Posts Tagged ‘saxophone lessons’

How will YOU speak through music?

March 12, 2016

By Eric Siegel

Practice, for some, can be harder than playing the instrument itself. Practice is easy when we start simple. Just about everything in music can be broken down into fundamental but little bits that need to be committed to memory. When you confidently know the note names, note values, each fingering, etc., you find that you won’t just be playing the music – you’ll be reading it, too! When you can read music, your vocabulary and ability will increase to intermediate concepts like phrasing, dynamics, and tempo/rhythm change. With enough retention, you might even forget that you’re reading the music at that point. You’ll be back to playing it, but with emotion and a more mature sound. Music really becomes a language.

Is it how much you practice that will make you better? No!!! Practice isn’t always how long you play your instrument. Practice is taking what is learned in lessons and applying that knowledge to your time playing your instrument before meeting again. In a world attached to busy and ever-changing schedules and so many people and things to take responsibility of, take 15-30 minutes of your day to get better at even just one aspect of your playing. Then, commit that to memory. Another day, another dollar.

Air is free, so breathe it all in – and lots of it! Flute, clarinet and saxophone aren’t woodwind instruments for no reason. Woodwind instruments are inoperable without a pair of lungs and lots of air, after all. They possess the clearest sound and tone with air backed up with abdominal (tummy) strength and control. Without an instrument in hand, try putting both your hands on your lower back and take a deep stomach-breath. That’s both of your lungs expanding. We need to use – one more time! – LOTS of air because the air has a bit of a ways to travel!

Have you ever blown air across an empty glass bottle and you’d hear it make a tone? The direction and speed of the air you’re blowing causes the bottle to vibrate fast enough to create a sound. The same principle stands with playing the flute, but optimal sound comes from knowing where to “point” the direction of the airstream, as well as air speed. Unlike the clarinet and saxophone, creating a flute sound doesn’t come from blowing into the instrument with a wooden reed. The speed of the air is what causes the flute to vibrate and, thus, sound. This makes flute tone all the more unique from clarinet and saxophone!

A clarinetist could hold the prestigious role of concertmaster for a world-renowned wind ensemble, but have just as much fun improvising with a big band if he or she wanted to! The clarinet has a recognizable sound that is versatile and uniquely colorful. Part of that is due to its dark wooden body, unlike the brass-bodied flute & saxophone. Whether an instrument is conical or cylindrical also affects what it will sound like; in this case, clarinet and flute possess cylindrical bodies.

Saxophone is arguably the instrument closest-sounding to the human voice. It has the ability to string out the emotions, energy and other characteristics of any genre. It can sound as beautiful to you as it sounds harsh to me, or vice versa! Just as every human being has a voice, every saxophonist has a sound.

How will YOU speak through music?

Oops! It’s Broken

January 11, 2012

by Greg Warren, Woodwind Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Greg Warren, Woodwind Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Greg Warren

As a player of woodwind instruments I have learned many lessons about how easily they can bend and break.  The saxophone, flute, and clarinet are fragile instruments.  When you have played as long as I have you learn that the tiniest of bumps to the delicate buttons, levers and, rods can severely impact the instruments playability or sound.  It is never fun to struggle on an instrument especially during a performance. Your mind needs to be free of concern for the instrument so you can play without any inhibitions.  With the first round of school concerts and recitals having just passed or coming up you want your instrument to be in peak working condition.

The reason I am addressing this particular problem is because I have been seeing lots of bumps and bends happening to quite a few instruments in the last month or so.  I believe this is a result of students becoming more comfortable with their instruments.  This causes you to lose focus and concentration concerning the expensive instrument in your hands.  One time it happened to me right before a gig I was playing in Vail.  I was back stage talking to some friends when my sax fell off of my lap hitting the floor pretty hard.  The damage was severe, it could not be fixed.  We were going on stage in 15 minutes and at this point in my career I did not have a back up horn.  I ended up having to play the flute on a bunch of songs I didn’t know on the flute.  I love the flute but that was hard.  It was not the best gig I have ever played but at least I had a flute.

Here are some tips for all the woodwind families to help avoid damaging your instrument.  These care tips are common to all of the woodwind instruments.

  • Make sure that all corks are thoroughly greased.  The cork can easily dry up in this dry Colorado climate of ours.  It is not a major repair but can be avoided easily.
  • When concerning metal to metal connections on the flutes and saxophones, they only need to be wiped with a dry rag to prevent sticking.  Never put any kind of grease on these joints; they become very slippery.
  • When assembling woodwind instruments take care to be firm but gentle.  Holding these instruments while assembling can cause a lot of damage; if you are not holding the instrument in the correct places you risk bending the long rods that make the keys move up and down.
  • Always clean your instrument after playing.  Saliva and condensation will collect on the walls of all woodwind instruments while being played.  If it is not dried out regularly things can start to grow, I know from experience.  Sometimes a smell will develop and a professional has to help get rid of the gunk on the inside of the instrument.  This is more common on the saxophone with all its curves.
  • Most importantly, just be aware of your surroundings.  Over time the instrument will become part of you and bumping into things or accidentally dropping it will stop, or become less frequent anyways.

As I said before, it will happen to every single one of us sometime in our musical career.  All we can do is be vigilant about how we treat our instruments and hope for the best.  Most musicians I know have a back up instrument or a really good friend to borrow a replacement from when things go bad.  When you become a professional, having a back up is a must.  Now go practice, but be careful not to drop or bump into anything with your instrument.

The Little Things

April 22, 2010

By Mike Gersten, Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Gersten, Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Gersten

You may be familiar with the expression “it’s the little things that count”.  In track winners can be decided by a tenth of a second; in baseball an inch can decide whether a pitch is a ball or a strike; and being just a little out of tune can turn an amazing performance into a catastrophe.  When it comes to practicing and taking care of a woodwind instrument it is the little things that make all the difference.  This Sunday I’ll be doing a woodwinds workshop at the lesson studio and I’ll be talking about little things we all can do as woodwind players to help make us better players.  Here is a little preview:

We all know that we need to practice in order to get better, but no one has a lot of time.  By using certain practice techniques you can maximize the efficiency of your practice sessions.  Now, I won’t tell you that you’ll be able to learn a very difficult piece in five minutes.  This isn’t a late-night infomercial.  However, I will say that these techniques will help you learn to play the music well in the quickest way possible.

What good is knowing how to play your instrument if you’re instrument doesn’t work?  You’re instrument should run like a well-oiled machine.  After all, your instrument is a machine with you as the motor.  We will discuss how to take care of your reeds, keys, and pads so your instrument will sound its best and you can avoid hefty repair costs.

In addition to these topics we will talk about listening to music and anything you else you want!  Feel free to bring your instrument and any music you are currently working on or have questions about.  Please call The Lesson Studio to reserve your spot as space is limited.  Oh yeah, did I mention that it’s FREE!  See you there!

AAA Brass

March 9, 2010

By Miles Horn, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Miles Horn, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Miles Horn

I grab my Miles Davis, “Live Around the World” CD and slide it into my car’s player. As the disc is fed into the machine and I hear the familiar whir of plastic parts, I ponder about the technology behind the music coming out of my speakers. Not the technology in the speakers nor in the CD player, but technology on a more basic and much more fundamental level: how does Mr. Davis’s trumpet produce those amazing tones? How did the trumpet evolve time? And what, if any, is the importance of those little valves?

As to the history of valves and the brass family, it’s best to start at the beginning of it all. No one is positive what the first lip reed instruments were, but certain historians believe they were conch shells, hollowed tubes from specific plants (like bamboo or eucalyptus), or hollowed animal horns and bones. An early example was the Shofar, a goat’s horn used to call members of the Jewish faith to prayer. It wasn’t until humans were able to forge more malleable metals into thinner forms that the modern lip reed family truly blossomed. Bronze was used early on to contsruct horns but was too bulky and did not resonate richly, but the introduction of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, marked a large step forward for the development of horn instruments.

Brass made shaping horns much easier. Compared to bronze, the alloy has a lower melting point, is more malleable, and produces a brighter clearer tone. The material helps create resonance and makes tuning easier because each metal has a different resonating frequencies.

Equally important is the shape and length of the horn, for they contribute to the production of the harmonic series of any brass instrument. The discovery of the harmonic series is credited to a priest named Marin Mersenne. He discovered that within each note were multiple overtones that do not sound as loudly. These overtones make up the harmonic series which, before the invention of the valve, were the only notes that could be played on a horn, meaning that there was one fundamental note and then the next note at exactly double the frequency and so on until the player reached the instrument’s physical limits. This is why bugle calls, like the familiar ‘Taps’ melody or the theme for the Kentucky Derby, are so sparse in notation; bugle players could play chromatically but only after reaching the 18th partial in the harmonic series. On a pipe tuned to concert A above middle C, which has the frequency 440 Hz, the next partial is at 880 Hz, and to play chromatically, the player must start playing at 7920 Hz. This is hard to achieve for any musician, and in the early days of brass music, the men who played herald trumpets and signal horns in the royal courts sported the best teeth of anyone around.

On December 6, 1814, an inventor named Heinrich Stölzel wrote a letter to King Frederick William III of Prussia asking if the King would use Stölzel’s new invention, the valved horn, in his royal and military bands. Unfortunately for Stölzel, few the big composers, sponsors, and even players tolerated the use of early valved instruments, and Stölzel was repeatedly rejected during his correspondence with the royal court.

Meanwhile, also in Prussia, Friedrich Blühmel was also trying, unsuccessfully, to patent his new invention, a different variation on the valved horn. Since these two men could not patent their new designs alone, they decided to work together, and on April 12, 1818, the two men received their joint patent. Two minutes later, Stölzel turned to Blühmel and purchased his half of the patent for 200 Thalers, or dollars, and sent another payment two months later..

With the invention of the valve, the playable range of an instrument was extended beyond the harmonic series of that instrument. The valves added length to the horn and created a new harmonic series in the instrument, opening the door to chromatic playing within a more comfortable range. Chromatic playing meant to the music industry of the early 19th century a new step in melodic lines. Suddenly, a player could play any note within multiple harmonic series by simply depressing a button or lever. Anybody, even those with poor dental hygiene, were capable of playing music.

The valved horn is a relatively simple mechanism. Air is pushed into the horn through the mouthpiece, creating sound by the vibration of the buzzing lips of the player. With the horn at its natural position, with no valves depressed, it is at a set length and will respond to a certain manipulation within its own harmonic series at that length. The valve redirects the air into passageways that lengthen the horn enough to create a dramatic difference. Think of a slide whistle and the effect of pulling the slide out: lengthening the instrument lowers the tone . Now imagine if you could instantly have the slide at the bottom of the whistle by pressing a button or lever. Presto! You have the basic concept of valves on a brass instrument.

It might not seem that moving the air from the primary pipe into the valve pipes matters, but there are ways to tailor valves to certain styles of playing. Stölzel’s design was a fairly simple one and is still used today on instruments like the modern trumpet, baritone, euphonium, and some tubas. The design, called a piston valve, consists of a single cylinder that holds the entire construction of the valve.

All types of valves have their pros and cons, most of these cons have to do with how cleanly the air is redirected and what happens to it when it does. when the valve is depressed on the modern trumpet, the air is sent through several 90 degree turns which contribute to sound degradation and creates more pressure within the instrument, making it harder to blow through and produce tone. The sound degrades because of the shape of the tubing and the bend within that tubing. When a player buzzes into the mouthpiece, they create a pressure difference that moves laterally, and as a result, the sound waves continue to move in their initial path and do not respond well to turns or changes in direction. This happens in the valve that Stölzel invented. Stölzel’s design is much better for playing fast licks because the valve moves much more smoothly, but it requires a few more pumps between notes and playing legato was more difficult for the musician. The valves Blühmel invented is more capable of playing long slow legato lines but is not as quick as the piston valve. Blühmel’s valve design, instead of sending the air through 90 degree redirections, maintained the lateral direction on which the air flows. The tubing lined up in a straight line, and the instrument was lengthened without losing any quality of sound. Instead of turning into the lengthened pipe, the valve just continues straight ahead, causing no reflection or refraction of sound waves.

There are many options for valve construction that have been invented since, one of which is the rotary valve. It is very similar to the piston valve but lays on its side. The rotary valve has many of the draw backs of the piston valve but is better for playing legato lines.

Though brass has been evolving for millenia, we have not seen the last of brass design. People are still tweaking the instruments to make them more well rounded for playing in all styles. One of the new horn designs that was once being worked on by Mark Veneklausen, who tried to remove all 90 degree turns from his model of the French Horn. Unfortunately, he lost funding for his project and the Vhorn, as it was called, was lost. However, the demise of the Vhorn shows that the evolution of Brass design has not stopped.

Winter/Spring Semester Registration Begins

November 12, 2009

On Monday, November 16, 2009, The Lesson Studio (TLS) will begin its Winter/Spring Semester registration!

The dates for our Winter/Spring Semester 2010 are: January 9 – May 21, 2010

TLS has instructors for guitar, piano, voice, drums, bass, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, tuba, euphonium, ukelele, oboe, cello, flute, mandolin and banjo! We also offer music therapy, a free workshop series, and summer music camp. We have an in-store drop-off/pickup for instrument repair. Included with your semester tuition are weekly instruction with the teacher of your choice; supplies including weekly goal sheets, staff paper, CDs, and music charts; assistance from three administrative staff people; free Wi-Fi in the reception area; 10% off coupon for a local music store; and best of all, an end-of-semester recital! Our Fall recital is held at the Old Main Chapel at CU and our Spring recital is held ON STAGE at the Boulder Creek Festival!

If you are a current student, be sure to let our staff know if you prefer the same day/time or a new time slot for your music lesson. If you are new to The Lesson Studio, please call 303-543-3777 for your FREE CONSULTATION today!

As always, please visit for more information.The Lesson Studio logo

Woodwind Equipment Care

November 5, 2009

An athlete needs his or her body to function at the highest level in order to be successful. To make this happen they take great care to eat well, get plenty of sleep, etc. An athlete knows that if they don’t take care of their body then they won’t be able to perform at their true potential. As musicians this is something we should take to heart. If we do not take care of our instrument, whether it be a saxophone, clarinet, flute or oboe, it can cause all sorts of problems that will keep us from playing at our true potential. What is even worse is that sometimes we don’t realize these problems are due to the instrument and think we are just incapable of playing well.

Here are a few tips on how to maintain and care for your woodwind instrument:

1) Never eat food or drink pop before you play. (Pretty easy.) This can cause food or sugar to get stuck to the pads and make them sticky. Getting pads replaced can be quite expensive. If you have to play after you eat (as I have to do many times) make sure you wash out your mouth at minimum, although brushing your teeth is most ideal.

2) Always swab out your instrument. This is another really simple thing to do. When you are done playing your instrument run a swab through it. This keeps the condensation and spit that gets in your instrument while playing from eating away at the pads while it rests in your case. For wooden instruments (clarinets, oboes) it also helps protect the wood from cracking (a very pricey repair). The best swab to get is a silk one. While slightly more expensive than its cloth counterpart, it does a much better job and is much more durable (I’ve had mine for about ten years now). Every now and then you just need to rinse it off in the sink and hang it up to dry.

3) Keep your reeds in a bag. Have you ever wondered why the tip of your reed is all wavy when taken out? It happens because the reed dries out too quickly. This can happen very easily in the dry air of Boulder. By keeping your reeds in a plastic sandwich bag you can slow down how quickly they dry out. This will help reeds last longer and be more consistent. Some people will put a small piece of a damp sponge in the bag with the reeds to increase the humidity, but you have to be careful. Too much humidity, or if you leave them in the bag too long with out taking them out (shame on you for not practicing!LOL!), can cause the reeds to mold.

4) Rotate through your reeds. It means spending more now, but if you have five to ten reeds instead of one or two, and you keep switching off which one you play on, they will last a lot longer.

There are many other things you can do to help your instrument play to the best of its ability. These are just the simplest ones. For slightly more complicated care (oiling keys, etc) I suggest you have an expert, like one of the instructors at The Lesson Studio, show you how to do it properly in person. It is ideal if you are taking lessons, because the instructor can give you a hands-on lesson on proper instrument care. They would also be likely to catch any problems with your instrument. Good luck with your musical endeavors.

To contact Mike G. about woodwind maintenance or to inquire about a private lesson with Mike, please call 303-543-3777, or send an e-mail to: