Recital videos, August 2019

Here are videos from my recent faculty recital at Delta State University. I performed the Saint-Saëns oboe, bassoon, and clarinet sonatas, plus the flute Romance and “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals as a baritone saxophone transcription.

“The Swan” is originally for cello, so I assumed it might work well as a baritone saxophone transcription. It turns out it really fits quite comfortably in the alto saxophone’s range, but I decided to take it on as a baritone piece anyway as a personal challenge.

Using the Fingering Diagram Builder’s advanced keywork controls

The most recent release of the Fingering Diagram Builder introduces some “shortcut” controls that make it easy to turn certain keys on and off. For example, with a quick check/un-check of a box you can turn on clarinet half-holes or some non-standard keys.

Or, as always, there’s a dropdown list of “key sets” (which I referred to as “presets” in previous FDB versions) to turn on and off the right keys for a complete instrument variant.

“Bass clarinet, pro,” for example, turns on (among other things) the right thumb keys down to low C found on many professional bass clarinets. “Standard Boehm” turns them off.

All of these menu controls work by changing the behavior of the keys present in the instrument diagram. The behavior of each key, or group of keys, can be set to “Always,” “Never,” or “As needed.”

If you have a specific set of keys in mind, you can set the behavior of each key directly. Let’s say I have a fancy new oboe with a left-hand “long” C-sharp key and a left thumb low B key, and I want to make a fingering chart to map out some of the new fingering possibilities. (There’s currently an easy check-box for the left C-sharp, but we’ll ignore that for now to explore the hands-on method.)

I’ll start with the thumb B key. If I open the “Keywork details” section of the menu, and then the “More keywork details” section, I see a long list, partially pictured here.

The last key in the picture is the key I want to use in my fingering chart. Before we go on, notice that its name is aligned all the way to the left, meaning that it is a stand-alone key, not part of a group of keys. A little above it you can see the name “Thumb octave keys,” with four keys below it and indented. “Thumb octave keys” is a group, and the keys listed below it (“First octave key,” etc.) are in that group.

Okay. “Left thumb low B” is currently set to “Never,” which is pretty self-explanatory: the key simply never appears in the diagram.

Setting it to “Always” is also clear enough: the key will be visible all the time, pressed or not. If I set it to “Always” and don’t press any of the oboe keys, here’s what the diagram looks like:

Visible in this image are the six “main” keys, with a little horizontal line visually separating the left hand from the right hand, plus the thumb low B key. All of these are now set to “Always.” The other keys—the octave keys, the little finger keys, etc., are not visible. This particular layout is probably not what I want. Some people like every available key (including the octave keys, etc.) to be visible in every image, but I prefer and recommend showing only the most relevant ones for the particular fingering. The left low B will only be relevant for a specific note or two.

So let’s set that key to “as needed” instead. Since this key isn’t part of a larger group, its “as needed” behavior is easy to understand. When it’s pressed, it appears in the image. When it’s not, it doesn’t. I will still be able to see where the key is while I’m using the FDB, because it will appear in gray outline when I hover over the diagram with my mouse or trackpad, or appear constantly if I’m using a touch device, but it won’t be part of the downloaded image.

If I set it to “As needed” and hover my mouse pointer over the diagram in the FDB, I see this, with the left low B present:

And if I download the image, I see this:

Now let’s turn to the left C-sharp key. Since it is part of a group (“Left little finger keys”) its behavior is a little more complex. Here’s what the group’s behavior settings look like for the “Conservatory” key set:

Several of the keys are set to “Always,” and several are set to “Never.” But the group itself is set to “As needed.” Here’s how that works: if none of those keys is pressed, the FDB determines the group is not “needed,” so none of the keys are visible. But if any of the “Always” keys is pressed, the FDB considers the group needed and makes it visible, including all the “Always” keys within it. (The “Never” keys are still not visible.) So, for example, if I press the “Left E-flat,” I get this:

Only the left E-flat is pressed, but the other keys in the group appear too, to give a little visual context.

So, to make the left C-sharp available, I will set it to “Always.” But when an oboe has a left C-sharp, the left F-key usually gets moved over a little and has a little different shape. So I’m also going to set “Left F” to “Never,” and “Left F (with low C-sharp),” a key designed for this situation, to “Always.” Now I have this (low C-sharp in red, altered left F in yellow):

By setting the behavior of individual keys, you can do just about any combination of keys you can think of. And you can use the “Custom key sets” menu to save your settings for future use.

This system also makes it relatively easy for me to add obscure or unusual keys to the diagrams, and keep them hidden except when people need them for specific purposes. So, if there are keys you would like to have in your images, and you didn’t find them in the “More keywork details” list, let me know and I’ll consider adding them in future versions. It’s extra-helpful if you can send good photos.


Fingering Diagram Builder, version 0.8

I’m pleased to announce a new release of the Fingering Diagram Builder.

One thing I wanted to do in this release is give something back to the very generous and sexy people who have been kind enough to use the PayPal donation link to show their support over the years, so I’ve added some special exclusive features for donors. Most of those features are geared toward those doing large or involved projects, such as for publication.

To be clear, none of the old features have been put behind a paywall, and with this release and future releases I’ll keep working on improvements for the free users, too. And you can get the donors-only features with a one-time donation of literally any amount of your choice. (If you’ve donated before, you can try the “Are you a previous donor?” link to activate your special features, but you might have to email me so I can fix it for you manually, especially if your donation was a few years ago.)

Anyway, here’s what’s new:

  • Some weird/cool new key sets like Kingma-system flutes, the Redgate oboe, and the Contraforte. I’m flying a little blind on those since I don’t exactly have those instruments laying around, so if you’re an expert let me know what tweaks are needed.
  • Downloads in .gif format (in addition to the previously-available .png and .tif). For some purposes .gifs won’t look as nice as .pngs, but the file sizes are very compact, which is useful in some situations. And for donors, you can also download in .svg format, which gives you basically unlimited scalability with no loss of image quality. .Png and .svg downloads also now get lossless compression, which you can turn off if for some reason you want to.
  • Diagrams can be rotated 90° in either direction. Donors can also mirror them, which I think is a strange idea but lots of people have requested it.
  • Image backgrounds can be white (like before), or now also transparent.
  • Some more flexibility for donors: finer control of image size and line thickness, and an editable color palette. Donors also have some new options for how images are cropped.
  • You can still, as before, let the FDB automatically provide unique filenames for your downloaded images or name each one manually. But now you can also type placeholders: %i to auto-insert the name of the current instrument, %k for the key set, and %c for an auto-incrementing counter. It’s hard to explain, but try it out and I think you’ll see it’s pretty easy and useful.
  • In addition to downloading images to your device or uploading to Dropbox, you can also post them to Imgur. That gives you quick-and-easy shareability of images on all the social media sites, and you don’t need to create an account or anything.
  • People have been rightfully baffled for years by the powerful but undocumented “Keywork details” thing. That hasn’t gone away, but many of the instruments now have a more user-friendly interface for turning certain keys on or off. I hope to add to and refine these interfaces in response to the continuing frustrated emails. It has also become abundantly clear that, while I’ve tried to make everything as intuitive as possible, it’s time for a help page.
  • The FDB can, if you like, remember the fingering you were working on in a previous session. (This feature is turned off by default.) I don’t expect that many people need multiple visits to the FDB to complete one fingering diagram, but it’s handy if, say, you accidentally navigate away.
  • Once again, a thorough visual refresh and lots of little interface tweaks.
  • This one is boring but important: basically a ground-up rebuild of the FDB’s guts, using smarter coding than I knew how to do nearly nine years ago when I first released it. (For the code-savvy, I’ve replaced my spaghetti jQuery code with slightly-less-pasta-like Vue.js code.) That will hopefully help keep it running reliably and maintainably on modern web browsers for the better part of another decade.

Please do check it out, and send me your bug reports and other feedback.

Discount on book and new t-shirts

I’ll keep this short: there are new t-shirts available, and everything in the store (shirts and the PDF of my book, Woodwind Basics) is priced at 1/3 off through Christmas Eve 2018 if you use coupon code reeds2018. Your purchases help pay for hosting and other site costs, and otherwise support what I’m doing on the site.

Happy holidays!

Recital videos, August 2018

Here are some videos from my recent Delta State University faculty recital. I enjoyed tackling Brett Wery‘s challenging Sonata for multiple woodwinds (flute, clarinet, alto saxophone) and piano, plus some little oboe pieces and the André Previn bassoon sonata. As always, the goal was to challenge myself, so, as always, the performance had some hiccups. But it was a valuable growth experience for me and a chance to perform some new repertoire.

Recording: Claude T. Smith Suite with Delta State Wind Ensemble

A few months ago I got to perform Claude T. Smith’s Suite for Solo Flute, Clarinet, and Alto Saxophone with the Delta State University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Dr. Erik Richards. It’s a fun showpiece for a woodwind doubler with band, which I’ve had a few opportunities to perform over the last 10 years.

The Suite requires more-than-casual doubling on flute, clarinet, and saxophone. (Some of the altissimo in my performance isn’t in the original part.) Like most of Smith’s music, the Suite is light and appealing, with some rhythm/meter hijinks and a hint of jazz influence. Worth tackling if you’re a serious flute-clarinet-saxophone doubler and get a chance to work with a good wind ensemble.

Here’s a YouTube video (audio only) of the April 11 performance:

Tenth anniversary

Today makes ten years since I started the blog. At the five-year mark I did a little retrospective, and I don’t think there’s much need to do it again. Basically the things I was excited about and proud of then are the things I’m excited about and proud of now. Other than publishing my book, which grew largely out of this blog, it has mostly been more of the same: another 250 or so posts, another few hundred musicals added to the doubling list, new and updated web tools and resources for musicians, and of course lots of comments, emails, donations, and other happy connections with woodwind players around the world. I hope you will continue to read, engage, and of course make music.

A few weeks ago I put out a request for questions from my readers. I got some good ones, and here are some answers:

At the 10-year mark: ask me anything

To my own amazement, this blog is rapidly approaching its 10-year anniversary later this month, May 24th. (Some of the content is dated even earlier than that, because I wrote it before starting the blog and retroactively turned it into blog posts.)

If you like, send me question(s) about whatever you want, about woodwind playing, doubling, blogging, teaching, or whatever. You can remain anonymous if you like. If it makes sense to do so based on the responses, I’ll answer them in one or more blog posts starting on about the 24th. If the response is low or the questions are not particularly of interest to my audience at large, I’ll answer as many as I can privately.

Thanks for reading!

2017 in review

Here are some highlights from the blog in 2017.

Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing, and otherwise connecting in 2017. See you next year!

Jazz recital videos, August 2017

This year I played all jazz at my Delta State University faculty recital. Program and some selected videos are below.

I’m very much a part-time jazz player, so it was fun to spend the summer trying to get my chops in shape to play tunes in a variety of styles on a variety of instruments. This was my new record for number of instruments on a recital: flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon (electric bassoon), soprano/alto/tenor saxophones, and EWI, 9 in all. I’ve written previously about the challenges of improvising on multiple instruments, which I suspect might be surprising to non-doublers or non-improvisers.

An additional challenge is that I live in a small town in an isolated area, so I had to bring in some rhythm section players from out of town and rehearsal time was extremely limited. Enjoy the videos warts and all.

I have previously done some things with bassoon and electronics, but I took that to a new level this time around with a Little Jake pickup and a few new effects pedals. This was lots of fun and I’m already brainstorming how I can use the Little Jake with some other instruments.

The pedalboard setup I used for electric bassoon and EWI