David Summer: Flute/trumpet doubling

I enjoyed reading some interesting thoughts from multi-instrumentalist and music educator David Summer, who doubles quite effectively on flute and trumpet (and a few other instruments). I’m quoting a few highlights below, but definitely read the whole thing here.

I have seen no ill effects on either the trumpet embouchure or flute embouchure from playing both the flute and trumpet. I have no trouble going from one instrument to the other. In performance, I sometimes switch instruments, going from trumpet to flute or flute to trumpet, in the middle of a piece. This presents no problem at all.

As a multi-instrumentalist you will likely find more opportunities for performance… often people are glad to find that I can play both flute and trumpet and are happy to have me utilize that ability.

Certain fundamental musical concepts apply when playing any wind instrument. These include, embouchure development, breathing, pitch, articulation (tonguing), ear training, range, tone, technique (digital dexterity) and flexibility.

I believe that you should play the instruments that interest you and not be concerned about how one wind instrument embouchure might affect another. If you select instruments on the basis of those that you truly enjoy playing you will be more likely to keep playing and enjoying the enormous satisfaction that comes from making music.

Well said.

Quick quote: woodwind doubling in the 17th and 18th centuries

From Bruce Haynes’s The Eloquent Oboe: A History of the Hautboy, Oxford University Press, 2001:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a wind player was an hautboist who might by circumstance be led into a concentration on some other type of instrument. The modern idea of a musician who would limit himself to one instrument, and become a virtuoso on it, took hold at the Dresden court at about the beginning of the eighteenth century, perhaps as a result of the numerous Italian musicians who worked there, and who tended to specialize. But it remained unusual in Germany for some time.

More insight from the footnotes:

Based on archival evidence, Oleskiewicz (1998: 49) believes woodwind doubling ‘completely disappeared sometime between 1717 and 1719.’

And:

There is evidence that hautboy players in bands in the early 18th c. could not necessarily switch to bassoon.

Using autotune in your practice sessions

Autotune has been getting a lot of attention lately. Whether you use it in recording or in performance is between you and your sound guy, but I think it also has useful application in the practice room. Here’s how to use it to shed some light on your own intonation. (I’m using all free Windows software: Audacity and the GSnap plugin. You can also do it with Garage Band if you’re a Mac person.)

  1. Record yourself playing something you would like to get better in tune. Slow scales and arpeggios work great for general intonation practice, but you can also use a repertoire piece.

    Record yourself

  2. Make a duplicate copy of the track.

    Duplicate the track

  3. Dial up some fairly rigorous autotune settings. The simplest way to do this is to use equal temperament settings, but depending on your software and your practicing goals, you can also adapt this to other tuning systems. This is just for practice, so don’t worry about making things sound unnatural. Go a little T-Pain on it.

    Autotune settings

  4. Apply autotune to one of the tracks.

    Autotune one track

  5. Play both tracks back together. The notes that make you wince the most are the ones that are most out of tune. Are there certain notes, registers, or dynamic levels that are consistently a problem?

  6. Try muting the original track and playing along with the tuned one.

I like this method because it’s aural rather than visual (unlike using a chromatic tuner) and because it’s very results-focused. Try it over a few days or weeks and see how quickly you correct the pitch issues in your playing.

Kenneth Fischer, saxophonist, teacher, and friend

One of my former teachers, Dr. Kenneth Fischer, passed away yesterday, after a brief illness.

Dr. Fischer was a protégé of Eugene Rousseau, and, over the past 30 years at the University of Georgia, established himself as a major force in classical saxophone performance and teaching. His close associations with composers like the late Jindřich Feld fueled an influx of new compositions for the instrument. He was active and involved with the World Saxophone Congress and the North American Saxophone Alliance, and was making plans to host the latter’s 2010 conference.

Read the UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music announcement here.

Here are a few things that I learned from Dr. Fischer.

Some things about saxophone playing:

  • You shouldn’t have to strain for the altissimo notes. Relax and let them come.
  • Every note is part of a larger musical gesture. Every note.
  • There’s something to be said for keeping the fingers close to the keys and closing them with a feather touch, but it’s also worth exploring larger, more aggressive movements for fingering. Saxophone keys aren’t flute keys.
  • Every sound is interesting and beautiful and musical. If the composer calls for key pops or multiphonics or flutter tonguing, commit to making those sounds really work musically. Practice them like you mean it.
  • Sometimes, what you really need is to struggle with a piece that’s way over your head. Other times, what you really need is to play a piece that you can absolutely nail. Do some of each.
  • A pleasing tone doesn’t mean much without good pitch and rhythm. Don’t just work on fundamentals, work on all the fundamentals.
  • One of Dr. Fischer’s favorite things to say to a student after a recital was, “That was terrific! But next time, use a reed.” It was a joke. Or was it?

Some things not about saxophone playing:

  • Relationships with other people are more important than anything, even music.
  • Take time to talk to people. Hear their stories, and share yours. Everything else can wait.
  • Every birthday deserves a celebration, complete with singing and cake.

Dr. Kenneth Fischer