Favorite blog posts, June 2013

Some of the best woodwind-related stuff I’ve read this month:

Enjoy! If you or one of your favorite woodwind bloggers writes something especially awesome in July, drop me a note and I’ll give it a look for next month’s list.

Bassoon F-sharp fingerings

I recently set out to try to make sense of the handful of bassoon high F-sharp fingerings that I was aware of. As it turns out, I had no idea what I was getting into. I looked at a number of online and offline sources, and ended up with about 60 fingerings (yes, you read that correctly). I have compiled them into a document for your reading pleasure, with sources listed.

A few points:

  • The sorting is fairly arbitrary; I tried to organize them into groups and orders that made some kind of sense to me. The indications “Legato” and “French” come from the venerable Cooper/Toplansky book; the rest are my own.
  • The numbering is strictly for convenience.
  • I mostly omitted fingerings that seemed to be specifically for individual trills.
  • Many of the sources indicated pitch characteristics; I have not included these since so much depends on the individual instrument, reed, etc. If you are looking for a good fingering for pitch alteration, there are plenty here for you to try out.
  • Some of the authors differentiated between half-hole, one-third-hole, etc. I have normalized all of these with a visual half-hole representation, since I find the exact amount of opening to require experimentation anyway.
  • I did try all these fingerings myself, and was able to produce approximately an F-sharp with virtually all of them, with varying degrees of difficulty.

I welcome corrections, and would be mildly curious if you have other good published or otherwise reputable sources (not anecdotes) that list fingerings I have missed here. I will update the PDF as needed. I’m much less interested in hearing which fingering is your personal favorite, unless you have something more to contribute to the conversation, but some of you will email me or leave it in the comments anyway.

Okay, on to the list. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here:
F-sharp fingerings for bassoon: a perhaps-unnecessarily-comprehensive listing

Version 1.0: initial release

Learning fingerings as shapes

I observe that many woodwind players, when learning a new fingering—whether a beginner learning a standard fingering or an advanced student learning a new alternate fingering—tend to think of them as sequences: “This finger plus this finger and this finger and this key over here.” Sometimes my students even want to recite the fingering aloud as they add one finger at a time, and then finally play the note. The problem with this is that there is obviously no time for such a procedure when playing music.

I now occasionally find that I have the opposite problem: a student will ask about a fingering, and I will discover that I am not prepared to verbalize it. I need to pick up the instrument, do the fingering, and then explain which keys I am pressing. My fingers know how to make the right shape, even if I can’t immediately recall the list of keys involved.

Photo, Bassonist26
Photo, wfiupublicradio

To learn new fingerings in the most efficient and practical way, move as quickly as possible to the “shape” stage. I suggest this method:

  • With instrument in hand, think through the fingering, referring to a fingering chart if necessary. If you need to, think in sequence about each finger that will move and where it will go, but don’t move yet.
  • When ready, move the fingers all at once, in a crisp and snappy way.
  • Freeze, and think through the fingering again. Did you form it correctly? If it is incorrect, don’t fix it “in place,” by moving a finger or two into place; release all fingers and start over. Fixing it in place habituates a sequence of events, rather than a single shape.
  • Put the fingering into context (a scale, a musical passage, etc.) using a metronome set on a very slow tempo. The object at this point is to succeed at forming the fingering shape accurately and on cue. Speed up only as you are certain that you can maintain 100% accuracy. If your fingers don’t move simultaneously, you are wasting time cementing a sequence.

Practice hard smart!

Playing full-spectrum music

I’m far from being a photography expert, but I do have one trick. (This is a music-related post, I promise.)

In general, good photos take advantage of the eye’s full light-to-dark range. In other words, the very darkest part of the photo should be very black, and the very lightest part should be very white.

Here’s a photo that doesn’t meet those criteria—the darkest and lightest parts of the photo are both sort of medium-grayish.


But a quick “auto-level” procedure in photo-editing software (like the free Gimp) corrects this by adjusting each pixel of the photo, basically making the dark ones darker and the light ones lighter: Continue reading “Playing full-spectrum music”