HOW DO I WRITE A PROFESSIONAL E-MAIL??

I am not the universe’s authority of the professional e-mail guidelines, but I do write and receive e-mails everyday, and to say the least, some e-mails are definitely more effective than others in the professional sense. In this blog I will examine some badly written e-mails and how suggest how they can be better.

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Cheers,

There is a very good chance that I am one of the very few people who get bothered by seeing e-mails being signed off with this specific salutation. I think it bothers me because: 1. Extremely few people actually say this in real life in North America. 2. Honestly I don’t get bothered by this if the correspondence is friendly and fun. However if it is a professional e-mail especially with people whom I have never worked with before, it seems presumptuous of our professional relationship which is yet to be established, and also seems to install an uncomfortable hierarchy. When I see “Cheers,” I read, “I am aware that this is a business e-mail but I am cool with us being cool about it even though this is about business and that is just the cool kind of person that I am, dude.” I understand this comes from a good place, but being professional is okay, and often preferred by many in professional settings. There is a time and a place for everything.

Instead of “Cheers,” I think “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” “Best,” can be tasteful depending on the context. If you don’t like any of these alternatives, just your name is fine.

To contradict what I said about “extremely few people actually say(ing) this in real life,” one must realize writing is definitely not the same as talking. Even the most natural story-authors do not talk in real life in the same way as they express speech in their own writing.    I never speak in real life in the way I write my blogs. It is important to first realize that speech and writing are not the same. Then one must understand all of the possibilities of what their words can mean to others. I believe “…” is often used to negate the possibility of sounding (passive) aggressive and cold. This thinking is understandable especially if the correspondence is done between two people that have never actually interacted in real life and may never will. Perhaps a rare “…” is okay, but I am definitely turned off by many of these in one e-mail, or worse, every e-mail.

Please take the time to read over your e-mail, put the sentences in order to form coherent thought in your writing.

ALL CAPS

I get these mainly from people who are in charge of gigs or events of sorts, when they really want to drill certain pieces of information into your skimming and lazy brains. I am definitely guilty of being on the both sides of the scenario. However, please be creative and come with some alternatives. Trust that your readers will read your e-mail all the way through and obtain the essential information. In fact, I will talk about an effective alternative to this method of writing a memorable e-mail in the next part.

e-mails that are too long and definitely need to be shortened, however they do contain some very important details so they just end up being very long because the author feels that that is the best way. The author is very busy and feels strongly about the points they are trying to deliver to their reader so the length is justified. 

Yes, I know sometimes e-mails have to be long. But they can always be shortened. And often, they have to be shortened in order to be read and processed 100%. Again, it is a good idea to proof-read and delete all the words that your writing can do without. Yes, conversely, sometimes you can end up sounding like a cold asshole. Sometimes you do need to add some convincing words here and there to make your tone not so robotic or vile.

Again, avoid stream of consciousness in your writing if you can. Try to be as objective as possible (not too emotional). Some things can be saved for real life conversations.

In the end, all the things I wrote about has its time and place. But like most things, they have to be done tastefully and they shine in moderate/ controlled doses.

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Strong Clarinet Section

For a few years now I have had the wonderful opportunity to guide students through their development as clarinetists. I have worked with students from 6 to mid 60s, and the issues  that arise are almost always the same.

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Air

Rhythm

Tension/ Reed

Instrument

Voicing

Air

The clarinet is a wind instrument. It requires an optimum volume of air with an optimum level of velocity to vibrate the reed, the mouthpiece, the rest of the instrument, and the players themselves. If the player does not feel like they are an extension of their instrument, or conversely if they are feeling uncomfortable with their instrument, this should be addressed. The instrument should be sealing, the reed must be strong enough to support the incoming air, and the air should be plenty, for the whole system to work properly, from the lowest register to the highest range of the clarinet. One must not just fill their close proximity with their sound but the entire room or space they are in with good, resonant sound, not with a simply loud sound.

Rhythm

Rhythm should be present in not just in the brain of the student who is counting 1-2-3-4 silently, but also in the way of their inhaling and exhaling, and in their finger movements. For instance, if you come in on beat 1, you should breathe on beat 4 and breathe in until you immediately turn the air around for your entrance on beat 1.

I am a bit torn on the teaching of “legato fingers,” because especially to younger students I think it can actually do more harm than good. The idea of legato fingers is to not to pop your fingers down on the tone holes and the keys to avoid creating percussive sounds and thereby ruining long lyrical phrases. Yes, of course one should not slap the fingers down, but the fingers have to be in the rhythmic context of the music being played. I emphasize the two motions: lift & squeeze. Your fingers are always either lifting or coming down. If one gets caught in the middle of those actions the hands can often get “tangled” or confused, and the student may make mistakes. Being conscious of lift/ down has been very helpful for many of my students.

The problem of legato fingers is that while the intentions are good and the ideology is especially effective for advanced students, it can create tension. “Don’t slap your fingers,” “Don’t bite,” “Don’t squeak,”…etc. these “Don’ts” I find can create tension and set students up for failure. If you are a teacher and you do this, may I recommend using the alternatives “Feel the notes with your fingers,” “There must be rhythm in your fingers,” “Blow more air,” “Use a new reed.”

 Tension/ Reed

Tension can come from various things. It can come from the person not having strong enough back/ arms to support their instrument and compensating with smaller muscles in their hands. This can develop into tendonitis and carpal tunnel. I would say before you try Alexander Technique and other body mapping techniques, if you are going to invest a lot of time into learning and practicing your instrument, make sure body is in shape. Start with 20 push ups a day. If you are already injured, I strongly recommend taking the time off the instrument for about two weeks or more to fully recover before doing push ups and eventually getting back on the instrument.

Tension can also come from having too hard a of a reed (usually results in one or both shoulders going up during playing and cramping), the instrument not sealing somewhere, or having too soft of a reed.

The truth is that there must be some kind of resistance somewhere in the set up, for the musician to feel comfortable to engage their large quantity of air properly. For instance if the reed is too soft, the musician will subconsciously feel the low headroom and try to compensate or create some kind of resistance by biting too much (results in squeaking or choking especially higher ranges of the clarinet) in order to be able to blow air. Every student has their ideal reed strength, but usually from middle school and on, 2.5 is too soft. I would recommend 3- 3.5 in middle school. And 3.5-4 in high school. Of course exceptions exist.

If the reed is too soft, especially in the high ranges of the clarinet is starts getting very flat and eventually the reed closes up, producing no sound at all. Or it will produce squeaks or “chirp.” If the reed is too hard, the pitch tendency is to be higher. So it is the clarinetists’ duty and responsibility to play on a good reed that works for each individual so they can blend and tune better in ensemble. Also I find often also that if the reed is too soft, students play with little air to avoid producing bad, spread, sound, in doing so, their intonation is not stable, and also others around cannot hear them well enough to even try and tune and blend.

Instrument

The typical Bundy, Vito, and Yamaha brands usually seen in public schools are generally fine. I have seen many no name and “brand name” Chinese models that are unbelievably affordable and made of unbelievably bad material. These might be tempting when you come encounter them on eBay. While they may be fine in the beginning, if the student practices regularly (and often times even if they don’t) the instrument will go out of adjustment and start breaking usually within three weeks. Then your options are either bringing it to a repair technician, ignoring the problem and trucking through, or getting a new instrument. None of these are ideal (repair technicians dread working on bad instruments). My advice is to get a proper instrument from the beginning. I have written a blog about beginning/ intermediate instruments, so check it out:

https://ponyreviewsblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/which-clarinet-should-i-get-for-my-kid/

Voicing/ Air (reprise)

If you have a good, functioning instrument, good reed-mouthpiece-ligature set up, and a healthy body, and yet you are struggling still to produce good sound especially in the higher territories of the clarinet, investigate your voicing. Voicing is basically the aperture of your tongue and your throat through which the air comes out from your body. The air can be slow (say “haw-” without vibrating your voice box as if you are trying to create condensation on your glasses to clean them). The air can be also fast (hiss “hee-” as if you are a cat). Another way of thinking about it is picturing a garden hose, the water is on, the water is coming out of the end of the hose, chug chug chug.. then you pinch the area near the end of the hose to make the water spray much stronger and shoot much farther.

The type of air you want to use vary in various degrees on the style of music one is playing, the sound they are going for, the type of set up one is using. However, generally speaking, especially when first learning the clarinet, one must aim for high velocity in the air (highly pressurized, cold air), which is produced by the smaller aperture of the arch/ back of the  tongue and the throat. In order to this, the back of the tongue must be high. The saxophone is different in this aspect, maybe I will cover that in a future blog.

The most important steps in learning how to voice are listening to great players, having clear concepts/ goals in desired sound, and constantly adjusting by listening and experimenting privately and in the context of ensemble. And of course, you need a good teacher to help you in your journey.

Summary

Mastering a craft is a lifelong process and the clarinet is no exception. One must be very patient and curious. However it is extremely important to remember all of this labour of love is to create music. One must be very much interested in music in order to be a successful musician/ clarinetist, for the long haul, anyway. That is not to say playing the clarinet is not a pleasurable activity, but to simply say after all of our experimenting and education, our playing should serve the music in convincing ways. As a former student who struggled with the types of teaching methods of “Because I said so,” but benefitted from “This why and this is how you do this,” I strongly believe in teaching methods that not only yield results but can be taught to students in completely purposeful, convincing, and memorable ways.

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Traveling Clarinetist

If you have traveled with your instrument and played in different regions, you may have noticed the differences in the feeling of your set up. “Clarinetists are at the mercy of their reeds,” but I believe we clarinetists can acknowledge this, take proper measures, and master those curve balls.

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instrument case/ cover

reeds

others (screw drivers, nail clippers, extra swab etc.)

instrument case/ cover

Instrument cases are hardly a new topic in my blog posts, but I believe they play a crucial part in keeping your instrument in a safe and predictable shape. When it comes to cases, I look for size and suspension. Size matters for many reasons (scroll down to other blogs for the info.), and suspension of means better ventilation for the joints and less movement and hitting of the keys against the inside of the case. If you are wondering what cases I mean by this, I am referring to the cases made by Lomax, Bonna, and (sometimes) Manning.

Instrument cover I believe is a topic that I have not covered yet. You can get one of any size  easily on the internet, at an electronic store (for camera bags), or mountaineering equipment store. I am simply referring to those thin plastic covers that go over the case and tighten with a string. Usually the sizes are adjustable with these strings so if you are ordering one of these covers from online and worried about getting the correct size for your case, probably safest to get the bigger sizes. I use mine for my instrument cases and my regular backpack to protect my stuff from rain/ snow/ wind/ scratches/ dirt/ etc..

reeds

This I believe is the most important part of this blog post. When you are traveling to regions of different climates from your homebase, your reeds will most likely change. They  might soften, or they might harden. The change might not happen on the first day, but might happen on the second day. Before I travel to different regions to play, I am equipped with reeds that are broken in and ready to play comfortably at my home base, reeds that are a bit more stiff, and reeds that are a bit softer, and reeds of various strengths that are also unopened and will be broken in at my travel destination. You might think this is a lot of preparation, and you are right- it is. It costs a lot of money and organization to have various reeds going at different stages, but when it comes to performances you will be surprised to find how few reeds will have survived the traveling and previous playing. I learned my lesson when I traveled once from one end of the continent to the other to play an orchestra audition, and all of my reeds (broken in and comfortably playing at my home base) were ALL too soft. You can imagine how well that audition went.

From what I gather, aside from reed break-in process, humidity, temperature, and sunlight level, the altitude of the region also plays factor. I have not yet successfully come to definite conclusions that map out the exact correlations but maybe that is not such a bad thing, because perhaps it is best to be flexible and prepared for all outcomes than simply idealistic.

others

Anything can happen on the road, and it will be easy on your conscience to be prepared when something not so ideal happens. I have noticed that on the trip I am on now, one of my bass clarinet screws are constantly coming loose (probably since it was previously adjusted by a technician in a region of a very different climate). This has never happened to me back home. But either way, I am glad I have my screw driver to put the thing back to its place. I am glad I brought an extra swab, because my silk swab has ripped to shreds by getting caught somewhere, some time. Frustrating, but I’m glad I am prepared.

I did forget to pack a nail clipper, so I had to buy one. This is also kind of frustrating because at our home we have now accumulated about five nail clippers. Hopefully next time I will remember.

Protein bars are also good to pack, especially if you are like me and get dangerously hangry or depressed by hunger. They will probably be pricey to buy on the road (god forbid you buy one at an airport), and you can save money by buying a small box (or a large box if you are really into protein bars). If you happen to get leftovers, you can always eat them later since they don’t really go bad very quickly.

summary

I am aware not everyone has the same style and needs in traveling. However it is best of anyone’s interest to learn their own and master them to save money and grief. “Best remedy to ________ is prevention.”

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Words to Live By

I have been very fortunate to have kind, generous, and honest teachers in my life. Here are some words from them that I live by everyday.

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Everybody has an axe to grind.

The proof is in the pudding.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

(after I played an etude in a lesson) Well, that was terrible, wasn’t it?

You have to stop Tony Parking in the middle of phrases (losing air support and focus in sound).

All you have to do, is count to four.

Don’t think, DO!

You have a choice, you see- you can either do it the way I taught you, or you can bang your head against the wall. The choice is yours.

This is NOT new information!!!

That is what we call, a LIE.

You have to be an actor when you play music.

You are too Canadian. You have to be more American.

You have to play in a way in which it doesn’t sound like a mess, basically.

Do you practice with metronome?

You have to HATE sounding bad.

You have to learn in good taste. You have to learn in a way that you are convinced.

Now you do not have a teacher. You can experiment on your own and be your own player.

Leave and never come back (first teacher, age 12).

You can’t play on reeds like this!

Do you hear the difference?? That is the most important part.

Hearing the difference doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do anything!!!

I want your playing to be refined playing.

You have to use warm air.

You have to use cold air.

You stick out your butt when you play.

Why do you stick out your butt when you play.

In a masterclass form a percussionist- “You should record yourself to see just how much you move. You move a lot.”

Yes, I know.

From an adjudicator (clarinetist): Your sound is not a good sound.

From an adjudicator (non-clarinetist): You are a true artist.

From an adjudicator (clarinetist): Too stuffy.

From an adjudicator (clarinetist): You are sharp on your F#. In fact you are sharp everywhere.

Bravo.

You need to learn pieces that you will actually get asked to play in life.

I do not like his playing.

Do not play in a way that would intimidate the panel in an orchestra audition.

Do not balloon your notes!

Do not play like a doorbell.

Is this reed from like…what… the 60s?

Not terrible.

I think you should go into audio-engineering (at our last lesson together).

I think you should go into administration (at one of last lessons together).

What mouthpiece is that again?

That mouthpiece doesn’t work for you.

Don’t be idealistic.

Your playing needs to be more consistent.

You need RHYTHM in your playing.

Your sound, is not a BAD sound.

Your sound, is not a GOOD sound.

(when asked if I should specialize in something) Do everything.

This is a bad clarinet.

You need a new clarinet.

Your clarinet is holding you back.

How are you playing on this???

If you are not already a soloist, it is too late for you to become a soloist.

Most people will not become orchestra musicians.

AIR!!!!

Do you like your sound?

Your teacher talked very highly of you to me. I think we will see each other again, I’m sure of it.

Do you like the way you just played that?

How do you articulate that?

You have to take ALL the auditions.

When is this audition again?

Teacher: How was the audition?
Me: It was alright. I think I learned a lot.
Teacher: Well, that’s almost the point.

You should aim to sound like a BMW, not a beat-up old Beatle.

It was very late for you (first encounter). But your technique gave me hope. But now I realize I was wrong about that.

Not your best.

Do a shot of espresso before each lesson.

Yes, that’s it! But Tony, you have to play like that ALL the time. If you play like that nobody can sound better than you.

“Auxiliary” Clarinet Set Up

Recently I played the 2nd e-flat clarinet part in Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Calgary Civic Symphony. The part I played is a sort of typical “auxiliary” clarinet part that Mahler liked to employ in his symphonies- there were four other clarinet players who played (much) more than I did. My part often doubled the principal e-flat player’s part, or the 3rd clarinetist/ bass clarinetist’s. You can imagine that I had a lot of time to myself, and I used much of the time to experiment with my set up.

Now, here is where it got kind of crazy for me. I chose a very dumb time to send both my b-flat and e-flat clarinets for adjustment/ overhaul, so I had to use a back up b-flat and a borrowed e-flat clarinet (actually, two different ones). Why is this crazy? Well, each instrument is different in timbre, resistance, and intonation. This means varying kinds of air velocity/ volume is required for each instrument, and varying mouthpieces and reeds. Basically each week I had a different e-flat clarinet to play on, and that was not so easy to get used to with limited time with section and etc. I guess in the end if you are constantly playing, there is never a good time to send your instruments away, but in any event this experience forced me to be very flexible and confident.

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1. e-flat clarinet set up

I used two different borrowed Buffet e-flat clarinets, both vintage, and they played very similarly: flexible, not too strong, but blending very well. I didn’t have too much trouble blending with the principal e-flat clarinetist on these instruments. My own e-flat clarinet is a vintage Conn Elkhart Indiana that is about 80-90 years old according to my research. It has amazingly never cracked and the wood is really fantastically dense. The first time I tried it the natural resonance and the sheer volume and the ring of the sound blew me away. I had bought it in a small music store during my time in NYC, and got it overhauled by one of my absolutely trusted clarinet technicians, Michael Manning (now resides in San Francisco). Mike specializes in not only building handmade custom cases for all woodwind (and some brass) instruments that are super protective and compact, but also does impeccable repair work and customizations as well. He is definitely one of my favourite people in the industry.

**It’s interesting to note that two other clarinetists of my section also did the same with their e-flat clarinets (bought instruments with good potentials at low prices, then got them overhauled by experts). So that is something to think about if you are looking for an e-flat clarinet.

Before I even get to the mouthpieces and the reeds, I have to say the Conn is vastly different from the Buffets, to a degree that it made me very nervous (I got my instrument back just days before the concert). Honestly I think it would be a fantastic instrument in a wind ensemble, but my god, it is so loud I was consistently worried about drowning my kind and ever-patient principal e-flat clarinetist colleague. Of course with the volume comes difficulty of balancing and tuning. Anyway, let’s talk about some gear.

2. mouthpieces (e-flat)

Tried:

5RV (closed tip opening, short facing, most free-blowing)

M30 (open tip opening, longer facing, medium-free-blowing)

Hawkins B (med-open tip opening, thickest tip and side rails, med-short facing, least free-blowing but not too bad)

I own four e-flat clarinet mouthpieces. An old Vandoren B44 I had inherited a little while ago, a Vandoren 5RV, a Vandoren M30, and a Richard Hawkins B. I test-drove the latter three for in the rehearsals for this concert. Sadly the M30 was kind of dull in the Jack Singer Hall and same for the Hawkins B. It is important to note that while the Hawkins tunes exceptionally well, it is lower than Vandoren mouthpieces and when played cold, it is hopelessly flat.

3. playing cold

Which brings us to the next very important topic of playing cold. I think the Mahler Symphony is about 90 minutes long, and by my calculation I would be surprised if I play more than 10 minutes. Anyway, my point is that I needed set ups for my clarinets that would most definitely work for me when I just grab it and play it after having sat in the cold rehearsal space for literally an hour (the A clarinet actually doesn’t get played at all until the last page of the final movement). Back to the Hawkins. Now, I don’t actually think the Hawkins is a dull mouthpiece. But one should know that usually Vandoren mouthpieces (especially the ones with short facings) are very loud and have a terrific ring. The principal e-flat clarinetist plays a B44. So you can already assume that in intonation and sound already this combo of B44 and Hawkins B will have a difficult time to blend, or at least will take time to get acquainted with each other. I unfortunately didn’t have this luxury of time since my part was very sparse. Now you might think, hey so did you use your B44? The answer sadly is no. If you remember from my previous posts, the B44 is a very old mouthpiece (at least the one I have) and is very inefficient in that it is painfully resistant and has that “vintage” knife edge to the sound (but the principal e-flat clarinetist sounded fine…). So I just didn’t bother; and I regret it. I should have at least tried it, I certainly had the time to. I ended up playing the concert on the 5RV because it seemed to speak the easiest and could blend the easiest with the principal e-flat clarinetist. It is also crucial for the mouthpiece to have a certain ping and the volume to the sound, because when you blend and tune with others, it is important for others to actually hear you. I think this is especially true in orchestra, where there are so many instruments and lots of different sounds and timbres.

4. reeds

Tried:
Vandoren 3.5 Traditional e-flat clarinet reeds

Vandoren 3.5 V12 e-flat clarinet reeds

Vandoren 3.5 White Master b-flat clarinet reeds (bottom cut and sanded to fit the mouthpiece and the barrel)

Vandoren 4 V12 e-flat clarinet reeds

Lately I have been using the Vandoren Traditional cut reeds on all of my clarinets for their “honest”/quick response. However both the V12 and the Traditional 3.5 reeds were too soft after the first time of playing.

This is why I drove to the store and got a box of 4s (V12). I never thought I would play on 4s in my life because I don’t usually like closed mouthpieces for their tendencies (or my conception for them) to have thinner sounds in halls.

I opened five 4s and sure enough 2 were impossibly hard. However the rest three were playable so I played the dress rehearsal and the concert one one (actually, on the same reed for both, which I don’t normally do).

3.5 White Master was also way too hard (which is annoying because it was fine yesterday at home…) in the hall so I just gave up them up for today. I think 3 might have been good.

5. ligature

Tried:

Charles Bay Baroque ligature (b-flat and A)

Rovner Dark (b-flat and A)

Rovner Dark (e-flat)

I found the Charles Bay Baroque ligature on my soprano clarinet was by far the best for rehearsals and the concert. I wish I owned one for e-flat and bass clarinet. This ligature did not warp the reeds when my instruments were sitting for a long time. However, the Vandoren Optimum always warped the reeds, every time. Rovner Dark was also decent for all the clarinets I used, but this ligature is not as free-blowing or resonant as the Bay, I find. I think this free-blowing character is important when you are switching between mouthpieces of different sizes, because often, you do not have too much time to get adjust to each every time you play it.

6. mouthpieces (e-flat and b-flat)

Which brings me back to mouthpieces. A couple of days before the concert, I again realized that short and ringing mouthpieces are the best in producing sounds immediately and this trait should be put to priority. This was hard for me to accept because I don’t necessarily love playing these kinds of mouthpieces because I find their sounds are usually more laser-beam-like and not very dynamic in phrasing compared to longer-facing mouthpieces. Anyway, my set up for the concert was:

B40 for b-flat and A clarinets

5RV for e-flat clarinet

Summary

I hope this is somewhat useful for your next rehearsal/ concert. I personally learned a lot by “not playing a whole lot,” and I really mean it. I needed very special/ specific types of set up for the concert. I assume my set ups will be different for the concerts I play a lot more in. One reason being when the tonguing gets very fast, I find it is a lot less easy to control it on shorter mouthpieces than it is on longer facing mouthpieces. I imagine I will use harder reeds because they have to last longer and let me project a lot more if I am playing for instance the principal clarinet part.

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Mouthpiece of the Month

Vandoren- M30D

price: ~$157.90 USD

specs: thick rails (especially the tip), open tip-opening, long lay (but easy to control the articulation unlike M30)

intonation: exceptional, lower in pitch than “European”-pitched mouthpieces

articulation: great for active/ soloistic tonguing

control: easy control with active air

blend: blends very well in chamber music settings

resistance: more resistant than most French style mouthpieces (except for B40, B40 lyre, B45, etc.) but not bad after one or two days of getting used to

sound: big, warm, mellow, velvety sound that is not overwhelming or takes too much control away from the player (which I find is the case of B40)

reed: recommended with 3.5 Traditional reeds (V12 might be too stuffy since the mouthpiece is already quite fluffy)

style: recommended for solo/ chamber for flexibility (responsibility) for shaping phrases

other:

-can be played on both German and Boehm system clarinets

-available only on soprano clarinets at the moment

stands out for: intonation, articulation, evenness in sound from bottom to top, and smooth “German” sound

watch out for: perhaps not the best for orchestral playing as I find shorter lay/facing mouthpieces are better for that (B40, Grabner, etc.) in their strengths in immediacy of (super focused) sound

Musical Samples

Carl Maria von Weber:

Michael Jarrell:

To double, or not to double…

Today I would like to discuss some of the benefits I have experienced in learning multiple instruments. This I feel has become taboo in conservatories where one may feel pressured to focus on their respective instrument, only. Of course, there are benefits in this. But there are also benefits in other options, as well.

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Learning Multiple Instruments

Cons

Equipment: If your primary instrument is a reed instrument, and your “double” instruments are also reed instruments, you will have to make or buy many more reeds than you already do. This is a serious con because it costs a lot of money and can eat up a lot of time. Add mouthpieces, ligatures, straps, stands, INSTRUMENTS… you get the idea.

*Tip: Find a mentor or a friend that would lend you or give you an equipment that they don’t use. Or buy the equipment of those you trust. You don’t want to buy a $500 saxophone for $400, and then have to put in $200 for overhaul so you can actually play the instrument. Or, maybe your grandfather used to play the trombone that he doesn’t play anymore? Personally I have found using borrowed instruments in the beginning very helpful in learning what I want for myself eventually.

Repairs: Speaking of repairs, if you think having to go into the shop every few months to get your instrument back up to speed is a drag, try dealing with three more. Now to make it even worse, what are you going to do when you leave your instruments with a repair technician and you have a gig on those respective instruments that night?

*Tip: Have intermediate-level (or pro-level if you can afford them) back up instruments. When you choose them, make sure they come with decent mechanism, produce the stylistically correct sound with good intonation. Or, have a list of people in your mind that you can contact right away (or even better, ahead of time) to borrow instruments. “Both of the above” is also a good option.

Transportation: If you have gigs playing multiple instruments, God bless you. If you double/ triple/ quadruple on low instruments, may the force be with you. Instruments are very heavy and daily commute without a car (and with a car) can be a serious time consumer in addition to the fact that it really starts taking a toll on your body, quickly.

*Tip: Own compact, sturdy, and light instrument cases. Carpool with people with cars. Tablets+flipping device can help reduce the weight of tons of sheet music. Tablets are also illuminated so you wouldn’t have to carry music stand lamps.

Space: If you have lived in a small New York City apartment room, you might just be choking up in empathy as I touch on this topic. My second room in New York was so small, with a bass clarinet case on the floor it was not so easy to get around my room. With all of my instruments on the floor of the room, I would have to walk on my bed to get to the door.

*Tip: Leave some things at school if you are comfortable doing that. Or your friends or family members. This one is tough.

Lessons: Maybe you are fine with being self-taught, maybe you are not. If you are not, those double/ triple/ quadruple lesson fees certainly add up.

*Tip: Today, YouTube and numerous other online resources are goldmines of information. Books can be good too, but often they are a bit outdated. Exchanging lessons with your friends is also a very good way to avoid crazy lesson fees. I have heard in New York, some teachers charge $300/ hr for a lesson. Here’s why that is crazy: when a teacher is so powerful and experienced that they can call these top prices, they probably don’t have to call these top prices. I would rather take my money to people who need it. In a place like New York, there are plenty of great teachers for just about any instrument.

Pros

Styles: Imagine the arranger of a musical theatre production you are doing asks that you improvise over some changes in the typical style of swing. If  you have never done this before and you only have ever played and listened to classical clarinet, your solo is going to stylistically suffer. If you also play jazz or listen to jazz, you have a much better chance in producing convincing and enjoyable music.

Perspectives/ Insights: When you play other instruments and come back to your home instrument, you will notice a few things that you haven’t noticed before. Or you will have questions. Can I use more air? Can I open up my throat more without squeaking? Would it make the sound resonate better, perhaps not as noticeably on the saxophone but still make some subtle positive enhancements? Can I take in more mouthpiece? Oh I am definitely flat there. Can I use a harder reed and get used to it? Are my fingers too weak? Is my instrument heavier than I thought; should I exercise a bit to more comfortably play it? Oh wow I can drop my jaw more and it makes a huge difference like on the saxophone. etc., etc.

Gigs: This depends on what you play and on the job market, but if you play the clarinet (not too much in demand) but also the bassoon, French horn, harp, or the piano, you will get more job opportunities. This can mean in the fields of performance/ teaching/ retail/ marketing, repair, and more.

Break: We all need clear breaks from our home instrument regularly. If you play multiple instruments, you can take clear breaks from each instrument by working on other instruments. You can still be engaged in musical learning but perhaps you can rest your thumb a bit more, or your embouchure, or your shoulders, etc.. When my lips are all ground up and my embouchure feels exhausted from playing the soprano clarinets a lot, I often go to the bass clarinet and play some scales. This helps me to not just stay in shape on the bass clarinet in the midst of a full-swing-non-bass clarinet season, but also gets my body to engage my air more (something I forget easier on the regular clarinet), AND also it massages my face pleasantly with deep, low vibrations. Maybe the last part is just me…

Practice: My teacher Charles Neidich has told me that “there is nothing better than playing the piano for gaining finger strengths (he plays the piano as a “hobby” these days, used to play much more seriously in youth).” Anyway, if you play the piano, you know this is true. You don’t even have to practice sonatas or concertos. Even just a few well-practiced scales per day will help your inner and physical rhythm in good shape and finger strength up. When you go back to your clarinet, you will notice that your fingers have better rhythm, strength, and direction. Before my first piano student of the day enters my studio, I make sure I practice some scales and arpeggios on the keyboard. As a result I sound better to the student, and I feel already more warmed up for after the lesson when I go to play the clarinet.

Final Thoughts

In the end, you don’t have to pursue three or more instruments to world-class level. But you don’t have to not do that, either. There are benefits in whatever you do consciously, methodically, and hopefully enthusiastically or even passionately . It all comes down to what you want or need musically and in other means, and what you already have.