Practicing What I Teach

I have been seriously practicing the saxophone since my sophomore year in high school back in 1972.

Literally, every free space of my time was devoted to studying music in some context.

When I became a professional musician for the Army in 1974, practicing and studying music became my full-time job along with public performances and any related artist management functions.

In addition to rehearsing and performing for 3-5 hours each day, I was typically able to practice my instruments for 2-3 hours as well.

Practicing like this was not always required, but I did it because I wanted to master those technical aspects of music that require one to build facility through repetitions of foundational materials and new studies alike.

Putting in that amount of time ultimately pays off.

But, like anything where self-development is involved, personal progress and life-long learning take a commitment beyond being directed by a teacher, professor or institution.

We ultimately must also learn to become our own teachers, in effect.

Such realization ensures our continued growth toward our own unique artistry and technical mastery.

Many of my students and some colleagues have asked what I am practicing, so here it is…


When I started teaching private woodwind lessons in 1983 it was necessary to also teach my students how to practice by themselves at home between lessons (also see:

For most, this was simply providing a practical system showing them how to organize their time so as to include practicing music as part of their lives.

I came up with the “Practicing At Home” clinic that I still utilize to this day because it works progressively as the student develops – assigned materials are programmable as needed and the matrix has a customizable rubric inherently built-in.

I have always used a modified version of this very same matrix.


I still break up my practice time into the three major areas of SCALES, TECHNIQUE, and LITERATURE.

However, each of these sections is protracted and contains subsections.

For example:

  • SCALES include all forms – major, melodic minor, harmonic minor, whole tone, diminished, pentatonic, etc. along with certain synthetic scales I am studying.
  • TECHNIQUE includes playing all scales in all major, minor and perfect intervals (seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves). And, playing broken chords on the diatonic tones of all forms of the scales as well.
  • LITERATURE includes classical and jazz repertoire. This ranges from selected masterworks for alto saxophone by composers like Creston, DuBois, Heiden, etc. and jazz masterworks by Shorter, Henderson, Golson, Hancock, etc. I also include my own compositions in this area of practice and study.

Based on this working sample of what I practice, it is easy to see that practicing 4-6 hours each day is possible and necessary to cover all of the materials. I alternate between the diatonic and intervalic scale studies on odd and even days. I choose specific works to study each week for the literature segment.



Zinn and The Art Of Saxophone

  • I am taking Dann Zinn‘s six-level exhaustive course and am currently finishing Book 1 (White Belt).
  • Mr. Zinn’s course is very extensive and exhaustive in that it immediately exposes any weaknesses and prescribes the method to strengthen. The patient and methodical practice of Book 1 has already shown very positive results.
  • I am at a point of balance in my life where music is once again the primary focus, day job and how I make my living.

Masterworks and Voice Leading

  • To reinforce my applied understanding, while developing melodic and harmonic musical language skills, I continue studying Bach transcriptions for alto saxophone, along with the improvised solo transcriptions of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane.
  • I also transcribe in real time by playing along with certain recordings by artists from all eras.
  • I also study modern harmonic cycles and compose original chord progressions based upon grounded theories.

Ensemble Repertoire

  • I practice the individual works that are part of the repertoire selections of each of my ensembles.
  • See the Artists – EPK page on the CbQ site for a listing of my current ensembles.

Composing and Arranging


The essence of the “Practicing At Home” clinic is time management. I use that same system within the framework that I have more hours to devote to the various practical factors of musicianship than most of my students. I always use a metronome and tuner. Here’s a typical 6-hour practice day for me.

  • I warm up for about 30-minutes (Zinn)
  • I practice scales and technic for 2-hours (Zinn)
  • I practice classical literature for 1-hour (currently: Bach, DuBois, Heiden)
  • I practice jazz literature for 1-hour (CbQ Repertoire)
  • I practice voice-leading for 30-minutes (transcriptions)
  • I write and arrange for 1-hour (originals, Tomaro course)

Hope this helps motivate you to undertake your own system.



Christopher Burnett is a critically acclaimed alto saxophonist, educator, arts business leader, and composer who began his professional career with military jazz bands “going pro” directly upon graduating high school at 18 years old.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Burnett has performed professionally around the world, recorded noteworthy albums as a leader, taught at the college-level and co-founded a significant independent recording label, Artists Recording Collective.

He held adjunct professor of music positions with University of Missouri Science and Technology (10 years) and at Metropolitan Community Colleges (5 years).

Most recently, Mr. Burnett was selected as a clinician for the 2018 Kansas Music Educators Association In-Service Workshop in Wichita.

A member of the official touring roster for the state of Kansas, Mr. Burnett’s is an eclectic instrumental music ensemble comprised of accomplished professional artists. Repertoire includes Burnett original compositions and select jazz masterworks. He performs locally each month at Black Dolphin in the Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City.

See –

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