- Everything Saxophone (Ben Britton): Basics of Voicing
- Jennifer Stucki, oboist: Three Common Mistakes New Reed Makers Make
- Recorder Jen: Breath control: How to cure unintentional vibrato
- Stephen Caplan embraces plastic oboes. Related: Elizabeth Brown lists some signs that your wooden oboe has a crack.
- Clarinetist Miranda Dohrman gives advice on building a freelance career.
- Jennifer Mackerras provides solutions for recorders slipping and sliding around in your hands.
- Peter Westbrook shares a 2003 interview with Herbie Mann, covering aspects of jazz flute playing, woodwind doubling, and more.
- Oboist Jennet Ingle offers some suggestions on a good mindset for solo performance.
- Clarinetist Jenny Maclay lists some reasons you might not be improving as much as you would like.
- Oboist Jennifer Stucki offers some suggestions and resources for keeping a reed log.
- Clarinetist Diana Haskell shares ideas on helping students avoid injury.
- Flutist Roderick Seed explains a comprehensive method for memorizing music.
- Anne Norman reports on the 2018 World Shakuhachi Festival.
- Oboist Nuria Cabezas demonstrates hand and finger stretches.
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.
What are your thought on voicings on the various extensions of the big five? I find I get optimal results on flute with low voicing, but on piccolo I use something more similar to high register alto sax.
I tend to be generally consistent within instrument families: low voicing for flute, so also low voicing for piccolo, alto flute, etc. High voicing for clarinet, so also high voicing for bass clarinet. Saxophones are a little different because they require a “middle” voicing, and I do think it’s worthwhile to target each member of the saxophone family precisely. The easiest way to do that is with mouthpiece pitch: a baritone mouthpiece should sound a concert D (a ninth above middle C on the piano), a tenor mouthpiece sounds a G, alto an A, and soprano a C.
I recently purchased a pennywhistle and I’m really enjoying it so far. I was wondering if there’s any specific kind of voicing associated with that kind of instrument. It feels easy to play the lower octave, but going up higher than the fourth or fifth in the second octave is really difficult without absolutely blasting.
For fipple flutes like recorders and pennywhistles (also known as tinwhistles or “Irish” whistles), I recommend a very low voicing, the same as for concert flute or double reeds. Recorders have a thumb hole that serves (sometimes) as a register vent, which tames the upper registers somewhat. Pennywhistles don’t have that—the only way to get to the upper register is to overblow. With some practice and finesse the registers can be balanced somewhat, but with fipple flutes don’t expect nearly the level of dynamic control that you have on a concert flute or modern reed instrument. Bear in mind, too, that fipple flutes generally take much less air than a band/orchestra woodwind.
Some nice handmade pennywhistles are designed to improve the register imbalance issue. (Narrower-bore whistles in particular tend toward a sweeter, softer upper register, but a weaker lower register.) But many professional whistle players prefer the more “authentic” sound of inexpensive whistles, and might try out quite a few to find one that plays well enough.
Thanks for your questions! Voicing is a little-understood, little-taught aspect of woodwind playing.
- Bassoonist Anna Norris suggests showing up for auditions.
- Michael Shults switches between jazz and classical saxophone.
- David Freeman transcribes recorder parts for Stairway to Heaven (but plays them on an electric keyboard…).
- Michael Lowenstern addresses a bass clarinet reed question.
- Flutist Vanessa Breault Mulvey discusses squeezing’s detrimental effect on flute playing [update: link dead].
- Saxophonist Bill Plake discusses tone imagination.
- Flutist Jolene Harju shares ideas for getting the most out of your lessons. I also liked her “Fundamentals Workout Planner.”
- Jennet Ingle learns something about disappointing performances.
- Saxophonist Jay Brandford shares an Eric Dolphy anecdote about dedication to detail in practicing.
- Matt Stohrer shares his procedure for “setting up” a new saxophone. This is sort of a commercial post, but instructive about what a new instrument might need to play to its best potential.
- Flutist Jennifer Cluff explains anchor tonguing.
Lately I have been enjoying Sal Lozano‘s recent CD, Everything’s Gonna Be Great (available from CD Baby and iTunes). The album is 13 charts by Tom Kubis for 5-piece saxophone section with rhythm section, and Sal plays all five of the saxophone parts. It’s a lot of fun, Sal sounds great, and there’s an all-star lineup of guest soloists.
Even if you don’t know Sal Lozano’s name, you have almost certainly heard him play saxophone and woodwinds. He has recorded with artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Stevie Wonder to Christina Aguilera to Mel Tormé, played on movie scores for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and National Treasure, and performed in TV orchestras for the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Grammy Awards, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars, among many, many other projects. He plays in Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, which just picked up another four Grammy nominations to add to an already-impressive list. (Also check out my interview with Big Phat Band saxophonist Jay Mason.) Sal also teaches at California State University, Long Beach, is a clinician for Disneyland music education programs, and is available for masterclasses and clinics.
Sal is very generous with his time and expertise, and was kind enough to answer some questions about his work and his new album. (He also asked me to let my readers know that they are welcome to contact him.)
What you do for a living?
“I’m a sax player.” That’s what I say to anyone who asks. I also teach saxophone at the university level. Just private students, about six, which has paid for my daughters’ education.
What education (formal or otherwise) and experience prepared you for the work you do?
I studied at California State University, Long Beach as a performance major on saxophone. Four years of private lessons with Leo Potts. Prior to that I studied with Greg Adams at a music education studio owned by Gary Foster. After college I studied flute with John Barcelona and Jim Walker (he kicked my butt). Then clarinet with Jim Kanter. I also have enjoyed playing in ensembles for many many years which is just as much a learning experience as any teaching I’ve had. I also started playing at Disneyland when I was 19 and that was a great learning experience. Too much to talk about now.
If you could do it over, is there anything you would have done differently to prepare for your current career?
Interesting. (This is my third rewrite of this question.) I’m not sure I knew of a plan then. I just wanted to play. Having said that, I wish I could have learned a little more theory and harmony, but maybe things happen for a reason.
What is a typical work week like for you?
Long tones. Oh… work? It’s all “maybe…” Maybe a recording or two (motion picture, TV show, CD recording, etc.), or if I’m doing theater my nights are busy with that (usually six nights a week if I happen to have a theater run). Teach on Friday. Perhaps a concert with the Phat Band, which is mostly out of town. That band is a lot of fun and travels well. Sometimes weeks can be very busy and some are sporadic. However, I try to do something musical every day.
What projects are you excited about right now?
I have the new CD out and have been getting great response. I am hoping to put out a playalong book based on the tunes on the CD. In April I will be on a solo tour in Japan playing with several local big bands. I’m also in the orchestra for the Oscars so things are great right now.
What instruments do you consider part of your current professional toolbox?
I play all the saxes, flutes, clarinets, whistles, ethnic flutes, and the EWI.
Are there others you are working on or would like to add at some point?
I was asked to play the ocarina last year on a Robbie Williams CD so I learned that. This year I’m on a project where I’m playing a bamboo sax from Argentina. Another calls for the shakuhachi flute so I may learn that.
Do you self-identify as a “doubler?” A saxophonist who doubles? Something else? Is it your intention to play all your instruments equally well, or are there one or more that you would prefer to focus on?
I’ll answer these in order: no, no, yes, and all equally well. To explain, I consider myself a woodwind player (I know, I don’t play double reeds, I tried and said “no”). When I pick up the sax, I’m a sax player; flute? a flute player, etc. That’s the attitude I’ve taken when approaching these instruments. I dive into the deep end when playing these because most of the time I’m sitting next to great players who only play flute, clarinet, oboe, etc. Many remarkable players.
What kinds of teaching/educational activities are you involved with?
I teach at California State University, Long Beach, which is a four-year university, teaching private saxophone lessons. For about 23 years I also have been a clinician for a program at Disneyland called Disney Performing Arts where we take students through a 1½ hour recording session, reading music written for that level and recording a soundtrack of a short clip of a Disney animated motion picture. We use a click track and everything that is involved with recording. Great program because the students react quickly when they hear themselves on the soundtrack. It turns out that they fix problems quickly. I also enjoy very much going across the country and playing with music schools of any type. Clinics, masterclasses, etc. I really get a kick out of that and would like to do more.
What is the best part of your job? What is the worst part?
The best part is playing music. Doing something I love to do. Hanging and playing with great players and writers and the joy of watching a student excel and succeed. Not sure if there is a worst part because I really enjoy it.
Do you have time for other interests, hobbies, etc.?
Oh yes. MLB baseball. College hoops.
Your new album is in sort of a Supersax vein, with a big-band-style saxophone section playing with rhythm section and guest soloists, but you recorded all the saxophone section parts yourself. How does that process compare to recording section parts with other saxophonists?
Well, first of all, I didn’t have to tell anyone in the section where to breathe and how to phrase. No one shows up late or has to leave early. I don’t have to tell the second alto he’s playing too loud. Tom Kubis told me he had written these charts and wanted to record them with the guys in the big band. I told him that I would record all the parts, and that was it. It is really fun to play in a section, or play chamber music where you have to listen and react.
Marshal is one of my idols and heroes. I had the honor of sitting next to him with the Ray Anthony big band and he still commanded a lead alto presence in his mid- to late 70’s. He was the first guy I heard way back in junior high school and I was hooked. I’m a huge Basie fan and collect bootleg recordings from the 50’s of that band with Marshal playing lead. Great sound, great time. Jerome was a great influence while he was with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band, especially on soprano. There is a huge list of lead alto players I love. The list is quite extensive and it wouldn’t be right to start to list because I can’t think of all of them. They all have this confidence in their sound, the way they go from one note to the next, in many, many styles, not just traditional big band.
Some of the charts on the album use the “standard” alto/alto/tenor/tenor/baritone saxophone section, but some use the less-common soprano lead. Any thoughts on soprano vs. alto as lead instruments? Other than paying dues on the horn, are there any other special considerations when you play lead soprano?
To me? Soprano saxophone requires a hard reed and a slightly open mouthpiece. Mine is an old S80 Selmer E with #3 traditional Vandoren reeds. I need to have the resistance to help me get from one note to the next and hold the pitch and sound I want. I’m not going to change this setup, only the reed. This goes for any playing situation. I most certainly put more air into lead alto playing than I do soprano.
Although the album seems to feature you primarily as a section player, you do take some nice solos, including one on flute. Are you as comfortable improvising on your doubles as you are on saxophone? I think a lot of doublers (myself included) really learn to improvise on the saxophone, and then discover that the vocabulary and fluency don’t automatically transfer.
I would suggest learning technical patterns on the other instruments as you would with saxophone. However, my overall objective is to play flute and clarinet with more of a “classical” approach, so I have had to catch up when improvising on those instruments. Listening to great jazz flute and clarinet players as much as I have listened to “classical” players is quite helpful. I have to remember that each of these instruments requires its own discipline, which is why I don’t consider them “doubles.” It just doesn’t work that way for me.
Any other behind-the-scenes information about the album that you would like to share?
For this project we started with bass and drums and a scratch lead alto/soprano part. Then, the following week, I sat down and played the parts, which took two six-hour days to play 13 charts playing all five parts on each. Eventually we added soloists, guitar, percussion, and piano.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who want to do the kind of work you do?
Practice everything, learn to write, arrange, play the piano, enjoy what you do, get into teaching once you feel comfortable in your playing. With the computer age, ProTools or other recording software makes it very easy to record anywhere.
So, with that comes a responsibility to music. Practicing scales with a metronome, playing long tones with a tuner. The reason is that these recording techniques require us to play along with instruments that are fixed pitched. Record yourself using GarageBand on a Mac or the PC equivalent and it will become apparent. [Ed. note: Audacity is one free, basic recording program for Windows or Linux computers.]
Play in every situation you possibly can, listen to music. A lot. To anything.
Do you have any favorite woodwind doubling (or general woodwind-playing) tips?
One thing I began to realize when studying was that the approach to putting air into these instruments grew to be similar. How I phrased and how I went from one note to the next and playing everything between the notes sort of became the same to me. Obviously embouchure is different but the air thing became the same.
Get a great mouthpiece/reed combination as soon as you can. Look for a decent flute or maybe a head-joint. Ask around, try out everything.
As you play keep in mind four things:
- When you read music, the second time you see it you are no longer sightreading.
- Always look for beat one.
Thanks, Sal, for the music and for taking some time to share a bit of your experience and expertise!
Some highlights from the woodwind blogosphere in December:
- Cate Hummel discusses the qualities of a good beginner-level flute. Good advice for those willing to do their homework; not a glib list of models to buy (which would just go out of date quickly anyway).
- Bassoonist Cayla Bellamy finds inspiration to attempt the impossible.
- Saxophonist Bill Plake prefers a good teacher (or good self-teaching) over a rigid “method.”
- Doubler “ericdano” shares a list of favorite blogs (sort of jazz-saxophone-oriented) from the past year. Thanks for the mention!
- The always-insightful Barry Stees shares a tip for diagnosing and fixing (cheaply and easily!) a common bassoon defect.
- Sherman Friedland discusses the first three notes of the Debussy clarinet rhapsody (and more).
- “Komuso Lady” from A Shakuhachi Journey muses on intonation.
I gave a presentation at the International Clarinet Association conference (“ClarinetFest”) last week on woodwind doubling, with a particular focus on the rising expectations on woodwind doublers to play more instruments at a higher level (including “world” and even electronic woodwinds). Here is the blurb from the program:
The typical working woodwind doubler in the 20th century was a strong player on one or two instruments, with a lesser level of achievement on one or two more. Woodwind doubling continues to be a marketable skill in live performance and studio work, but the expectations of woodwind doublers have changed with the music industry; 21st century “doublers” may be expected to play a much larger group of instruments (sometimes including “world” woodwinds and electronic instruments), and to play each of those at a more virtuosic level and in a variety of styles. This places increasingly high demands on woodwind players, but also offers a variety of rewards. This presentation profiles the modern woodwind doubler, and includes practical information for developing valuable doubling skills.
Here is the handout: The 21st century woodwind doubler
Victor Chavez from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville did a brief write-up on the ClarinetFest blog.
The crowd, as usual, was small but enthusiastic. I got to reconnect with some old doubler friends and meet some new ones. I was gratified to have many of them mention that they follow this blog (hello!) or make use of other resources on this site.
I understand there are several doubling-related events going on at the International Double Reed Society conference this week, as well!
I mentioned in a recent post that I am trying to get away from using the term “ethnic” woodwinds, one that I have used frequently in the past as a catch-all for the instruments I play that aren’t modern Western flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, or saxophones. The term was problematic from the beginning, since, for example, I was using it to include instruments like recorders, which fall squarely under the umbrella of Western music traditions, but are arguably period or historical instruments.
Additionally, I find that the term “ethnic” increasingly grates on my ear as too ethnocentric and limited a view, and incompatible with my real attitudes concerning music from cultures and traditions other than my native ones. For example, it’s clearly not politically correct to lump non-white people or non-Americans together under the label “ethnic,” so it doesn’t seem to make sense for me to use similarly divisive and condescending language to refer to musical traditions, either.
I currently favor the term “major modern woodwinds” as an acceptable (though flawed) shorthand for all the Western orchestral woodwinds plus saxophones. But there isn’t a really accurate and culturally-sensitive way to lump together the woodwinds that don’t fall into that category. I frequently need to express verbally or in writing what instruments I play. If I am speaking to someone musically savvy, I can say that I play “woodwinds” and they will assume that I play most or all of the major modern woodwinds. They are unlikely to just assume, though, that I can also play recorders and dizi and Lakota flutes and a bunch of others, and that might be information that I want them to have.
Recently I expressed this concern on social media, and got a few interesting suggestions. “World” woodwinds came up, and is what I have adopted for now on this website, though I think ultimately it has some of the same issues as “ethnic:” aren’t my clarinets “world” instruments (and, for that matter, don’t they have ethnicity, too)? Someone else suggested “woodwinds of various cultural origins,” which I think is pretty good but too wordy to be practical. Someone else suggested that I simply list the instruments individually rather than trying to affix a single label; I think this idea has clear merit in terms of cultural sensitivity, but it does fail the practicality test.
It’s tempting to consider something clever like Pedro Eustache’s term “multidirectional flute soloist,” but, though charming, it doesn’t communicate the concept with any clarity. I have also experimented with materials-based terminology as in “wooden and bamboo flutes,” but this isn’t inclusive enough and ultimately has the same problem as the word “woodwinds” itself—wood construction isn’t what makes a woodwind a woodwind.
So for now it’s “world” woodwinds, or perhaps “woodwinds of various cultural origins” when that kind of wordiness is practicable. I welcome additional suggestions in the comments section.
My doctoral dissertation is now available online through the University of Georgia library:
It was completed in 2009 so some things are already out of date. Also, lately I’m trying to steer away from the term “ethnic” instruments (“world” instruments seems slightly less problematic until I can find a better solution).
Woodwind doubling is the practice of playing instruments from more than one woodwind family. In musical theater and film music, woodwind doublers are valuable for their ability to produce the sounds of a varied woodwind section for a fraction of the cost of hiring a specialist musician to play each instrument.
Since the 1990’s, composers and orchestrators in musical theater and film scoring have shown increased interest in instrumental sounds from outside the traditional symphony orchestra. Many have featured folk, ethnic, or period instruments as solo instruments, bringing authentic sounds to scenes set in faraway locations or historical periods, giving an exotic flair to fictional locales, or simply adding new colors to the usual palette of instrumental sounds.
Composers of film and theater scores have used ethnic woodwinds, in particular, in their scoring. To meet the demand for ethnic woodwind sounds, many prominent woodwind doublers on Broadway and in Hollywood have adopted these instruments, in addition to their usual arrays of modern Western instruments.
Eight folk, ethnic, and period woodwinds recently employed in film and theater scoring have been selected for study in this document: bamboo flutes (especially the Indian bansuri and flutes used by some flutists in Irish traditional music), the Chinese dizi, the Armenian duduk, the Native American flute, the panflutes of Romania and South America, the pennywhistle, the recorder, and the Japanese shakuhachi.
For each instrument, a representative example of use in theater or film music has been selected and transcribed from a commercial audio recording. Each transcription is discussed with emphasis on demands placed upon the ethnic woodwind musician. Additional discussion of each instrument includes suggestions for purchasing instruments, fingering charts, description of playing technique, description of instrument-specific performance practices, discussion of various sizes and/or keys of each instrument, discussion of instrument-specific notation practices, annotated bibliographies of available pedagogical materials, lists of representative recordings (including authentic ethnic music and other music), and information on relevant organizations and associations of professional or amateur musicians.