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 gre