- Saxophonist Ben Britton explores the connection between tone and intonation. He also gives a nice introduction to the desperately under-taught art of swing articulation.
- Woodwind doubler Ed Joffe compares “part” players and true musical artists.
- John Reeks examines the history surrounding the use of clarinets in the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
- Oboist Stephen Caplan discusses staying comfortable and healthy while sitting for extended periods of playing music.
- Tammy Evans Yonce and Misty Theisen provide suggestions on planning a small flute festival or “flute day.”
- Jenny Maclay gives thorough advice on the clarinet’s altissimo register.
A few months ago I shared a list of published opinions on how to avoid undertones on the clarinet.
Many of the ideas shared by the distinguished authors seemed like just descriptions of good basic clarinet technique (“ensure correct, stable embouchure formation,” “establish breath support/air pressure before releasing tongue”). I agree that the most important way to improve undertones is to have a solid baseline tone production technique. If you can play with a beautiful, characteristic tone, mostly in tune, with good response, then your undertones are probably mostly gone already.
I do have one small tip that I find helps a great deal with clearing up any remaining undertones, that wasn’t mentioned by any of the sources I consulted. My readers know I frequently discuss the importance of keeping voicing very stable, but as I have indicated previously that’s only one side of a multifaceted issue.
I have good success with lowering my voicing just a little bit in the upper clarion register. (I tell my students to think of warming the air by just a degree or two.) This seems to stabilize and clarify those notes.
As always, expect any change in voicing to have multiple consequences, for tone, pitch, and response. In the case of clarinet upper-clarion notes, I find a very slight lowering of my voicing to have only minimal and acceptable effects.
If anyone is aware of others teaching this technique, I would be curious to hear about it.
Here are some of the questions readers sent me in celebration of this blog’s 10-year anniversary. I have edited, combined, and otherwise adapted some of them but hopefully there are answers here for those of you who were kind enough to inquire.
How do you (or how do you help a student) select the appropriate hardness of reed?
This is a careful balancing act and involves tradeoffs. In general a too-soft reed causes pitch instability (tending toward flatness), good piano response but limited forte range, improved low-register response but weak upper register, and a thin and/or bright tone. A too-hard reed usually has poor piano response, a more resistant low register, and a stuffy or labored tone.
I find that many reed players use reeds that are too stiff, perhaps due to the strange but pervasive idea of “moving up” in reed strength as a rite of passage or indicator of skill.
Also: with clarinet and saxophone, reed strength is (a) inconsistent between brands and (b) tied very closely to the characteristics of the mouthpiece, so it’s not especially useful to make broad recommendations (“beginners should start on a 2½…”). It’s entirely likely that two clarinetists playing different mouthpieces might need dramatically different reed strengths.
How can I obtain better than mass produced double reeds for my beginning oboe and bassoon students? Do you have any tips on how to learn to improve already made reeds, store bought or otherwise?
Absolutely double reed players should, if at all possible, work with private teachers for this very reason. The ideal scenario is for a private teacher to make and continually adjust reeds for beginning double reed players. An alternative might be to connect with nearby symphony players, professors or graduate students, military musicians, or other nearby double reeders who might be willing to sell reeds (face-to-face, so adjustments can be made) or do occasional reed classes or adjustment sessions.
Improving/adjusting reeds involves some specialized skills, one of which is playing the instrument at a high level. Reed adjustment is an iterative process of making a small change and then testing, small change and test, small change and test. If you can’t play the instrument well, then reed adjustment is shooting in the dark.
One possible exception is that minor changes to bassoon reed wires are basically reversible, so there may be some room to experiment with that. I won’t get specific here as wire adjustments have been dealt with in detail by many previous authors, but careful, small adjustments can potentially improve response in various registers, pitch, and tone.
Thanks for your questions, and good luck with your reeds!
I was hoping to announce this a week ago, on the anniversary of the ReedCast™’s debut, April 1, 2015,but things got a little delayed. Anyway, you can now get your guaranteed-accurate, highly scientific ReedCast™ on your Alexa device. Check it out!
You can, of course, still get your classic ReedCast™ on the web.
- Jolene Harju lists some favorite flute recordings.
- Woodwind player Larry Weintraub shares information on careers in military bands.
- Bassoonist Anna Norris is writing a series of posts on playing John Williams’s Five Sacred Trees.
- Flutist Roderick Seed explores issues surrounding cheek puffing and chin pressure.
- Clarinetist James Zimmermann discusses the relationship between the clarinet and bassoon cadenzas in Scheherezade.
Clarinet “undertones” or “grunts” are the unpleasant low sounds that happen usually at the beginning of tongued upper-clarion-register notes (about written G to C, above the staff). They are the lower register speaking out of turn—a clarion G’s undertone, for example, is the chalumeau C.
Fine clarinetists can more or less eradicate the problem, but there isn’t a lot of consensus or clarity among clarinetists about how exactly this is done. I checked some published clarinet wisdom that I had at hand, to see what some of the experts say about what causes undertones, or how to eliminate them. Here are the results:
This listing isn’t comprehensive, so I welcome submissions if you can point me toward published sources. And in many cases I have done some interpreting of the authors’ intents. (Julie DeRoche, for example, lists a number of embouchure specifics in her article, which I have reduced to “Ensure correct, stable embouchure formation.”) If you are one of the authors, or have particular insight into their thinking, I also welcome corrections.
I’m refraining from comment or conclusion at this point, but stay tuned for a future post.
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 Troubles, a 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.
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.
- Betsy Sturdevant brainstorms some (tongue-in-cheek) reasons not to sharpen her bassoon reed profiler blade.
- Woodwind doubler Ed Joffe shares some practical advice about subbing on gigs.
- Flutist Nicole Riner explores some lessons about focus learned during an artist retreat.
- Joan Martí-Frasquier lists some repertoire for baritone saxophone.
- Oboist Jennet Ingle considers some ideas about motivation and doing difficult things.
- Clarinetist Michael Dean offers some small but useful performing tips.
- Flutist Jessica Quiñones shares some ways to build a private studio.
- Saxophonist Larry Weintraub recalls a day spent with Michael Brecker.
- Khara Wolf suggests solutions for oboe reeds with too-wide tip openings.
- Flutist Nicole Riner lists extended techniques with some sample repertoire and practice tips.
- Saxophone mouthpiece reviewer extraordinaire Steve Neff explains how to test a mouthpiece thoroughly.
- Oboist Patty Mitchell offers a somber reminder that sexual harassment is an issue in the music world, too.
- Clarinetist Liz Aleksander outlines a methodical approach to tuning.
- Bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson gives some perspective on teachers and teaching.
- The “Curious Clarinetist” tells a satirical tale of new instruments.
- Cynthia Ellis and Cate Hummel provide tips on playing the piccolo.
- Clarinetist Jenny Maclay shares ideas for mastering a new repertoire piece besides just practicing.
- Oboist Jennet Ingle discusses the importance of choosing the right reed for a performance (and which factors are most important).
- Ariel Detwiler discusses some of the issues of choosing which students are good prospective bassoonists.
- Flutist Jennifer Cluff offers advice on (not) playing with pain.
- Clarinetist Jenny Maclay invites you to enlist for Baermann Boot Camp starting October 1st.
- Cate Hummel shares tips on basic flute care.
- Flutist Jolene Harju discusses breaking the habit of playing “test notes.”
- Rachel Taylor Geier challenges you to test your flute knowledge with a quiz.
- Oboist Jennet Ingle finds inspiration in fancy fountain pens regarding “flourish.”
Each of these fine woodwind bloggers has been featured here repeatedly, so be sure to subscribe to their RSS feeds and/or social media streams. And get in touch to let me know who else I should be following! (You, maybe?)