Favorite blog posts, September 2013

Here’s what I liked on the woodwind-related blogs this month:

Enjoy, and keep writing good stuff!

Telemann Canonic Sonata tutorial revisited: EWI with delay pedal

A few years back, I explained how to play a “round” using only the Akai EWI’s onboard synthesizer by editing a sound to include an echo. I mentioned some limitations of this technique, and hinted that an external device would be needed for better flexibility.

The problems with my original technique are that you have to determine your precise tempo ahead of time, and you don’t have any flexibility to change it on the fly. You also can’t easily change your mind about the sound that you want—if you decide you really wanted something flutey instead of something brassy, you have to edit another sound. If you want to play several pieces or movements at different tempi, you need to dedicate a separate voice to each one. You also get a maximum of 1.27 seconds of echo. For my recent recital, I wanted the flexibility of playing multiple movements and changing my mind about sounds, and I needed a longer delay time for a slow movement.

At the time of my original tutorial, I assumed that the external device needed would be some kind of looper, but upon further exploration I have actually found a digital delay pedal to be the best way of accomplishing the effect. I am using the ubiquitous Boss DD-7, used by many electric guitarists, but presumably these instructions can be adapted to other similar gadgets (you are on your own to work out the details). I also used an auxiliary pedal, the Boss FS-5U. This simplifies things slightly on stage if you want to be able to turn the echo on and off quickly, but it’s totally optional. I’ll tell you how to make this work with or without it.

Here are the important settings:

New sound clips: Faculty woodwinds recital, Aug. 27, 2013

It’s time again for the annual post-mortem on my on-campus faculty recital. This year’s program was all Telemann, which was fun. Since some of my most formative years as a musician happened back when I was primarily a saxophonist, I still feel a little out of my depth with Baroque style, and preparations for this recital turned into a great opportunity to study, listen to recordings, and work on my ornamentation skills. (I found Victor Rangel-Ribeiro’s Baroque Music: A Practical Guide for the Performer to be invaluable, and it even has a chapter specifically on Telemann.)

I’m fairly pleased with how the A-minor oboe sonata turned out. My intonation has improved in leaps and bounds since I got some excellent reed advice at the John Mack Oboe Camp a summer ago (what a difference a change in tie length can make!). I did struggle a little bit on stage with the Mississippi Delta August humidity making its way into my octave vents, which you can hear in places in the following clip.

I have also been working on my double-tonguing on the oboe, and while it’s not perfect yet, I think it turned out quite well here. The fact that I wanted to use it on this piece probably belies some issues with my Baroque interpretation: it might have been more authentic either to slow down or to slur more, but I liked the effect and felt good about at least partially mastering the technique.

And, of course, it is great fun to play with harpsichord and cello. As we sadly do not have a full string faculty here at Delta State, I had to convince a cellist to come in from out of town. It’s scary to meet and rehearse with someone for the first time on the day of the recital, but the recommendations I had gotten for her turned out to be solid, and she played like a total pro.

I was determined to finally perform some recorder repertoire on this recital. My initial thought was to do the Telemann recorder suite, but since I already had the basso continuo lined up, I did some more research and discovered the delightful sonata in F major. The humidity had a fairly significant effect on this instrument, too, especially with me perhaps over-practicing on it in the weeks prior to the recital, so my tone and stability aren’t what I would have liked them to be. Too many cracked notes and response issues in the extreme upper and lower registers. Still, bucket list item checked off.

One definite doubling blunder: I went from oboe to recorder on stage, and wasn’t fully in recorder mode when I started the first movement. The recorder’s breath requirements are much lower than the oboe’s, and so I started off the movement with a rather ugly cracked note (not included in this clip…). But I am quite happy with how the slow movement turned out; here it is in its entirety: Continue reading “New sound clips: Faculty woodwinds recital, Aug. 27, 2013”

Breath support, register breaks, and resistance

A few months ago I wrote this about the clarinet:

If breath support, embouchure, and voicing are correctly established, then Crossing the Dreaded Break ceases to be a Thing. It’s just another note: a moment ago you were playing B-flat, and now you are playing B-natural. As long as your fingers get where they are supposed to go, then that’s all there is to it. Personally, I don’t even use the word “break” with a beginning student—there’s no need to get them all uptight about what really is a non-event.

My point was that crossing a register break is merely a fingering issue, and shouldn’t be turned into a big to-do about embouchures and equipment purchases and so forth. And I stand by that, but there is something I glossed over a bit that perhaps ought to be revisited in more detail, and that applies to register break crossings on all woodwind instruments.

The point that I want to return to is that of breath support. If it, and some other basic tone-production matters, are “correctly established,” then break-crossing is indeed nothing more than a new fingering or two. But assuming that breath support is 100% correct with a student just reaching the break-crossing stage is often a mistake.

Each note on the clarinet (and on any woodwind) has a certain level of resistance—that is to say, it requires a certain amount of air pressure to get the air column vibrating. Some notes are more resistant, and some are less resistant. As a sort of general oversimplification, we might assume that a long-tube note (with more toneholes closed) is more resistant than a short-tube note (with more toneholes open). Other factors do apply, of course: the size of the toneholes, whether the fingering is a “forked” fingering, and more, but let’s isolate tube length for the moment. So for the clarinet, having a break between A-sharp and B, we would expect to see this kind of resistance change while crossing the break:

Taller grey bar = higher resistance
Taller grey bar = higher resistance

(Note that the bar graphs here are strictly illustrative and not based on any real measurements.)

A beginner who is accustomed to the lower resistance of a few chalumeau-register notes might have intuitively developed just enough breath support to make those notes respond. When he or she attempts to cross the break, the breath support isn’t enough to overcome the increased resistance: Continue reading “Breath support, register breaks, and resistance”

Student auditions

I hear auditions on a pretty frequent basis: my college students audition for placement in university ensembles, prospective students audition for admissions and scholarships, high school musicians audition for the honor band the university hosts. It is pretty routine for me, but clearly sometimes extremely stressful for them.

I thought it might be helpful to some auditioning students to have some idea what is going on in my mind while I am listening to auditions. I expect my thoughts are reasonably typical of someone who hears these kinds of auditions regularly. Bear in mind of course that I’m not talking about extreme high-pressure situations like auditions for full-time positions in major orchestras, or even for admissions to a big brand-name university/conservatory; I’m generally hearing students within a range of ability and preparation levels.

Photo, VermontJm
Photo, VermontJm

Firstly, I am more or less a regular guy and not looking for nit-picky reasons to deny you your goal. Some students seem to be overly stressed about tiny matters of protocol: will he be mad if I knock on the door? Will he be mad if I DON’T knock on the door? Just be your best, most professional self, and exercise a little common sense. Continue reading “Student auditions”