Practice Part 1  

‘The actual application or use of an idea, belief or method, as opposed to theories related to it.’ 

Music is unlike many extra curricular activities, as it requires an understanding and dedication kin to that of other educational models such as mathematics and science as well as being an inherent artistic venture. On top of this, music is a discipline, requiring a responsibility of diligent focus and constant attention. Music is an applied study, where students are encouraged to practice daily. In Australia we have a very strong sporting culture, and this should be highly valued for its community building and health benefits. However, it is vastly different to playing music, which in contrast is a disciplinary field. (Dunstan2019) The main area of difference is when the release of ‘happiness’ is achieved. On the whole students achieve the sense of achievement and happiness from the journey in music, meaning delayed satisfaction. For the most part students will most likely approach sport as an extra curricular hobby where training and games are the only time spent learning the skills of sport, achieving instant satisfaction. This approach is less successful in music where constant dedication is required to achieve the delayed satisfaction. 

Music not only requires a focus on daily practice but also a deep understanding of musical listening, and education. 

This discussion is aimed at aiding pupils, their teachers and their home network to build an effective approach to their music making and instrument skill in an era where time is becoming more and more scarce. 


As parents the idea of assisting a student with their music can be a daunting prospect. Many of you out there may have little knowledge of how music works and this leads to questions such as: 

 How can I possibly help? 

Well, the most important way you can help is to be involved in this exciting undertaking that your child is taking on. Be proactive in their musical journey and assist them with routine building to enable them to succeed. Creating an understanding of the long-term gratification of music making will ensure they continue on this endeavour with passion. A routine is ideal for ensuring regular practice is achieved.

Parents, teacher and students must work together to insure the success in the study of the discipline of music and this always leads to the most positive outcome for all. 


'Music isn’t for everyone' is a comment heard often that has some standing; although not for the reasons you may think. As mentioned above unlike sport where happiness can be achieved simply from participation, for the most part music should be approached differently. Many schools have band programs and parents see this as an opportunity for fun music making akin to that of joining a rugby team. These programs should be looked at as an addition to the whole musical education and not the core of the experience. It’s no fun for anyone if the student is unable to achieve the goals required by the band. 

In an era of ‘Australia’s got Talent, The X Factor and The voice’ our current conception of music is that Talent is paramount. It is NOT true that talent is all you need, in fact talent is very far down on the priority list for someone wanting to learn music.  The misconception ‘I’m not good at this so I should quit’ is a dangerous arena, persistence is key to becoming a successful musician.  When we say ‘music isn’t for everyone’ what we truly mean is that if you do not have the ability/time/desire to devote attention and diligence to this art then it isn’t for you. 


People learn tasks if they value the activity or anticipate success. Value depends on a number of types of motivation. Research has shown that people who engage with music and practice use three external sources of motivation. 

Extrinsic (when tasks are carried out because of some external reward potential such as passing examinations) 

Social (to please or fit in with others) 

Achievement (for enhancement of the ego, to do better than others, to pass a hurdle) 

Once these three areas are in development then intrinsic (interest in the activity itself) values develop. 

These motivations are often misaligned, particularly by parents. Many expect that intrinsic  motivation should be at the top of the list. That their child should always have interest in the activity itself. However this is unrealistic. This is a motivation type that develops after extrinsic, social, and achievement models are introduced. 

Extrinsic motivation is not to be confused with the idea of rewarding pupils with gifts. While this can be a productive form of motivation in the beginning this ‘bribery’ of sorts does not instill a sense of dedication to the task at hand and development of the students skills.­­­ Interest in the activity itself rarely follows on after gift giving. 

The hardest thing about practicing is getting the instrument out of the case. I find this myself, once I’m blowing into my sax the time flies. As a student you should instill in yourself that you will at least set up the instrument every day. 


So how should we practice? This depends on time available and the concentration levels of the particular student. Therefore a very effective initial approach is to setup a timetable and within this a schedule. 

The timetable – how long should you be practicing for and for how often?  The simple answer is, the more you do the faster you will progress, however we need to be realistic. The more frequent the better even if this is only short amounts, but everyday. Try to think of your practice sessions as goal orientated, rather than time focused. Your teacher should be giving you appropriate and achievable goals each week that will dictate how long your practice session goes for. 

The schedule – I’m a firm believer in dividing practice sessions into 4 equal parts. 

  • Part 1 should be devoted to technical work. This will include warm up skills, technique exercises given by the teacher and scales (the building blocks of all music) 
  • Part 2 towards etudes. Etudes are musical works that are designed to increase a student’s ability in a particular area, be that technical or musical. If you are undertaking an AMEB exam your list A pieces fit in this category. When approaching etudes, it is essential to focus on the goal of that particular etude, keeping that in the forefront of the mind. 
  • Part 3 for repertoire. This is any pieces of music the student is learning for the teacher as well as band repertoire. 
  • Part 4. This is possibly the most important. Free time to play whatever the student wants to play. This can be their favourite song or more of something they have already practiced. Perhaps a scale that is frustrating them or running through a band piece they love. We have to instill the idea that we want to play. 

A practice journal is an essential tool to successful practice. This is not the book your teacher writes in to tell you what to do, but a book that you write down what you did in each practice session. This will give you motivation to practice and enable you to be effective with your time, informing you of what needs more work in your next session. 

What are we thinking about when we practice? Self analysis is the key to an effective practice session. Remember playing is not practice. Practice is focused on improvement. Try to keep in the front of your mind what you are trying to achieve at all times. This is easier with Technical work but should still be a focus in Repertoire. 


Music is an aural part of life, and far too often the aural faculty is the last to be used if at all. There are numerous professional musicians that still neglect this so obvious part of making music. It is so easy to become engrossed in the challenge of reading the music, putting the right notes at the right time and following all the details of the score that we begin to turn off our ears. While this formal practice can be very beneficial for the execution of the music, it limits us to the interpretation and often obvious musical shape. The concept of passive practicing (that of practicing away from the instrument), which involves improving and learning music by ear, enables the technical skills to develop alongside the musicality and understanding of musical language and structure. It also allows you to participate more effectively in group music making. 

At a time when so much music is at hand and the ability to record ones self is so easy, it is important to dedicate time to listening. ACTIVE LISTENING. This means to listen for a purpose and this should be done at least 3 times a week. Listen to many versions of the music you are playing, other works by the same composers and music of the time. Also listen intently to your favourite music, try to analyse it and understand it further. Work out why you like it, better yet listen to music you don't like and try to understand why you don't like it. 

Lastly, learn to enjoy your practice.



Dunstan. K 'Should my Child Have a Go'

2019 Summer School 

Im very excited that our company the Saxophone Academy Sydney will be hosting our 9th Annual Summer School next week, can you believe it!! The summer school has become an icon of saxophone education here in Australia and has provided  world class saxophone education and opportunities to over 300 students. Our guest tutors have included many amazing saxophonists from around the globe.

2011 - James Nightingale AUS

2012 - Christina Leonard AUS

2013 - Michael Duke AUS

2014 - Barry Cockcroft AUS

2015 - Niels Bijl NL

2016 - Fernando Ramos PT

2017 - Joan Marti Frasquier ESP

2018 - Australasian Saxophone Quartet AUS/NZ

2019 - Lachlan Davidson AUS

A veey special thanks must also be given to ur local heros whonhave regularly tutored at the summer school. Nathan Henshaw, Nick Russoniello, Andrew Smith, Ben Carey.


2019 is a very special year. It will be the first year we have a jazz specialist and composer as our featured artist, a phenomenal opportunity for the students to experience something truly special.

Exciting times.

Is your child 'set-up' for Success? Part 3. 



For a student to flourish with music making, enjoy the art-form and to excel at their instrument, the saxophone needs to be easy to play. A quality instrument in good working order will ensure ease of playability and lead to a far more enjoyable experience for all. It will also develop confidence and satisfaction within the student, encouraging them to persist with saxophone playing. 

At the very beginning stages, investment in a quality student model saxophone is strongly recommended. At the Saxophone Academy Sydney we only recommend Yamaha student model saxophones. A second hand YAS275 or new YAS280 or YAS26 are all excellent models that will produce a great sound, have an even response and accurate intonation. The Yamaha is a tried and tested brand that is made from quality materials and with an excellent design. Another brand that has some reputation are Jupiter saxophones. These saxophones are cheaper and use a lower grade brass that is much easier to ding and bend, however the design is very good and the instrument will be reliable for the student. 

Sometimes the financial outlay of a new or second-hand instrument is to great, in this case rental of a Yamaha saxophone is recommended. (This is available through the Saxophone Academy Sydney). In saying that, one of the greatest encouragements a student can receive is owning their own saxophone. 

Instruments of unknown brands purchased on ebay should be avoided at all costs, they are the best way to discourage a student from practicing. 


Once the student has been playing for 5yrs or achieved 5th Grade AMEB examination (whichever comes first), the student will be ready for a saxophone upgrade. There are many reasons for this. The beginner instruments are made of a very thin brass that results in a lightweight instrument ideal for smaller students, this thinner brass does not have the resonance and tonal complexity required for an advancing student. The keywork on student models is smaller and closer to the body of the instrument, ideal for small hands, but as the student grows these keys become more challenging to reach. The bore (width of the tube) on student model saxophone is smaller. This means that the student instrument requires less air, but will have a smaller sound with less projection. Finally, student instruments have less adjustable screws and mechanisms, this reduces weight and cost, however the instrument is harder to finely regulate and requires bending to make adjustments. 

Upgrade options at this stage are the intermediate and semi-professional instruments. At the Saxophone Academy Sydney we recommend sticking to the 3 most reputable and reliable brands: Yamaha, Yanagisawa and Selmer Paris. 

Their intermediate/semi-professional models are: 


YAS62 – The Australian standard for this level of upgrade. Excellent playability, tonal flexibility and secure intonation 

YAS480 – this instrument uses the same keywork as the student model but with the body of the YAS62 


AW-01 (A901) – A fantastic saxophone becoming one of the most popular upgrade saxophones. The highest quality brass available with excellent sturdy key-work. A more complex sound than the Yamaha. A favourite of mine. 

AW-02 (A902) – The same as a AW-01 but made of bronze rather than brass, this produces a more mellow tone. 

Selmer Paris 

Seles Axos – Selmer saxophones have been the industry standard for professionals since the turn of the century. Selmer in fact bought the original tools and machinery from Adolphe Sax. They have recently released their first ever ‘Intermediate’ model, The Seles Axos. A quality instrument with an excellent tone. In my opinion these instruments are expensive compared to the other options listed above and do not necessarily offer any additional quality or character. They are a good option for those particularly enthused with tradition. 


Is your child 'set-up' for Success? Part 2. 





The mouthpiece is an integral piece of equipment that will greatly effect the playability of the instrument. A quality mouthpiece will not only improve the tone of a student but will also ensure that the saxophone is reacting correctly to the use of air. A poor-quality mouthpiece will make the production of an even tone almost impossible for the student, leading to students being dissatisfied and at risk of discontinuing. 

At the Saxophone Academy Sydney we recommend all beginner students use a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece, no matter what brand of saxophone they are using. The Yamaha 4C is a plastic machine-made mouthpiece of high quality and good design. It enables a strong even tone with great response for clear and light articulation. This mouthpiece is ideal for students in the first series of AMEB examinations (up to grade 4).

Once the student has been playing a few years and has developed a stable and correct embouchure a mouthpiece upgrade is recommended. 

To achieve the quality of sound, response of articulation and flexibility of tone colour expected for AMEB grade 5 and above, and for the budding student, A handcrafted ebonite mouthpiece is highly recommended. There is a huge range of these mouthpieces available and the idea of upgrading the mouthpiece can be a daunting one. At this stage of development we at the Saxophone Academy Sydney recommend a traditional/classical style mouthpiece. Even if the student is interested in jazz. These mouthpieces are much easier to control and will allow the student the appropriate sound and consistency expected for any school ensemble, be it concert band or big band. 

The two mouthpiece brands we recommend at the Saxophone Academy Sydney are Selmer and Vandoren. These two brands (both French) have been the industry standard in this style of mouthpiece since the early 20th Century. They come in a variety of styles and designs and therefore guidance from your tutor or a Saxophone Academy Sydney staff member is recommend at this stage. Popular options in this category are 

Vandoren V5 range (A15, A20, A27, A28) 

The french standard. This mouthpiece enables for great tonal flexibility while still maintaining evenness of tone and great response 

Vandoren Optimum range (AL3, AL4, AL5) 

A darker tonal concept than the V5 mouthpiece but with  less tonal flexibility. Incredible ease of playing.

Selmer S80 range (C*, C**, D) 

The standard mouthpiece upgrade in Australia since the 1980s. Great tonal variation and sound emission, easy articulation 

Selmer S90 range (170, 180, 190) 

Very similar to the S80 range but with a slightly brighter and clearer tone. 

A mouthpiece that has become very popular over the past few years is the Selmer Concept mouthpiece. This mouthpiece is a laser made ebonite mouthpiece and has become very popular amongst professionals. We at the Saxophone Academy Sydney believe this mouthpiece is excellent for the professional player, but requires a great level of technique and flexibility to achieve great results from, therefore we do not recommend it for students. 

If a student is considering a jazz mouthpiece, they should be aware that they require a great deal of control and flexibility and should be practiced on daily to achieve good results. They are also not appropriate for AMEB examinations as they produce a different tonal concept. Students in jazz bands etc at school are encouraged to consult their tutor if a jazz mouthpiece is appropriate.


Is your child 'set-up' for Success? Part 1. 



The reed is the most integral piece of equipment for your saxophone and will have the greatest effect on the quality of sound and response of the instrument. Proper care and maintenance of the reed is essential to ensure that you are getting the best out of your saxophone. The reed should be removed from the mouthpiece after every playing and should be kept flat and dry. The best solution for this is a quality reed case such as the Daddario reed case or other available product. 


As a beginner, you will need a reed that will provide a quality sound and response yet will not be too expensive, as any reed that is cracked or chipped should be disposed of. 

At the Saxophone Academy Sydney we strongly recommend the Rico Royal reeds for this level. Strength 2 is the ideal reed to start on and once the student begins to play low C and notes above high C they should progress to 2.5 reeds. 

Once a student has been playing for a number of years and has completed the first series of AMEB exams (up to Grade 4) we recommend students progress to a higher quality reed which will enable them to produce a warmer richer tone and achieve a faster response. We suggest D’addario Reserve reeds. Vandoren blue box reeds are also a good alternative for this level. 

Jazz reeds such as D’addario Jazz Select, Plasticover, Vandoren Java and Vandoren V16 should be reserved for advanced players performing with jazz style mouthpieces. These reeds used on a classical or traditional mouthpieces will create a thin buzzy sound that will not be pleasing or appropriate for AMEB examinations or school bands.



2 concerts in two day. Exhausted 

I had an amazing last few days performing both with the North Shore Wind Symphony as Nexas shared a concert with them and performed the Barker Capriccio as well as a recital at the Sydney Conservatorium with the incredible Benjamin Kopp - A French Odyssey.


Performing with likeminded musicians is a true blessing.


Very excited and pumped to be recording 2 cd's next week!

Pumped to be recording with my great friend Niels Bijl next week. He's such an inspiring musician and it's a true honour to work on this incredible project with him.I also can't wait to work with Jayson McBride, recording engineer extraordinaire, we've been talking about working together for years and it's finally happening. 

Finally a huge thanks to the amazing Frank Madrid, for weaving his magic and facilitating the incredible venue at Fourwinds Bermagui. What a privilege to be able to record in such a stunning room and setting with great friends on a project so close to my heart. 

MUSIC SPANNING 300yrs including world premiere recordings of some incredible composers to be announced soon


Jumping into the Eugene Goosens Theatre at ABC studios to record a new album with Nexas Quartet and the amazing Peter Coleman-Wright.
'Composer's in Exile'.

Going to be grand fun.

November Launch with Nexas Quartet at Sydney Opera House. 

Well it's been an incredibly busy and exciting time.

One of the highlights of the past few months has been recording 'Current' Nexas Quartets debut album with my great mates Duke, Henshaw, and Smiddy. This album has now been recorded, edited, mixed and mastered, soon to be printed.

Its the culmination of years of hard work and dedication and is a reflection of our collaborations with leading Australian composers. Featuring music from national treasures Hindson, Kats-Chernin, Orlovich, Rojas and Skipworth. 

Im so excited to be launching 'Current' at the Sydney Opera House on the 29th November.
Book your tickets at


A few days ago i had the absolute pleasure and privilege to perform my final DMA recital at the Sydney Conservatorium.

The Sydney Conservatorium is a very special place for me as I began my formal music studies there at the Conservatorium High School in 1998. To complete my music education at the same venue after 7 years abroad and some 16 years later, was truly special.

El Asunto del Tango, was 3 and half years of tango research and study, culminating in a performance that included my own adaptations, arrangements by others and new commissions.

I would like to thank all the people who came along to support me in this final performance. It was an emotional experience performing the work that I have researched, arranged, rehearsed and obsessed over for the last three years to over 100 people. Im sad to come to the end of this incredible journey, but incredibly proud of what i have achieved during my final years of study. I've grown not only as a saxophonist, but also as a musician and educator.

There are so many people to thank. I'd like to make a special mention of an incredible group of tango experts that were invaluable to my research. Fernando Muslera, Fernando Lerman, Emiliano Barri, Juan-Maria Solare, Daniel Wallace-Crabbe, Maggie Fergesun, Claude Delangle and a number of others.

A big thanks to Andrew Smith, Nicholas Russoniello, Ben Carey, James Nightingale, Niels Bijl, Fernando Ramos, Henk Van Twillert, Donny McKenzie, Michael Jamieson, Simon Brew and countless others for constantly inspiring me. Being surrounded by such talented musicians has made me the person i am today.

A special thank you must go to two fellow performers Michael Kluger and Isabella Brown. Their passion, dedication and great humour made this project all the more special.

My huge gratitude to Michael Duke and Daniel Rojas, the two most influential people in this study, my two supervisors. My work has developed to the level it has thanks to these two men. I couldnt have done it without you.

The biggest thanks must go to Carmen Nieves, my amazing wife. Her talent, dedication and incredible performance made the practical component of this degree unique and of the highest standard. Her incredible intelligence, language skills and knowledge made the thesis (written component) far more informative, succinct and intelligent. But most importantly, her love, patience, tolerance, friendship, support, and understanding, made the hardest parts of the degree managable and the most enjoyable moments all the more special.

Life will never be the same.


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