Playing in tune

I’ve been working on improving my pitch this summer. Why is it so difficult to play a woodwind instrument in tune? I believe there are three reasons:

  1. The instruments are, of necessity, built in a hopelessly compromised manner. A flute or bassoon or whatever that plays perfectly “in tune” doesn’t exist. (“In tune” is in quotation marks because of #3, below.)
  2. The human element is full of variables that affect pitch: a little change in embouchure, a little variation in breath support, and the intonation suffers.
  3. Woodwind players (like string players, vocalists, and others) have to meet the sometimes-confusing standard of just intonation, meaning that the “right” pitch for a given note depends very much on the context. This, of course, has to be tempered somewhat when playing with equal-tempered instruments such as the piano. We’ll call all of this intonation, referring to the precise pitch relationships of one note to another.

To play in tune, I’m working on addressing each of these problems. Some notes-to-self:

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Review: The Many Sides of Al Gallodoro

I recently picked up a copy of The Many Sides of Alfred Gallodoro, Vol. I from Half.com. (As of this writing, they don’t have any copies left, so you’ll either have to get yours from his own website or from CD Baby. There are sound clips at both sites.)

Mr. Gallodoro is a living legend of woodwind playing: born in 1913, started playing professionally as a teenager, and is still at it. I’ve got him listed on my little woodwind doublers’ hall of fame, and you can read his full official bio here.

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How well do you know your major scales?

Can you play them…

…in all twelve keys, smoothly and evenly, the full range of your instrument(s)?

…with a beautiful sound on each and every note, and each note right in tune?

…with poised, elegant phrasing?

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Masato Honda plays recorder

I’ve been practicing the Telemann recorder suite this summer, and I had been meaning to write a recorder-related post. I thought I might mention this video of Masato Honda, a Japanese woodwind doubler and fusion/smooth jazz artist, but Gandalfe at The Bis Key Chronicles beat me to the punch today with this post featuring another video, of Mr. Honda’s really nice saxophone playing.

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University woodwinds job postings, 5/30/08

Being a doctoral student in multiple woodwinds performance, I like to keep an eye on the job listings for university faculty positions that involve teaching multiple woodwind instruments. There usually aren’t many, at least not many that involve a national search. But two positions were posted to HigherEdJobs.com this morning:

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Public domain woodwind clip art

Artist Karen Hatzigeorgiou has posted some charming public domain images of woodwind instruments at her website, like this lovely clarinet. The others are in a similar pen-and-ink (or is it some kind of etching?) style.

clarinet

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What’s in a name? What “doublers” call themselves

I’ve struggled a little with what to call myself as a player of several woodwind instruments. “Woodwind doubler” seems like the most accepted nomenclature, but “doubler” seems a little inapt for someone who plays more than two instruments (my flute teacher calls me a “five-aler”).

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