Favorite blog posts, March 2021

See the woodwind blogs I’m following, and suggest others!

Note Image Generator, version 0.2

I’m pleased to announce a new release of the Note Image Generator, my web app for quickly creating images of notes on staves (such as you might use for fingering charts, note identification flash cards, etc.).

I’ve added some new features for all users, but also some special features for those kind enough to donate to the Note Image Generator (there’s a PayPal link near the bottom of the page).

New features include:

  • More bar line options.
  • A new handwriting-type “jazz” notation font.

    Plus a bunch more new fonts for donors!
  • Parentheses around accidentals.
  • Enharmonic note spellings for donors.
  • More precise image sizing options for donors.
  • Various bug fixes and speed/stability/usability improvements.

Enjoy!

Fox bassoon crutch modification

I use an inexpensive Fox plastic crutch on my bassoon. The shaft has always been a little too short for my preference, and I wasn’t interested in paying for a custom-made one, so I decided to attempt removing and replacing the shaft. I’m sharing this information here in case anyone else wants to do the same.

I wasn’t sure if the stock shaft was glued or molded into the plastic or if I would be able to remove it without destroying the crutch. But a little heat, slowly applied to the shaft not too close to the plastic, did the trick and the shaft pulled right out. (It’s hot! I used pliers.) The plastic inside the hole was slightly mangled, so I reamed it out a little with a drill bit.

I replaced the shaft with some brass that I had on hand. 3/16″ turned out to be too thick to fit into the bracket on my bassoon, but 5/32″ (just under 4mm) worked. The stock shaft seems to be somewhere in between. I cut the brass a bit too long with a Dremel cutting wheel, so I could gradually trim it down until it was just right.

I cut some shallow notches into one end to imitate the stock shaft, hopefully giving the glue something more to hold onto. My 5-minute epoxy had hardened, so I substituted some gel-type cyanoacrylate (“super”) glue.

After a little trimming I found the length I wanted. (I use my crutch in this position, which I think is less-common, but gives me the “ball” of the crutch right in the palm of my hand which feels good for balance.)

With my minimal skill set and tools, plus a little trial and error, this was a manageable and successful project.

Big dynamics

Wes Washington, Stage makeup, CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’ve ever been to a theater production, and then gotten to meet any of the actors up close, you might have been shocked by their makeup. You don’t notice it much when they are on stage, but up close it can be pretty extreme.

Stage actors need strange-looking makeup because they perform under bright lights, which can wash out their features. And they need their facial expressions to be unmistakable to audience members, even in the very back row. Their special makeup techniques, which look unnatural up close, help them look natural and communicate visually under the unusual circumstances of a stage production.

Musicians need to take this same approach. If I practice a piece of music in a small room, subtle dynamic contrasts seem like plenty. But in the very different situation of a performance, in a large and reverberant concert hall, those nuances can disappear. I need to go bigger, stage-makeup-style.

That means practicing my music in ways that sometimes feels over the top or even a little obnoxious. But on stage or in a recording it will probably be just right—my sweeping, melodramatic dynamic contrasts will come across as natural and tasteful.

Don’t be afraid to go big on dynamics!

Favorite blog posts, February 2021

See the woodwind blogs I’m following, and suggest others!

Review: Characteristic Etudes for the Woodwind Doubler by Gene Kaplan

I’ve previously reviewed a couple of Gene Kaplan‘s publications, sets of duets for woodwind doublers. Recently Gene was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest, Characteristic Etudes for the Woodwind Doubler.

Unlike his previous doubling-duet books, this is intended for a lone woodwind doubler to use in developing his or her doubling skills on flutes (including piccolo and alto flute), oboe and English horn, clarinets (E-flat, B-flat, and bass), saxophones (soprano through baritone), and bassoon and contrabassoon. (Gene suggests that substitutions can be made, so, for example, oboe can be used if you don’t have an English horn.)

The book includes short etudes in a variety of formats, including ones to strengthen instrument switches within familes (e.g. piccolo to flute to alto flute) and switches between families (e.g. flute to clarinet to…). It also has a section of “Difficult Woodwind Pairs” etudes, plus some slightly longer and more advanced etudes for each of the single instruments addressed in the book.

The etudes are in varied styles and not overly technically demanding, sticking mostly to moderate tempos and comfortable ranges. The focus here is on the switching, which happens frequently and in short but mostly manageable windows. (Unlike Gene’s duet books or Paul Saunders‘s books with backing tracks, there’s no built-in mechanism to enforce the quick switches, so you’ll need a metronome to keep yourself honest.)

Here’s a video demo with a couple of sample etudes:

This is the only doubling book I’m aware of that covers such a broad woodwind family. It’s unusual to see books that include the double reeds or even complete-ish flute and single reed families, much less both. If you are interested in improving your skills on a large number of instruments for Broadway-style doubling gigs, this makes excellent sightreading, or more in-depth work for instruments or switches that you find difficult.

Get your copy from Gene’s website.

Thanks, Gene!

Don’t work for exposure for brands, either

money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

It’s a common rallying cry among freelance musicians that you shouldn’t play gigs that pay in “exposure.” Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, and playing for free devalues your skills and others’.

But there are more ways that musicians become convinced to work for someone else’s bottom line and get nothing back but maybe a little “exposure.”

Unsolicited product endorsements are a common one. An endorsement deal with a company should involve some kind of tangible benefit to the musician: money, free or significantly discounted products, or maybe something like funding to support travel or musical projects. If you’re hashtagging your favorite brands in every social media post, and the companies aren’t supporting you back in a meaningful way, you’re working in their advertising department for free.

Creating online content for companies is also often the same as working for exposure. If a business wants you to provide them with articles, educational materials, videos, photos, artwork, etc. for their social media posts or company blog, they are asking you to do creative work without compensation. (Sometimes these efforts are creatively described as “contests.”)

I’ve gotten many “offers” to have my blog posts “reblogged” (copied) onto corporate websites, with a vague promise that this will generate “traffic” to my site. I fell for it a few times in past years, and it always resulted in a small handful of clicks that dried up after a day or two, and then my content lived on for free on someone else’s site. Now my content all stays here, where these days I get more traffic than the corporations offering me “opportunities” to hand over my work.

Whether it’s gig work, writing web content, or attaching your good name to a product, value yourself enough to ask for what you’re worth.

Transcription: Stan Getz, tenor saxophone on Huey Lewis and the News “Small World (Part Two)”

Get the transcription (PDF)

Huey Lewis tells the story in Kansas City Magazine (strong language edited):

Well, my dad was a jazzer and Zoot Sims died. And when Zoot Sims died, they had a benefit in San Francisco at Kimball’s or somewhere. …

So I take him and sit down … and then I get a tap on my shoulder. I turn around, and it’s Getz. It’s really amazing … he’s wearing his horn and taps me on the shoulder, and my dad turns around and Phil Elwood turns around. And my old man goes, “Holy s***!”

Getz says, “Why don’t you let me play on some of your s***? I can play that s*** too.” And I said, “Oh, why, yes sir, I’m sure you can.” And then he took a card and he wrote on it: “Stan Getz. Have sax, will travel.”

He played beautifully, and on the way home, my old man says, “If you don’t take him up on that offer, I will never, ever forgive you!”

Get the transcription (PDF)