Favorite blog posts, July 2022

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

Getting gigs on woodwind doubles

person standing while using phone

Here’s a question sent to me recently [edited lightly]:

Do you have any advice on getting gigs on doubles? I play all the major modern woodwinds, but I’m definitely an oboe/English horn player first, and saxophone is my strongest double. I wouldn’t say I’m the best flute or clarinet player, but I’m good enough to gig or perform solo repertoire. I never get gigs on anything but oboe/English horn or saxophone, which makes me feel like I’m wasting my time practicing anything else.

Here are a few things to consider:

Firstly, hopefully it goes without saying, but continue developing your skills on your doubles.

Developing a reputation in your local market takes time. Plus, your local ecosystem of musicians and gigs is a factor outside your control. For example, if there is already an abundance of well-established clarinetists in local contractors’ contact lists, then it may just take time before you get a shot.

Get to know the players in town who are doing the kind of gigs you want, and establish professional acquaintances with them. There’s also a time-honored tradition of taking a “lesson” or two with top local players so they can see what you’re capable of, and potentially recommend you for gigs (plus you might learn something).

Check in with contractors or other hirers you may be working with already. You could say something like, “Hey, I’ve been doing so much oboe and saxophone lately work that I’m not sure people realize I’m a strong flute and clarinet player, too. Just wanted to make sure you have that info in the back of your mind. Thanks!”

Also consider what you are or aren’t doing to sell yourself convincingly as a doubler. I checked out your web presence, and found social media usernames and profile pictures that identify you very clearly as an oboist, plus some vague, apologetic hints that you are also woodwind doubler. Some humility is good, but if you want to work as a flutist then it helps to tell people you’re a flutist.

You also do not have a personal web page, or not one that I could quickly find. That’s your digital-era business card. (Consider getting some actual business cards, too.) It should state clearly what you bring to the table, and ideally provide some evidence. If I visit your website and it doesn’t mention the bassoon, or it mentions the bassoon but has audio/videos of you playing everything but the bassoon, then I’m unlikely to consider you a hireable bassoonist. If your bassoon playing is only so-so, I might still need you for a gig that has less-critical bassoon parts, but hearing you play something gives me some reference point for what you can do. As a next-best thing, you can provide an easy-to-find, easy-to-skim list of some gigs you have done in recent memory.

Find appropriate opportunities to offer your services on additional instruments. “Hey, I have my flute with me today, and I can cover that third part if you like.” “I was thinking maybe this passage would sound good on clarinet. Mind if I give it a try in rehearsal?” Don’t push it to the point of being annoying, and be a good sport if the person in charge wants you to stay in your lane.

Good luck!

Teaching a college woodwind methods course

teacher giving instructions not to cheat

It’s that time of year again when I start getting more traffic to my posts on teaching my woodwind methods class, and sales of my textbook start to pick up. If you’re scrambling to prepare a new woodwind methods course, here are a few resources:

What questions do you have about teaching woodwind methods classes? Let me know.

Make your musical lines sing and dance

man wearing blue jeans doing pirouette spin

In “classical” and related kinds of music, we are often asked to make our instrumental music sing or dance. In fact, most music of this type should do one or the other.

Singing-type music may be labeled as such with markings like cantabile or vocal-ish titles like “Aria” or “Chanson.” Or it may be characterized by notational features like long, slurred lines. In any case, playing through the melody, you can probably intuit whether it is song-like (or dance-like).

To give your musical line a singing quality, focus on making long, smooth, elegantly-shaped phrases. They should sync with the underlying pulse without drawing attention to it.

Dancing music might have titles named after dances, like “Waltz” or “Bourée” or “Rumba.” Or they might include high-energy articulations like accents or staccato.

To make your lines dance, bring out the meter, by creating a sense that the beats are not all equal. This might be indicated in the notation with accents (dynamic, agogic, tonic, etc.). Or it might require some brief research into the kind of dance: for example, a quick search will show you that a Sarabande is generally in a slow three, with stress on beat 2. Some dances have rhythmic characteristics like clave that puts stress on certain subdivisions of beats.

If your music seems to have an unspecified dance-like quality, start by bringing out the typical hierarchy of beats: in 4/4, for example, beat 1 is the strongest, beat 3 the next-strongest, beats 2 and 4 less strong, and the “ands” weaker still.

It’s common for a multi-movement piece to have both song-like and dance-like movements, and even for both approaches to appear within a single movement or short piece.

Here’s just one excellent example of singing vs. dancing in instrumental music. Listen to ToniMarie Marchioni and Jacob Campbell play the beginning of the first movement (“Aria”) of the Dutilleux oboe sonata, and notice the smooth, shaped, singing oboe lines that overlay the pulse without emphasizing it:

Now skip ahead to the beginning of the second movement (“Scherzo: Vif”) and notice how the oboe line is accented, bringing the pulse to the forefront in a dance-like way:

The next time you pick up your instrument, ask yourself whether the music should sing or dance, and what you can do to make that happen.

Favorite blog posts, June 2022

I usually try to avoid sharing multiple posts from the same blog in the same month, but here are a couple of woodwind blogs that produced multiple high-quality articles in June:

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

Make a better marking

pencil lead in shallow poto

In lessons and ensemble rehearsals, I frequently ask students to mark in something they missed—an accidental, a stylistic nuance, a breath.

Sometimes they tell me they already marked it. They assure me they will get it right the next time.

As you might guess, I am less than convinced. The marking didn’t do the trick this time, so why should it work next time? Or next week? Or in the performance, when you’re playing under pressure and with distractions?

If the marking you made didn’t work, do a better one. Can you make it…

  • …more visible? Maybe beefing up that faint little pencil stroke will help. If you’re concerned about marks you might want to undo later, make photocopies and mark those (or go digital).
  • …clearer in meaning? Circling a note you got wrong doesn’t add any information to the page. Instead write in the sharp you missed, or a reminder of what key you’re in, or even the note name if that helps. You can use symbols if you will be 100% clear on what they mean (even under pressure), but don’t be afraid to use words.
  • …earlier? If you keep forgetting to do the crescendo in measure 32, consider putting a reminder in bar 28 that it’s coming up. That gives you an extra moment to process it mentally and be prepared before the crucial moment arrives.

Every marking should make your playing better. If it doesn’t, change it!

Review: Griff Musical Products EWI Stand

A few years back I posted my attempt at building a stand for my Akai EWI4000s. That stand has served me reasonably well since then, but I’m pleased recently to have found a much superior solution.

The EWI Stand from Griff Musical Products’s Etsy store is a 3D-printed product (of durable PETG plastic) at a reasonable price (less than a couple of boxes of reeds).

To be clear, it’s something more like a “peg” than a stand per se, since it has to be installed on a Hercules stand purchased separately.

Like my homemade stand, it works with my inexpensive and sturdy Hercules stands, doesn’t interfere with power/line/MIDI cables, and allows the EWI to be quickly retrieved without clips or straps to unhook.

Video:

Superior to my homemade stand, it holds the instrument straight upright (not leaning at an angle), doesn’t require any fuss or fasteners to hold it in place (it simply slips over an existing Hercules flute/clarinet peg), and is far more compact.

In other words, this solves all my EWI stand problems. Kudos to Griff Musical Products for an elegant solution. Get yours here: EWI Stand

(I paid full price for the stand, and offer this review as a satisfied customer.)

What to listen for (or ignore) in cane vs. synthetic reed comparisons

selective focus photography of gray stainless steel condenser microphone

With the recent release of the second-generation Venn clarinet and saxophone reeds from D’Addario Woodwinds, there’s a new rush of YouTube videos and social media posts comparing them to cane reeds (and/or to other synthetics). Here are a few questions raised by those kinds of comparisons that you should be cautious of:

  • “Do synthetic reeds sound as good as cane?” You could decide whether one of the specific reeds in question sounds better to you, but if it’s the cane one, does that mean that all cane reeds are better-sounding than all synthetics? You could almost certainly find a cane reed that would sound much worse than either of the ones tested. Plus, if you’re hearing a comparison to a seasoned player’s favorite reeds, it’s likely that those are the reeds the player used to select their mouthpiece, and that they have been practicing and performing on for years. You may be hearing the new reed being played on a mouthpiece or embouchure to which it’s not well-matched.
  • “Can you tell the difference between cane and synthetic?” Would you be able to tell the difference between two different cane reeds? In many cases the difference between two high-quality, similarly-purposed reeds is audible (if subtle). Being able to hear a difference between this specific cane reed and that specific synthetic reed isn’t particularly remarkable or important. I’m not aware of any manufacturer claiming their synthetic reeds sound identical to any specific cane reed (even in the case of D’Addario, who is making both; they consider the Venn to be a new “cut” of reed, not a clone of one of their cane products).
  • “Is this synthetic reed the best-sounding of all reeds?” Tone is important, but remember to consider other factors. Sure, that includes response/articulation, pitch, etc., but it should also include some of the potential upsides of synthetics, like longevity, stability, and consistency. If a synthetic only “sounds” 98% as good as your cane reeds, but it lasts for months, isn’t affected by weather, and plays identically to others of the same model, is it worth it to you to switch? Is it likely that the 2% gap will narrow or even disappear with some practice and tweaks to your setup?

Here is a better question to ask yourself as you consume the reviews, videos, comments, etc.:

  • Do I hear evidence that this is a viable reed? In other words, is it possible to sound good on it, in a way that’s competitive with my current favorites? (A comparison to a player’s old standby reeds can be useful here.) If the answer is yes, then you can decide whether you wish to pursue the possibility further. If the answer is no, that only tells you that you weren’t impressed by that specific demonstration; the reeds might work quite well for another player, another mouthpiece, etc.

New products are exciting! But keep a level head.

(Full disclosure: I have in the past made exactly the kind of comparison I’m criticizing here, but no longer think it’s that useful of a format.)

What to expect in your first semester studying music in college

books file on shelf
  • Jumping in the deep end. In some college majors, you will spend your first couple of years doing “general education” courses (like writing, math, history, and science), and not take many “major” classes until later on. But with music, you usually start on day one with a lot of music classes.
  • A thorough and varied education. During your years in college you will probably study music theory and music history, play the piano (even if you’re not a pianist), sing (even if you’re not a singer), perform as a soloist and ensemble member, conduct, compose, and more. There’s a good chance you will dislike or think you are bad at some of those things, but they are part of your complete career preparation.
  • New teacher-student interactions. In high school you may have gotten used to a band or choir director being your go-to person for all things musical. But in college you may also work very closely with a teacher of your instrument or voice, plus teachers of other musical topics. Your teachers may expect you to meet differing expectations (such as different writing styles or vocabulary or attendance policies). You may find that your teachers put demands on your time that you will have to navigate carefully to avoid conflicts.
  • A dose of adulthood. Expect to take more individual responsibility for most aspects of your education (and life). Your college teachers are more likely to expect you to locate and obtain needed books, sheet music, supplies, instrument repairs, etc. on your own. (They may be willing to suggest some good companies to purchase from.) And if you’re used to a grown-up making sure you get up on time, do your homework, and eat reasonably nutritious meals, you are now that grown-up.
  • Choices with consequences. You may find yourself pulled in multiple directions by school, family, friends, and other activities. Understand that sometimes it may be the best choice for you to attend a family event and miss some classes, but that’s not the same thing as being “excused.” Your grade will probably suffer. And for music students, missing certain rehearsals or performances might have particularly dire consequences, since your absence affects the group.

Studying music in college is fun and rewarding, but also a challenge. Good luck!