Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where to start when you're starting

I got this email from a gentleman who (understandably) fell in love with the bass clarinet... I'll let him tell it:


I am a 51 year old amateur pianist who has become addicted to bass clarinet music
and want to attempt to learn how to play it. I have no woodwind experience.

Should I rent a "good" wooden instrument or settle for a plastic or hard rubber model.

Are there different reeds/mouthpieces that are easier to learn with ?


Well, I think that the best way to start would be to check out a decent rental Bass Clarinet to make sure you feel compatible with the bass clarinet in general. Go with your gut regarding wood/plastic. Take it for the month -- you'll get to know very quickly whether wood (or plastic, whichever you chose) is the right fit for the sound you want to get. Of course, given that you're new to the instrument, it'll be harder to determine, but with the help of someone who plays the instrument -- and this might be the same "someone" who will help you pick out your final choice -- you will probably be able to make some preliminary decisions.

Regarding reeds/mouthpieces. This is an easier decision: first off, check out the "mouthpiece" video on the site for a primer. I'd recommend something a little "closer" (you'll know what that means after the vid) to begin with. I'd say check out McClune's S1 instead of the S2 I usually recommend. (www.mcclunemouthpiece.com). Grab some Rico reeds of various strengths (1, 1.5, 2, 2.5) to see what works to begin with. Rico reeds are known to play pretty much right out of the box, but they'll die an earlier death than a sturdier reed, like, say, Vandoren. But right now you'll need some early successes to stay with it, so I'd go with the Rico.

Hope this helps!

What to do with sensors

I have been trying for about 3 years now to come up with something interesting I can do with sensor-based instruments as an addition to my regular show. What's difficult about them is that I would like to somehow use them to engage the audience directly in the music-making going on, yet opening up this huge variable has made it difficult to control the form of each piece. Imagine that you've been handed a box with a bunch of sensors all over it during a concert. Well, you start to push buttons to see what they all do. My job is to make the experience clear to the user (in other words, they need to understand right away what each button or slider or whatnot does aurally). My job is also to make the resulting music interesting and cohesive for the rest of the audience. And, my job is to make the whole thing bulletproof, regardless of what the user does.

For me, this task is nearly impossible.

Most often, people remark that they can't really tell what's going on when they interact with the box (because I've made the musical response too subtle, like changing the reverb time or something). So, I figure, in order to make the action have a more clear effect, I need to make the rest of what's going on musically much more sparse. This will probably be what I try next -- more like a duet between me and someone in the audience. Stay tuned.