Advice for prospective college music majors

Photo, Surat Lozowick

Planning on being a college music major? Good for you! But if you’re like I was as a high school senior, there are some things you haven’t thought of yet. Now that I’m on the other end of things—a college music professor, teaching music majors—I have some advice that I share with potential students (and that I’d like to send back in time to my younger self). I hope these tips help you get off to a good start on your own college music studies.

  • What you need the most right now, before starting college, is a good private teacher. If you’re not already taking lessons, it’s time to start. (Note that if you have your sights set on a top-tier school, most of the people auditioning will already have years of serious private study under their belts!) A good teacher can help you choose some possible schools, prepare audition material well, and get a sense for what advanced music study is like. Oh, and sculpt you into a fine young musician. The money you spend on lessons will pay off when scholarships are awarded.
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David Erato on his clarinet “journey”

David Erato, a Wisconsin-based woodwind doubler and teacher, describes the motivation behind his year-long “journey” to improve his clarinet chops:

The idea as a “doubler” is to make whatever instrument is in your hand not feel like a foreign object. One should really study the instrument as if it is the only instrument you play. Practice the same method books, etudes, solos, as a clarinetist in a symphony once did.

David devised a plan to work his way through a book of technical etudes, and carried it out. His plan was based on the a similar system he had used as a university saxophone student. The result?

I can say after all of that, I really do feel like I’ve taken my technique game up several notches on clarinet.  It may be hard to believe, but about half way through the book I felt more connected to the instrument.  Even though I was in more difficult keys, larger interval jumps became easier than when I started.  By the end of it, I didn’t have to think much about playing 4ths in the key of D# harmonic minor.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. There’s one key point from David’s story that I’ve discussed here before, but which is worth restating: as a woodwind doubler, you have to be a beginner on each instrument. David had already completed a technique-building regimen on the saxophone, prescribed by a good saxophone teacher, but hadn’t done so yet on the clarinet. Many of us make the mistake of thinking that such things transfer automatically. They don’t!

I know that many of my readers are college students and/or educators, and may have some discretionary time coming up when the spring semester ends. What fundamental techniques can you spend the summer shoring up?

The Great Woodwind Doubler Census of 2011

Attention: woodwind doublers!

The time has come to stand up and be counted. The linked survey is for anyone who considers themselves to be a woodwind doubler of any ability level at all.

All the questions are optional, so you can skip anything you don’t feel like answering, but thorough responses are much appreciated. The survey will remain open for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time. When there are enough responses to be interesting, I’ll post some analysis here.

The more responses, the better, so please share this with your woodwind doubling buddies. You can use the “Share” buttons (to the left, if you’re reading on a large screen) to pass this along to people via email, Facebook, Twitter, and others, or use this short link as you see fit:


Update: The survey is now closed. Thanks for your participation!

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A farewell to woodwind playing

Well, it has been a great ride studying, teaching, and performing on the instruments of the woodwind family. Thanks everyone for your support here at

I’ll leave this website up for now, but I hope you will all check out my new project:

Bret Pimentel, brass