Pages 30 and 31

Paul de Ville continues his set of exercises called “Shading” which, in contemporary terms, would be called “Dynamics”. These are tied whole note studies. The goal is to attack at piano with a crescendo to forte followed by a diminuendo back to piano. They are excellent studies and if played consistently will develop great embouchure control. My only criticism is that they appear much too soon in the book. Even players with several years of experience will find it very difficult to attack a low C at piano. Exercise No.29 is mechanical and focused on improving the B to C fingering.
The next section “Exercises on Time” is a set of seven studies designed to teach counting. These cover Common Time, 2/4, 3/4, and 6/8 meters. Paul de Ville introduces this section by saying, “The Student will now observe the values of the notes.” So are we to assume that counting wasn’t required in the first 29 exercises? De Ville has included counts written under some of the notes. His system does not include a method of beat subdivisions. As a beginner I could not begin to understand rhythm until I was taught a clear system that divided beats in halves and quarters. (1,2,3,4. 1, &, 2, &, 3, & 4, &, 1,e, &, a,2,e,&,a,3,e,&,a,4,e,&,a).
In my opinion, the first 50 studies of this method should be written like a beginning band method. The exercises should include long notes with rests to develop embouchure strength, familiar melodies and the basics of meters and counting. Advanced players could skip this section, but the beginners would be given enough foundation to approach the more difficult studies.
“Exercises in Slurring” begins on page 31. These are the type of exercises that have made this a great method. They are relatively easy, but if repeated often and with increasing speed, will develop solid technique.
Comments, as always, are welcome.
Neal Ramsay
fingering chart negative

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 6:52 am  Comments (3)  

Pages 28-29

Pages 28 – 29
Pages 28 and 29 contain exercises 15 through 26 of Paul de Ville’s “Preparatory Studies”. The exercise are, in themselves, fine. As I play through them I am reminded that no matter how much experience someone has, they can always learn and improve by playing basic exercise and concentrating on the fundamentals. Trying to play every note with a precise, clean attack, clear tone and perfectly in tune can create enough of a challenge to make these whole note exercises a interesting.
These first 26 studies are almost all whole notes with no rests; some double whole notes. Only exercise No. 25 contains half notes. If seen from the perspective of a beginning student, I think these studies would be difficult and discouraging. As the beginner has no embouchure strength, the first studies should be a mix of playing and resting so their mouths can recover between notes. There are no melodies in these pages. After someone has learned three notes, there are some melodies they can play. Nothing is more satisfying and motivating to a beginner that being able to play recognizable tunes.
The exercises advance in difficulty too fast. Exercise No. 9 includes a low C. Again, makes me think that Paul de Ville was a clarinetist. Low C on clarinet is easily obtained by a player on the first day, but it may take a saxophonist several weeks before they have enough control to get down to low C, without honking. Exercise No. 23 leaps around by ninths and No. 26 are 8 beat crescendos. All great stuff but too challenging in the early days of playing.
I would enjoy hearing from beginner band teachers on this subject.
Neal Ramsay
sax 4

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 8:09 am  Comments (4)  

Pages 1-6 The Fingering Chart

The concept for the Universal Method for Saxophone was a method that could take a student from beginner to professional level, so a good fingering chart is a top priority. Paul de Ville even includes a “rudiments of music” section where he teaches all the basics (names of lines and spaces, key signature, time signature, rhythm, terms).
I have never bothered to look at the fingering chart that accompanies the Universal Method as I knew the fingerings when I purchased it. But, having studied it for the first time, I consider it the worst fingering chart I have ever seen. It is the newest part of the Universal Method and was prepared by Siguard Rascher with a 1941 copyright. (I guess that by 1941 they had finally given up on the Evette and Schaeffer System) It is a large, 2 fold sheet that is separate from the rest of the book so that the student could refer to it as they study exercises on another page. The reference saxophone for this chart is based on photographs of a 1930’s Buescher alto saxophone. The photos where converted to black and white line art where the shadows are now 100% black smudges. It is impossible to see much detail or figure out many of the keys.
I am absolutely certain that the people at Carl Fischer never handed this chart to a beginning student and asked them to figure out the fingerings, without the help of a teacher. Had they done so, they never would have published it. A very clear, generic line drawing of the saxophone is need as the reference.
The back of the chart is interesting. It compares the relative ranges of the piano, violin and Bb clarinet with the ranges of the soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones. It also has a column called “The Saxophone in the Orchestra”. It is written from the perspective that you, as a saxophonist, will be sitting in with a symphonic orchestra. It takes each member of the saxophone family and tells you what orchestral parts it could cover and how to work out the transpositions. The rages and transposition material is all good information, even if you don’t plan to sit in with your local orchestra.
Please share any ideas regarding this and other fingering charts.
Neal Ramsay

Published in: on September 18, 2009 at 6:24 am  Comments (2)  


The World’s First Edition of the Universal Method for Saxophone by Paul de Ville was published in 1908, and it is a product of the 19th century. Stravinsky wouldn’t compose “The Rite of Spring” for four years. It would be decades before Creston’s “Sonata”, Ibert’s “Concertino” or Glazounov’s “Concerto” would come along. Rudy Wiedoeft had not begun to popularize the saxophone. New Orleans Dixieland was trying to give birth to jazz. The saxophone was in its infancy.
The Universal Method, often called the “Bible” among saxophonists, has no information on the altissimo register, vibrato, multiple tonguing, and scales beyond major and minor. It devotes pages to exercises for the “new” Evette and Schaeffer System, which has been obsolete for 90 years. The musical samples are very narrow in style and include a lot of 19th century opera
But, even with these limitations it is still a great method. Anyone who has mastered it is a formidable player. Some teachers have a system for using the Universal Method. I have worked with a few teachers that extracted parts of the Method. But I have never studied all of it.
I once heard this interview with Doc Severinsen
Question – “Doc, what methods did you study?”
Doc- “The Arban.”
Question – “And after the Arban?”
Doc – “I played the Arban again, faster.”
Question – “And after that?”
Doc- “I played the Arban a third time even faster. I still play the Arban”
I intend to take the Doc Severinsen approach and play our “Bible” cover to cover and blog my evaluations. It is 320 pages long and considered to be a year long process to study it entirely.
I invite you to share your comments, suggestions, and techniques regarding your use of the Universal Method.
Thanks – Neal Ramsay

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 6:24 am  Leave a Comment