By Alicia DeSoto
I can’t believe we’ve already had 3 full weeks of instrument instruction, and are about to start week 4! We’ve learned a lot of detailed, methodical elements, and are getting ready to start layering multiple steps together. By introducing only one step at a time, and rotating through multiple concepts each class period, the students remain engaged and are able to work towards mastering many different ideas.
The following concepts have been introduced separately in all woodwind classes:
Period 1, Clarinet Class
(I’ll go into more detail for this class than the others)
Everyday after the Musical Alphabet and Rhythm Rockers, we go immediately to mouthpiece and barrel. It feels really nice to finally have this routine set; we will continue with this exact pattern until the last day of school. (Yes, we will continue to play on mp+barrel every single day; more on that later.)
Since the students are being very careful (ie: slow) at putting their reed on their mouthpieces, this process takes a few minutes. I use this opportunity to have my 8th grade class aide play for the beginners, turn on band or clarinet specific music, or make announcements during this time. As soon as someone has their reed assembled, they sit in “ready position” and I check their reed and then let them make a tone. By the time the last student has their reed put on, I’ve been able to hear every student play individually and make reed and embouchure adjustment comments.
The clarinet players are doing a great job matching concert F# on their mouthpiece and barrels now, and are able to sustain a good sound for at least 8 counts. More time is spent in class hearing students play individually than having everyone play at the same time.
The mouthpiece and barrel went home with students before the Labor Day weekend. Before sending the mp+barrel home, we practiced going through a practice routine that should take place at home. I even had students use their own metronome/tuner and spread out into the corners of the room to get used to using their own metronomes and how to read and adjust the tuners. I had students write “440” on the front of their tuners with a silver sharpie...just in case.
Once I felt everyone could consistently produce a characteristic tone on the mp+barrel, we added the upper joint. This happened two days ago. We will spend about two weeks on just the upper joint now. I want to enforce really good embouchure habits and make sure the left hand position is really good before adding the lower joint. There are plenty of activities we can do on the upper joint only (especially considering we haven’t started playing the clarinet and reading music at the same time yet!).
This page is coming up next!
Period 2, Saxophone Class
Just like clarinet class, saxophone class took their mouthpiece and neck home just before the labor day weekend. And just like clarinet class, the rest of their instrument stayed at school. I taped their name to their instrument so we they could be identified. At open house and our beginner band parent meeting, we explained that we would move slowly for the first few weeks and to not expect the full instrument to come home just yet. We explained that this is both for instrument safety and for pedagogical layering.
After the labor day weekend, we started to get used to holding the full saxophone body. The first day, we attached the neck strap to the body, and got used to how to balance the instrument against the leg with the use of the neck strap and how the two thumbs play a role in balancing the instrument. We didn’t even add the neck/mp that day. The kids were still perfectly excited.
The second day, we practiced balancing the body again, and then added the neck and mouthpiece. I adjusted everyone’s neck angle and mouthpiece angle, and then walked around the room with a full length mirror to show each student what they are supposed to look like, and pointed out anything weird they were doing. The $5 full length mirrors from Home Depot are perfect for this!
The third day, we were ready to play into the full instrument and can already keep the fingerprints on the pearls while trilling/wiggling, thanks to the pencil instrument dexterity practice we already did.
Period 6, Flute Class
Headjoint! Lots of headjoint! And Pneumo Pro!
We alternate between playing on the headjoint and using fast air on the Pneumo Pros. Students are doing a great job focusing their aperture size smaller to make a big, full, clear flute tone. This is the only class where I tell the students to try to play as loud as possible. I even cringed a little while writing that, but it’s true, flute players need to get used to controlling a lot of really fast air.
We are playing open sounds on the headjoint, as well as controlling closed sounds both low and high. The great thing about teaching the flute is that you can actually see the aperture and feel the air speed and direction. Students know how to check all these things with a mirror now too.
We just added the flute body to the headjoint. Because flute hand position is the most awkward thing ever, we first held the flute like this:
And on Friday we started putting our right hand into position like this:
Both of these flute holds will yield a C#, and students should be able to play both the C# above the staff and the C# in the staff, if their three headjoint pitches are going well.
This coming week, we will start transitioning our left hand into position.
Period 7, Double Reed Class
I’ll be honest, I only have 5 students in this class, and they are all extremely smart, so things are moving along pretty quickly. We are isolating sustained tones on just the double reeds, and incorporating articulations as well. Before putting the entire instruments together, we spent one day on just the oboe upper joint and the bassoon wing joint to isolate the left hand position, and then we were able to add the rest of the instrument the next day with reasonable success. We are spending most of our focus in this class on matching pitch by getting used to the right amount of reed to take into the mouth and how to shape the lips around the reed.
The next steps in all woodwind classes will be to read music and play the instrument at the same time, and to start introducing articulations. I really love introducing all these new concepts this time of year, and take it as a personal challenge to see if I can teach something more efficiently than the year before!