Author archives

  • Why Do Young Clarinet Players Play Flat?

    This is a guest post from Rheuben Allen, taken from his site with permission.

    Why do young clarinet players play flat?

    Elementary school and middle school students who choose to play the clarinet often have an issue playing in tune. But they’re not necessarily to blame.

    The manufacturers of many student clarinets sell instruments with barrels that are simply too long for the beginning player. So if you, or your child, are playing a clarinet straight out of the case and are having an issue with pitch, the solution might be simpler than you think.

    Young students who are just starting to produce sound on their instruments but have not yet developed a good embouchure are better off using a shorter barrel at the beginning. By using a longer barrel, they can actually develop a few bad habits that will be harder to change later on down the line. These habits can include biting the reed or tightening the bottom lip in order to get the pitch up.

    In result, these bad habits cause the tone to become thin and affect the response of the instrument. Students then struggle to play unnecessarily.

    The majority of student clarinets come with a 65mm or 66mm barrel. These barrel lengths usually require a thicker reed (3.5 to 5 strength) to get the pitch up to where it needs to be and many young students aren’t yet ready for a hard reed.

    Because students aren’t yet ready for harder reeds, the better option would be to use either a 64mm or 63mm barrel so that they have the opportunity to develop a more relaxed embouchure. This will allow them to more easily produce a better tone and they will be more comfortable playing. It will make their experience that much more enjoyable!

    September 9, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 2365

  • Common Mistakes Made By Young Saxophonists

    Hi everyone, this is Rheuben. I’m going to talk to you about some of the common mistakes made by young saxophonists. And the first thing that happens with most young saxophonists and the most important part of this is that they do not put the mouthpiece far enough on the neck.

    On every mouthpiece, saxophone, reed, or player combination, there’s a thing we call the “sweet spot.” That means the placement of the mouthpiece where everything responds the best, intonation is the best and everything works. That “sweet spot” can be a fraction of an inch out or a fraction of an inch in.

    Now often times you’ll see people who play real tight [their embouchure] and they’ll have their mouthpiece out at the end of the neck. If you’re only on this far [shows], that’s all that you’re covering with the mouthpiece, the instrument will not respond very well. [The mouthpiece should] be on at least 3/4 of the cork, in that general area and then move it in and out that [fraction of an inch] to find the “sweet spot.” [The “sweet spot” changes slightly for each mouthpiece and/or player.]

    One of the other things that we tend to do as young musicians, or as all musicians actually, on the alto saxophone, for example, we tune to the middle F#. That note on the alto sax is an average of 30 cents sharp. So, when you tune to that, that means that you’re going to pull the mouthpiece out too far and then you’re going to have a flat low register. So what you want to do on the alto, the strongest tone, and I learned it from my friend Dan Higgins is the middle B. Right in the middle of the staff. Tune that B and then go up to the F# and you’ll hear the interval better. Then you won’t have the tendency to be sharp.

    If you just pull the F# straight out of the air, it’s going to be sharp. So on any instrument, you want to find the best note to tune and you want to make sure the mouthpiece is on the instrument far enough to respond. And I will be covering things in other videos shortly. Thanks so much.

    July 20, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 2029

  • Tenor High G Adjustments

    Hi guys, Rheuben again. Today I’d like to talk to you about the first altissimo G on the tenor saxophone – what can be done and what can’t be done to help that note come in. It’s a problem note on the tenor sax, so there are several things we can do and a lot of things we can’t do.

    First, the most important thing we can do is check the adjustment to make sure that when you push the harmonic key, the front F, it holds down the B key and this little key [points]. Now this adjustment must be in place for the altissimo G to work.

    Now if you play that G and the instrument doesn’t work and doesn’t respond as well as you like it to, on most modern saxophones, right here by the harmonic key there’s a screw [shows]. You can loosen the screw, slide it back and forth, and it will allow you to change the opening of the high F key. There’s quite a bit of distance that you can change here to make that note come in.

    So now, when you get that when the note comes in, remember you’re sliding this back and forth and changing the high F, you’re also changing it so that it will effect your high F and high E when using the fork fingerings. When you make that adjustment, keep in mind that it will change these notes also.

    Now if you’re playing a saxophone that has a high F# key, you can play the high F# key like this and open the F# key with a button [shows] and that works for some people depending on the mouthpiece and everything or you can play the B key and the high F# key [shows]. That tends to be a little flat but it has a great color. So if you’re going to do it quick, this is great. If you’re going from a B to a G, all you do is hit this key and you go from a high B to a high G and back.

    So that’s pretty much all you can do to adjust the saxophone to help with the first altissimo G. And I think that’s it… Later!!

    November 24, 2014 • Repair Tips • Views: 2135

  • An Introduction to the Clarinet by Rheuben Allen

    Hi everyone. This is Rheuben. Today I’m going to introduce you to the clarinet.

    The clarinet is a member of the woodwind family and is unique among the woodwinds. Most woodwinds over blow what we call an octave. When you finger a “d” and push the register key, you get a “d.” The clarinet is unique. It over blows a 12th. So when you finger a low “g” and push the register key, you get a “d.”

    So on the clarinet, you never use the same fingering twice for a note. That makes it completely unique amongst the woodwind instruments.

    Now the clarinet comes in a case, and when you open the case, you’ll see there’s a lot of pieces in it. So we’ll start with the bottom of the clarinet, it’s called the bell. This is the bell section [shows piece]. The next piece is called the lower joint. Now when the instrument is new, they come with corks underneath some of the keys to keep the keys down to keep them safe in travel. So you take a pair of tweezers and pull out the little corks. Now all the keys on this joint wiggle.

    The next piece is called the upper joint. This is the top part of the clarinet. Again, it has a bunch of little corks in it we have to take out so it will play.

    The next piece is the barrel. Now the barrel of the clarinet is very important and it comes in many different lengths. And the reason for the different lengths are because when a person plays, everyone has their own embouchure (that’s the shape of your mouth when you play) and has their own mouthpiece and the barrels come in short, about 62 mm to 67 mm in length. And so different barrels will produce different sounds, but that’s for another talk.

    Then we go to the mouthpiece. Now this clarinet comes with a mouthpiece reed and everything all put together, so we’ll take it apart and show you all the different pieces.

    We have the cap which is used to protect the reed and mouthpiece when you’re not playing the instrument. We have the ligature which is what hold the reed on the clarinet mouthpiece. We have the actual mouthpiece and, of course, the reed.

    Now the first thing I’m going to do, is I’m going to put the instrument together and while I’m doing that, I’m going to soak the reed so that you can play the reed. You must soak it and get it wet. Just put it in your mouth and soak it.

    While I’m doing that I’m going to open this. It’s cork grease. Now to put the instrument together, the clarinet has a lot of course between the connecting pieces. So you have to put a little grease on your finger, run it around the cork and make sure the cork is greased. Then you put the pieces together.

    Now when you put the barrel on the lower joint, you wrap your hand gently around the bottom two keys so that you don’t bend them and you put on the bell section.

    Then for the upper joint, the side where the keys extend beyond the cork, that goes into the lower joint so you have to put a little cork grease on the cork. When you put this piece on, it’s very important that your fingers go around and close the key that lifts the bridge key (demonstrates) so that you can’t bend it when you put it together. Close this down, hold it, and then you attach it to the lower joint so you don’t bump into the bridge key. You line it up so that this part (demonstrates) is even in the middle.

    The next thing you put on would be the barrel (puts cork grease on top of upper joint and then places barrel on clarinet). Then, the next thing you put on will be the mouthpiece (puts cork grease on cork on mouthpiece).

    Now, as you look down the back of the clarinet, you will see that the thumb rest, the octave key and the mouthpiece need to be straight in line.

    Okay, now that you have the reed wet, you put the ligature on the mouthpiece. You take the reed and you slip it underneath the ligature and line it up even with the mouthpiece. The tip should be lined up with the top of the mouthpiece. You pull the ligature down and tighten the screws. Once that’s done, you’re ready to play.

    The clarinet, like I said, over blows a 12th, so when you finger a note, like you finger a “c” (the first three fingers on your left hand pressed down), when you push this register key, it becomes a “g.” It’s not a “c” any longer, it’s a “g.” So this makes it completely unique.

    Now this works the same as any woodwind instrument (other than flute), it has a reed. You put your bottom lip over your bottom teeth. (Points to mouth) This is called your embouchure. The top of your mouthpiece goes in your mouth (demonstrates and plays) and that’s how you produce a note.

    When you get ready to quit playing, you put the cap back on the mouthpiece and that way the mouthpiece and reed are protected.

    Now to take the instrument apart, you remove the cap, take off the ligature and reed. Then you remove the mouthpiece. Essentially you do the same thing you did to set up but backwards. Take off the barrel, put it in the case.

    Make sure that when you take it apart, you press down those same keys so you don’t bend the bridge key. Remove the upper joint. Lay it in the case. Close the bottom two keys with your hand and remove the bell. Put that in the case. Put the bottom joint back in the case.

    Put the cap back on the ligature and mouthpiece and put that back in the case. Usually you have something to put the reed in to protect it in the case, I don’t have that at the moment, so you don’t just lay it in the case like I’m doing right now, but that’s that. You close up your cork grease and put it in the case. Close the case and you’re ready to travel.

    The clarinet is very light, very small and very easy to get around with. And that’s the introduction to the clarinet. Thank you so much.

    November 17, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 2303

  • Replacing Saxophone Neck Cork with Rheuben Allen

    I’d like to talk a little bit about the neck cork. Now this is a Selmer Mark VI neck and as you can see over time, the neck cork has been lengthened quite a bit. It should stop right about here (shows where) but you have another half inch that was done on this.

    So what happens is, whenever you go to put on a neck cork, you try not to lengthen it at all. So in the case of this though, you can see all the marks and things, so I put the cork just to here and there’s going to be a big ugly piece coming out of that neck. So what we have to do once the cork is cut, we must go that same length with the new neck cork.

    Now I use contact cement when I’m putting on a neck cork. So what you want to do to prepare the neck cork is, I usually cut the cork sheet down the middle, then you cut a tapered angle on one end (demonstrates) so that it’s tapered underneath, then you apply the contact cement.

    Okay, normally when I put the contact cement on, I use a pipe cleaner because it’s easier, but I’m out so today I’m using a q-tip. You simply go over your tapered area first. You don’t want it to be too thick at all, but you have to make sure that it covers everything (demonstrates applying contact cement to the tapered area and the back of the cork). Put the contact on.

    Just want to make sure you cover all of the cork you’ll be applying and you want to make sure you far enough. It doesn’t matter if you go past where the wraps going to be. You just have to make sure you put enough on there for where the wraps going to be. So I go a little extra.

    Put [the glue on], then that’s that part for the moment. Simply lay the cork on something to give the glue time to get tacky.

    The next step, of course, is to put the contact glue on the neck. I’m doing this tenor neck. So I simply take the contact glue and place it around the neck. Now you want to make sure you get it on this seam right here (shows) and on the top because in this little seam [you need to make sure the cork sticks]. Again, you want to make sure you cover everything. If it doesn’t get covered, it won’t stick. And it’s very important to cover the end because that has to be cut a little thinner than the rest of the cork.

    And as I’ve said before, this particular neck is a little long, so there’s a little extra room you have to do here. Make sure you don’t put it on too thick or with any clumpy spots or it will take a long time to dry. You want the glue to be fairly even.

    It’s generally easier with a pipe cleaner, the q-tip is a little limited. Get it all around the neck cork area. Then put it somewhere for the glue to get tacky without it touching anything.

    It will take a while for the tenor cork I just prepared to be ready to sand, so I have here an alto cork that I’ve already put on. It’s already been wrapped and everything, so I’ll show you how to sand it. It’s fairly simple to sand. Simply lay it down. I get these sanders (shows) at the 99 cent store. I get three of them for $1. And by hand, I sand the cork.

    Now contrary to many things that I’ve heard, the saxophone neck is not a cylinder, it is tapered. So the back end of the cork must be thinner than the front of the cork in order to make the cork a cylinder to the mouthpiece to slide onto and seal properly. So you must take a little more off the backend. And the cork seam, of course, should always be placed on the bottom of the neck (shows) so that it’s not seen. When the mouthpiece is on, you don’t see the seam.

    And you just start sanding. Turn the neck a little [as you go]. And hand sand it until it’s the right [thickness] for the mouthpiece you’re going to fit to this neck.

    Okay, now I’m getting ready to put the neck cork on this tenor neck and one of the things you need to do, as I used contact cement, is that you need have a place to put it while the contact cement is drying. So at the end of my work bench, I drilled two holes. One is 1 1/8 inch for the tenor necks and one is 1 inch for the alto neck. So that’s where they can sit while you’re waiting for the glue to dry and there’s no chance of knocking it off the bench or any of the kind of stuff because it’s actually in a hole and setup.

    [To put the cork on the neck, the side of the cork with glue goes against the neck. I start the tapered end at the bottom of the saxophone neck cork area so that when it’s all said and done, the seam isn’t visible. If I have extra cork after I wrap it around the neck cork area, I cut it so that it lines up seamlessly with the tapered edge. Be careful not to cut the actual saxophone neck. Press the cork down against the neck to get a nice seal and let the glue dry before you begin sanding.]

    [Goes back to alto neck] So now I have sanded the neck cork so that it’s a complete cylinder and very smooth and now’s the time to put the mouthpiece on and make sure that it fits. So you want to put a lot of cork grease on the neck. And then the mouthpiece that I use to test putting it on is one that I manufacture that has a metal ring around it so that it’s less likely to crack. So then you simply put the mouthpiece on the neck and get it on as far as you can get it on and [as you can see] that’s a very nice fit, a very nice distance. The player can put it there or out here, he’s got a lot of room and the cork is very snug. So at this point, I look at the back of the cork here (shows) and if it’s thicker in the back here than where you put the mouthpiece on, then I just simply sand that piece down a little more until it gets to be completely a cylinder so you don’t have that big bump at the back end. Now you’re finished and the cork is ready to be used.

    October 29, 2014 • Repair Tips • Views: 2074

  • Leo Potts: The Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance

    Part I

    My name is Leo Potts and I’d like to share with you some concepts of the Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance.

    The first concept we’ll deal with is “how do you play the first note of a musical phrase?”

    Now prior to playing the first note of a musical phrase, most musicians will already have the keys depressed. Let’s say it’s “b”. If I already have the key down… Now the sound is going to be produced at the mouth, at the mouthpiece, so the reed is not going to vibrate the way that it should and the sound is going to be tight. It’s going to sound like this. [demonstrates]

    The concept that I’m dealing with is that I never have my fingers down before I play. It’s all about airstream, articulating with the tongue, and fingers meeting at the same time, creating that first note.

    You know what, we can use this analogy, it’s kind of interesting. If I’m playing baseball, let’s say. The idea is that I have my bat and the pitcher throws the ball and I swing, and the bat and the ball meet to create that home run. That energy. That’s what happens when I don’t have the finger down. It’s right there.

    Now the other way, if I already have my finger down, it’s more to me like it’s like I stick the bat out there [places hands together in front of body] the pitcher throws [the ball] and I hope, that maybe, he might hit the bat.

    This is my concept of producing the perfect note. I’m not going to have a finger down before I play, so I’m feeling the pearl on my finger. Ready to put that finger down. Feeling that energy. Now I’m going to breathe from the diaphragm. In one continuous motion, the articulation, air meeting the finger as it closes. No [pause], [the air is] through into [the finger].

    Here we go. [demonstrates]

    Now just say I’m going to start the note without the tongue at all so that it’s going to be quite. It’s going to be sort of like it’s sneaking in but you’re going to hear the beginning of the note. It’s just not percussive in any way, shape, or form. [demonstrates]

    I’d like to, one more time, just let you hear what it sounds like when the key is down as far as sound is concerned, articulation, and the beginning of the note. And then when I’m doing the concept of air and fingers meeting to create that sound. So he we are [with the finger down] and it’s more a matter of thinking up here [points to mouthpiece] than here [points to hand].[demonstrates both]

    It’s a much richer sound. The fundamental of the sound is there and it doesn’t sound tight. It’s open and singing. And that’s really what I’m trying to do all the time. Air and fingers meet to create that.

    So that’s a concept that I’m dealing with. Try it. Work on it and see how you like it. And enjoy.

    For more information, visit leopotts.com

    Part II

    My name is Leo Potts and I’d like to share with you some concepts of the Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance.

    This is session two, a continuation of session one. I would like to introduce you to the concept of finger technique. The tendency is to slap a key down and upon the release, let the finger fly. This is going to affect the quality of sound and pitch relationship. Let me just demonstrate that really quickly for you. I’m going to put [my fingers] down not very nicely and release them the same way. [demonstrates]

    As you can hear, the tone quality on the release, the pitch relationship is sharp and I’ve lost all the bottom int he sound. Now I’m going to do it conceptually the way that I think. [demonstrates]

    Now I’ve a balance of tone quality. Nothing is sticking out, nothing is popping out. The upper note is not exploding on me. Something I find very helpful is to practice in front of a mirror. This way, you can see your fingers. You can see if you’re really keeping your fingers on the pearls. And now you’ll be able to hear the difference. Your tone quality will be the same. The line will flow and actually, it will be easier to play.

    So the next time I’ll be in your area, I hope you’ll come and join me for my master clinic and hope to see you then. Thank you.

    October 13, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 1945

  • Controlling the Bounce of the Right-Hand Keys on the Saxophone

    Need help controlling bouncing keys in the right hand of your saxophone?

    No need to worry. Right hand bounce is actually a very common problem. One of the ways to help stop the bounce is to have a cork on the back of the key itself and a felt glued to the body of the saxophone. When the cork hits the felt on the up stroke of the key, it will not bounce as much as when the cork itself touches the body of the instrument.

    So, if the bounce is hard to get rid of, you can experiment by using more cork on the key and less felt on the body or less cork on the key and more felt on the body to get the proper pad height and control bounce. Over the many years of repairing saxophones I have found that almost every saxophone requires a slightly different way to fix the same problem.

    You may also find that the spring tension and spring placement can sometimes cause bouncing. For example, some Selmer Mark VI tenors have a very short D spring in the right hand. This very short spring makes it difficult to both stop the bounce and get good spring tension on the D key.

    The type of spring will also make a difference when making the adjustment. A Stainless Steel Spring (sometimes referred to as a piano wire spring) does not seem to bounce as much as a Blue Steel spring. The reason behind this is that contrary to a blue steel string, it does not need to be heated before it is put in the saxophone, and in result, it maintains a better hardness allowing less bounce.

    If your saxophone has Blue Steel springs, they must be tempered correctly prevent the keys from bouncing. In extreme cases you can drill a small hole in the back arm of the key and have the spring go through the hole to operate the key (but I recommend having a repairman do this procedure if you find it necessary). By changing the spring placement you can control or eliminate the bounce. After doing this, however, it is necessary to remove the entire lower stack to adjust the spring tension on every one of the stack keys. But I would only do this as a last resort…..

    September 4, 2014 • Repair Tips • Views: 2478

  • The Difference Between Tenor Saxophones With and Without the High F# Key

    The following is a guest post by Rheuben Allen.

    Hi everyone, this is Rheuben. I’d like to talk to you very briefly about the difference between a tenor saxophone that has a F# and one that does not have a high F#.

    Many people believe that the tenor without the high F# key responds better. It’s hard to prove this because you can’t take a tenor with no F# key, have somebody play it and then in 15 minutes put on a high F# key so that they can try it with the same reed, the same mouthpiece, the same player and do everything at the same time.

    So the main thing about the high F# tenors that makes them not respond quite as well as one might think they should is that up here is the pad cup and down here is the spring [shows]. The spring is actually on a different key. It’s not on the key that it has to play, it’s on the lever, the part that works it. So, if you have a high F# tenor, and you think it’s not responding as well as you think it should, then you could possibly add a spring here at the top [shows] to hold the high F# key down. And that’s right at the top of the horn and that generally improves the saxophone quite a bit.

    So that’s the difference between the high F# tenor and the F tenor. Everyone is entitled to believe what they believe, but I believe that if you put a spring up here [shows], you’re high F# tenor will respond much better. Thanks so much.

    June 11, 2014 • Repair Tips • Views: 2935

  • Saxophone Repair Tips | An Article Roundup on Teen Jazz

    Rheuben Allen, a saxophone and woodwind repairman based in California, has contributed a number of articles to Teen Jazz on instrument repair and music in general. Because he specializes in sax repair, the majority of his articles have been on that particular topic. Here is a collection of saxophone repair tips from Rheuben Allen.

    Why it’s Important to Take You Instrument in for Regular Check-Ups – Preventative maintenance can help your saxophone maintain its working condition for far longer than if you wait until something is wrong.

    Repair Etiquette – How to Talk to Your Repairman – Why it’s important to tell your repairman the problems you’re having when you take your horn in for repair.

    Emergency Saxophone Repair – Just in case you need to do a couple of quick fixes yourself while on the road.

    Basic Saxophone Repair – If your interested in doing instrument repair, here are a few ideas to help you get started.

    How to Adjust the G-Sharp Spring Tension on a Saxophone – A problem many of us have.

    April 24, 2014 • Repair Tips • Views: 2003

  • The Benefits of Studying Music

    This article is a guest post written Rheuben Allen.

    Why is it important for young people to study music? To put it simply, there are a number reasons music is an important part of a young person’s life and in this article I will touch on just a few.

    Music helps develop motor skills & eye-hand coordination. Learning to read music and coordinate it with the movement of the fingers helps develop eye-hand coordination. Students learn to read the notes, interpret which finger combinations belong to those notes, and then they must make their fingers do this with great accuracy. The eye sees the music on the page and within milliseconds the mind must transfer that information to the fingers. By developing their eye-hand coordination through music, students will develop an important skill set for a variety of fields that require eye-hand coordination. These opportunities can include work as an assembler, surgeon, physician, pilot, technician or mechanic.

    Music helps students develop the ability to work well with others. When playing in a band or orchestra, everyone must work together to make the music sound good. As part of being in an ensemble, kids learn how to work together by listening to the other players and following the conductor.

    Music can also help develop social skills. When going over the music, it is necessary for young musicians to discuss different aspects of the music including pitch, intonation, articulation and style and then agree on which interpretation they’ll make. Music classes and ensembles are highly social environments where communication and negotiation are necessary skills that are learned along the way. This can be particularly beneficial for kids that are not necessarily outgoing.

    Music also leaves room for personal expression. While studying music and their instruments, students have the opportunity to develop their own style and means of self-expression. And by learning to express themselves with music, they can better express themselves in everyday life.

    And last but not least, learning to play an instrument is a great way to help young students develop confidence and a sense of accomplishment. The time and dedication required to learn an instrument is something to be very proud of.

    Even if the student does not go on to become a professional musician, music is a great experience that will last them a lifetime.

    There are many other benefits to studying music, and if you are a musician, we’d love to hear about how music has helped you.

    Music is for a lifetime…

    Here’s a great infographic from University of Florida:

    University of Florida’s Master of Music in Music Education

    May 29, 2013 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1929