- International Clarinet Association (Aleah Fitzwater): The Rise and Fall of the Metal Clarinet: A Brief History
- Joan Martí-Frasquier (saxophone): 15 More Works for Baritone Saxophone
- Just Flutes Blog (Chris Hankin): Top Five Books on Extended Technique
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): How to achieve delicate attacks on clarinet
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:
- Northwoods Oboe (“Kaitlyn”): How to Practice an Instrument (Without Wasting Time); How to Make an Oboe Reed Responsive
- International Clarinet Association: (Rachel Yoder) Clarinet Playing During and After Pregnancy; (Shannon McDonald) Accommodating Learning Differences in the Clarinet Studio; (Sarah Manasreh) Equipment Matters: Women in Clarinet Repair
With the recent release of the second-generation Venn clarinet and saxophone reeds from D’Addario Woodwinds, there’s a new rush of YouTube videos and social media posts comparing them to cane reeds (and/or to other synthetics). Here are a few questions raised by those kinds of comparisons that you should be cautious of:
- “Do synthetic reeds sound as good as cane?” You could decide whether one of the specific reeds in question sounds better to you, but if it’s the cane one, does that mean that all cane reeds are better-sounding than all synthetics? You could almost certainly find a cane reed that would sound much worse than either of the ones tested. Plus, if you’re hearing a comparison to a seasoned player’s favorite reeds, it’s likely that those are the reeds the player used to select their mouthpiece, and that they have been practicing and performing on for years. You may be hearing the new reed being played on a mouthpiece or embouchure to which it’s not well-matched.
- “Can you tell the difference between cane and synthetic?” Would you be able to tell the difference between two different cane reeds? In many cases the difference between two high-quality, similarly-purposed reeds is audible (if subtle). Being able to hear a difference between this specific cane reed and that specific synthetic reed isn’t particularly remarkable or important. I’m not aware of any manufacturer claiming their synthetic reeds sound identical to any specific cane reed (even in the case of D’Addario, who is making both; they consider the Venn to be a new “cut” of reed, not a clone of one of their cane products).
- “Is this synthetic reed the best-sounding of all reeds?” Tone is important, but remember to consider other factors. Sure, that includes response/articulation, pitch, etc., but it should also include some of the potential upsides of synthetics, like longevity, stability, and consistency. If a synthetic only “sounds” 98% as good as your cane reeds, but it lasts for months, isn’t affected by weather, and plays identically to others of the same model, is it worth it to you to switch? Is it likely that the 2% gap will narrow or even disappear with some practice and tweaks to your setup?
Here is a better question to ask yourself as you consume the reviews, videos, comments, etc.:
- Do I hear evidence that this is a viable reed? In other words, is it possible to sound good on it, in a way that’s competitive with my current favorites? (A comparison to a player’s old standby reeds can be useful here.) If the answer is yes, then you can decide whether you wish to pursue the possibility further. If the answer is no, that only tells you that you weren’t impressed by that specific demonstration; the reeds might work quite well for another player, another mouthpiece, etc.
New products are exciting! But keep a level head.
(Full disclosure: I have in the past made exactly the kind of comparison I’m criticizing here, but no longer think it’s that useful of a format.)
There are two basic fingerings a clarinetist can use for B4:
|option 1||option 2|
But there are some other possibilities, such as adding either of the pinky C keys. Doing this doesn’t open or close any additional toneholes, so the note isn’t affected at all:
|option 3||option 4|
While the extra pinky finger is technically unnecessary, it is sometimes convenient and conducive to smoother technique. For example, option 4 is frequently taught as a “standard” B fingering in beginning band method books. That is probably because it works well in a C major scale:
When moving from A to B, this only adds one extra finger, the right hand pinky, to the B. Since there are already several fingers of the right hand moving in the same direction (down onto keys), this is only a minimal issue. And the movement from B to C is very simple: just release the left pinky.
The same sequence can be played without the extra key:
This is very slightly advantageous for A to B, since there is one fewer finger to move. But it introduces a more significant complication for B to C, since there is a “flip-flop:” the left pinky is lifting up as the right pinky is pressing down. A good clarinetist can execute this successfully, but it’s a little risky, since fingers on different hands are moving in different directions. There’s a possibility of finger mistiming that can result in an audible blip—a moment when both fingers are up together, producing a brief D5.
So there are advantages to using “extra” pinky fingers in some cases, but it doesn’t make sense in others. Some of my students stumble over sequences like this:
The right-hand pinky isn’t needed for the B, but some of my students use it out of habit whenever they see that note. Then they run into trouble when they have to slide the pinky to a different key for the E-flat. Advancing clarinetists should be aware of the fingerings they are using, and make each choice purposeful. Careful, consistent scale and arpeggio practice can help reinforce and habituate good fingering choices.
By the way, for the sake of completeness, you can add the opposite-hand C/F key for any of these written notes on the clarinet:
Adding pinky keys to any other pinky note will affect pitch.
- Steve Neff Music Blog (saxophone): Do Mouthpiece Patches and Beak Height Make a Difference to the Sound of a Saxophone?
- LearnTinWhistle.com: Best Tin Whistle Books
- The Flute Examiner (Jessica Dunnavant): Career Day
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): Repertoire Research Checklist for Students
- Rachel Taylor Geier (flute): Fixing a Faulty Trill – Dr. G’s Top Five Trill Etude Recommendations
I’m pleased to share videos from my recent Delta State University faculty recital. I performed for a reduced in-person audience due to COVID-19 precautions.
All the repertoire involves electronics of some kind: prerecorded tracks, a looper, an actual electronic instrument (the Akai EWI), and/or live signal processing. This was my first time doing something so electronics-intensive, and I was learning to use some new equipment, so I’m including here some videos from the live recital and some from a dress rehearsal depending on audio quality, etc. (You will still notice some distortion and other issues, which I’m learning from and hoping to improve in future performances.)
- EG-REEDS (Éric González, oboe): The importance of previous postural and respiratory work at the beginning of the study of woodwind instruments.
- Rachel Taylor Geier (flute): The Myth of the Magic Formula
- Bill Plake Music (saxophone): For This “Career Ending Condition”, There Is Hope
- The Flute Examiner (Kelly Wilson): Do You See What I See?
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): 10 Ways to Create More Musical Phrases
- Magic Reed (Kathy Sheinhouse): 10 Strategies To Make A Serviceable Oboe Reed In 20-30 Minutes. [update: dead link]
- The Flute View: On Vibrato by Laura Jellicoe
- Hodge Products, Inc.: Latest News (Ann Hodge): Student to Professional Oboe Reeds: “Which oboe reed should I buy?” [Inclusion here doesn’t constitute an endorsement of any of the products listed or this particular retailer, but I thought the methodology was interesting.]
- Jenny Maclay (clarinet): Quick Fix Friday: Breathe from the corners
- How To Make Oboe Reeds (Tim Feil): Reed Making Technique
- International Clarinet Association (Rebecca Rischin): The Clarinetist’s Enemy: Tendinitis: Part 2
- The Flute Examiner (Kelly Wilson): Recovering…Again
- Bill Plake Music (saxophone): The Way I Wish I Had Learned To Play Music (Lessons From My Daughter)
- Josh On That Sax (Joshua Mlodzianowski): 5 Things to Consider When Building Your Saxophone Warm-up