Buying a new instrument

I went saxophone shopping with a student yesterday. We picked out a nice instrument that suits his playing style and personal tastes, meets my requirements, and ought to serve him well for years to come. Here are a few thoughts on picking out a new horn.

  • Do your research ahead of time. We made phone calls to several music stores in the region, and found out what instruments were available to try. We both familiarized ourselves with the various bells and whistles (so to speak) of the different models, and had some idea of the differences between the instruments the stores had in stock. This became important as we were evaluating a saxophone that seemed to be almost the right fit for the student—luckily we knew that model came from the factory with two different necks. We asked for the other neck, and sure enough, the horn turned out to be a winner.
  • Bring a trusted set of ears. If you are a student, try begging or bribing your teacher to go shopping with you (they want you to have the best instrument you can afford!). Remember that what you hear when you play the horn is different from what a listener hears. When I picked out an oboe a few years ago, I found two specimens of the same model that seemed equally good to me. My oboe teacher listened to me play both, and immediately picked out “the one.” He could hear something out front that was escaping me back behind the reed.
  • Put the instrument through its paces. How does it respond, feel, sound, and tune at fortissimo? At pianissimo? High notes? Low notes? Articulated notes? Check the pitch, stability, response, and tone of every single note, including alternate fingerings. Use your own familiar mouthpiece(s) and reeds. Spend a significant amount of time playing a new horn before you even think about buying it. My student and I each played some of our current classical repertoire and some jazz stuff before making a judgment on the instruments.
  • Prioritize realistically. Remember that your tone will be a little different on an unfamiliar instrument, but that your individual sound will come through more as you gain comfort with the instrument. Intonation, however, is built into the horn for good. Get an instrument that will let you play in tune without unnecessary gymnastics.
  • Don’t forget the old reliable. Bring your old instrument along for periodic reality checks, even if you know it has significant shortcomings. I was impressed enough with one of the instruments I tried yesterday that I briefly considered what would have been a rash and probably unwise purchase. I put the mouthpiece back on my own alto and realized that I am better off with what I’ve got.

Happy shopping!

From The Savvy Musician: military gigs and the saxophonist

Dr. David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician blog is worth checking out for high-quality career tips.

In a recent post, he discusses careers as a military musician. A couple of highlights for the woodwind-inclined:

With the possible exception of saxophonists and euphoniumists, few musicians dream of a military career. Yet this path can provide a dependable income, solid benefits, and varied opportunities.

This no doubt refers to the problem of “classically-trained” saxophonists with shiny new BM degrees and no gigs. Symphony orchestras, if you haven’t noticed, don’t hire full-time saxophonists. Military bands are about the only regular “classical” saxophone performing gig out there.

The best candidates are solid and versatile players who read well and are comfortable with number of styles. Doubling on multiple instruments (i.e. a saxophonist who plays flute and clarinet) is also highly desirable.

Even in military bands, the most employable saxophonists are the ones with doubling skills and stylistic versatility (for saxophonists, read: “jazz/rock chops”).

Read the whole thing

Faculty woodwinds recital, Feb. 15, 2010

Bret Pimentel, woodwinds
Kumiko Shimizu, piano

Department of Music
Delta State University College of Arts and Sciences
Recital Hall, Bologna Performing Arts Center
Monday, February 15, 2010
7:30 PM


Sonate for oboe and piano
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

  1. Munter
  2. Sehr langsam – Lebhaft

Sonata for clarinet and piano
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

  1. Grazioso
  2. Andantino – Vivace e leggerio

Rhapsody for bassoon
Willson Osborne (1906-1979)

Concerto for alto saxophone
Pierre Max Dubois (1930-1995)

  1. Lento espressivo – Allegro
  2. Sarabande
  3. Rondo

Continue reading “Faculty woodwinds recital, Feb. 15, 2010”

6 advantages of adult students

Now and then, non-musician friends express to me their regrets about their own supposed inability to play music. My usual response to this is meant to be encouraging: “It’s not too late to learn!” This is most often met with a doubtful look and a lament about wasted youth.

I find that there is a prevailing attitude that learning a musical instrument is a new trick of the sort that old dogs simply can’t learn, and that if you didn’t start young you’ve missed your chance. I don’t think that’s true.

Do children naturally learn more quickly or easily than adults? Possibly. But if it’s true that children have some sort of built-in edge at learning musical instruments, I would say it’s also true that adults have at least enough advantages of their own to level the “playing” field. Continue reading “6 advantages of adult students”