Friday, May 22, 2015

Density photos

In response to a request, here are photos showing

dry density measurement:


and wet:

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bassoon Music For Sale

I'm selling some gently used bassoon music. 50+ titles. Includes etudes, solo pieces, chamber music, concerti, etc.

Some standard works, some off-the-beaten-path.


Send me an email if you're interested and I'll send you a complete list.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Race training

I haven't blogged about running in quite a while. However, I've managed to keep going in the meantime.

I'll be running the Cleveland Marathon on May 17th. I've been training for it all winter and spring using "Coach Jenny's" training plan.

Jenny is Jenny Hadfield, a running coach. Her website offers free training plans. Since I've run several marathons, I chose her advanced marathon plan.

It is lengthy! Since I was already in decent shape, I jumped in starting at Week 6. I like the gradual nature and the variety of workouts. I'm very bad at cross-training during race training, so this plan makes me get on the bike, rowing machine and hit the weights a couple of times each week.

My long-term goal is to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon again. I ran it in 2009 and qualified again last year. However, we were on tour during the online registration period and it slipped my mind!

Last weekend I ran a training race -- a 10 miler. I decided to run it at my goal marathon race pace -- 8'10" per mile. I am prone to get excited by all the pomp and circumstance at the race start and go out too fast, adrenaline pumping, so this would be a good exercise on pacing myself.

About 1/2 mile from the end of the race we went through a tunnel. I saw a really short little kid running just ahead of a group of four of us adults. This kid was really moving!  I shouted encouragement to the boy and the rest of the adults followed suit.  I ran with him to the finish, inspired by his prowess!

Here we are at the finish line!!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Low D "Dime Store" Fix

Most bassoonists will agree that low D is one of the worst notes on any bassoon. It's unstable, unfocused and easy to play out of tune.

Alan Fox, of Fox Products Corporation refers to low D as the "Sacrificial Lamb" of the Bassoon. The placement and size of the tone hole are not optimal for low D itself, but, since many other notes on the bassoon make their acoustical home partly in that tone hole, the placement and tone hole size are a compromise.

I have recently come upon a cheap way of improving stability, pitch and focus of low D that anyone with a ruler, scissors and a small screwdriver can implement.

After removing keys around the low D tone hole, find an ordinary soda can or the like:

Empty it and cut a strip out of it lengthwise:

The strip should be 1/4" in width (6mm). Length is equal to the circumference of the low D tone hole.  Find this by measuring the diameter (place a ruler across the middle of the tone hole at its widest point), and multiplying it by π (3.1416). 

The circumference of my low D comes out to about 1 3/4" or just under 45mm. Cut the length a bit longer than this so you can trim it to fit snugly in the tone hole.

Curl the strip with your fingers to approximate the circumference of the tone hole before fitting it in. The aluminum is thin enough to be easily manipulated, yet it will hold its shape and stick securely to the sides of the tone hole without the need for an adhesive.

Place the strip in the tone hole with a tweezers, putting the strip in so it sits just below the lip of the tone hole. A certain amount of the width will protrude into the bore -- that's on purpose!

Put the keywork back on and test the low D. If it is stable, but flat, trim the width so less protrudes into the bore until you've tuned the low D. I ended up trimming almost 1/8" from the 1/4" original width.

Thanks to James Roberson for these instructions and to Carl Sawicki for his idea.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Practice Technique -- The Pyramid

The last technique I'd like to explore in this series on practice techniques is what I call "The Pyramid".

This is the best technique I know for building consistency and routine in execution of the most difficult passages.

Through multiple repetitions of a passage at carefully paced speeds, I can achieve a confidence, ease and reliability with just about any piece of music.

The Pyramid is methodical and somewhat time-consuming. It takes its inspiration from physical training. Anyone who has run intervals on a track or does strength training will find this method familiar.

Here are some instructions for use:

1. Choose speeds and number of repetitions that match your short-term goal for the passage in question.

2. For a passage that is nearly ready for performance at an audition or a concert, at first choose a top speed that is 85-90% of performance tempo.

An Example:

 Performance tempo = 144

=130                                             X
=125                                        XX/XX
=120                                      XXX/XXX
=115                                   XXXX/XXXX
♩ =110                                XXXXX/XXXXX

3. Start with the slowest speed, = 110 and play 5 times, move up to = 115 and play four times, etc. After playing at = 130 once, move back down in order: ♩ = 125 2x, ♩ = 120 3x, etc.

4. During all of this, make sure that you can execute ALL repetitions at all speeds perfectly. If this isn't possible, then re-structure your "pyramid" to make it easier. 

5. The focus should be on calm, clean, matter-of-fact playing throughout. 

6. Later you can move the pyramid's speeds up so that the top tempo reaches the performance tempo you want.

7. This technique can also be used for a passage that is just being learned -- not ready to be played up to tempo. Choose a top speed at which you can play the notes perfectly with confidence, but must focus intensely on doing so. The slowest speed in the pyramid should easy for you, but not boring.

8. As the week progresses you can move the speeds up or increase the "distance" between speeds in the pyramid's levels to work towards your performance tempo.

9. Increments between speeds can be adjusted. Putting too large an increment between speeds can result in a top speed that's too fast or a bottom speed that's unnecessary.

10. With #6, you can incorporate other techniques if you want, such as changing rhythms or articulations.

11. Watch for tension in the body. Excessive use of an exercise like this can lead to a repetitive use injury.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Universal Mind of Bill Evans

Bill Evans was one of the great jazz pianists.

I never heard him play live, but fondly remember an impromptu concert given by Bill Dobbins, who was my Jazz History teacher at Eastman, in his honor shortly after he died in 1980. Dobbins, dressed in black, gave us an evening of Evans' tunes on solo piano.

Here is an interview done by his brother, Harry. In it he discusses many things; improvising, creativity, teaching, etc. Lots of great playing, too! The audio is in English, with Spanish subtitles.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Practice Techniques -- The Burst

In a previous post, I described a method I use to build fluency and evenness in a technical passage while gaining a better feel for its structure.

This method (I call it "Skeletonization") works best when first learning a passage at a slow tempo or when trying to polish it at a faster tempo.

The method I'll discuss in this post -- The Burst Method -- is a more advanced technical practice method. It is best used after the notes in a passage are learned and most technical problems are solved.

Many of us are good at slow, careful practice. However, this kind of practice only takes you so far. Often, it's tough to move from slow practice to getting a passage up to tempo. Sometimes, there's a kind of barrier you hit.

The Burst is a great way to get a difficult passage up to tempo with security and consistency.

How It Works:

A. Choose a passage which is tough to play up to tempo cleanly and with consistency.

Let's use the latter half of the opening of Figaro as an example:

B. In that passage, choose a section that is easy for you to play PERFECTLY up to tempo 5-7 times in a row. Every difficult passage has at least a short section that is easy to replicate perfectly.  Use a metronome to keep yourself honest.
C. Next, add a small, manageable segment to the section and repeat 5-7 times perfectly:
D. Continue adding small segments until you've built up the whole passage:

Here is another way to use this method:

A. Taking another section of Figaro,

B. Start with a segment that involves a particular technical challenge that gives you problems. Choose a small enough segment so you can just focus on solving that particular problem first:

C. Then add segments before and after the tough spot, maintaining technical control over the original segment.

D. Now add segments after the trouble spot.

Here are some points to keep in mind when using this method:

1. Use patience and humility when practicing! Choose segments that make sense both from the standpoint of manageability and problem solving.

2. When adding segments, if you find you can't repeat a section perfectly up to tempo 5-7 times, STOP!!

3. Do not practice mistakes! Be honest and willing to go back to practicing a smaller segment if that's the best you can do in a practice section. "Pride cometh before a fall!"

4. The process of building a perfect, repeatable renditions of a difficult passage like Figaro up to tempo may take several days or even weeks. Work diligently and patiently. Practice should be in a mental zone requiring focused concentration, not easy comfort or an overwhelming feeling of panic or recklessness. For more about this, see this previous post.

5. Tailor the Burst Method to your own needs and ability. Everyone is different. The choices I made above might work for you, but maybe you'd make different choices. It's a very flexible method.