Favorite blog posts, February 2019

See the woodwind blogs I’m following, and suggest others!

Performance postmortems

"journals" by Ganamex is licensed under CC BY-NC

After a performance, I like to have a little talk with myself or with my students about how things went. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • Were there any breakthroughs? New accomplishments? Higher levels of performance than previously achieved? If so, what contributed to these successes?
  • Was there any backsliding? Things going worse than in previous performances? Why?
  • How was your mental state before and during the performance? Did it have an effect on how you sounded? What aspects of that can you control?
  • How was your physical condition before and during the performance? (Tired? Hungry? Sore?) Did it have an effect on how you sounded? What aspects of that can you control?
  • How was your preparation? Is there anything you would do to prepare differently or better next time?
  • What feedback, spoken or otherwise, did you get from your audience? Should, or does, that color your evaluation of your success?
  • Is there a difference between your objective evaluation of the performance and how you really feel about it? Why? Is this significant/important?
  • Is there a recording? Were there any surprises when you listened to it?
  • What do you hope to build upon, improve, or otherwise change for your next performance?

Some post-performance reflection on both positives and negatives can be valuable for setting new goals and preparing for the next one.

Switching between saxophones

"saxophone" by gudka is licensed under CC BY

If you are an alto saxophone player and pick up a tenor or baritone for the first time, it’s pretty common to have a thin, weak tone, to be on the sharp side, to struggle with low note response, and to have issues like the top-of-the-staff G and G-sharp squeaking.

If you are a tenor player having your first alto experience, or an alto or tenor player newly picking up soprano, you might find that your tone is tubby, your pitch unstable and tending toward flatness, and your palm key notes unreliable.

There are a couple of key things to check as you make the switch from one saxophone to another:

  1. How much mouthpiece you are taking in. I like this trick as a starting point for finding the correct position: gently insert a piece of paper between the mouthpiece and reed. The point where the paper stops is approximately the place where your lip should contact the reed.
  2. Voicing. The best way to check this on saxophones is by playing a note on the mouthpiece alone. These are the concert pitches you should produce: If you aren’t producing these pitches, adjust by blowing warmer air to lower the pitch, or cooler air to raise it. Don’t adjust by biting or by shifting the mouthpiece in your embouchure. (It takes some practice.)

Getting mouthpiece position and voicing right for each saxophone helps you achieve good tone, pitch, and response no matter which you are playing. If you are actively playing multiple saxophones, check both of these things on each instrument as part of your daily warmup, and then follow up with overtone exercises and full-range scales and arpeggios. On a gig, I find it helpful to be conscious of mouthpiece position and voicing as I put one saxophone down and pick up another.

Happy practicing!

What should be on your musician website

"Meta property tags in html" by https://tvorbaweb-stranok.sk is licensed under CC BY

It’s cheap and easy to create a website. Any serious freelance musician (or aspiring musician) should have one.

This should be a website about you, an individual musician. It should be separate from your ensemble’s website or your academic institution’s website. It should exist long-term, and serve as a sort of permanent address for finding you online. If you do most of your online stuff on social media sites or on your organizations’ sites, that’s fine. Your individual website doesn’t have to replace or duplicate any of that. It can simply point people to those resources.

I won’t go into any technical details here, because there is very extensive information available online about the ways to make websites. Suffice it to say that if you have only enough technical skill to send and receive email and post things on Facebook, there are website services simple enough for you to operate. Or if you want to roll up your sleeves and code every line from scratch, you can learn how to do that too.

Here’s what you need, content-wise:

Mandatory items

  • A domain name. Preferably this is something very simple and clear, like your name. Mine is bretpimentel.com. It works well because there aren’t a lot of Bret Pimentels, so web searches for my name usually put my site right at the top of the results.
    • If you have a more common name, you might need to add something meaningful to it. bretpimentelwoodwinds.com might work well, or bretpimentelmusic.com.
    • Pay for a real domain name. It’s not expensive. Something like bretpimentel.freewebsites.com looks unprofessional.
  • At minimum, a simple indication of what it is you do and how to contact you. That’s enough to be your whole website if you like. Here’s an example: “Bret Pimentel is a performer and teacher on the woodwind instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. Reach him at bret@bretpimentel.com.”
  • Some longevity. Go ahead and prepay the domain name and whatever hosting services you need for a good long time, maybe five or ten years, or set it up to renew automatically.

Optional items

  • A more detailed biography.
  • A nice picture of you, especially one that helps reinforce what you do (like one where you’re holding your instrument).
  • Links to your social media profiles, YouTube channel, or other online things you want people to find.
  • Links to the websites of things associated with your career, like your performing ensembles or the institutions where you teach.

Optional items with caveats

Most of these things have to do with updating the content of your site on some kind of regular basis. That’s worth doing if your intention is to bring people back to visit your site again in the future. If you prefer to use your site as just sort of a digital business card, with no updating content, that’s fine too, and is much less effort to maintain.

  • A calendar of your upcoming performances. Only do this if you are thoroughly dedicated to keeping it up to date. An expired calendar makes your website look abandoned.
  • Recordings (audio and/or video) of some of your performances.
    • If you are hoping your website will help you get hired for things, only include recordings that you think appropriately and honestly reflect your current abilities.
    • Only post material you are certain you have the rights to post. For most individual-musician websites, chances are slim that anyone will take legal action against you for posting copyrighted material, but it’s still decent and polite to respect others’ intellectual property. (Acknowledging your non-ownership doesn’t make it okay to post something that isn’t yours. The copyright owner has to specifically give you permission or license the material to you in some way.)
  • A blog and/or some articles or other resources.
    • Again, this should be your own intellectual property or something you have explicit permission to post.
    • If you start a blog, start with a post that is about something, not a post about how you intend to start blogging soon, or asking people for ideas what to blog about. Lots of blogs start that way, with a single post promising big things to come, and then nothing more ever.
    • You don’t have to blog on any particular schedule if you don’t want to, just post when you have something to say.

Don’t include these

  • Lists of who you have played with, unless they are significant and career-defining.
    • As a graduate student I got to play at a university event honoring Dave Brubeck, including playing in an ensemble “with” him. For years my professional biography indicated that I had played with Dave Brubeck, even though after the one gig was over he almost certainly wouldn’t have remembered me, much less considered me some kind of collaborator. Listing him on my website was a pretty transparent inflation of the truth. (If he had hired me to join his quartet and go on the road for a few years, that would definitely be worth mentioning on my site.)
    • There have also been many less-famous names I have performed with, and why list those?
  • Lists of the equipment you use. One possible exception is if you have official endorsement deals that contractually require you to include this information. Otherwise, what is the list for? To prove how much money you have spent? To encourage others to blindly buy the same products as you?
  • “Links” lists, except in the rare case that your curation brings something valuable to the table. Lists of sites that you think are interesting or somehow related to your site are an artifact of earlier days of the web. Now if people want to find sites related to a topic, they just do a web search or follow related entities on social media.
  • Gratuitous photo albums, unless there’s a good reason to post them. Being attractive and/or vain isn’t a good reason, if you are hoping people will focus on what you have to offer musically. And you do need permission from the copyright holder.

A simple website is part of the modern musician’s professional face—you need one the same way you need a phone number, an email address, and black clothes for the gig. You can start for a few dollars and finish in less than an hour, or spend years building it into a powerful communication outlet. Get started today!