Saxophone Interview With Bernhard
Recently I had the opportunity to have a great chat and saxophone interview with one of our AWESOME Members, Bernhard from Germany.
Bernhard was kind enough to spend some time talking to me about his saxophone journey and all of the amazing things he has done since starting to learn how to play the saxophone approximately four years ago.
Thank you Bernhard for your time, your generosity, your advice and for sharing your musical experiences during our saxophone interview !!
Click the play button below to join in our conversation, or read the transcript underneath.
Matthew: G’day ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and everyone in between.
Welcome to HowToPlayTheSax.com – where we are all about having fun playing saxophone, being awesome and repeating……and hanging out with some wonderful people.
I’ve got a special treat today.
We have got Bernhard from Germany with me today. Bernhard and has been playing his saxophone for a little while…. Bernard and I have had some e-mail conversations over the last little while, and Bernhard has wonderfully agreed to come and have a chat with me today, so thank you, Bernard. Thank you so much for coming. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do when you’re not playing your saxophone?
Bernhard: Yeah, thank you Matthew for having you with me and having the chance to talk to you directly. So thank you. Thank you. We are having a long time, maybe three or four years now since I’ve been on your course. And yes, each week I was waiting for a new song to be played so I really like it to have any kind of modern or in the past music where it’s just fun to play and easy to play because you just jump into it and that’s, great.
Matthew: It is good fun. I do enjoy it a lot and I’m pleased that that you like it too. So when you’re not playing your saxophone, what do you do?
Bernhard: I studied computer science and that’s what I do – in front of my computer. I work for a company making websites and applications to build in the digital world.
Matthew: OK, OK, and you’ve got some, some children ? You have a family ?
Bernhard: I have two children. They are 25 and 23 years old. My daughter is 25. My son is 23 and yeah they are. A joy for me, excellent.
Matthew: Well that’s a good thing, so the computer is probably something that you enjoy with your family….my family too I love my family as well. And obviously you play quite a few instruments. I can see a few behind you there. That’s an impressive little stash of musical instruments there ! You play the Bari Sax. There it is baritone saxophone as well. That’s cool, that’s awesome, bear-itone….bear-i-tone, I get yes yeah, the bear engraving on it, yes, ka-boom-chi yes. Awesome, and there’s an Alto and a Tenor and a Soprano – a couple of saxophones – and what else?
Bernhard: There’s the clarinet. And also I play the trombone and trumpet from time to time. I have my electronic saxophone, the Yamaha YDS 150
Matthew: Nice ! Do you play that for the whole night without your neighbour being annoyed ? Has it has it got a plastic reed or is it a real reed?
Bernhard: It’s a real mouthpiece. Yes, just you can take your own Alto saxophone mouthpiece. It is a plastic reed, but you have no sensor so you just have the volume of the air and which is producing the sound. But you can have your own Alto saxophone mouthpiece and it’s not a special read, it’s just its own reed. This reed is just not making a sound, so it’s just vibrating with the wind, but you don’t need to make a tone on the mouthpiece, no. So if I play the tenor.……<Bernhard plays the YDS150>
Matthew: Awesome. Fantastic, I think it was a little bit distorted, possibly a little bit loud for the microphone, but that’s OK, that’s cool. Do you play that in public, or is that largely to have the headphones on to just sort of practice quietly ?
Bernhard: I am practice because it has the same key positioning as a real saxophone. It’s just electronic sound distorting sound in some Jamulus gigs. So when I was playing online with the online music tool, which I discovered. When Corona began, so that was the time when I was searching for making music online, so there were a few software tools which are were able to do something but not in real time, so some expensive solution for professionals. But then there was an open source software and released and became useable.
Matthew: OK, I’ll put some links to that in down below. Jamulus – pronounced JAM YOU LUS – I think right. I’ve messed around with that myself. Just but only a little bit and for those of you who may be listening or watching, a while ago, Bernhard sent me a link of what he had done with this Jamulus software. It was called a World Jam and basically, well, Bernard, can you, can you explain what World Jam is ? Tell me about your experience with the World Jam. What was that all about ?
Bernhard: Yeah, you can have your own server in Germany, so you can just set-up a virtual machine and start the software and then you have your own server. But there were people gathering to do live online gig. So just people from all over the world. Not just you in your room, or in your country. You cannot play with latency more than maybe 100 or 200 milliseconds, and that’s too far. But on one continent you can play very, very easy. So you can play with people from Germany, from Spain, from Great Britain, from Italy. And we had people all over the continent (Europe). From time to time I try to play with people even in in America, but this is difficult because of the latency. The latency makes it a bit difficult to play with people too far away – to keep in sync and on the same beat. Fair enough, but if it’s within sort of 1000 kilometres, 2000 kilometres, a 1000 miles it’s OK. You need to have your cables connected. Wi-Fi will make it worse, because it’s not predictable how the latency goes there. But if you have, maybe if a peak time about 20 milliseconds you have a overall latency of approximately 50 milliseconds. That’s about standing in the same room with a distance of 50 meters. So you can play it together and so the world jam people get used to it.
Matthew: OK, so they put you into a band ?
Bernhard: Yeah, you can gather, you can announce a song and you can search for people playing with you and all over the world. The people will just join your band and then you can rehearse and play your song together and then you have a live gig. So you play really. At the same time, and nearly, uh, 20 seconds delay for broadcasting also you can see it on YouTube and Twitch and the streaming platforms. So fantastic really. You can really have a live gig and each week there was a new show so you can even choose multiple times to play at the same gig. So I played four or five times. I played Stevie Wonder and another song, ice Cream man. And it’s really fun and you meet a lot of people and you can learn a lot for your instrument and to play with other people which you would not have met if the software would not exist.
Matthew: Fantastic, so you got to play with people in Spain and the United Kingdom and in other parts of Germany ?
Bernhard: Yes I did. Yeah. A virtual band each Wednesday we play together and we also have a system to vote for songs we want to play and who wants to solo and that was a big step forward for me – to play a solo in real life and also to get confident, uh, playing with drummers, guitarists, keyboards, singers and professional musicians.
Matthew: Singers ohh wow, that sounds fantastic, and it certainly looks good. The link, the video that you sent me a little while ago when you did that, that was that was really cool. That did look like a lot of fun. So what’s your musical background Bernhard ? When you were at school, did you play something ?
Bernhard: When I was young I only played the guitar and so with 16 or 17 years I began and I played three years acoustic guitar and that was nearly all of my yeah music. But nearly 30 or 40 years later, I had yeah an injury in my face. So I have a partially facial paralysis – the left side of my face was unmovable. It wasn’t painful, but of course at the time you get afraid what is happening. But after a while the muscles and the nerves have to be trained again. So I was told if you play a wind instrument you’re seeing you can build up the muscles to work again and that was the reason why I began saxophone. So yeah, as a child I wanted to play trumpet or saxophone and then I made it real. Because I had this injury. But it’s a long journey. The air was leaking out and it was difficult. With the saxophone, the small facial movements are making a big difference, so I get a real feedback what my muscles are doing, and the embouchure is a good feedback to what the muscles are doing.
Matthew: Wow. Was that the physiotherapist or the doctor? That sounds really cool. Thank you for thank you for sharing that. I know of some people who have who have hurt themselves in other ways and shapes and forms and they’ve played a musical instrument to help their recovery from lower back or legs or feet injuries – if they’re spending a lot of time either in bed or sitting or standing. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve used musical instruments for more, I guess, mental therapy rather than physical therapy, but that’s really interesting. Yeah, that’s really interesting.
Bernhard: I also enjoyed the experience if I’m playing music together with other people. Have to be right in the moment you can if you play music you have to move your finger. You have to hear what is happening. You have to react on the other people and you have no time to think about. I have pain or I have problems. You’re just living in the moment and that’s kind of brain activity which is yes, really concentrating and focusing on one thing. I think yes. Also using your ears as well as the thought process to play it or actually just play it play even if you’re playing a piece from the sheet, you have to be concentrating on the timing and reading the notes and translating it to your fingers. So yes, all of your body is working.
Matthew: Yeah wow, that’s really interesting. That’s really interesting. How long, roughly have you been playing the saxophone for now ? You played the guitar a number of years ago, so fast forward 20-30 years and then you picked up the saxophone.
Bernhard: Well years ago, four years ago. So OK. At the end of 2017 I got my tenor saxophone. Yes, and that was the beginning of my saxophone journey and then, I bought used instruments and I also began to fiddle around working on and overhauling the instruments. My baritone saxophone, which I had before I was repeating and overhauling because it was not working and I learned a lot about the keys and how they are combined and how perfectly, the pads must fit to let no air leak out, and to have it working again.
Matthew: Wow, OK, so not only are you playing them, but you’re repairing them, repairing them as well. Just for the laughs, just to keep yourself amused on the weekend kind of thing ? You’re not doing it professionally ?
Bernhard: No, I just am doing it because I buy it cheap and then I want to try out and it’s no effort. It didn’t cost me a fortune so I can try out everything I need and I have a shop near me with wind instrument repairman. He suggested to me how to do it and what to do.
Matthew: Ah – so from there you learned a lot about the technical working with the instruments. What kind of music do you prefer to listen to?
Bernhard: I am not locked to one sort of music, and I’m enjoying each music. And of course it’s easy to even just have no plan what you’re playing and freestyle just with a few friends. Then you can see what happens in the moment and you can react on what are the others playing. And so I like to hear the music. I listen to the radio, of course, but I also like to invent and combine what is happening from the other musicians.
Matthew: I’m the same. I think I’m just as happy listening to an orchestra or an opera as I am to a death metal band, but ultimately I prefer Funk and Rock – you know, with drums and bass, and guitars, but each to their own. I’m very happy to listen to anything…..and what about playing ? What do you prefer to play on all the instruments behind you ?
Bernhard: I really like each week when you have a new a new lesson off of your course. I like what you’re doing and so the mix you are doing in the old songs and also fresh new songs. It’s really like the style – I like music and I like to play together with other people so I have a few. Jazz musicians. I am having the Real Book and having a lot of fun I didn’t know before. You also have to learn a new world. And even with that, uh, that kind of music. But I also like that that very well, yes.
Matthew: I was very fortunate when I was in high school. I had two music teachers – actually their first names were both Rob – Rob and Rob – and both of those Robs were heavily into jazz, but they were very encouraging. And so that’s how I love listening to all kinds of music and jazz as well. My father played jazz piano and my brother is very talented on the piano as well. Is there any musicality in your family ? Your parents ? Were your parents musical ? Your brothers, sisters, your family, your daughter and your son ? Are they musical ?
Bernhard: Yeah, I guess my mother, she sang and also played the piano. Yes, so my sister is playing also bass guitar and sings in the chorus, so I have got some music in my childhood. But in the last years before I began to play saxophone I was just a passive music listener so did not make music for myself so much. And that opened a really new word for me. So actually it’s really been great. I like to hear the sounds of the music like a different kind of concentration and focus because you can hear oh, there’s a saxophone playing. You didn’t know that you know the song but you didn’t know there was a saxophone solo in between. So it’s like a new world opened for me.
Matthew: It is, isn’t it? Yes, I like that too. The saxophone is arguably the most the most similar to the human voice, which in turn means and you can substitute a saxophone for pretty much any other instrument and in any style of music. And I enjoy that. I enjoy that. So you mentioned with the World Jam you’ve been playing with other people….do you play in other live bands or with friends or by yourself, what does “playing the saxophone” mean to you ?
Bernhard: Yeah, yeah. So in the beginning I was really catching up and learning what all of the keys on the instrument mean and to read the sheet notes. And yeah, make some music for myself and listen to recordings and playing to that. Nearly half a year after that I was ready to do a bigger step. First I was taking a lesson with a German saxophone teacher here who taught me improvising. So, uh, just uh, take 43 notes, uh, which you want to play and think about what you want to play – or even do not think about it. And then, you can then add more and be confident with just doing it. And that was that was a real step forward for being confident playing without sheet music notes, playing by ear and without a concept, what to play. After that, I made an even bigger step, by playing in a big band. So OK, yes, we have here a big band in Berlin – The Big Brothers – is excellent. So we are playing our swing and funk and also Jazz style and not only Jazz, but it’s really a broad combination of songs and big bands from the 1930s and 40s. And even 1950s, fantastic, wonderful. Yes, it sounds great. And at one stage I had 40 pieces of sheet music to read and to play together with other people. And oh, wow, that was really, really a heavy thing to learn. But I have made such a big progress and I’m really thankful for all the people who were there. So nice to let me play with them, and, we are good friends so it’s good.
Matthew: Do you do that ? Do you do that regularly ?
Bernhard: Yes – each Monday. Yes we are playing and we have a lot of gigs. So four or five concerts, but in Corona Times it was less but now we are playing again. And yeah I was also confident playing solos there. And yeah that was my band where I played and soon after that I also played with my company’s band. We played cover songs yes and we played on the company events so having a party in the summer or having a party at Christmas and I also played there with my baritone sax so it was also very much fun. Another style of music and you’re waiting longer for your piece to play, but it’s really fun to play with other musicians. And I I also liked that experience.
Matthew: Yes, I feel the same way. I do enjoy playing with other people. I enjoy by myself with, you know, with the headphones on and just playing along with whatever I’m listening to. But I really enjoy and it sounds like you do too Bernard – the playing with other people and bouncing off what other people do. I find that well, what I find is that if this person plays “this”, then that triggers something in my head……Ohh, I could play “that”. Is it the same for you as using the ears and listening to what the other people are doing, which in turn influences what you play ? It certainly influences what I play….. is it the same for you ?
Bernhard: So in a live situation I got it only a few times where it’s like this. If it’s not a piece of music that you want to follow exactly one structure and you follow your plan. But I have two other situations where I play with other people and on the Jamulus when jam on Wednesday evening I am where I yeah play together with the professional musicians and they are getting short announcement. Which songs do we want to play ? Then we have a song list of maybe of 10 songs and each song is beginning with the song and then having along part of soloing so maybe 10 or even more solos after the other. And so this was really impressive to join these musicians and I want to play together with them.
Matthew: Fantastic so Monday night is rehearsal night. Do you play your saxophone any other time? How do you find time to play your saxophone?
Bernhard: Yeah, so Monday night is Big Band time. I play Tuesday evening with our acoustic guitar group in our house. We have a music teacher, a friend of mine who’s teaching guitar and then, uh, sometimes I play together with a drama or with a sax player together with the acoustic guitars, and we also have nearly 100 songs from all ages and all of these styles. And then I fly freely play what I think about. And sometimes I write down even using your cheat sheet notation just. Putting the notes and the length of the notes is in my in my head and I just want to have the following up of the keys which I press after another so I make notes what I can play to the song, sometimes to have a plan what to play and sometimes to play freely. Then Wednesday would be usually, uh, the company, the Big Band and the company rock band, so that’s “The Executives” because two of our bosses are playing in the band in in the beginning, so that was the reason for the name. Yes, good, and then I’m playing from time to time with another band. Also rock band and more Hard Rock band Cyclus which are playing some saxophone pieces they gather some pieces for me which I can solo inside. For example, Baker Street or Smooth Operator where the iconic saxophone solos are inside. So it’s a broad combination of my favourite musical genres.
Matthew: Wow, so it sounds like your calendar is very, very full of full of music. Fantastic !
Bernhard: I am needing to find some other times and sometimes my wife says I’m playing too much.
Matthew: Yeah, but sshhhh, don’t tell anyone. My wife does too.
Bernhard: Yesh, don’t tell her. I’m involved 150% but there’s also a pause in between. So in the summer time there have been pauses and we are searching for our drummer in the company band. So we also have a pause there. So I called for friends joining for a jam session in our house.
Matthew: OK that that sounds fantastic. That sounds wonderful. That sounds like heaven actually – as far as I’m concerned that sounds just fantastic. So tell me have you what have been your saxophone challenges ? What was difficult with maybe when you first started ? There is often, you know, there’s a little bit of a learning curve, so what have been some challenges with your saxophone ? What’s been difficult ?
Bernhard: I guess reading the music. Sheet music and transposing it to the rhythm, of course. The most difficult thing for me in the Big Band where we have exact timings and maybe I don’t know the pieces of music so good. So I need to hear that before and have the feeling. And then I can transpose the timing, the rhythm, the length of the notes. To adjust from the notes I’m not able to play very good. The Cheat Sheets help.
Matthew: I’m the same. I need to listen to it first. The sheet music I tend to tune out of….my eyes see it on the on the paper but sometimes it doesn’t compute. It’s more my ears that are doing it than my eyes. You mentioned the Cheat Sheets at HowToPlayTheSax.com . I find them very easy and that’s why I do it. That’s what I do for the music that I’m playing in the bands that I play with, it just makes it easier for me. I listen more than I look with the music. So if those are the challenges from a saxophone perspective, what’s been the highlight ? What do you like ? What are you most proud of ? What are you most pleased with as far as your saxophone journey is concerned ?
Bernhard: The best experience is to play with other people. So even if you have a plan what to play and you follow exactly that plan. This is one side of joy. And if it works perfectly and the audience is enjoying it, that’s a great experience that you can’t have anywhere else. I hadn’t had that before. I’m playing with a friend of mine and so the friend of my sister is just playing in free freestyle music, so just playing a few chords and I play just in that moment, so that’s the other side of the of the balance – so you’re not planning….just play. You just let it happen and you’re just in this moment and you enjoy what you hear and what the others are doing and you react to that. And that’s also a moment. Where the time stops and stands still and you can play one hour or two hours.
Matthew: Speaking of long playing sessions, I notice you’ve got a fancy saxophone neck strap. Can you tell me a little bit about that one ? What is that ?
Bernhard: It’s like nearly similar to this cross style straps. It’s having some weight on your shoulders, but the other is with these. Kind of the metal of metal. Yes, it’s lifting the weight or letting the weight on your belly, so this is good. Of course my neck is not good because I have back pain and I hurt my back a while ago too. Yes I was searching for alternatives and this is one of the best that I found. Even better than this. Which is just residing on your shoulder and having a plate.
Matthew: I need to get myself one of those ones. But that one you’ve got on there, that spreads the weight because saxophones are heavy, especially your Beary-tone (baritone sax) behind you, they’re very heavy, so it kind of spreads the weight around.
Bernhard: Yeah it is. The reason is you want to have more weight on your waist than on the shoulders and on the back. So like a backpack when you go hiking or camping. The way it is all on your hips rather than the neck or shoulders. And I have a saxophone stand where I can play. Also the baritone and it has a ball joint to position it exactly where you want to have it.
Matthew: Fantastic. That sounds awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much there, Bernard, that’s really interesting. And I saw behind you that you’ve got you’ve got a full range of saxophones there. You got the Soprano saxophone, the Alto saxophone and the Tenor saxophone…. and a couple of flutes and clarinets. And what are the other instruments ? Is that a trumpet or flugel horn, a cornet and also a trombone ?
Bernhard: Yes. I bought it used. Everything I bought is cheap compared to new, really expensive professional instruments. But I make it my own and I try what I can do if I have to repair something. I clean up the dents or make the instrument play again. They were stuck and now they are smooth and easy to play again. So interesting. One of them, here, was very much out of shape. I made some repairs and improvements even though it’s not my profession.
Matthew: Ohh excellent ! Purely for my own interest, and you may not recall, but how did you find my website ? How did you find HowToPlayTheSax.com ? Did you do a Google search or how did you stumble upon me and my website ?
Bernhard: I was searching for an easy way to get more information about saxophone playing and also technique and I found some YouTube videos and I guess some of those videos were some of yours…. I just wanted to play, that’s exactly what you do. I see the music or hear the music and I want just to join and play. And have fun playing simply in the moment. Also learning a difficult part, speeding up – I have to start slowly then I’m playing quicker and quicker, and get used to it and just, playing to recordings. Also is one of the first things I did, was I lowered the speed and played. I found an app to slow the music down. It’s even having better quality than changing the speed on YouTube. If you do it with an app it’s better.
Matthew: Do you remember the name of remember the name of that app ? That sounds useful.
Bernhard: The name of the App is ” Music Speed Changer “. The slowdown component on YouTube is really good, but it’s fairly limited once you slow it down – at present it’s in steps so it’s only 100%, 75% or 50% and you cannot choose in between but in the app I can choose each percent and even change the pitch 1/2 note up and down or even more to make it in a different key and to play it in a different key.
Matthew: I’ve got one more question, please. Bernard, if you don’t mind, what advice would you give to other beginner saxophonists and especially adults ? Little kids, they pick things up very easily, but for us adults sometimes starting a new a new musical instrument, a new thing, in this example of saxophone, can be a challenge. What advice would you give to beginner saxophonists, especially adults, if they’re just starting out ?
Bernhard: I would say don’t expect too much straight away. If you have no clear expectation you just build up confidence and you find fun. Search for the situations where you can play with other players. So this is the number one hint I can give everyone – play for yourself, but then search for people to play with because this is speeding up your learning much more and it’s twice as fun you have alone. Music is about sharing and playing together.
Matthew: Excellent ! Really, an experience which you can or cannot do alone is have fun, play saxophone, be awesome, repeat. Thank you – fantastic. Thank you so much, Bernard, thank you. This is really good. Thank you so much. I think we’ll leave it there. But this has been fantastic. It’s been really awesome talking to you. Thank you. Thank you. I think there will be quite a few people who will be really interested in this conversation, especially that last little snippet of advice there. That’s really good. Thank you, thanks, Bernard. I will see you another time, and especially inside the Members Area at HowToPlayTheSax.com !
Bernhard: Yes really good talking to you. I appreciate highly that you invited me to share some parts of my journey and one or more steps that I made with you. Your videos brought me to where I am now.
Matthew: Yeah, excellent thank you. Thank you, that’s wonderful.
Bernhard: Thank you. So keep up the good work. And yeah, see you soon.
Matthew: Thank you 🙂
Thank you so much for joining me here today in this saxophone interview at HowToPlayTheSax.com .
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