Breath support

Quick: define “breath support.”

I fear that to many woodwind players (or wind players in general, and maybe singers too) breath support is something mysterious. I have often had teachers stress to me the importance of breath support, but I can’t remember ever having one explain clearly what it is.

Read more

Learning to play a woodwind: is previous woodwind experience a disadvantage?

I teach a woodwind methods class as part of my graduate assistantship (and was the teaching assistant in the class for several years before teaching it on my own). In this class music education students get a crash course in playing and teaching the woodwind instruments, in preparation (too little!—but that’s another blog post) for careers as school band directors. My class is made up of woodwind players, brass players, percussionists, keyboardists, and even vocalists. It is interesting to see how to woodwind players fare in comparison to the non-woodwind players.

Read more

Abe Weiss on practicing

I mentioned in a post yesterday how impressed I was by Abe Weiss‘s presentation at the IDRS conference. Mr. Weiss is principal bassoonist of the Rochester Philharmonic.

Here are a few points from his talk that stood out to me.

Read more

Larry Krantz on not doubling

If you’re not familiar with the Larry Krantz Flute Pages, you need to surf right on over and spend a few hours. Mr. Krantz has been building a major hub for web-connected flutists since back before many of us knew about the Internet. His site is a positively huge repository of flute-related wisdom, including contributed content by the likes of Trevor Wye, John Wion, and Robert Dick.

Mr. Krantz was a doubler in years past, apparently quite accomplished on flute, clarinet, and saxophone, and at least a dabbler in oboe. Nearly twenty years ago, however, he decided to give up doubling to focus on his flute playing.

Mr. Krantz discusses his decision at some length here, in excerpts from discussions on the FLUTE mailing list. While he speaks fondly of his years as a doubler, and points out many of the benefits of doubling, his ultimate conclusion was that doubling was not for him. The primary reason he gives for this decision is that, in his admittedly well-qualified opinion, it simply isn’t possible to maintain a truly fine embouchure on multiple instruments.

Read more

Flutist/flautist

“Flautist” is a pet peeve of mine. I just encountered it again in a message board thread.

These are worth a read:
Am I a Flutist, or a Flautist?
Is it Flutist or Flautist?

To summarize: there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for English-speaking people to say “flautist.”

Read more

Which is your favorite?

Another question that I am frequently asked as a woodwind doubler is, “Which instrument is your favorite?”

My answer to this is simple.

If it’s a good day, then my favorite is the one I’m playing.

If it’s a bad day, then my favorite is any one but the one I’m playing.

Essential woodwind literature

I’m spending the summer studying for my doctoral comprehensive exams. One major component of the exams will be woodwind literature, so I’ve been trying to narrow down lists of really essential pieces. It has been an interesting challenge to select a list long enough to have depth and short enough to be manageable (I’ve was shooting for around 100 pieces total – I’m a little over).

I wanted the list to be a balance of a lot of different things: commonly-taught and commonly-performed literature, pieces of historical import, pieces representing style periods from Baroque to the 21st century, pieces covering a range of difficulty levels, and so forth.

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

New Grove on flute materials

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is widely used by college music students and is regarded by most (for better or for worse) as the unimpeachable source of all musical knowledge. In my studies for upcoming doctoral comprehensive exams, I ran across this in the “Flute” article:

Materials used for the tube and mechanism include nickel-silver, sterling silver, gold and platinum, while the springs are usually of tempered steel or phosphor bronze, occasionally of gold or another metal. The choice of material, especially for the head joint, influences the flute’s tone: wooden flutes produce a rich tone with a very full fortissimo in the lower register; metal flutes produce a limpid, flexible tone with great carrying power and also allow the player very sensitive control over the tone-colour; gold produces a mellow sound while silver is more brilliant. To achieve a combination of these qualities a head joint of wood or gold is sometimes fitted to a tube of silver.

The idea of different materials having different sounds is, of course, seen as conventional wisdom by flutists (and indeed by wind players in general), but it flies in the face of 100 years of acoustical science.

Read more

How many instruments do you play?

“So, how many instruments do you play?” I get this a lot.

The way I prefer to answer is this: I play all of the major modern woodwind instruments, plus some folk and ethnic woodwinds.

That answer usually doesn’t cut it.

Read more