Sunday, March 4, 2018

13-yr old Phenom!

Like this video of a performance of the Weber Concerto 1st movement by 13-year old Kevin

He is competing in a competition and can win if enough of you “like” his video. Kevin plans to use any prize money he receives to buy a better bassoon.

Let’s help Kevin out! Listen here:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Guided Imagery at the Olympics

The New York Times has a wonderful video series detailing the use of Guided Imagery by Olympic Athletes.

I use techniques like these for my self and recommend them for my students to help them perform  their best in auditions and other situations when they're under pressure.

Each time the Olympics are on, I try to catch any interviews or stories about the athletes' preparation and use them in my approach and in my teaching.

Check these out!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Only Reed Test


There are as many ways to test a new reed as there are bassoonists, but so many of them don't tell you much. I'm always looking for ways to save time in reed making.

Here is the one test that I think tells you a lot about a reed's potential for success:

Choose three notes for trial; one each in the low, middle and high register. For new reeds, I don't test the highest part of the bassoon range, though. Just up to high G or so.

Play the "hairpin" long tone above on each of the three notes. A well balanced reed will allow both a pp ending and beginning as well as a good FF in the middle.  Be sure you can bring the pp down to a "clarinet" style diminuendo in particular.

The pitch and tone quality should remain consistent from beginning to end. 

If the reed passes this test, I think you will notice that it also does a lot of other things well. It will articulate easily, "problem" notes will be stable, it will slur large intervals smoothly, etc.

Why does this one test predict success in other areas so well? Because it tests how symmetrical the reed's tip opening remains under more or less lip and air pressure during the hairpin.

It's all about the tip opening, folks!!

A reed whose tip cannot be closed or reopened symmetrically during a dynamic change will fail in other areas as well. There is either something faulty about its construction or the cane is of poor quality.

Try this test for yourself! It will save you time. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Over the Break

While many of us are enjoying a Christmas or winter break, I'd like to talk about a different break.

A reader who is an adult beginner requested advice on successfully navigating slurs that bridge the register break on the bassoon. That would be any note from open F (F2) or below to any note above open F. This break occurs due to a lack of a true octave key on the bassoon.

Coordinating the movement of many fingers on both hands can make this difficult. Another issue is the half hole used when slurring to F#, G or G# -- also made necessary by the lack of a proper octave key or vent.

A few things to check if slurring to these notes is problematic.

  1. Reed tip opening needs to be sufficient (1 mm at least at widest point between blades) to accommodate the change in air speed from the primary octave to the overblown (second) octave.
  2. Reed needs to be strong enough to handle the change in airspeed without closing up. Softer reeds make this difficult.
  3. Embouchure should remain relaxed while increasing air speed. No biting!
  4. When removing fingers from the body of the bassoon, keep them as close as possible. Lift them straight off the bassoon just a few millimeters, not at an angle. This way, you have a greater chance of covering the tone holes completely when you return them. Use the mirror to check for excess motion.
  5. Half hole technique needs to be secure.
Regarding the half hole technique, opening different amounts for each of the three notes (F#, G, G#) helps. F# = 3/4 open, G = 1/2 open, G# 1/4 open.

To refine the half hole technique:
  1. Use a mirror to see what your index finger is doing. 
  2. Pretend the tip of your index finger is glued to the tone hole. It can be rotated down towards the E tone hole, but not lifted off because of the "glue". 
  3. Practice half holing with your finger and thumb on a pencil. Rotate the index finger without lifting it.
  4. Or practice by making the "OK" sign with your thumb and index finger. Rotate the index finger left and right without losing contact with the thumb. Keep the thumb steady and don't let it move.
The Weissenborn Method introduces slurs over the register break in a pedagogically solid sequence.

Note that Weissenborn starts with a G-F slur in the top exercise. It's easier to form the half hole G fingering and then remove fingers slur to F, than it is to start with open F and slur to G. After this action is mastered the student can then move on to the second exercise in which an F-G slur is added to the G-F slur.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Inside of a Reed

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
 - Groucho Marx -

Instead of the inside of a dog, I'd like to discuss the inside of a reed in this post!

The taper of the space inside the reed from tip to butt end constitutes a continuation of the taper of the bassoon bore.

Therefore, it stands to reason that any change of the dimensions of this space changes the bore of the bassoon at that point and, thus, changes the way the reed responds and sounds.

Yet, after an initial reaming and adjustment of wire roundness, few bassoonists examine this aspect of the reed.

However, the photos below demonstrate how much change can occur on its own inside the reed during its lifetime.
Reed next to mandrel pin for comparison.

Note that the tip of  the mandrel pin, when inserted, would extend well under the blade. The pin has a collar stop for consistent reaming depth. Forming and drying blanks using a mandrel pin like this ensure a consistent interior taper from tip to butt end from reed to reed.

Reamer with reed.
Using a reamer like this gives a consistent taper to each reed from butt to throat. Many other reamers are shorter and do not size the throat of the reed.

A reed after proper reaming with butt end at collar stop of the mandrel pin.
Mature reed fitted on mandrel pin.    

Note that the reed no longer fits all the way on the pin. During soaking, the cane in the tube area expands inward, taking up some of the space inside.
Change of taper in throat after repeated soaking and drying due to continuous use.

In the two photos above, you can see that the reed's interior dimensions have greatly changed as the reed has been soaked, played on and dried over time. The above is an extreme example, but I have found that this happens to some degree to EVERY reed. 

Aside from the fact that the reed in the above photos doesn't fit on the bocal as far or as securely as when it was reamed new, is there a problem here?

Many have noticed that reeds, as they age and are played in tend to rise in pitch and loose vibrancy. Some of this is due to embouchure pressure and finishing scrapes and adjustments made to the exterior of the reed.

However, I have found that these deleterious effects can be lessened and the reed's performance can be improved and even extended by re-sizing the taper inside the reed.

The two easiest ways to do this are:

1. Re-ream the reed periodically. You must use a reamer that reaches into the throat of the reed, however. Most reamers are shorter and do not address this part of the reed.

2. Push the soaked reed on the mandrel pin to nudge the reed back to original dimensions.

Re-reaming the reed is most effective. However, if the original ream is pretty aggressive, due to bevel and shape (amount of backflair), you may not want to thin the reed at that point by repeated re-reamings. Also, reaming can be messy, with lots of reamed fibers accumulating inside the reed throat.

I usually re-ream a reed just once or twice during its lifespan.

Re-sizing the reed tube and throat with a mandrel pin is quicker and not messy at all. If you need to twist to get the reed tube up to the collar stop, twist as little as possible and twist in both directions.

However, re-sizing this way is temporary. It lasts a short while and then the cane relaxes back to its collapsed position again.

Re-sizing the reed a few times over use is helpful in maintaining the opening dimensions.  Initially, dry the reed out outside of the case by placing it on your drying rack with it fully inserted into the mandrel pin. You can even soak the reed with it on the mandrel pin before playing on it. Doing this a few times is sufficient. After a week or so, the reed will stabilize and no longer shrink in the tube and throat.

I've found that reeds maintained this way preserve resonance and steady pitch longer and are just generally usable longer.

Try these ideas and see what you find!

If you don't have a reamer that shapes the throat as well as the tube (most are shorter than mine), or don't have a mandrel pin that extends past under the first wire of your reeds, check out these products on my website.

If you are concerned about cracking your reeds using these tools, just be sure the first wire is round enough to accept the tips of these tools before inserting. A normal first wire opening works fine for me resulting in about 1mm between blades at tip's widest opening. No problem! 

As usual, most of these ideas are not my original, so I'd like to credit friend and bassoonist, James Roberson for his idea about using the mandrel to re-size the reed's interior.

Also, check out the fixed chamber reed of Mark Eubanks of Arundo Research Corporation.

There is also very interesting research done by British bassoonist, Thomas Palmer. A Study of the Air Gap Between Blades of a Reed.