Recital videos, August 2022

I’m pleased to share videos from my recent Delta State University faculty recital, featuring the compositions of Yusef Lateef. A few are my own adaptations for altered instrumentation.

Favorite blog posts, August 2022

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

Half-holes on the Fingering Diagram Builder

Half-holes on the Fingering Diagram Builder aren’t a new feature, but I get lots of questions about how to do them, so here are some instructions I can refer people to.

Easiest way

If you’re making diagrams for flute, (French) clarinet, (German) bassoon, or recorder, and you don’t need anything especially complicated, you can open the “Keywork details” menu and click the option to turn “Half-holes” to “Upper,” “Lower,” or “Off.” For flute the options are a little different, to allow for half-holing in four directions.

Once your desired half-holes are enabled, you can hover your mouse over the keys (or look for the grey outlines on a touchscreen device) to see them. Click/tap on the desired half of the hole to “close” it, or again to re-open it. The “open” ones will not appear in your downloaded image.

Lengthwise upper
Lengthwise lower
Widthwise proximal
Widthwise distal

More complicated but flexible way

If you need to turn on only certain half-holes, or mix upper with lower, etc., you will have to roll up your sleeves a bit more. Open the “Keywork details” menu and look for the top-level “Half-holes” heading. Organized beneath this you will see all the available half-holes, organized into groups like “Lower half holes.” I suggest adjusting the settings as follows:

  • “Half-holes” = Always
  • Each subgroup containing a desired half-hole, such as “Lower half holes” = Always
  • Each desired individual half-hole = “As needed”
  • Each undesired individual half-hole = “Never”

That will make the desired half-holes visible when you “close” them, and invisible otherwise.

In the following example, I have set the clarinet’s left hand first finger upper hole and the left hand third finger lower hole as described.

If you anticipate using a certain half-hole configuration frequently, you can save it for future use. Set the half-holes (and other keywork) up how you want it, open the “Keywork details” menu, and look near the bottom of it for the “Custom key sets” submenu. Open that, type a name for your current set of keys, and click/tap “Add.”


Listing your woodwind doubles

person holding white paper

Here is a question I’ve gotten a few times recently: if you’re a woodwind doubler, and need to list your instruments, in what order do you list them? Here are some options:

  • Use a common “score” order, like: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone. To musically-literate folks this may be the closest thing to a sort of neutral listing, giving no special preference or ranking to the instruments. (But it can of course be misinterpreted.)
  • Use a ranking, such as by which instruments you play best or prefer. If, like me, your ambition is to play your doubles equally well, and to be a hire-able professional on them all, then listing them this way may weaken that impression.
  • Do a hybrid of ranking and score order, such as listing a strongest/primary instrument first, and the rest in score order. That’s my preferred approach for general cases like on my website or business cards. For me, it’s: saxophone, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon. That highlights my strongest instrument (for now, at least), and also puts it out front for jazz, rock, and blues gigs, which make up a substantial part of my freelance career.
  • Tailor the list to the situation. If I’m submitting a brief biography for an appearance at, say, a clarinet conference, I’ll put the clarinet first. That hopefully helps people see me as a member of the group, rather than a visitor.
  • Randomize. For something like a website, it’s relatively simple with a little coding knowledge to use a different order every time, and help prevent yourself from being pigeonholed. You could also randomize photos of yourself holding or playing various instruments, or video or audio recordings. Here’s a simple example.

To sum up, you’ll have to consider your skills and goals as a doubler, what kind of work you do or want to do, and to whom you’re presenting yourself.

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

If you are teaching a woodwind methods course, you might be interested in my book.

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!