Review: “Double Troubles” by Paul Saunders

A few months ago I wrote a review of So You Want to Play in Shows…?, a book of woodwind doubling etudes by Paul Saunders. Recently Paul sent me Double Troublesa new collection of etudes. Like So You Want, the new volume includes a piano part plus access to downloadable backing tracks. As I said in the previous review:

This is an elegant solution to one of the problems of woodwind doubling etudes: how do you enforce quick instrument switches? … Saunders’s book, used with the recordings, provides a simple way to work out quick switches alone in a practice room.

Like in the previous book, these etudes are musically interesting and in styles typical of contemporary musical theater. Double Troubles is overall somewhat more challenging, including some saxophone altissimo and flute third octave up to C (though most of the extreme high register playing on both instruments is marked as optional—Paul clarified to me that the upper register is preferable, and the optional 8vbs are to make the etudes more approachable if needed). The book also incorporates soprano and tenor saxophones on some etudes, in addition to the flute/clarinet/alto used in the first book.

Two of the etudes are by guest composers, Darren Lord and Jennifer Whyte. Here’s a quick-and-dirty demo of the tune “Disco Nap,” which is Darren Lord’s contribution:

I had fun playing through these, and recommend Paul’s doubling etude books as one of the best sources of practice material for the flute/clarinet/saxophone doubler.

New book! Woodwind Basics: Core concepts for playing and teaching flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone

Woodwind Basics by Bret Pimentel

I’m pleased to announce the release of my book, Woodwind Basics: Core concepts for playing and teaching flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. I wrote it with woodwind methods/techniques classes in mind, but I think it also works well as a reference for private teachers at any level, or for woodwind players, especially woodwind doublers.

I’ve been using various drafts of this book for the last few years with my own woodwind methods classes. (If you’re a reader of this blog, you’re familiar with my complaints about the existing textbooks.) I wanted to write something very focused, clear, and methodical, with the side benefits of being relatively short, easy to read, and inexpensive.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and I hope you’ll get yourself a copy. I especially recommend the PDF/ebook version for low price and immediate delivery, but it’s also available in paperback from Amazon.

I owe a special thanks to readers of this blog over the past 9 years. The 500+ posts I’ve written here, plus your comments and other responses, have done a lot to shape my ideas about woodwind playing and teaching. So, if you will send me an email, I’ll be happy to send you a coupon code worth a few bucks toward the PDF version. Let me know who you are and why you’re interested in the book. Offer good through June 2017.

Review: “So You Want to Play in Shows…?” by Paul Saunders

I got a review copy of So You Want to Play in Shows…?, a new woodwind doubling etude book. The author, Paul Saunders, is a woodwind player in London’s West End.

The book includes seven studies for doubler playing flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone. It also includes a piano accompaniment book, with piano part recordings available for free on the publisher’s website. This is an elegant solution to one of the problems of woodwind doubling etudes: how do you enforce quick instrument switches? Chris Vadala’s book provides rests and trusts you to observe them. Gene Kaplan’s duo book pairs you with another woodwind doubler. Saunders’s book, used with the recordings, provides a simple way to work out quick switches alone in a practice room. (For a real-world challenge, cue up the recordings in a playlist, and sight-read the book beginning to end with no breaks between etudes.)

Saunders’s tunes are fun and musically satisfying—to my tastes, the best among the doubling etude books so far. Styles are what you might find in contemporary rock/pop-based musical theater. Here is a quick-and-dirty demo of etude #3, “How Cool Can You Be:”

Mr. Saunders emphasized to me that the etudes are intended for aspiring woodwind doublers, and therefore are of moderate difficulty. I would say So You Want to Play is not as challenging as the Vadala book, comparable overall to the Kaplan book. The most technically-demanding material nearly always falls to the clarinet. The flute parts tend to stay in a comfortable register, rarely breaking into the third octave, and maxing out at a high G. There is a note or two of saxophone altissimo. There are frequent instrument switches, a few of them very quick.

Mr. Saunders was also kind enough to send me early drafts of some a couple of etudes that will appear in a forthcoming second volume. They appear to be more difficult, with some swing feel and doubles on soprano and tenor saxophone.

As I’ve mentioned in reviews of previous materials, I wish there were more resources available for doublers that included the double reed instruments and/or auxiliary instruments. But, as you may know, double-reed doubling is less common in the West End than it is on Broadway, so this book is probably a good fit for most British woodwind players (like Mr. Saunders), and quite a few American ones. So You Want to Play is a solid addition to the flute/clarinet/alto materials available, challenging but fun for an up-and-coming doubler.

Dissertation on Divertissement for multiple woodwinds

A few years back I commissioned a piece, Divertissement by Sy Brandon for multiple woodwinds soloist with piano, with the help of a Co-op Press Commission Assistance Grant. Brian Levels, who was until recently a doctoral student at the University of North Texas, has written a dissertation on the piece, which is now available through the UNT Digital Library. Be sure to check out the dissertation, and, of course, the piece.

Review: Duos for Doublers by Gene Kaplan

I was pleased to hear from woodwind player and composer Gene Kaplan, who sent me a copy of his new duets books, Duos for Doublers. These, as far as I know, are a one-of-a-kind set of duets for two woodwind doublers, with the first part including flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone, and the second part including flute, clarinet, and tenor saxophone. The instruments are used in various combinations, with each player playing at least two instruments on each duet (with one exception, where the second part is tenor-only on one of the duets).

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The style and the difficulty level of the duets varies. They are probably not suitable for those just starting out on their doubles (yet), as they do not shy away from bugaboos like the flute’s third octave, the clarinet break, and the saxophone’s below-the-staff notes.

I think a real benefit of these is that they do require quick instrument switches in real time and without losing your place (something that’s much easier to “fudge” with, say, solo etudes), in the company of someone who presumably will be understanding if you need to back up and try again. These duets would be great for getting together with another woodwind doubler for a little friendly challenge.

I’m on record as saying that saxophone-flute-clarinet-“only” doubling is a somewhat dated approach, and that modern doublers need to take the double reeds seriously, as well as auxiliary instruments in each woodwind family, plus probably some “world” woodwinds. These duets are still useful for working one commonly-used subset of those skills. (Gene is a double reed player himself, and acknowledges that he didn’t include them here in order to make these duets playable for more woodwind doublers.)

The set costs $30 at the time of this review (shipped free in the continental US). They are self-published, with paper covers and a clear plastic sheet over the front. The plastic comb binding is exactly what is needed for a book of sheet music to lay flat and stay open (something that some large sheet music publishers get wrong).

There are a couple of issues with layout that make these a little bit of a hassle to play, but which also probably provide just the kind of training that aspiring woodwind doublers need for real-life gig situations. The first is (some) impractical page turns, sometimes in places where the only option is to photocopy a page or to drop out for a couple of bars. Some happen during short rests, and some of those also coincide with an instrument change. The second issue is that each of the books includes only one part. My preference for duet playing is one book with both parts on the page, score-style. (This can also potentially mitigate the page turn problem, if you have four hands available instead of two.)

Here’s a quick video demo of “Acapulco Nights” by me and my less-handsome twin brother.

I’ve added these to my list of compositions for multiple-woodwind instrumentalists. Let me know if there’s anything else on your radar that should be included.

Get Duos for Doublers from Gene Kaplan’s website.

 

Review: Ben Britton’s A Complete Approach to Overtones

About a year and a half ago I reviewed Ben Britton’s book A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist, which is full of excellent information and exercises for development of fundamental tone production technique. Ben has just released a new book, and I was pleased to get a sneak preview.

A Complete Approach to Overtones: Vivid Tone and Extended Range builds on A Complete Approach to Sound’s foundation with 50-some pages of overtone exercises and explanatory text. Overtone exercises are often associated with development of the altissimo register (Eugene Rousseau, for example, uses overtones extensively in his altissimo book), but this book is not specifically altissimo-oriented; it is a more broad-based approach to improving every aspect of tone production (particularly tone, intonation, and response).

Ben Britton: A Complete Approach to Overtones

The exercises are very thorough and systematic. A number of the exercises are similar to the simple ones I use with my own students, but Ben’s are better thought-out and cover the technique in a much more complete way. Between the book’s thoughtful organization and incisive text, it covers all of the usual frustrations that overtone beginners deal with; any saxophonist with a general command of the instrument’s basics should be able to jump right in and start hearing results. At the same time, the material is enough to keep an advanced saxophonist challenged for quite a while. This is a book that could very well be studied as a high school student, reviewed again at the college level, and re-reviewed throughout a professional playing career.

Grab your copy (paper or digital) now and thank me later. While you’re at it, pick up A Complete Approach to Sound and Ben’s album Children at Play.

Linkage:

Saxophone altissimo books: Raschèr vs. Rousseau

My university saxophone students are anxious to tackle the altissimo register, and it’s not at all uncommon for them to show up to their first lessons clutching the Sigurd Raschèr Top-Tones for the Saxophone book and wearing a hopeful expression. I also see the Raschèr book frequently and glibly recommended on online forums. With the greatest respect for Raschèr, I think this is a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong: the Raschèr book is a classic and contains a great deal of wisdom. It is a must-have for the well-read saxophonist. But I think most saxophonists would do better to start with Eugene Rousseau’s Saxophone High Tones, and have the Raschèr on hand for supplementary exercises and instruction.

Get this one first
Get this one first
Use this one as a supplement
Use this one as a supplement

I’m going to make the following point first, not because I think it’s necessarily the most important, but because it’s the one that will click with those of you who are hoping to “learn altissimo” in an afternoon by looking at a fingering chart: Rousseau’s fingering charts are much better. They are better suited to “modern” (Mark VI and beyond) instruments and more complete (in the sense of providing many more options for each note, though Raschèr’s chart does go a little higher). Rousseau also provides separate fingering charts for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, while Raschèr provides only one chart, which he indicates in the first-edition foreword is intended for “E-flat saxophones”—altos, that is. (I do have a few issues with the visual layout of Rousseau’s charts, and Raschèr’s too, but that’s another rant.) Continue reading “Saxophone altissimo books: Raschèr vs. Rousseau”

Review: Ben Britton’s A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist

I have been in touch with saxophonist Ben Britton since I mentioned his blog in a roundup review last year. He’s a nice guy, not to mention a great (and award-winning) saxophone player:

I was pleased to hear from Ben about his new book, A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist. It is now available in print from Amazon (currently a very reasonable $14.95) and as a download from Payhip (a steal at $9.95).

The book is around 60 pages long, but it’s not densely packed text. It can easily be skimmed in one sitting. What you get for your money is a highly-concentrated, efficient approach to tone production. I (and probably you) have shelves of much longer and much more expensive books that take a week to read and longer to extract anything useful from. Ben’s book is a straightforward, less-is-more approach that is refreshing and worthwhile.

My copy arrived just in time, as my tenor hasn’t been getting enough attention lately (teaching classical repertoire means lots of alto) and, as I feared, my tone and control have suffered a bit. I soaked some reeds and spent the morning with the book. Continue reading “Review: Ben Britton’s A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist”

Things you don’t need to cover in woodwind methods class

orchestral flutist
Photo, KSMF Webmaster

I’ve taught college-level woodwind methods courses for a few years now. This is a course primarily for instrumental music majors, who will go on to become school band or orchestra directors, and who need a crash course in the playing and pedagogy of each instrument that will be in their future ensembles. At the places I’ve taught, it means taking students from zero to playing a little bit of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone, all in one semester. It’s a semester-long sprint.

There are a handful of textbooks available for these types of courses, most of which I own, and none of which I use in class. I’m continually surprised by the material that is and isn’t covered in these books.

I try hard to keep my courses focused on core concepts, like position/posture, breath support, basic embouchure, voicing, and finger technique, and I try to keep those concepts as simple and clear as possible. I have students observe each other’s playing of these instruments, identify things that don’t look and/or sound right, and put their observations into terms of those basic concepts. (“So-and-so’s pitch sounds unstable, and his embouchure appears to be moving a lot. Perhaps keeping the embouchure still and increasing breath support will help to stabilize his intonation.”)

I find discouragingly little discussion (or even understanding) of these concepts in many of the published texts. Instead, I find what appears to be a lot of filler—not bad information, necessarily, but information that’s far from mission-critical. The students in these classes will mostly end up teaching beginning or intermediate students in large-group settings. They need to understand the fundamentals in ways that will help them problem-solve efficiently.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly not opposed to knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I’m just saying that for an already too-short woodwind methods class, that 300-page book could perhaps be trimmed down to 100 or even 50 clear, concise pages, for significant savings of money, trees, class time, shelf space, and brain cells. Here are some examples of things that I’ve seen in actual classroom-intended woodwind methods textbooks, that just plain don’t need to be there: Continue reading “Things you don’t need to cover in woodwind methods class”

Review: Bob Hartig’s Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of jazz musician bloggers opining about the evils of memorizing patterns and “licks,” and calling for original and creative improvisation. While I don’t think anybody will argue about the importance of individuality and creativity, I do think it’s a big mistake to ignore the value of memorizing, practicing, and internalizing established jazz vocabulary.

When a person learns a foreign language, they learn first to repeat some standard useful phrases. Then they learn to rearrange the vocabulary and syntax of those phrases to create new ones. Over a lifetime of study and practice, they may learn the language well enough to speak or write with their own distinctive creative voice. But if a student tries on the first day of French class to be creative and original, they aren’t likely to make much sense. To speak the language, you need to hear it, imitate it, and then repeat over and over. Genuine individual originality comes much, much later.

So I was pleased to read an excellent blog post by saxophonist Bob Hartig:

If you listen to a lot of Kenny Garrett, and if you take it upon yourself to transcribe a bunch of Kenny Garrett solos, and if you steep yourself in those Kenny Garrett solos, then chances are you will come out sounding an awful lot like Kenny Garrett.

Now, if that’s all you aspire to, then that’s where you’ll end up: as a Kenny Garrett clone. But if you desire to forge your own voice, then Kenny will simply become a part of your vocabulary, a vocabulary that includes other influences besides Kenny and increasingly reflects your personal explorations with melody, harmony, timbre, and nuance. You are an individual, after all, and the sheer force of your individuality will direct you toward your own sound and approach.

Bob expands on this in the comments section:

A good writer doesn’t become one by attempting to create a different dictionary. He or she develops expertise by becoming conversant with the existing language, and that happens largely through reading the works of great writers who have gone before. Through careful scrutiny and application of how others have handled the English language, the individual’s personal writing style emerges.

Shakespeare is noted for adding a huge number of words and phrases to the English language—undoubtedly one of the most creative minds working in that medium. But how many of the words and phrases in his works were really brand new inventions? Surely less than 1%. And how much did Charlie Parker or John Coltrane add to the jazz language, that wasn’t already there? Their contributions are staggeringly significant, but what they actually created out of thin air was a drop in the bucket among all the notes they played in their careers. For most of us mortals, our truly original contributions to the language (be it English or jazz) are few and far between; most of our creativity happens when we shuffle and remix the materials that are already before us.

Bob backs up  his ideas about the importance of jazz vocabulary with his Giant Steps Scratch Pad project. The Scratch Pad provides a wealth of tasty and useful vocabulary for playing over the chord changes to John Coltrane’s tune “Giant Steps,” a tune that has challenged the best of jazz players for decades because of its unusual and elegantly symmetrical chord progression. Bob was kind enough to send me a review copy of the Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete, a new PDF-only (at least for now) edition that contains the same material as the Scratch Pad, transposed into all twelve keys. The transposed material makes this especially good for those who aspire to play Giant Steps in all twelve keys, or who double on instruments of different transpositions.

I took the Scratch Pad Complete for a test drive today. Continue reading “Review: Bob Hartig’s Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete”