Reader email: multiple woodwinds degree or single-instrument degree?

photo, bobtravis

I get email on a pretty regular basis from people who are considering multiple woodwinds degree programs. They usually have excellent questions for which there are no real answers, but I’m always happy to try to offer whatever perspective I’ve got.

I heard recently from one of my readers who is working on a bachelor’s degree at a very large and well-respected university music department. They are currently enrolled as a double major in jazz studies (playing primarily saxophone) and flute performance, and have some skills in additional woodwinds.

The question was whether this person should continue on that track, or switch to a double major in jazz studies with a 5-instrument multiple woodwinds degree.

I like the idea of getting just a flute degree, because it makes it sound like I’m a REAL flute player. The woodwind degree also makes it sound like I can play any double—but I’m afraid it still kind of sounds like I’m just a “doubler.” (Not really an EXPERT at any of them).

The work I’d like to do after school is anything that utilizes woodwind doublers – playing in shows, playing on cruise ships, playing in big bands, playing in recording studios (dream job!).

What would you suggest I do?

Here’s the best advice I was able to come up with. (All quotes here are somewhat edited.) Continue reading “Reader email: multiple woodwinds degree or single-instrument degree?”

More on the science/fiction of woodwind materials

Photo, ~Bob~West~

There’s an interesting woodwind-related post by blogger “MarkCC” at Good Math, Bad Math, entitled “My Newest Flute, made of… Plastic?!

MarkCC recently acquired a new flute of the type used in Irish traditional music, the kind that are most often made of wood. But MarkCC’s is made of polymer, and it sounds like MarkCC has wrestled a little with the issue of whether a plastic flute can really measure up to a wooden one.

But… Plastic?

I’ve seen several acoustic studies that claim that the material the instrument is made of isn’t that important. In a wooden flute, the physics show that the head joint is the only part of the flute that really has a significant influence on its sound. But the head joint of a wooden flute is actually lined with metal. So the wood isn’t really having too much influence on the sound.

As it turns out, MarkCC is something of a doubler, and also plays the clarinet.

Most people (including me) play on mouthpieces made of hard rubber or plastic – so the primary sound-producing piece of the instrument is plastic. The barrel of a wooden clarinet is (obviously) wood, so according to the physics/acoustics, that’s the only piece of wood that actually has any measurable acoustic effect. And the physics of this isn’t sloppy stuff put together by an instrument company trying to sell their plastic clarinets: to the limits of my ability to understand it, it’s good, solid stuff.

And yet, I’ve played a whole lot of clarinets, and by god, there’s nothing like a grenadilla wood clarinet. Even the best clarinet makers, even when I put my wooden barrel on a polymer body, it doesn’t sound the same. Of course, that’s subjective, and we humans are notorious for hearing what we want to hear in a subjective situation. And, by god, I’m a math geek. I’ve seen the math, and it’s correct.

One of the most-linked articles on my blog makes the same point about our expectations about materials coloring our playing experience. It’s worth pointing out, too, that a different barrel made from the same material will also affect the instrument’s sound.

I do think it’s a grey area to refer to a mouthpiece or barrel (or flute headjoint) as “sound-producing.” The instrument’s parts don’t produce any audible musical sound (unless you hit them with drumsticks)—it’s the column of air contained within them that vibrates in a musically useful way.

But MarkCC goes on, I believe, to hit the nail on the head: Continue reading “More on the science/fiction of woodwind materials”

Seven habits of highly effective music students

Photo, greek0529

Here are seven habits (apologies to Stephen Covey) I’ve observed so far in my most effective university music students—those that are making consistent improvement, performing successfully, and progressing toward graduation and career.

  1. Hit the practice rooms early. My best students don’t wait until the final hours of the day to get their practicing done. Practicing earlier on establishes in the student’s mind (and mine) that practicing is a priority. It also makes practice sessions more focused and less fatigue-prone, and encourages healthier sleep habits. (I do usually have the university’s music building to myself when I get to the office to practice at 7:00 am, but most weekdays a few student go-getters are warming up in the practice rooms by 8.)
  2. Use a pencil. A lot. I know it’s going to be a successful lesson when a student opens their etude book or repertoire piece and it’s covered with pencil marks. It shows me that students are getting to know their music in a meaningful, in-depth way, and that they are thinking through technical and interpretive issues. The students who keep their sheet music in perfect mint condition? Not so much. Continue reading “Seven habits of highly effective music students”

This week in airline travel with musical instruments

Photo, caruba

A couple of blog posts related to airline travel with musical instruments have caught my eye so far this week:

Saxophonist Greg Vail had a bad experience checking his horn. Yes, he did check it—sent it to be stowed in the airplane’s cargo hold rather than carrying it on himself. But it wasn’t the baggage handlers who caused a problem. It was security inspectors who opened the strong custom flight case, damaged the key clamps, broke some reeds, and couldn’t get everything packed up properly again.

I know I need to carry this case because they have done this before, but the real question is why?? I feel like these goofballs would riffle thru my medicine cabinet given the chance just because they are noisy and idiots, but I digress.

Continue reading “This week in airline travel with musical instruments”

Quick tutorial: Telemann Canonic Sonata on EWI, à la Jeff Kashiwa

I recently posted a video of Jeff Kashiwa demonstrating the Akai EWI4000s wind controller. As part of his demonstration, he plays a movement from one of the Telemann Canonic Sonatas (well, sort of an arrangement of one).

The Canonic Sonatas are duo sonatas, with both musicians playing from the same part. (You can download free sheet music of the Canonic Sonatas from the IMSLP.) The first player begins, and the second player echoes, one measure behind. If you have ever sung “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as a round, then you already understand how this works.

Jeff Kashiwa plays the Allegro movement from the first Canonic Sonata all by himself, playing the first part on the EWI and using a delay effect to create the second (echo) part.  Here’s the video again—it should start playing about a minute and a half in, and the Telemann goes until about 2:40.

After the 2:40 mark, Mr. Kashiwa uses more sophisticated looping techniques, using some kind of external device. But you can perform the Telemann duet without any extra hardware, using only the EWI4000s’s onboard synthesizer. Continue reading “Quick tutorial: Telemann Canonic Sonata on EWI, à la Jeff Kashiwa”