Dr. P’s Practice Club: using Facebook to acknowledge student achievements

I’ve been using Facebook this school year to semi-publicly acknowledge my university students who are meeting their minimum practice requirements:

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it from Facebook friends who are music educators, so I thought it might be worth discussing here.

The concept is pretty simple:

  • When my students come in for their lessons, I ask them to self-report their practice hours for the week. My students are good kids (born and raised in the Bible Belt), and I generally just trust them to report honestly. I also have them keep practice journals, which would at least slightly complicate fibbing about their hours.
  • If they meet their minimum weekly requirement (it varies: more for performance majors, less for music education majors, etc.) they are automatically inducted into “Dr. P’s Practice Club” for the week. At the end of the week I post their names on Facebook and on my office door, plus usually a running tally for those who have made it for several weeks in a row. There are, at this point, absolutely no benefits or privileges to “club” membership other than a little recognition (and, of course, a week’s worth of improvement).
  • I also use Facebook to give public kudos to students for their recitals, ensemble performances, and competition participation and awards.
  • Most of my students have become my Facebook friends, so I can “tag” them when I post. This means that they get alerted that they have been mentioned in my post, and certain of their Facebook friends and mine will also be able to see it. For some of the students, this may include classmates, other music or non-music faculty, friends studying music at other schools, authority figures from work or church, and even parents. Continue reading “Dr. P’s Practice Club: using Facebook to acknowledge student achievements”

A few more woodwind blogs you should be reading

A few months ago I posted some of my recommendations for good woodwind-related blogs, and shared a couple of tips on getting the most out of your blog reading. I’ve got a few more favorite blogs I’d like to share today, and another blog-reading tip, too.

This time I came up with a blog each for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone, plus a bonus one. Here they are in no particular order:

Barrick Stees (Barry Blogs)

Barrick Stees is the assistant principal bassoonist in the Cleveland Orchestra, and a professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the University of Akron. His blog is fairly new (started earlier this year) but is already full of good stuff. Professor Stees shares some insights on playing excerpts at a level suitable to one of the great American orchestras:

He also keeps a travelogue of his tours with the orchestra, and comments on other items of interest to professional or developing musicians, such as:

Continue reading “A few more woodwind blogs you should be reading”

Crossing the break (or not) on saxophone

Much has been made of “the break” on clarinet—the point at which the chalumeau register and throat tones cross over to the clarion register—but all modern woodwind instruments have at least one break in their “standard” ranges. The saxophone has exactly one (ignoring the altissimo range), between the second C-sharp and the second D.

From an acoustical perspective, that point is the division between the fundamental pitches and the first overtone. When playing a lower-register note, the air column’s vibration is at its simplest. The pitch is determined by the effective length of the saxophone, which depends on which toneholes the player opens or closes. In the upper register, the air column is manipulated into vibrating twice as fast (by changing the airstream and/or opening a register vent), and a sound an octave higher is produced.

This means that there is, technically, some overlap between the registers shown above, which really are based on one specific set of “standard” fingerings. The fingerings for low B-flat, B, C, and C-sharp can be used to produce sounds in the second overtone, and the fingerings for high D through F-sharp can likewise produce sounds at the fundamental. In theory, this should mean an overlap of over a fifth:

If you’ve experimented with those fingerings, you know that they don’t work quite as expected in practice. The low B-flat fingering with the octave key added, for example doesn’t sound great, and neither does the high F-sharp fingering with no octave key. But with some experimentation, a few usable alternative fingerings can be found within this range. Continue reading “Crossing the break (or not) on saxophone”

Don’t adjust your best reed

Photo, stonelucifer

I worked on reeds today (both single and double). My favorite reed tip: don’t adjust your best one. Adjust some others until one of them is the best, and then go back and work on the first one if you like.

Adjusting reeds can be a little risky, so gamble on a reed that you won’t miss too much if it doesn’t survive. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket, concentrating all your efforts trying to perfect one reed—try to bring several up to a playable level.

Keep those knives sharp!

Open rehearsal of Divertissement

L-R: Dr. Kumiko Shimizu, Dr. Bret Pimentel, Dr. Sy Brandon

I was pleased to have Dr. Sy Brandon, composer of the new work Divertissement for multiple woodwinds and piano, on campus at Delta State this week for a brief guest composer residency and an open rehearsal of the new piece.

As you can see from the photo, I decided to play sitting down. The reason for this is a very quick switch from flute to piccolo—1.67 seconds at the marked tempo—that necessitated a lap to drop the flute into.

The official premiere will take place sometime this fall.