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  • 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: 851

  • There Are No Shortcuts

    Amongst the language learning community, there are a lot of products marketed to learners as being the newest and fastest way to learn a language.

    The problem with this, is with how they’re defining what it means to have learnt a language.

    Is this to fluency? To basic conversation ability? It is rarely clear just what they’re offering and what they mean by just how much of the language you’ll learn.

    From my personal experience, and that of my language learning friends, there isn’t any way to learn a language other than by putting in the time and using that time effectively.

    There is no fast or easy way.

    It’s all about putting in the time on a consistent basis.

    When you’re trying to develop a skill, going weeks without study and then cramming in a ton of practice into a short window before taking another long break is a disservice to you and it ruins your potential growth in whatever you’re trying to do.

    But a lot of products are marketed in a way that would have you believing you could learn something quickly.

    And this phenomenon doesn’t just exist amongst language learners. Its prevalent amongst nearly every craft that requires any sort of skill.

    Nearly everyone is looking for the next bigger, better, faster way to improve at one skill or another, but are shortcuts really the right way to go?

    It seems that people are looking for a way to reap the rewards without putting in any of the work to earn them.

    So what does this have to do with music?

    The same exact thing as it has to do with any other field.

    There. is. no. shortcut.

    The only way you’re going to get better is by sitting down and putting hours into practice and making the most of that time.

    And playing isn’t practicing.

    If you aren’t spending the time in the right way, it can be as unproductive as not practicing at all.

    Look Beyond the End Result

    In music, like many other vocations, we often just see the end result. We see the successful musician, the adoring fans, and hear the well-produced music after all the hard work has been done in the background.

    What we miss is what goes on behind the scenes.

    It’s easy to forget or write off all of the things that we don’t see. All of the hours of rehearsal, of practice, of coaching and training, of recording, of writing, and of laboring that go on to create that finished “product.”

    It’s easy to ignore because that isn’t what we see. We see the end result, not the preparation. It all seems like a magic. Someone waves their hands and we get a polished performer with a hit record.

    But that isn’t the case.

    It’s important to remind yourself of all the hours that go into a performance, an album, or a video. There’s so much more to each of these things that you don’t see just because they happen behind the scenes (although we’re seeing it more and more recently as artists give us a look into their lives via social media).

    You can’t ignore all the work that an artist or musician puts in to create their “greatest work”. They (often) aren’t geniuses, or exceptions to the rule, and their art often doesn’t come as naturally to them as we’d like to think.

    99.9% of the time it isn’t natural talent or luck. It’s hard work.

    So why do we want to believe it’s talent or natural ability that allows people to excel?

    Because we either don’t want to put the work in ourselves or because we want to make excuses about why we can’t do something.

    We are often also attracted to the possibility that someone has a natural gift or that they were destined to do a certain thing which why they have a knack for it. It gives us hope that we’ll find that thing we were destined for.

    Even though this way of thinking often leads to our admiring those who excel at certain things (which isn’t so bad in itself – they deserve recognition for their hard work), that admiration allows us to set other musicians on a pedestal. It gives us reason to think, “oh, I could never do that.” And by thinking that, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage before you even begin.

    Developing a skill is already a struggle, but if you look at it as impossible, you’ll struggle even more.

    Learning can be frustrating, and so, it can be quite easy to understand why we want to skip that step and move quickly from learner to expert. No one wants to experience frustration intentionally and at certain stages, when we sit down to practice, we know that’s what we’re going to feel.

    So why do we keep submitting ourselves to that frustration?

    Because the end result is worth it.

    If we want to accomplish something meaningful, do something great, then we need to deal with the frustration that comes with learning our craft.

    If music is something we want to do, something we want to become great at, then we need to pour all of the blood, sweat and tears required into improving.

    We need to sit down in front of our music stands or put our headphones on and work.

    But we also need to use the time we spend working at our craft and practicing the right way.

    When you’re woodshedding, it isn’t enough to just play your instrument, you actually need to take things that you struggle with and work them out.

    If you’re comfortable, then you aren’t growing. You aren’t pushing yourself enough. You aren’t teaching yourself new things and you aren’t making aspects of your playing that are difficult for you now easier for yourself later.

    If you want to do great things, then you need to make great efforts.

    In Conclusion

    Music is a way to be creative and it is a way for us to express ourselves. It should be something that we find enjoyable. Even though you should stretch and push yourself when you practice, it’s important to find the time to do the things you enjoy musically as well. It doesn’t have to be all work, no play, but if you’re driven to improve it should definitely be more of the former and less of the latter.

    In fact, by putting in the work, you may find that you enjoy music more just because you’re reveling in the results of all of your hard work the next time you head out for a performance.

    So the next time you find yourself envious over someone’s “natural ability” to do something you’d like to do, remember that it’s not impossible. You can get to that point to if you’re willing to put in the work.

    September 2, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 768

  • How to Learn Something from Any Situation

    When we make the transition from school to the real world, maintaining our learning curve can present a challenge. In school we’re often handed things that we need to work on in the form or homework or assignments, and so we rarely have to think about the next step.

    But what happens when you no longer have someone telling you what to do to get better?

    How do you find the direction that you need to continue improving?

    One of the easiest ways ways to get direction whenever you feel as though you’re struggling is to study with a good teacher.

    No matter how long we’ve been out of school, you’re never to old for a private lesson with someone who can provide you with good feedback!

    But if you’re not able to take lessons for whatever reason, there are a few things that you can do on your own to improve and overcome any plateaus in your learning that you might be facing.

    Learn from the bad

    Start recording yourself as you practice and as you perform. Audio is great but video is even better.

    The next step is the hardest one.

    Watch it.

    For some, watching a video of a performance or listening back to a practice session can be an awkward (or even frustrating) experience. I, for one, don’t like to watch videos of myself performing.

    But how am I going to improve my live performance if I don’t watch videos?

    If I don’t take the time to look at what I’m doing, there are likely things that I’ll miss. Perhaps I believe I’m more dynamic on stage or that I’m moving around more than I am in reality. Perhaps I don’t realize that I’m constantly reaching up to run a hand through my hair or not looking out at the audience enough.

    The only way I’m really going to catch all of those little things that can truly amp up my live performance (if I work on them) is by analyzing past performances.

    I need to look at the bad things that I’m doing and iron them out.

    But you can also learn from the “bad” things that other players or performers are doing.

    Perhaps you went to a show and there was something about it you didn’t enjoy. Maybe the musicians didn’t engage with the audience or their set list was too eclectic. Perhaps they weren’t well rehearsed. Or maybe it was just the way the lead stood with bad posture that bothered you.

    Whatever it is, learn from it. Make a note of the things that you dislike about other performers and make a point of never doing them yourself.

    Learn from the good

    When you are watching the videos of your past performances, don’t just pay attention to the things you want to work on. Keep track of the things that you’re doing that you like.

    When you’re listening back to the audio recordings of your practice, take note of the things that you do that are unique to your playing.

    And then keep doing them.

    When you go out to other performances or when you listen to albums from other artists, listen and watch for things that impress you.

    Then learn how to do them yourself before adapting them so that they become your own.

    Listen to musicians that inspire you to work harder and get to the next level with your playing and performance.

    If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to go out and see performances put on by the musicians that inspire you, spend some time browsing videos on YouTube. And even if you are able to go out and see live shows, spend time studying the performances of other musicians on Youtube as well.

    You can learn from any situation – whether good or bad – and use what you’ve gained from that experience to improve as a player and grow as a musician. It’s up to you to collect those experiences and put them to use.

    August 31, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 719

  • 13 Things No One Told Me About Being A Professional Musician

    I began my career as a professional musician while in high school and I’ve learned more outside of school these past few years than I did in all of my time in school (and I went to school through a Master’s degree).

    Some of the lessons that I’ve learned were much harder than others, but I’m grateful for all of the knowledge I’ve gained throughout my career.

    Despite the fact that no one told me the following about being a professional musician, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you.

    1. Finding the motivation to work as a self-employed, independent musician isn’t always easy. There are some days that you just don’t feel like doing anything, but you need to push through it and sit down to do the work anyway.
    2. How little your the role your actual playing plays on a day to day basis. It isn’t hours of practice and nothing but performances all day, every day. There is so much other work that goes into being a professional. Business stuff. Image stuff. Networking stuff. Promotion stuff. Finance stuff. Contract stuff.
    3. How much time (or money) it actually takes to put out quality content. Creating an excellently produced album isn’t as simple as jumping into a basement recording studio with your high school buddies. While it can be done, it isn’t the best way to do it. And album costs aren’t just the production costs (what it takes to create the album), there are also promotion and distribution costs.
    4. It’s hard. And sometimes you want to quit. Sometimes you wish you had decided to do something else. But then are other times where you laugh at yourself for ever even playing around with the idea of doing something else.
    5. It’s okay to have hobbies. Not all of your free time needs to be spent working on and improving your music. A lot of it should, but not all of it. It’s healthy to get away and do something else every so often.
    6. Depression is a thing. For most artists – whether it be aritst, writer or musician – depression is a thing and if you struggle with it, do something about it. You aren’t alone. And if you need to, you should talk to someone about it.
    7. People can be downright cruel. But they can also be incredibly and surprisingly supportive.
    8. Creativity blocks are real. Oh, so real. It isn’t all free-flowing compositions, inspired improvisation, rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes your playing downright sucks. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing or practicing. Just try to work through it so that it doesn’t become too many days in a row.
    9. Stick-to-it-ness is one of the best talents you can have.
    10. You aren’t just composing and performing for yourself. A lot of people will tell you this, and in a way, they aren’t wrong. You need to create music that you want to hear first, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore you audience. What I think that really means when you break it down is that if you’re selling out and trying to ride trends, your audience will see you as inauthentic. You need to create the music you want to create and that you enjoy. Something you can put your heart and soul behind. That’s what others enjoy and want to hear. That’s what matters most. But, don’t write and record music for the sake of numbers, do it because you’re trying to reach out and connect with your audience (however many people that may be).
    11. You’ll very likely do a lot of gigs that you really wish you didn’t have to do.
    12. But you’ll also do gigs that are amazing and meet amazing people along the way.
    13. That you cannot afford to stop learning. There is always room for growth.

    So there you have it, thirteen things I’ve learned about being a professional musician. What are your experiences? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

    August 26, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 675

  • The Essentials for Any Musician

    I’ve recently had a few of my students’ parents ask me about the music equipment that their child should have and so I decided to answer it here.
    While this varies slightly from instrument to instrument, there are a few essentials that every up and coming musician should keep with them in their case at all times.
    1. Cleaning cloth // This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It could be anything from a microfiber cloth to a special cleaning glove or an old cut up t-shirt. This is the one that I use.
    2. Tuner // With fresh batteries!
    3. Metronome // Again, with fresh batteries! On Amazon you can find an affordable metronome that is also a tuner. I use this one.
    4. For woodwinds // non-stick powder or sheets, cork grease, extra reeds, a neck strap
    For brass // valve oil and slide oil
    For bassists or guitarists // extra strings and picks (if you use them)
    5. Music // I recommend a good method book at the very least. Your school teacher can usually recommend a good one.
    6. A way to listen to your music (an mp3 player, computer or cd player)
    7. Your instrument (and that doesn’t have to be something overly expensive) // Don’t forget to bring any part of it to your lessons or your classes. I’ve had saxophone students do silly things like forget their neck or mouthpiece. Also double check to make sure everything is in your case!
    8. A practice journal // This can be any notebook that will hold together well enough to be carried around back and forth from your house to your lessons. I just use a composition notebook.
    If you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a note in the comments.

    August 17, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 554

  • How I Earned More in Tips than What the Gig Paid Playing to a Nearly Empty Room

    At some point or another we’ve all had or will have gigs where the room is nearly empty. You can’t win them all. But, how those gigs turn out all depend on how you behave and how you perform despite whatever disappointment you may be feeling.

    So let me start by saying it’s not easy.

    When you’re playing to an empty room, it’s hard to find the energy to put on a good performance. There isn’t an audience to play off of or interact with and so it’s easy to slip into putting on a mediocre show. Especially if they’re not paying attention.

    But here’s why you shouldn’t let that happen.

    A smaller audience gives you the opportunity to connect on a more intimate level with your listeners. Don’t miss out on that opportunity!

    First, I recommend gauging the room before following my suggestions. If the room would rather focus on their meal and not on the music, it might be better to let them do that (if you don’t want the venue manager to be upset with you).

    But if they’re watching you or applauding after you finish songs, make them a part of your performance.

    Let them call out requests in between songs, get a dialogue going with them. It’s an experience they’ll likely remember and a great way to build relationships with your audience.

    Don’t be afraid to talk with those enjoying your music from where you’re playing – just don’t get too carried away and leave too much space between songs.

    Perform as though you’re playing for a large audience. Play like you’re on a stage and not tucked away next to the bar. You never know who’s watching!

    I recently had an experience where I performed in a restaurant to a small crowd. Rather than letting it get the best of me, I decided to make the most of the situation.

    One of the couples sitting near to where I was playing applauded after a song I played and I asked them if there was anything they wanted to hear. They asked me to play something that I really enjoyed playing, which I did, and it opened up to use chatting briefly between songs.

    In turn, this got the attention of some of the other patrons in the room and they began to change seats so that they too could engage with me.

    It ended up being a fun night and in a way, an almost private and personal concert for those that were there. I didn’t do it to earn tips – I did it to create an awesome musical experience for the people that were there. But it did end up in me tripling what I made that night because of the tips I received.

    I am really grateful to have had that experience and for the kindness the people there that night showed me. I am glad that I had the chance to meet them and get to know them.

    What about you? Have you ever had any musical experiences that could have gone poorly but you managed to turn them around? I’d love to hear about your music experiences – both the good, the bad, and the ugly – in the comments!

    August 5, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 640

  • Why It’s Important to Stretch as a Musician

    Maintaining your health and keeping your body in shape while on and off the road as a musician is essential to a long-lasting career. By not taking care of your body, you could inhibit your ability to perform and so it’s important to be fit.

    One of the best things you can do to help keep your body in shape is to stretch. The repetitive motion that playing an instrument requires can make your muscles and body tense, so stretching is a great way not only to prevent injury but to ensure your fingers, arms, neck and back maintain their flexibility.

    You also risk injury if you push yourself to hard playing an instrument without any breaks or stretching. Just a few of the injuries that can occur are tendinitis, carpal tunnel, and thoracic outlet syndrome. You can find out more about music-related injuries and what can cause them here.

    This is why it’s important to take short breaks during long practice sessions or rehearsals to stretch every so often, drink a bit of water, and to give yourself the proper amount of time to heal if an injury occurs.

    For many musicians, the long breaks necessary to properly heal after an injury are hard to adjust to, if they’re even possible, so the key is prevention.

    Here are just a few stretches that you can do to help prevent injury:

    1. First, before we go into any specific stretches, I’d like to point out that you should not bounce while stretching. If a stretch is difficult for you, take it slow and only push yourself to the point of mild discomfort at most.

    2. You should also warm up on your instrument before you begin practicing any intense or repetitive passages. Not only is this good for both your technique on your instrument, but your body as well.

    3. Stretch your left and right shoulders. First, start by raising your right arm in the air as though raising your hand. Drop your arm behind your head, reaching for your left shoulder so your head rests in the crook of your elbow. Push your head back gently against your arm while trying to keep your right hand on your right shoulder to increase the stretch if needed. Do the same with your left arm, reaching for your right shoulder.

    4. Shoulder rolls. Do eight shoulder rolls in each direction (16 total) with both arms simultaneously. Be sure not to just move your shoulders in circular motions, but to really push down, forward up and behind to maximize the stretch.

    5. Arm circles. Do eight arm circles in each direction with both arms simultaneously. Just like with the shoulder rolls, make sure you push outward as much as you can.

    6. Do neck rolls. Do eight rolls to the right and eight to the left. Push your head down towards your chest, each of your shoulders, and your back as far as you can as you roll.

    7. Touch your toes. From the standing position, roll your body forward slowly as though you are folding towards the floor one vertebrate at a time. Keep your legs straight and reach towards your toes. If you can, try touching your palms flat to the floor. If you can’t, just reach down as far as your body will allow. Roll back up slowly, one vertebrate at a time. Do this at least once more.

    For all the above stretches I suggest going as slow as possible to maximize their effectiveness.

    When you practice, minimize the time you spend sitting. If you play an instrument you can practice standing up, do so. Or, at the very least, spend part of the time sitting and part of the time standing. If you play an instrument that requires you sit like cello, drums, or piano, stand for a moment whenever you have a chance (maybe at the end of a passage or song).

    Remember, that the repetitive motion required of your body when you play an instrument can be harmful to your body, so be sure to take frequent breaks, play with good posture, and listen to your body when it tries to tell you something.

    What are some of the stretches you do to prevent muscle tightness and to keep your body in top shape? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

    *Please note that I am not a medical professional. If you have any pain when playing an instrument, please see a doctor.

    July 29, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 554

  • 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: 685

  • The Dangers of Swapping Instruments

    I know that today’s post may seem a bit silly to some, but I wanted to touch on this subject because of questions some of my music students’ parents had about swapping instruments.

    First, to answer a specific question:

    “Is it normal that my child’s music teacher played their instrument?”

    Yes, it is, but they should have taken a few precautions before doing so. Usually a teacher play tests a student’s instrument if there is some concern about whether it is properly functioning or not. When they do this, they will most likely use their own mouthpiece and setup. If they choose to use your child’s mouthpiece, they should, at the very least use their own reed and sanitize the mouthpiece both before and after using it.

    Another question was:

    “Should I worry about my child trying out their friends’ instruments at school?”

    And it’s this question that I’d like to spend a bit more time on today.

    When we’re young we often feel as though bad things happen to “other” people, they don’t happen to us. The reality, however, is that things can happen to anyone. It’s important to be careful. Especially when it comes to your health.

    I remember back when I was in junior high, I swapped instruments with my friends. I tried out the tuba just because, or maybe the trombone or clarinet. I even tried my hand at vibraphone. Looking back, I’m thankful how lucky I was I didn’t pick up more illnesses than I did doing just that.

    Even though swapping instruments with friends may seem tempting, it’s best not to do so without taking precautions to ensure the instrument is clean.

    Germs can survive on music instruments for several days – particularly in wind instruments where moisture is collected. Those who play wind instruments have often complained of having recurrent sore throats or inflammation and there have even been cases of pneumonia.

    Here are just a few things you can pick up from handling someone else’s horn or instrument:

    Cold/Flu – colds and the flu affect people differently so while it may seem like your friend only has the sniffles, sharing an instrument with them could lead to you ending up with a full blown cold or flu if your immune system doesn’t fight the infection the same way.

    Warts – warts are extremely contagious and if the person with them doesn’t take care to cover them up, they can spread easily. When you handle the same instrument as someone with warts, you risk giving the virus a chance to infect your body as well. For example, borrowing the drumsticks of a friend with warts could lead to you getting them too.

    Fever Blisters – sharing mouthpieces with someone who has a fever blister can result in you picking up the virus (whether you’ve had fever blisters before or not). And playing any wind instrument with a fever blister can be painful.

    Lung Infections/Bronchitis – if the inside of an instrument isn’t kept clean, you can put yourself at the risk of developing a lung infection or bronchitis.

    Strep Throat – yup, another infection that can be passed by sharing mouthpieces with another player.

    A good way to prevent the above is to regularly clean your instrument, avoid playing the instruments of your peers, and politely decline when they request to play your instrument. It isn’t enough to clean the outside of your saxophone, flute, clarinet, etc. You also need to make sure you clean the inside as well.

    There’s no reason to be completely paranoid, but it’s always better to be on the safe side. Try not to swap instruments with your friends. It may sound like fun and it may be tempting, but it’s always best to play it on the safe side.

    In conclusion, clean your instrument and don’t share it with others! If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to share an instrument, however, make certain that you have your own mouthpiece and reeds at the very least.

    Here are a few cleaning tools we suggest to help get you started:

    Further reading:

    July 8, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 673

  • A Fun Way to Work on Ear Training | Memrise

    The skills necessary to become a successful musician go beyond just playing our instrument well. In addition to being a good musician, we need to have a good business sense, the ability to juggle a diverse range of tasks, and more.

    Once we start getting busy with gigs, the business aspects of music, and practice, we sometimes neglect developing other aspects of our musicianship. Particularly because some of those things we need to work on aren’t that enjoyable to do.

    But what if there was a fun way to work on ear training?

    That’s why I’d like to introduce you to Memrise.

     A fun way to work on ear training | Memrise

    Memrise is a learning application based on spaced-repetition and it’s a great way to learn everything from a new language to geography.

    In their music section they have courses on:

    The lessons are short – they take around five minutes to complete and they’re a convenient way to work on different aspects of your musicianship. Memrise has both a web-based version and a mobile version of their app.

    I use Memrise on a daily basis for a variety of things and I have found it very effective.

    Get started with a free profile today.

    If you’ve tried Memrise, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below! Have you tried any other applications to develop your musicianship. What are they and what did you think?

    June 22, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 711