GVSU saxophonist takes it up an octave with trilogy of books that updates methods and techniques for contemporary musicians

Dan Graser looks at the camera while holding his saxophone off to the side.

A Grand Valley saxophone faculty member has authored a trilogy of books aimed at updating the methods and techniques for players to a contemporary level -- and even introducing into the music world unique instruction on how to prepare for performing as a saxophonist in a quartet.

The books came during a flurry of activity for Dan Graser that grew out of disappearing gigs during the pandemic and a realization that he may never again have this kind of time to take such a deep dive into saxophone pedagogy.

What resulted for Graser, associate professor of saxophone, is a three-book set titled "Chops." 

Graser said the instruction in his books reflects the level of today's saxophonist; most textbooks are from the 1960s and 1970s and musicians were tending to extend what they learned from those publications.

"Most saxophonists are playing an octave higher than most of those books go," Graser said.

Three books. Top one is titled "CHOPS 3; The Sinta Quartet Method." Four names across the top: Graser, Stern, Hawthorne-Foss and Girard. "Chops 2" and "Chops" are also partially shown.
The bottom part of a saxophone is shown while a seated musician plays it.
Dan Graser updated a broad scope of pedagogy for the saxophone in the trilogy. His work with quartets, including the Donald Sinta Quartet, provided crucial insight for his third book.

The first two volumes are centered on deeper learning of the instrument, Graser said. The first book updates for the high school and college level every aspect of playing saxophone. The second book focuses on fresh and advanced techniques for playing scales.

In the third volume, Graser addresses the role of a saxophonist in a quartet, from effective rehearsal structure to how to work as a group to how to prepare as a member of a chamber ensemble. This is a role Graser understands well as a soprano saxophonist for the acclaimed Donald Sinta Quartet.

While saxophone quartets are common, especially in the collegiate setting, Graser said the specialized instruction he is providing in his book on performing in them is breaking new ground.

He noted saxophone instruction has an interesting history as a relatively young instrument. It was largely regarded as a dance band instrument until it started gaining deeper appreciation and scholarly study in the 20th century through incorporation into classical work as well as jazz.

Dan Graser is shown from the side playing saxophone.
"It's always about pushing the needle to see what can be improved upon and advanced," Graser said of playing the saxophone.

That means musicians' understanding of the saxophone is more fluid as compared to other woodwind instruments that have been around much longer, he said. The modern saxophonist must still push the instrument, he said, and he would hope that methods outlined in his books are advanced in a generation or two.

"This is certainly not an instrument that can rest on its laurels," Graser said. "As a contemporary saxophonist you need to have that light bulb moment, otherwise you are not pushing yourself as much as you should be."