#86 How To Play The Sax On "Pick Up The Pieces" by The Average White Band

I'm so excited about bringing you this week's lesson on Pick Up The Pieces by the Average White Band! Firstly, it's one of my favourite tracks of all time, but on top of that I've got three fantastic musicians to record the rhythm track this week. It's helluva funky folks! At 10:08 you can hear us play the whole song from start to finish.

Be sure to pick up your free PDF sheet music for Pick Up The Pieces, which has got the whole song written out, for alto AND tenor. You'll also get the harmony parts, a transcription of my tenor solo and a structure sheet to print off. Here are the Q&A topics covered in this lesson, with video time stamps (min:sec). Clicking on the time stamp will take you straight to that portion of the video on YouTube (in a separate tab). Full Time stamps for the video and a complete transcript are at the bottom of the blog.


Who is "Pick Up The Pieces" by? (1:06)

  • Pick Up The Pieces is a predominantly instrumental, sax driven funk track, recorded in 1974 by The Average White Band
  • the track is featured on their AWB "White" album


Who are The Average White Band? (1:06)

  • the Average White Band are a funk and soul combo, originally formed in London in the early seventies
  • the original members were all Scottish, from Dundee in particular 
  • the AWB re-located to America in the early seventies where they found great success with their deep grooves and soulful songs
  • the lineup of the band is fairly unusual: 2 saxes, 2 guitars and rhythm section, with the bass and guitar covering the vocals


Who plays saxophone on Pick Up The Pieces? (1:06)

  • the 2 saxophone parts on the original recording are performed by Roger Ball (alto) and Molly Duncan (tenor)
  • the 2 parts sound like they've been recorded twice, or "tracked" to give a fatter, chorusy sound


Who plays the sax solo on Pick Up The Pieces? (1:06)

  • the sax solo on Pick Up The Pieces is played by Scottish tenor saxophonist Malcolm "Molly" Duncan
  • Michael Brecker guests on a famous live recording of the track from the Montreaux Jazz Festival
  • sadly, Molly Duncan passed away in 2019


What is the structure for Pick Up The Pieces? (3:18)

  • the structure of Pick Up The Pieces is very often played wrong! There are sax phrases followed by short rhythm groove vamps of either 2 bars or 4 bars and they are commonly mixed up!
  • this is the correct structure of the whole song, with the individual phrase numbers marked in from the lesson...

What are the notes for Pick Up The Pieces? (4:26)

For full fingerings, get your free PDF for Pick Up The Pieces here. These are the notes for the melody line of each phrase.

* = second octave, ** = third octave

__ = a longer note

  • phrase 1 - alto (4:34): F  A  E*  D*  C  G  B  A
  • phrase 2 - alto (5:07): G*  C  D*  F*__D*  C  D*  F*__D*  C  D*
  • phrase 3 - alto (5:31): F*  A  E*  D*  F*  D*  G*  F*
  • phrase 4 - alto (5:45): G*  F*  G*  F*  D*  G*  F*  G*  F*  C
  • phrase 5 - alto (5:59): G*  F*  G*  F*  D*  G*  F*  G*  F*  A*
  • phrase 6 - alto (6:47): G*  F*  G*  F*  D*  G*  F*  G*  F*  C  C*_________


  • phrase 1 - tenor (4:34): Bb  D*  A*  G*  F*  C  E*  D*
  • phrase 2 - tenor (5:07): C*  F*  G*  Bb*__G*  F*  G*  Bb*__G*  F*  G*
  • phrase 3 - tenor (5:31): Bb*  D*  A*  G*  Bb*  G*  C*  Bb*
  • phrase 4 - tenor (5:45): C*  Bb*  C*  Bb*  G*  C*  Bb*  C*  Bb*  F*
  • phrase 5 - tenor (5:59): C*  Bb*  C*  Bb*  G*  C*  Bb*  C*  Bb*  D**
  • phrase 6 - tenor (6:47): C*  Bb*  C*  Bb*  G*  C*  Bb*  C*  Bb*  F*  F** [OR D**]______


Who plays on THIS version of Pick Up The Pieces? (9:08)

I'm so lucky to have these wonderful musicians playing with me on this version of Pick Up The Pieces...

Nick Van Gelder (drums and percussion). Nick is best known as the original Jamiroquai drummer, and he's featured on the million selling album Emergency On Planet Earth. Nick is also a fantastic producer and recording artist with countless productions of his own.

Francis Hylton (bass). Francis is the bassist for Incognito, as well as multiple other live credits and DJ appearances.

Shawn Lee (guitars). Shawn is a real renaissance man, playing many instruments to an equally high level. He could have nailed every part on this track himself! I'd encourage you to check out his incredible body of work at his website.


So that's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed learning this iconic sax tune. Don't forget to get your free PDF sheet music for Pick Up The Pieces, which has all the phrases marked in for alto AND tenor sax, plus the structure sheet and a transcription of my tenor solo! Next week, you'll learn how to do something that almost every saxophonist can improve upon - playing in tune! Until then, keep practicing smart and I'll see you later! 

Jamie :-)


Video Timestamps


0:00 - intro performance

0:27 - intro and titles

1:06 - about pick up the pieces

2:53 - the notes you need for pick up the pieces

3:18 - the tricky structure

3:34 - how to get your free pdf sheet music for pick up the pieces

4:05 - how to get your free one hour sax masterclass

4:26 - the riffs

4:34 - phrase 1 breakdown

4:54 - the sax harmonies

5:07 - phrase 2 breakdown

5:31 - phrase 3 breakdown

5:45 - phrase 4 breakdown

5:59 - phrase 5 breakdown

6:07 - about phase 6

6:47 - phrase 6 breakdown

7:00 - the structure of Pick Up The Pieces

8:33 - putting it all together

9:08 - the guest musicians

9:13 - Nick Van Gelder (drums)

9:23 - Francis Hylton (bass)

9:33 - Shawn Lee (guitar)


14:06 - sign off

15:03 - end music and bloopers


Video Transcript

Hi, I’m pro saxophonist Jamie Anderson and you’re watching Get Your Sax Together. Every week I sax up your Sunday with free online lessons covering technique stuff, tips on improvising and my unique breakdowns of the world’s most famous sax lines. I’m so excited cos I’ve got a REALLY special show for you this week - it’s half lesson and half performance. The song is Pick Up The Pieces by The Average White Band. You’re gonna learn how to play it step by step, THEN I’m gonna perform the whole song with a star-studded lineup of awesome guest musicians.


The Average White Band formed in London in the early seventies, but they all originally came from Scotland - Dundee in particular. Dundee is less than an hour from where I was brought up, so I like to dream there might be something in that Scottish water that gave me some kind of funk superpower like those guys! lol After moving to the US and playing pretty low key gigs the Average White Band were signed by a major label and never looked back. Recorded in 1974 (a PARTICULARLY good year), Pick Up The Pieces was originally the B-Side of a track called “Nothing You Can Do”, but it proved so popular that it was then released as it’s own A-side. Despite the obviously contradictory band name, American radio stations assumed The Average White Band were a BLACK soul outfit based on what they heard, and the music was so funky that even James Brown, The Godfather of Soul himself, made a special trip to check them out live. Pick Up The Pieces is driven by the Dundee-powered double sax front line of Roger Ball and Molly Duncan, with Ball on lead alto and Molly taking the legendary tenor solo in the middle. On a later live recording at the Montreux Jazz Festival, tenor legend Michael Brecker famously guests on the solo. I’ve always LOVED this tune, and one of my most cherished gig moments of all time was playing this song with Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band, when he guested with Incognito at the Jazz Cafe in London. I didn’t know tenor player Molly Duncan that well, but we chatted on several occasions and he even stood in for me on a few gigs. Tragically, Molly passed away last year, in 2019, so this video is dedicated to him. It’s been an absolute blast getting some of my talented buddies to guest on the backing track for this one, so make sure you stay tuned to the end to see what I’m talking about!

[STING: The Problem With "Pick Up The Pieces”]

Pick Up The Pieces is one of those tunes that everyone knows, but nobody knows. Harmonically speaking, it’s actually very simple on sax. If you can play a C major scale on alto, or an F major scale on tenor, then you already know all the notes you’ll need. Here’s the notes you’ll need on each sax to play this tune. Even if you’re a beginner on sax, Pick Up The Pieces is probably within reach for you with a bit of practice, especially on alto. However, it’s the structure of this song that’s the real devil. There’s only six short phrases to learn, and even some of THEM are very similar, but you’ve GOTTA spend some time getting familiar with how they’re all put together to play this song. The easiest way to learn this tune is to go down into the description and click the link to get your FREE PDF for Pick Up The Pieces. I spent ages writing out the entire song from start to finish, for alto AND tenor sax, with all the phrases marked in, and even all the HARMONIES as well! This isn’t just a bite sized chart my friend - you could go out tonight and play the whole song perfectly from this chart (if you can sight read well enough). 

Anyway, coming right up you’ll learn those six phrases, THEN I’ll show you how to put them all together. But just before we learn the riffs, if you’re enjoying this channel, go and check out my FREE one hour Saxophone Success Masterclass, which is an awesome, special extended lesson with me, covering a bunch of essential saxophone topics. This could REALLY transform your playing, so jump on board by clicking the link in the description or use the URL below. 

[STING: The Riffs]

Right, without further ado, let’s learn the six riffs you need for Pick Up The Pieces, starting with phrase one, played in slow motion.

[phrase 1 slow]

Phrase two is really the second half of the first phrase, but for logistical reasons I’ve split it in half. Remember, you’re learning the main melody part here, as played on alto by Roger Ball on the original. If you wanna learn the harmonies (as played on tenor by Molly Duncan on the original) go and get the free PDF sheet music using the link in the description. That has ALL the harmonies for the whole song. Here’s phrase two.

[phrase 2 slow]

Phrase three is an alternative riff to phrase one when the chords change in measure nine. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the first four notes are the same as phrase one, except the first note is up the octave. 

[phrase 3 slow]

Phrase four is the first bit of the bridge. You’ll play this short phrase several times in the song, especially at the end.

[phrase 4 slow]

Phrase five is exactly the same as phrase four apart from the last note, and it always leads into phrase six.

[phrase 5 slow]

The final phrase to learn is phrase six, which is exactly the same as phrase FOUR, except there’s an extra long note at the end. There’s actually two versions of phrase six - I’m gonna call them “phrase six A” (which has the held note for ONE measure) and “phrase six B” (which has the held note for FOUR measures). Just another example of why Pick Up The Pieces is a complete cluster-foof to play live! Now remember, you hit the last held notes in phrase six on the last beat of the bar before, so take care when you’re counting it - you hit the note, THEN start counting on beat one of the next bar. (sing it)

[phrase 6 slow]

[Sting: The Dreaded Structure]

Now we can put it ALL together. As usual, make sure you observe the right long notes and short notes when you play this if you wanna sound convincing, and really try and dig into the rhythm. If you wanna sound more pro and LESS like a beginner, check out my recent YouTube Live Session linked on the card above now. So the magic, and curse, of Pick Up The Pieces is the way the stabby melody chunks are played by the saxes, followed by space for the rhythm section to groove. It’s magic cos the rhythm section is so amazing, but it’s a curse as nobody ever knows how long each groove section lasts! lol The easiest way of getting to grips to with the whole song to break it into large chunks first. We can call these large chunks the Verse, the Bridge and the Solo. So, after that famous four bar intro of strummy guitar, we have verse one, which is repeated. On the structure diagram you can also see which phrases make up each section. Verse one is followed by bridge one. Verse two is next, then bridge two. The solo section is sixteen bars long on the original, although it’s opened up when played live. After the solo we get verse two again, followed by bridge three. Bridge three is an extended bridge. The song closes with an eight bar outro groove section and one last riff. Just watch out for how long each mini groove section is. Sometimes it’s two bars, sometimes it’s four bars. The easiest thing, is to get the PDF from the description and just follow it along. Even if you don’t read music, you could memorise the six phrases and just follow the phrase numbers through. 

[Sting: Putting It All Together]

Right, I’m actually gonna play the entire song now, from beginning to end. If you’re wondering how I play those high notes in the solo, check out my epic video on how to play altissimo, linked on the card above now. I’m afraid there’s no isolated backing track for you to play along with for this one - the musicians on here didn’t sign up to make free backing tracks for everyone I’m afraid! That said, you can easily get a backing track for a few bucks online. Mind you, the original has unison saxes playing together, so just treat this performance AS the backing track that you can play along with. I’m so lucky so have some a talented group of musicians to play with this week - I’ve been like a kid in a sweetie shop! On drums we’ve got Nick Van Gelder. Nick was Jamiroquai’s drummer, and alongside all his own awesome productions he’s featured on the million selling album “Emergency On Planet Earth”. Next, an incredible musician, a great DJ and a wonderful touring band mate, bassist Francis Hylton forms the bedrock of Incognito’s legendary groove, and last but definitely not least, Shawn Lee is the DaVinci of sound - a multi-instrumentalist and a true renaissance man. Shawn could have played every instrument on this track, but I thought we should let everyone else have a turn, so he’s just covering the two guitar parts here. You’ll find links for all these guys in the description for this video. Many thanks you guys, I owe you one!! Right, let’s get on with a very special performance of Pick Up The Pieces by The Average White Band! You’ll hear the famous four measure jangly guitar intro, then the saxes come in. Enjoy!


[STING: Before You Go]

Man, was that treat or what? Who knew lockdown could be so much fun! Special thanks again to Nick Van Gelder on drums, Francis Hylton on bass and Shawn Lee on guitar - you can check them all out using the links in the description. Don’t forget to pick up your special free PDF from the link in the description, and if you wanna learn some more in-depth sax stuff go to double-u double-u double-u dot get your sax together dot com, forward slash masterclass to get your free one hour lesson with me. As always, thanks for watching and supporting me and if you’re loving this channel, give the video a thumbs up, leave me a comment, subscribe to the channel, click the bell icon to be notified when I upload new content and check out my Insta and Facebook pages. Next Sunday you’ll be learning one of the most important things of all on sax - playing in tune! Until then, thanks for watching and have fun practicing. See Ya!



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