value 104. I listen for the quality of the note and that the tone is perfectly still with no shake in the sound. If there is a shake, this usually means the embouchure muscles are weak and if you keep practicing long tones on a daily basis it will improve strength and stability. Then I follow the same process from middle C up chromatically into the altissimo.

My sound concept with each saxophone is the same, just in a higher or lower range depending on the saxophone. I look to produce a very pure tone with little or no air in the sound, with very full resonance that is homogenous throughout the entire range. Great orchestral musicians have a very pure, clear tone of the finest quality, and so I strive for the best tone possible.

After I finish long tones, I do voicing exercises from low Bb to F, and often bugle calls as well. I also voice from palm key Eb to middle D. I tell my students these exercises help build tone and develop flexibility to control altissimo and color of notes. To keep the tone color very even I do not like to use much embouchure movement, so I control intonation with voicing. If you’re moving your embouchure to tune your notes the color of that note will change and disrupt the homogeny.

My next area to focus on is tuning. I turn on my Dr. Beat tuner and play the pitch and tune single notes, and then intervals. It is vital for a saxophonist to play in tune with a great sound. Especially when you are playing with a professional orchestra you have to play in tune! I recently played with the Louisville Orchestra as saxophone soloist on Milhaud’s Creation of the World. The producer of my new CD, Rick Morgen, was in the audience and said the intonation was perfect with the orchestra and my tone fit perfectly with the other musicians. That’s the goal I set when I play professionally.

After tuning I start scales. I use Londeix’s Gammes et Modes Volume 1 and 2. I play major and minor scales throughout the whole range, starting slowly and then working up to quarter note at 160-172. I also do thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and octaves as well as various jazz scales depending on the day to mix up my routine. Of course, I don’t play all those scales in one day. My time is limited now that I’m not in college, so I spend an hour on my warmup before moving to the music. It is very important that I keep my tone, tuning, technique and articulation on the highest level as a professional. Then I do altissimo scales in the 3rd octave. After that, I do major/minor scales throughout the entire range of the saxophone to 3rd octave F to work on blending the tone of the various octaves.

Next in my warm-up I start articulation. I do articulated scales used in Londeix’s Gammes et Modes. I work these different articulated patterns slowly at first while increasing the speed to quarter note at 160. Furthermore, I work rapid articulation on single notes starting from quarter note equals 120, and I do 20 beats of sixteenth notes at that speed. Then I do 19 beats at 128, 18 beats at 132 and so on until I finish with 1 beat at 220. Then I work double tonguing. I do single notes then I articulate scales. I start at 144 at the quarter on single notes then I do scales one octave and increase speed to about 172. Finally, I double tongue scales throughout the whole range at about 192 at the quarter.

Whether you are trying to build your classical or jazz repertoire, during your college years you should practice 4 to 6 hours a day to develop your skills. As part of this process you should learn the major orchestral works for saxophone because you never know, one day you might be a featured soloist. Listen to your professor, understand your weaknesses and work them out. Once you get out in life, get married, start working, and have a family and other responsibilities you typically don’t have 4 to 6 hours to practice. When you are in college this is your chance to get to your best level and once out in the real world you will draw on the skills you developed. That is why I developed my warm-up routine to keep my skills at their highest level. Of course, if you have a teaching gig you do have your summers to practice more. Furthermore, I’m not saying you don’t improve when you get out of college. I’m a far better musician today then I was five years ago when I recorded my first album “Journey”. I have made it a priority each year to be better than I was the year before. It takes discipline, but when you see the results it’s worth it!

My beginning students all start out in a beginning band method book. After students complete the book I might have them working in other books of various levels of difficulty. Every student is different and of course they all learn at different rates. I could have two students of the same age working in different method books. Furthermore, students also play tunes by ear and learn how to read music at the same time so that once improvisation is introduced students are more comfortable and flexible.

My thoughts on doubling is if you like playing for pit orchestras or studio work for commercials then develop your clarinet and flute chops. Especially in the jazz scene, playing with bands at casinos or with visiting pop stars who use a back up band, you need those doubling skills. I had very strong clarinet chops in high school, college and graduate school and played many pit gigs throughout those years. It really wasn’t my passion though, and once I was established in the Louisville, Kentucky area I decided I wanted to focus on saxophone only and I was able to do that. It really just depends on your situation.

All the saxophones have their own response and tuning differences, but I treat them the same tonally. Like I said earlier, I want my sound to transfer to each voice of the saxophone only higher or lower. I mainly play soprano and alto because those are my favorite and I’ve always played them as principal, but I also play tenor at times with the orchestra. The articulation on each of the saxophones is also different. The soprano is much easier to play staccato than is the baritone saxophone. Furthermore, you have to spend more time on articulation with tenor and baritone and use more air support to match the soprano or even the alto. I also believe that playing on the same mouthpiece and reed combination from one saxophone to another will make doubling easier and help with consistency of intonation, timbre and response.




I believe as saxophonists we need to be as versatile as our instrument. You can be teaching, performing, doing marketing for yourself or your group, playing clarinet in a Dixieland band, working as an administrator, owning your own business and playing on the side. Life isn’t just one sided so why should we think that playing saxophone is our only facet. If you truly want to play for a living on saxophone then you probably want to go the military band route. However, if you aren’t in the top military bands then you will have other responsibilities. Having good interpersonal skills is also very important. Talking to people in the music industry, making connections, being on time, being friendly and playing great takes you far in this industry. If you get an opportunity make the best of it and with doing a great job opens more opportunity. Remember there are thousands of great players out there so it’s not just your talent that gets you the success but being an overall well-rounded person.

When you start out in a city or area it takes time to build your reputation. Be patient and stay at it. After I moved to Louisville, Kentucky it took me two or three years to get my reputation started, but after it did it kept getting better and better. No matter what you want to do, work hard and keep at it, always market yourself. Don’t depend on other people to do it for you.

I know I have told this story many times to my students, but when I was in high school I was working on Claude T. Smith’s Fantasia for solo and ensemble. At some point, my private teacher played for me Dale Underwood’s version that he recorded with the Texas Tech Wind Ensemble. I was blown away by his tone and his control of the altissimo register. It became an obsession of mine to develop that kind of control. My parents were very supportive in my musical pursuits and by my senior year of high school I was playing on his exact set-up: a Selmer Series II, S-80 C-star, and a Winslow ligature. Just as jazz musicians copy their favorite players I believe you should do the same in the classical realm. Eventually, my sound concept changed as I matured and I decided to go a different path tonally.

Today my favorite saxophonist would be Ensemble Squillante, Quatuor Morphing, Habanera Quartet, Simon Dirque, Claude Delangle, and Vincent David. I’ve been listening to mostly European saxophonists lately for their purity of tone, superb articulation, intonation, musicality and dynamic control.


My second album was released April 7, 2017 called Out of This World. It features works by Felice, Dubois, Gotkovsky, Maslanka and Bozza. It features Krista Wallace-Boaz on piano and Paul York cello. The Felice, Shadows of Paris, is a world premiere recording and Maslanka’s Out of This World is the first professional recording of this 2015 composition for cello, alto sax and piano. David Maslanka stated, “It’s a stunning performance! Tone matching is the heart of the piece, and your work with Paul [York] is exquisite. Those no-vibrato octaves: amazing! I feel like I have been given a great gift. This quality of performance lets players know what must be done”. Needless to say, I’m thrilled with the recording. If interested in more information, visit

The recording process is very difficult, but very rewarding. First, you want to decide what works you would like to record. Next, give recitals and do competitions performing those pieces so you are as prepared as possible. Furthermore, decide if you want to record in a studio or a recital hall. I recorded my first album in a studio and added reverb, while I did my second album in a recital hall and preferred that more. Of course, recording in a hall gives you less flexibility in editing. Then you have to work on mic placement for the piano and saxophone. Key noise drives me crazy especially listening to a recording where I’m hearing it and it takes away from the music. If you have sticky pads that will also make extra key noise. I used Gold Bond medicated powder on my pads. I would put powder in a small plastic bowl and tear a piece of paper off, dip it in the powder, shake off the extra and rub it on the pad. Last summer Ryan Knight, a saxophonist with the U.S. Army in Japan, sent me some pad cream that is made in Japan that works well and leaves no residue.

Now that the pads are quiet, make sure your horn is in top playing condition. Mic placement is also important. The sound engineers had the sax mic 3 feet way about 5 feet high and the piano mic was in the piano near the keys. We also had a hall mic set up for mixing with the close mic for optimal sound quality.

Once you have all this set up you need to find a great pianist with whom you can record. An individual who you’ve played with before so that you know each other’s playing is the best situation. But if that isn’t possible, make sure you have adequate rehearsal time. Throwing a rehearsal together before a recording session is not good. Spend time in advance finding your best reeds, and order several boxes ahead of time to have them ready for the recording. A recording mic picks up every detail from moisture behind a reed to harsh articulation or a stuffy reed. Next, get a producer to be extra ears in your project. Trying to play at your highest level and listening to every detail is hard to do and having an extra set of ears and eyes on the score to make sure the sax and piano are lining up perfectly is a great benefit. Rick Morgen, a University of Michigan sax graduate and friend did a great job with my project. Sometimes we argued about interpretation, but in the end we came to an agreement. He told me “I have always admired and respected your playing and you wanted me to help you make the best recording possible and so I am”, and his help was invaluable.

After you’ve done all the hard work you need to find a record label. Some professionals record an entire CD before finding a label, but I recorded a few works and sent it to several record labels for the best offer. You want a company that does most of the work after you record and that provides you a decent percentage of online sales each year, both overseas and in the United States. Granted you shouldn’t plan on quitting your day job and becoming a millionaire on album sales! Due to deals from various online websites that you can join, people pay little to listen to your music which takes money out of your pocket. I would suggest getting sponsors for your CD such as music stores, instruments companies that support their artists, banks, GOFUNDME or whatever else you can think of. Offer incentives for companies to support your project especially if your record label distributes globally. Worldwide distribution makes for good publicity for a company especially if they deliver overseas. I would strive for big labels such as Centaur, Naxos, Albany and go from there. Always search for the best bang for your buck.
If you have any questions for me about anything I have discussed please email me at

Selmer Paris Series III Alto Review!

In several blogs I will be writing a review on the Selmer Paris Series III saxophones soprano-baritone.  My first blog will be about the Series III alto.

The Series III alto was originally released in 2000 and the whole family is still being made today.  The soprano was released in 1996, tenor in 1998, alto in 2000 and the baritone in 2010.  This timeline was planned by Selmer Paris to release the family within a 10 year time frame.  The first version was the pre-jubilee model and now the jubilee.  The jubilee version is mostly cosmetic changes, lighter octave key on the neck for quicker response, a bigger S and deeper blue on the octave neck, higher tone holes and machine engraving for more detail and it looks fancy.  There are no saxophones made today that matches in tone, intonation and personality of the series III.  Selmer Paris has always paved the way in the evolution of the saxophone.  That is no surprise with Selmer taking over the patent from Adolphe Sax.  From the soprano to the baritone the tone matches perfectly, which makes for a great sax quartet or ensemble sound that will win competitions and wow audiences worldwide.   Two saxophone ensembles that audiences love are Ensemble Squillante and the Mi Bemol saxophone ensemble. These groups have incredible tone and it’s no surprise the blend is so refined with Selmer Paris making these groups famous.  Many quartets play Selmer Series III’s, but one noted as the world’s best saxophone quartet is Habanera Saxophone Quartet.  I believe these models will be famous when they become vintage.  I’ve heard some people complain that Selmer is expensive.  Selmers have a high resale value for one and they are a lifetime instrument, which most saxophones aren’t.  Just realize once you have a Selmer it’s a horn you can have for life.  Thirty years down the road it might be the new Mark VI that everyone wants.

The series III alto is a milestone in saxophone research. It combines decades of traditions that merge with modern technological advancement.  It is called the gold standard in classical saxophone.  It has been called the Rolls Royce of saxophones, that it plays itself.  I don’t like to say the instrument is strictly a classical instrument, because it is a fine jazz horn with the switch of a mouthpiece and reed.  However, the superb intonation and clear rich tone do make for a great classical horn.  The response is very quick and it makes rapid tonguing that much easier to do.  The palm keys are lower in pitch so they aren’t as sharp as previous models or with current saxophones of other brands.  The mid register is in tune and Selmer’s patented C# vent key brings that middle C# in tune and lowers the High C# for nearly perfect octaves.

img_0519-2The low register is higher in pitch so you aren’t fighting a flat low register.  The Series III alto is also homogeneous from low Bb through the altissimo.  Furthermore, the palm keys whether you use the front keys or side keys the tone matches perfectly.  It also has that Selmer flexibility of playing very soft or very loud with nothing holding you back.  The Series III is also very resonant.  

I played a Series II from my senior year in high school until my senior year of college.  When I switched to the Series III I didn’t worry about the instrument anymore and I could focus on the music.  The tone was also better than the Series II.  I’ve heard the Series II compared to an analog sound versus the Series III which was compared to a digital sound.  I would have to agree on that comparison.  In the next review I will be reviewing  the Series III soprano.

Life after college: How many hours can I practice now??!!

In the summer of 2002 I had the opportunity to study with Dr. Timothy McAllister at Interlochen Center for the Arts.  It was a wonderful experience working with the Jazz Band and studying saxophone all summer.

One day in a lesson Tim asked me “how many hours to do you practice”?   I answered about 4 to 5 hours a day.  He told me you should be practicing at least 6 to 8 hours a day.  Tim also told me that he would practice two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening.  Furthermore, I was told to practice as much as I can now while i’m in school because once i’m out in the real world life won’t allow me to practice six hours a day.

Several years down the road to today I have to say he was right.  I spent many hours practicing in graduate school and during the summers to make my skills as advanced as possible and I draw upon that hard work today.  Granted I get a few hours everyday to practice and have time on the weekends and summers to practice more, but my skills that I use today I learned back then.  It doesn’t go to show I haven’t learned anything since college, because I have.  My sound is better, I circular breathe, double tongue, articulate better than I ever have, but I don’t practice 6 hours a day.  It was fine in school, but as you enter the real world, get married, have kids, and work, it becomes challenging to find time to practice.

I love my life and enjoy everything I do and make time to practice everyday, but it takes discipline to make it work.  I have a strict practice routine to keep all my skills in check.  So my advice to you is if you’re in school practice hard while you can, if you’re already in the real world and need more skill, be consistent and persistent and your work will pay off.