Using the iPad for Gigs and as a Practice Aid

Like many musicians, I’m used to carrying music stands, music, music stand lights, and clips for the music (to use if playing outside when its windy).  For quite some time I have been wondering when technology would improve and be affordable for musicians and music students.  I’m from Austin Texas and for the past several months I have been seeing more and more musicians showing up to gigs with an iPad.  They usually clip the iPad on a vocal microphone stand.  After speaking with several musicians with iPads,  I decided to take the plunge and purchase an iPad myself.

I purchased a new iIPad with Retina display and 16GB of storage space ( wireless only ). I also purchased a high quality microphone stand.  I purchased an iKlip to attach the iPad to my microphone stand.

I use the following music ( or music related ) applications on the iPad:

1. iReal b

2. OnSong

3.  kindle

The kindle application is not a music application but it is very useful to use with music. One of my most favorite music education websites related to jazz improvisation and saxophone is Neff Music. I have purchased all of Steve Neff’s pdf format  books and I upload them to my kindle application on my iPad using the “Send to kindle” application.

Send to kindle for PC

Send to kindle for mac

I work through the Steve Neff books on my iPad and it works well. I have no problem reading the music on the display. Here is a picture of my iPad on a mic stand.


After using the iPad on gigs for the past couple of months I am convinced that it was a good investment.


TC-Helicon Voiceworks for Sax Sound Samples

I have received a number of requests asking me to post some sound samples of the TC-Helicon Voiceworks effects box. I am playing a tenor  tenor saxophone in all of the samples.

The first sample is bypassing the Voiceworks box and is the dry sample:


The second sample sample is the Voiceworks box with the reverb effect. Reverb time is 420ms and Feedback is 25%:


The third sample sample is the Voiceworks box with the reverb effect and Chrous. Reverb time is 420ms and Feedback is 25%, Chorus is -6dB.


The fourth sample sample is the Voiceworks box with one unison voice, reverb effect and Chrous. Reverb time is 420ms and Feedback is 25%, Chorus is -6dB, unison voice is -6dB.


The fifth sample sample is the Voiceworks box with one unison voice,one harmony voice ( above), reverb effect and Chrous. Reverb time is 420ms and Feedback is 20%, Chorus is -6dB, unison voice is -3dB, harmony voice -3dB.


The sixth sample sample is the Voiceworks box with one unison voice,two harmony voices( above), reverb effect and Chrous. Reverb time is 420ms and Feedback is 20%, Chorus is -6dB, unison voice is -3dB, first harmony voice -3dB, second harmony voice -6dB.


TC-Helicon Voiceworks and Saxophone

I recently acquired a TC-Helicon Voiceworks box and even though it is advertised as a vocal harmonizer – I wanted to experiment with it and the saxophone.

I am a full time computer programmer and a part-time professional musician. The first thing that struck me was that the user interface is not very user friendly. I suspect that since the Voiceworks box has so many features – it is extremely difficult to make the user interface easy to learn and use. I next visited the TC-Helicon website and looked for free downloads. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that TC-Helicon provides an editor for the Voiceworks box that runs on PC or Mac. A Midi IN and Midi Out interface is required to interface from a PC to the Voiceworks box. The editor software is easy to use and quick to learn.

Here is the first screen shot of the editor:


Here is a second screen shot:


Here is a third screen shot:


The Voiceworks box has a a long list of tweaks you can make. After much experimentation and using the box on a few gigs here is how I setup the box. I use a wireless microphone. The output of the microphone is input into the Voiceworks box. At the gig I run a midi cable from the voiceworks box to the keyboard so the box can harmonize the note I am playing with the real-time chords that are played on the keyboard. I used the Voiceworks software on my PC to copy the first five presets on the box and I next totally changed the presets to what I wanted. Three of the presets are used to harmonize the saxophone and the other two presets were just using the top notch effects that are built into the box. I did learn not to use the pitch correction feature with the saxophone because it did not work on the saxophone. Here are the setting I used in my presets:

Paul Unison – Chorus -6dB, lowered unison voice to -6dB, Reverb Time 420 ms, Feedback 20%

Paul 1Un1Up – Unison voice -3dB, 1st harmony voice -3dB, Chorus -6dB, Reverb Time 420 ms, Feedback 20%

Paul 1Un2Up – Unison voice -6dB, 1st harmony voice -3dB, 2nd Harmony voice Chorus -6dB, Reverb Time 420 ms, Feedback 20%

I added 2 more effects only presets that are setup as follows:

Paul FX –  Reverb Time 420 ms, Feedback 25%

Paul FX+C –  Reverb Time 420 ms, Feedback 25%, also has Chorus set at -3dB

The street price for the Voiceworks box is about $500. I ordered a 3 button footswitch for $50.

I am very pleased with the Voiceworks box and how it works on sax. I am playing a tenor saxophone.

If you are considering a new effects box for sax you may want to consider this one with the added harmony capabilities.

Are you using a TC-Helicon box with saxophone? If yes, what is your experience and how have you setup your box?

Making a Sax Mouthpiece Stand

A good friend of mine in Houston Texas just posted a “how to” article on constructing a nice mouthpiece stand. Many of us have collected a number of different mouthpieces over the years – it is nice to be able to see all of them rather than keeping them packed away. Its also convenient to try some of your old friends!

Don Kelly Mouthpiece Stand Article


Many of us know Steve Goodson from his writings in the Saxophone Journal.  Steve has created a new tenor with many new features.

1. Handmade bell, body, neck and bow.

2. Proprietary Rose Brass Alloy ( High copper to zinc ratio )

3. Only saxophone with four octave vents

4. Dedicated altissimo system

The horn is priced at $11,000. If price is not an issue this horn may be for you. You can learn more at


First thoughts on using the TC-Helicon Live 2 on Saxophone

This past weekend I visited with Don Kelly in Houston Texas. Don had recently purchased the TC-Helicon Live 2 for use with his saxophone and flute. The TC-Helicon is designed for voice harmony and effects however it works nicely on saxophone and flute. I was able to experiment with it for about 15 minutes. Don had already created a few setups that were tailored to sax and flute. The effects and harmony capabilities were awesome. The effects were even more awesome when listening in headphones. I definitely plan to add one of these to my wish list.

Have you used the TC-Helicon with saxophone or flute? If yes, please share your experiences.

Should You Consider An Aftermarket Saxophone Neck? Play Testing a Peter Ponzol Tenor Neck

By Don Kelly, Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Have you ever wondered if replacement necks really make a difference on your sax? There are a number of really reputable individuals (Ponzol Oleg, Goodson, and others) that make high quality necks, and I’ve always wanted to know if these really make a noticeable improvement. They all claim that using their necks will provide significant improvements in sound and intonation, as compared to using your stock neck. I have to say that I was skeptical that they would make a difference, but most offer money-back guarantees, so I decided to give it a try. Plus they’re pricey at roughly $300 to $500 U.S.

After researching the various models, I decide to try one of Peter Ponzol’s tenor necks for my early 60s Selmer Mark VI. Why try an aftermarket neck? I was motivated for a couple of reasons. First, I bought my horn from a very respectable professional sax player and private dealer from the Northeast. He play-tested it prior to sending it to me, and mentioned that he gave me a different neck because the original just didn’t sound that great. So over the years, I’ve played around with the two necks on my two Mark VIs, and always felt there was a little bit of a “stuffy” sound, or maybe a slight resistance. But overall, I have always loved the way my Mark VIs sound, feel, and play.

Initial Impressions

I contacted Peter Ponzol via his website,, and ordered one of his necks. The first thing Peter does is to have you mail him your current neck so he can approximately match the size. The Ponzol neck arrived on-time and was very carefully packed. Cosmetically, the neck is beautiful. Peter says it’s gold-plated, but it almost has a hint of copper to it. Really looks very well made. When I look at the necks side-by-side, the angle of the Ponzol neck is slightly larger than the stock neck. So while playing, this means that the mouthpiece will be about ¼ inch or so higher (further from the keys) with the Ponzol neck than on the stock neck. It’s so slight that I didn’t notice it while playing; only after I looked at the necks up close. It also seems to me, although I’d need to measure it with a micrometer, that inner diameter of the neck on the mouthpiece side may be slightly larger.

Well, next it was time to try it out. First of all, it fits great on my early 60’s model Selmer Mark VI. Now to see how it sounds. I have two Dave Gaurdala King mouthpieces, and as best I can tell, they are nearly identical. So I put one on my old neck, and one on my new neck, thus allowing me to quickly change necks by just switching over the reed and ligature.

I first notice that the Ponzol neck seems a little less stuffy, and significantly freer-blowing. Being skeptical still, I go back and forth several times, and sure enough, this is the case. I like my setup to be really free-blowing (i.e., small amount of blowing or air pressure to create a sound). I also noticed that the sound seems to be a little more complex, possibly darker.

Finally I notice that the dynamic range and expressiveness of the Ponzol neck seems to be slightly better. By this I mean that I can get a nice ppp sound to a fff sound, and get these extremes with a little less effort. Because of this, I seem to notice that I can do embellishments (expressiveness like growls or subtle sound changes) a little easier or at least more noticeably. Some of these differences may be related to the freer-blowing nature of the Ponzol neck, so I will just need to see if my initial impressions last.

A Couple of Days Later

The saxophone is a particularly challenging instrument to play in tune. It requires continual use of your ears and constant adjustment depending upon a number of factors, such as volume. So it is fairly tough to come up with a realistic “static” test to check intonation. One of the best ways would be to play random notes on a piano, and seeing how well the saxophone notes match. But this doesn’t provide a way to really measure and record the accuracy of the intonation. So I like to tune the horn, and then compare randomly played notes to a tuner and see how far off I am.

Using this method, I did an intonation check over the full range (every half step) of the instrument today. I started with the Ponzol neck, and then tuned the horn. I then randomly played each note, at a medium volume, and wrote down how far off the intonation was for that note. Using the same reed, mouthpiece, and ligature, I did the same exact thing for the stock neck. What I saw was interesting. The variability (measured as standard deviation) was noticeably better on the Ponzol neck versus the stock neck. This means that over the full range of the instrument, the Ponzol neck was a lot tighter, or closer, to being in tune, as compared to my stock neck. Even though I checked a lot of notes over the full range of the horn using both necks, for this to really be statistically significant, the whole test would need to be repeated a number of times. Nonetheless, this was very promising!

Even though the neck fit into the horn relatively tight on the first day, I’ve now taken it and the horn down to my repairman to have him fit it a little bit tighter. It seems I can’t quite “lock it down” as tight as I like to have it for gigs. I’m also having him shave just a little bit of cork off the Ponzol neck so that I can slide my Guardala King mouthpiece on a little further. So I should be picking it up later today just in time to try it out on a gig tonight.

After The Gig

I was able to pick up my adjusted neck just before the gig. It cost me another $30 to have the fit tweaked, but now it absolutely fits perfect on my main axe, and even on my backup horn. The gig was an outdoor poolside performance with my guitar player friend, Ed Motter-Vlahakos. My impression was the same as a day or two ago; the intonation does “feel tighter.” It seemed easier for me to play in tune, and that I was perhaps making fewer adjustments with my embouchure to stay in tune. I asked Ed to let me know what he thought. Twice he commented that he thought my intonation was noticeably better as well, especially in the sections where he and I play in unison.

Since the Ponzol neck give a fuller, freer-blowing sound, I’m now contemplating trying a mouthpiece that’s slightly warmer than my Guardala King. Jeez, seems like there’s always something else to try! My guess is that as I play exclusively on the Ponzol neck over the next few weeks, it will even be easier for me to notice the difference between it and my stock neck. We’ll just have to see!

Bottom Line

So should you run out and replace your neck? The answer is “It depends.” If you’re happy with the sound you’re getting, then you may not want to even experiment. But from my experience, especially if you have an older instrument, I think there’s a possibility that you could notice a marked improvement in both sound an intonation. Peter mentioned to me that I may even notice more improvement over time, and after a week, I’m beginning to agree with him.

So have you tried a different neck on your horn? What was your experience? Comment on the post or Email me and let me know!

About the Author. Don Kelly, Ph.D., is a Houston based saxophonist and flautist. He plays a variety of music, including contemporary jazz, R&B, latin, funk, jazz standards, blues, and classic rock. He has played with the Kim Kafka Group, S&G Project, Juan Manuel, Black Friday, The Blue Monks, Sparky Koerner Quartet, Austin Big Band, Devere Pride, On Time Airline, Kemah Bums, The Zentenos, Ed Motter, and numerous others. Don has been greatly influenced and has studied under trumpeter Ken Waters and saxophonists Woody Witt, Mike Palmerari, Jeff Kashiwa, Bob Ackerman, Bob Sheppard, Mark “Kaz” Kazinoff, and Jake Lampe. For information on gigs or lessons, contact Don at or visit the website.