- Heather Roche shares a list of easy/reliable clarinet multiphonics. Useful information here for composers and performers.
- Eric Schultz examines the history of multiple tonguing on single reed instruments.
- Jenny Maclay explores clarinet orchestral excerpts. (Also consider enlisting for the October Uhl Boot Camp.)
- Flutist Kelly Wilson explains the anatomy and function of the arms.
- Jennet Ingle discusses producing a resonant sound on the oboe.
- Oboist Nuria Cabezas demonstrates some stretches for musicians.
- Flutist Jessica Dunnavant deals with performance nerves.
- Ariel Detwiler shares thoughts on fitting into a band or orchestra bassoon section.
- Patty Mitchell spends some time away from her oboe.
- Hannah Haefele offers some suggestions for warming up on the flute on a tight schedule.
Here are some videos from my recent Delta State University faculty recital. I enjoyed tackling Brett Wery‘s challenging Sonata for multiple woodwinds (flute, clarinet, alto saxophone) and piano, plus some little oboe pieces and the André Previn bassoon sonata. As always, the goal was to challenge myself, so, as always, the performance had some hiccups. But it was a valuable growth experience for me and a chance to perform some new repertoire.
A few months ago I got to perform Claude T. Smith’s Suite for Solo Flute, Clarinet, and Alto Saxophone with the Delta State University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Dr. Erik Richards. It’s a fun showpiece for a woodwind doubler with band, which I’ve had a few opportunities to perform over the last 10 years.
The Suite requires more-than-casual doubling on flute, clarinet, and saxophone. (Some of the altissimo in my performance isn’t in the original part.) Like most of Smith’s music, the Suite is light and appealing, with some rhythm/meter hijinks and a hint of jazz influence. Worth tackling if you’re a serious flute-clarinet-saxophone doubler and get a chance to work with a good wind ensemble.
Here’s a YouTube video (audio only) of the April 11 performance:
- 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.
- Flutist Jolene Madewell improves her articulation with understanding of how the tongue moves.
- Patty Mitchell discusses the oboe and getting into college.
- David Pierce gives brief summaries of some books on bassoon reedmaking.
- Saxophonist James Barger explains a method of vibrato development using a mobile app.
- Clarinetist Jenny Maclay is organizing a Kroepsch studies boot camp for June.
- Nicole Riner gives piccolo advice.
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!
The saxophone’s lowest notes can be notoriously unresponsive. This is partly due to the instrument’s acoustics, particularly its fairly extreme conical bore. (For technical details, see for example Acoustics of Musical Instruments by Chaigne and Kergomard, section 22.214.171.124.) The oboe and bassoon, whose bores are conical but not to such an extreme, have this problem to a lesser extent, and the tips that follow apply to those instruments as well.
For the best chance at successful low notes you need:
- A well-adjusted, high-quality instrument. Even a small leak anywhere on the saxophone makes the lowest notes more difficult. And the best-designed and most meticulously-made instruments help to minimize the difficulties of the low range.
- A good mouthpiece and reed combination. This may involve tradeoffs: a mouthpiece/reed combination that really improves the low register may, for example, make the highest notes more difficult. Since mouthpieces and reeds vary in so many ways it’s hard to make reliable generalizations, but often I find that a wider tip opening with a softer reed tend to favor the low register more (and the high register less).
- Good, stable fundamentals of saxophone technique. Breath support, voicing, articulation, and embouchure (let’s include jaw position in embouchure here) should be properly set, and shouldn’t change for the low register. If you find that you need to increase breath support, lower your voicing, change your embouchure or tonguing, or open your jaw to make the low notes succeed, then you should probably already be doing those things, in every register. Don’t make the low notes even harder by creating a moving target.
To expand on that last point a little, if you find that your low notes need a little extra help, then a small alteration to your voicing is the right way to provide it. But know the tradeoffs: lowering your voicing as you approach the low register affects pitch and tone, besides creating instability in your tone production technique. Manage these concerns by aiming for the smallest possible change.
Practice smart. No shortcuts!
If you have read my reviews of the D’Addario clarinet and jazz alto and tenor saxophone mouthpieces, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a big fan of their new classical alto saxophone mouthpiece, too. (As with the last several reviews, D’Addario sent me some mouthpieces at no cost, with the possibility but not the promise of a review.)
I’ve been hammering on one point with all the D’Addario mouthpieces, but it’s worth bringing up again because it’s an important innovation in how mouthpieces are made and bought. D’Addario’s manufacturing process (precisely milling mouthpieces from solid rod rubber) produces mouthpieces that are extremely consistent, much more so than other mass-produced professional mouthpieces, which are generally finished a little by hand. The old system is that you try out a bunch of mouthpieces that are the same make and model (by going into a store or putting a big deposit on your credit card), and pick out the one that plays best. The new system is that you order a D’Addario mouthpiece from your favorite retailer, and know that it plays just like all the others. This is a game-changing development in the sub-$200 mouthpiece market.
And, of course, like the other mouthpieces in D’Addario’s lineup, the new Reserve alto mouthpiece plays great.
I’ve been playing on a Vandoren Optimum AL3 for the last 8 or 9 years (and used an AL4 for a few years before that). What I like about the Optimum is that it’s very easy to play, with good response in all registers, good dynamic range, a lot of stability (so pitch and tone are very consistent, without much effort from the player), and tone that tends toward a warm, almost muted quality (in a good way). It’s a mouthpiece for a 21st-century classical saxophone player.
The D’Addario mouthpiece has these same qualities, with some subtle but important improvements. When I started playing on the AL4 I liked its richness of tone, but ultimately decided I needed to sacrifice that a little to embrace the AL3’s superior high register. The D’Addario Reserve does an impressive job of blending those qualities, and even improving upon both.
In particular, I have been impressed with scalar movement in the altissimo register, which on my Vandoren mouthpieces could be just a little lumpy as I crossed from one partial to another. The D’Addario mouthpieces make this feel really smooth, effortless, and secure.
I have been using mostly D’Addario Reserve reeds for classical saxophone playing, and with my Vandoren mouthpieces I sometimes wished I could get a reed strength between 2.5 and 3.0. I did hope that switching to the D’Addario mouthpiece would eliminate that need, but after trying them I still feel like a 2.5+ would be a useful option. (D’Addario does make some “plus” reeds, such as the Reserve alto saxophone 3.0+.) If I have one complaint about the Reserve mouthpiece, it’s that I don’t get quite the ease of low-register response I would like with the 3.0 reed. A 2.5 helps that but plays a little brighter than I want.
The Reserve mouthpiece comes in three flavors at the moment: D145 (1.45mm tip/medium facing), D150 (1.50mm tip/medium-long facing), and D155 (1.50mm tip/medium facing—yes, it is the same tip opening as the D150). The mouthpiece has what D’Addario touts as a “unique oval inner chamber.”
I’m really quite impressed with all three of the Reserve options, and not 100% settled yet on which will be my go-to. But I recently used the D150 (with a Reserve 3.0 reed) for a concerto performance with band that involved some double tonguing and plenty of altissimo. The D150/3.0 setup worked well for that situation—just the right amount of resistance to make the double-tonguing comfortable and easy, good security in the altissimo, and enough guts to be heard over the band without getting spread or edgy.
Here’s a quick comparison between the D’Addario Reserve D150 and the Vandoren Optimum AL3. I’m using the same ligature and reed in both clips.
D’Addario Reserve D150:
Vandoren Optimum AL3:
To my ear, the D’Addario has a richer, fuller, and more even sound, and also responds better to dynamic changes.
So far D’Addario is scoring 100% with me on their mouthpieces: each new mouthpiece they have released has replaced my former setups (clarinet, jazz alto, jazz tenor, and now classical alto). I look forward to whatever is next.
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.
- Flutist Nicole Riner assigns her students repertoire that reinforces skill development (a re-“print” from the 2012 A Flutist’s Handbook: Pedagogy Anthology Vol. 2).
- Oboist Stephen Caplan reconsiders concentration in performance.
- Bassoonist Barry Stees shares a simple but revealing way to test reeds.
- Flutist Jessica Dunnavant discusses her complicated relationship with university teaching.
- David Pierce considers a pedagogical order for the Vivaldi bassoon concertos (a re-“print” from a 1987 article in the Journal of the International Double Reed Society).
- Oboist Jennet Ingle figures out how to give a good tuning A every time.
- Saxophonist Helen Kahlke avoids germs on the gig.