Favorite blog posts, November 2016

Student-selected online woodwind pedagogy articles, 2016 edition

Last fall, I had students in my university woodwind methods course select, evaluate, and vote on some online woodwind pedagogy resources they might like to use as future public school music teachers. (My blog is off-limits.) Once again, I’m going to share a sort of edited/curated version of the results.

This year, the votes got spread around quite a bit, but there were three articles that the class especially liked:

  • Top 10 (+) Things That Beginning Clarinet Players Do Wrong and How to Correct Them, by Marilyn Mattei. My students were impressed with the troubleshooting ideas and solutions-oriented thinking. They successfully identified some areas that differ from what I teach in class, and made some thoughtful comments weighing the differences. They thought, correctly, that some of the exercises and techniques would be best used in a private lesson or sectional, rather than in a full beginning band rehearsal.
  • Teaching the Beginning Bassoonist, by Terry Ewell. This is a repeat favorite from last year. (I may need to figure out a way to ensure that future classes don’t just recycle previous years’ selections from these blog posts.) My students appreciated the provided lesson plans, the level of detail, and the reassuring tone directed toward non-bassoonist band directors.
  • The Flute Embouchure, by Bradley Garner. Students liked the depth of information, but disagreed on its presentation: some found the text clear and straightforward, but others found it dense reading.

A number of other articles got fewer votes. I’m listing, without additional comment and in no particular order, a few of those that I agree are worth a look:

What I want my class to get from the assignment is a sense of how to sift through the information (“information”) available online, taking into account the author’s credentials or sources, a common-sense evaluation of ideas, and applicability to a particular teaching situation. Be careful out there.

Simple and effective cues

Inspired by Jenny Maclay’s post about the importance of giving good cues in chamber music, I’d like to share some advice on cueing technique. Beginners to this often work much too hard at it, trying to execute movements that are large, elaborate, and confusing.

Instead, try one of these:

  1. Just breathe. For intimate ensembles, a purposeful, breath on a preparatory beat is often enough. (For example, for a piece in 4/4 time that starts on beat one, breathe on beat four.) The breath is simple and natural, and is subtle but just detectable visually and aurally. To an audience, it looks almost like telepathy. A breath cue is also expressive—it can communicate not just tempo and downbeat, but also character.
  2. Or, if a more visually-oriented cue is really necessary, keep it extremely simple. For a preparatory beat, lift your instrument and/or head up (an inch is more than enough), then cue by bringing it back down. Skip the curlicues.



Woodwinds and “altissimo” registers

I recently had a saxophone student perform a repertoire piece with some altissimo technique in it, and a non-woodwind-playing musician asked me afterward about the instrument’s extended range. This led to further questions about “altissimo” on other instruments. The answers are a little complicated, but here is some information:

The term “altissimo” suggests an extreme high register. The term is widely used by clarinetists and saxophonists, with essentially the same definition: pitches in the instrument’s third register or higher. Basically, this is notes above (written) F-sharp-6 for saxophones or (written) C6 for clarinets. (It’s not really that simple if you factor in alternate fingerings: a clarinetist, for example, might use a trill fingering to produce a D6 in the second register, or a saxophonist might use a “front” fingering to produce E6 or F6 in the third register.) For clarinetists, using some of the altissimo register is a pretty basic technique, part of the instrument’s “standard” range (which extends maybe to G6, depending on who you ask), and accessible to, say, an intermediate-level high school student. For saxophonists, altissimo is viewed as a more advanced technique, outside the “standard” range, perhaps accessible to college-level musicians or motivated high schoolers.

The word “altissimo” isn’t used much in the flute and double reed worlds, though those instruments’ third registers are widely used even by intermediate-level players. (Christopher Redgate does use the term in his writings about oboe extended techniques, but arbitrarily defines it as beginning at G6, well into the instrument’s third register.) The flute’s third register begins (basically) at D6, the oboe’s at C-sharp-6, and the bassoon’s at E-flat-4.

the lowest pitch (written) of each woodwind's third register
the lowest pitch (written) of each woodwind’s third register

In short, all of the woodwinds do have an “altissimo” range in the sense that they have a third register and higher. But not all of them use that terminology, and those that do differ on whether the altissimo range is “standard” or an extended technique.