2014 in review

Here are some of the things that went on here at your favorite woodwind blog during the past year.

  • The runaway hit of the year in terms of sharing on Facebook/Twitter/etc. was my look at “the amazing shrinking woodwind section,” a sort of commentary on how woodwind doubling has changed since the mid-20th-century “Golden Age” of Broadway. Some more doubling-related items: a look at the clarinet for saxophone players, a musing on playing multiple woodwinds in recital, and the question of the “main” instrument.
  • A number of the other articles that got a lot of traffic and social media love were related to practice techniques and philosophies: one on what I call “anchoring,” one listing some ways to practice technical passages, one about memorizing, one about knowing whether you are playing something “right,” and one about just plain slowing down. Most of these, of course, originate from conversations with my students. We have a lot of conversations about practicing.
  • Some articles, as always, dealt with specifics of woodwind playing, like one about chronic flatness on the clarinet and one about saxophone hand position.
  • I reported on a few items from my professional life, such as a visit to ClarinetFest, the presentation I gave there, and the fact of my doctoral dissertation becoming available online. I also shared some warts-and-all videos from a multiple woodwinds recital performance.
  • I did twelve new installments of my “favorite blog posts” from other people’s woodwind blogs. At this point I have well over 500 woodwind-related blogs in my feed reader, and I at least skim every new post. Many of my favorite posts end up coming from a relatively small handful of extra-good blogs, but that’s not a foregone conclusion and sometimes a dark horse slips in there. If you think I might not be following your blog yet, let me know and I’ll check it out. It has to be at least somewhat woodwind-related and have a syndication feed such as RSS or Atom (most blogging platforms like WordPress or Blogger already have these built in). On a related topic, I’m a little behind on updating my various lists of woodwind players’ sites and blogs (such as the woodwind doublers list), but I’m hoping to catch up in 2o15. Feel free to get in touch if you feel like your site should be listed but isn’t and I’ll give it priority consideration.
  • I did one set of “required recordings” in January, but skipped August this year since my university reed studio has turned over since I started the required recordings and so I’m in reruns now. When I end up picking some new ones for my students, I’ll share them with y’all too.
  • There has been a lot of discussion about the problem of musicians being expected to give away their performance talents for free, but I also felt the need to address the idea of original content like blog posts being used by for-profit companies without actual compensation to the creators. This was a reaction to being approached by a woodwind-related company whose products I have purchased frequently over the years, to see if I would like to let them re-“print” some of my blog posts on their website in exchange for what they called “exposure.” I refused but I have witnessed a number of friends and acquaintances boasting about their content being “selected” for this dubious honor. If you are creating original content, I encourage you not to give it away to businesses that do not intend to share their profits with you, even if they try to make it seem like a compliment.
  • Another year, another April Fools’ Day post that apparently nobody liked but me. I remain undeterred.
  • I reviewed Ben Britton’s new saxophone overtones book and the ReedGeek tool.
  • There weren’t any major updates this year to Broadway Doubling in Musicals or the Fingering Diagram Builder, two of this site’s most popular features, but I’m always tinkering with some new ideas. Stay tuned.
  • As always, there were a few posts that I hoped might generate some lively conversation but didn’t. A couple that spring to mind were one about coaching student chamber ensembles and one about college music study on “auxiliary” instruments (like tenor saxophone or bass clarinet). It’s not too late if you want to chime in.
  • I introduced some original t-shirt designs that are currently for sale to help support my activities on this blog, and a number of you fashion-forward people are already turning heads in your new woodwind-related apparel. If you don’t have yours yet, be sure to check them out.

If you have read anything interesting or useful here during the past year, I hope you will consider leaving a comment, getting in touch via email or social media, buying a shirt or sending a donation, contacting me about advertising opportunities for your relevant business, and/or pointing your all your woodwind friends toward bretpimentel.com.

Thanks for reading in 2014, and best wishes for the new year!

Favorite blog posts, December 2014

Some highlights from the woodwind blogosphere in December:

Purposeful fingering choices

I have gotten into the habit of grilling my students about their fingering choices: “Can you tell me which fingering you used for the last note in that phrase, and why you chose it?” Often they take this (and often correctly so) as an indication that I disapprove of their choices: “Oh, I guess I should have used the other fingering.” But I would like them to actually answer the question that I asked—why did they use the fingerings that they did?

Usually the answer is either that he or she has a “usual” fingering for that note and didn’t bother to consider any others, or that he or she finds the alternative fingering to be physically awkward or hard to remember. As you might guess, I do not find these reasons satisfactory. Professional-level command of an instrument requires a thorough knowledge of fingering options, a thoughtful, purposeful approach to choosing from among them, and conscientious practice to habituate them.

photo, Gala Medina
photo, Gala Medina

Ideally, there should never be a situation where a woodwind player falls back on a “usual” fingering for a note; each possible option should be considered and weighed each and every time. (Training and experience can automate this to some extent within common patterns of notes, such as scalar or arpeggiated passages.)

In some situations a student knows that a different fingering is the “right” one but shies away from it because they can’t remember it or have difficulty executing it. (One example is the left E-flat fingering for beginning oboists; reaching for the left-hand key can move the ring finger enough that it fails to cover its hole.) These situations are resolved simply through careful repetition until they become a part of (so-called) “muscle memory.” There are a number of method/exercise/etude books that provide material for practice of unfamiliar fingerings (the Klosé clarinet method and the “Universal” saxophone method are some time-honored examples.)

An amateur tries to get the job done with a few low-quality tools. A professional keeps his or her toolbox fully stocked with sharp, high-quality tools and knows just which ones to use to get the job done right the first time.

Woodwind t-shirts now available

I won’t make a habit of posting advertisements here, but I wanted to make you all aware of a new way you can support what I do here at bretpimentel.com while also increasing your own cool factor. Behold the woodwind doubler t-shirt:

the agency sent Sven, their most broodingly handsome t-shirt model
the agency sent Sven, their most broodingly handsome t-shirt model

It’s a nice quality American Apparel tee available in a variety of attractive and fashionable colors, with the logo in either black or white. A modest profit goes toward keeping the lights on here at your favorite woodwind blog and supports development of additional projects (like, for example, the Woodwind Doubling in Musicals list or the Fingering Diagram Builder).

The 5-instrument shirt is especially awesome, but there is also a saxophone-clarinet-flute version for the classic doubler, an oboe-bassoon version for the masochist, and a saxophone quartet version for those who want to “double” but prefer not to learn any new fingerings. I thought the four saxophone reeds looked sort of like cell phone reception “bars,” so there’s also a version with a dumb joke.

these images are simulated
women’s styles, too

quartet-sm  jokezoom-sm

There’s probably still time for holiday delivery if you order soon. Order now and be the best-dressed in the orchestra pit.