The best way to improve an old reed

Sent Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Clarinet Mentors
For clarinetists who want to perform more easily and beautifully
In This Issue                                            June 27, 2012                              
  • A Note From Michelle Anderson - My Summer Musical Adventures
  • Clarinet Tips - how to make an old reed perform better - part 2
  • Free Training - the best tool for reviving old reeds
  • Michelle Recommends - easy duet book that I love
A Note from Michelle Anderson
Hello Everyone!
Happy holidays to all of you who celebrate Canada Day or Independence Day in the next week. My family always drives to a  local country fair celebration that features many festivities, and great fireworks at the end of the day. Fireworks, like a good concert, can draw a whole crowd together into one great shared experience. I'm looking forward to it.
Many of my students share with me that one of their biggest challenges in learning a musical instrument is that they become their own biggest self-critic. Isn't this often true for all of us? I work  on this often with my students, because I believe that our state of mind is the most powerful tool we have in performance. I have learned many tools that help me to feel more confident and to enjoy my own performances more.
Having said that, I face a challenge myself this summer. I always like to find more ways to improve my own musical skills. One of the things that I love to do is coach people musically, and I think I am quite skilled at this. For years, I conducted a local community band for adult beginners (who eventually became adult "quite-good" players). It was tremendous fun, and the reason that I likely succeeded as a conductor was that I was a good coach.  I could explain what we needed to do, and I could motivate people - all good coach qualities. However, the truth is, that my conducting technic is actually not very good. By that, I mean how I wave my stick around in the air. I have had the privilege to work with some world-class conductors, and they work magic with a group. I have so much admiration for the many qualities they add to a a musical performance. I decided that I wanted to learn how to improve my own conducting technic to expand what I can do musically when I am on a podium (which happens occasionally these days). I've signed myself up for an intense summer conducting seminar with some incredible faculty, and likely a bunch of highly-trained participants. I go into this knowing that I will be the clumsy, obviously untrained one, and this isn't easy for my poor ego to stomach. I am willingly stepping up in front of a group of musical colleagues and basically volunteering to look ridiculous in their presence. Of course, part of me is afraid that I will flop, miserably. In this, I resonate with all performers everywhere, of all levels of experience. On the other hand, I do have some tricks up my sleeve, which I will share with you in upcoming newsletters, that help prepare me. "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway" has some truth, especially if we can prepare ourselves to perform to the very best of our abilities (even if they are currently still a bit untrained). I'm looking forward to facing my fears of looking silly, and coming out the other side with many new skills and a higher level of confidence. I'll share with you how it goes.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to put yourself at risk by setting musical challenges for yourself. This could be performing for your family, or setting up your own concert, or auditioning for a local musical group. All of these opportunities push our growth. If you have any experiences with conquering musical fears, or if you are currently having challenges with this, please send me an email, and share your story. I will make this the theme of an upcoming  newsletter, and your feedback is helpful.
I also hope you enjoy one of my favourite reed adjusting tips in this newsletter. Some of you have asked me to post some of my own performances to the Clarinet Mentors site. I just put a video of my performance of Brooklyn Bridge up on the home page. After you check out the reed adjusting video, you can go to the home page and give it a listen. Enjoy the fireworks!
Clarinet Tips
In today's newsletter, I want to show you my favourite trick to making reeds perform better. I usually like to keep my pointers fairly quick and to the point. For this week, I have created a bonus video which explains these concepts in more detail. I recommend that you check it out, by clicking the link in the training section below. The short version of this tip can be written as follows:
When reeds get wet, they sometimes swell up and warp. You may have a reed that works great one day, and suddenly feels hard to blow, the next. Likely, the back of the reed is no longer flat, and you may actually have small amounts of air leaking out of the sides of your reed when you play. This will make the reed feel very resistant, and the tone will sound fuzzy. Sometimes, you can notice a reed warping while you play. Your sound will go from clear and easy, to airy and resistant. Luckily, this can be fixed.
You need a perfectly flat surface, such as a piece of glass or plastic, and some fine sandpaper. My home made version was a small glass picture frame with some 400 sandpaper. You can also find commercial reed resurfacers, such as the one by Vandoren, that are easy to find in music stores. Simply lay the flat side of the reed on the flat surface. Bring it up to eye level, and look directly at the bottom (or thicker end) of the reed.. If you gently press on alternating sides, right about where the "curve" is cut into the reed in the middle, you want to see if the reed sits flat, or if it wobbles and rocks. (The video will show you a demonstration of this.) A brand new reed will be cut to be perfectly flat on the back side, and will not rock if you press on the edges. A warped reed, will often we swollen in the center, and will rock slightly. This will be the reed that is now harder to play than it should be.
To repair the reed, put your fine sandpaper on your flat surface, and then put the reed, (flat side down) on top of the sandpaper. Gently pressing the reed in the center, move it across the reed in a figure-8 pattern, and this will sand off the swollen bits. After a few passes, check the reed again to see if it sits flat. When it does, it is ready to play again, and will work much better.
This process may make your reed slightly softer, but usually when the reed needs it, it is already sounding pretty bad. This will make it sound much better. I don't like to sand a reed more than about three separate times, or it will become too soft. However, each of those times will bring a great new life to the performance of that reed. I have extended the life of many reeds using this system. My students as well love how it renews them.
Free Training 
Here is the link to my video entitled Clarinet Reed Adjustment Part 1
UPDATE: Oops - corrected clarinet reed video link
Sent Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Hello Everyone,
Thanks to my alert reader who noticed that the reed adjustment link in my newsletter is for last issue's video.
The correct link for my favorite way to give an old reed a longer and better life is:
"Fix reeds - Clarinet reed adjustment part 2"
Michelle Recommends
The duet book Tunes for Two - Clarinet has fantastic arrangements of well-known tunes (mostly classical). The music is written in an easy - intermediate level. I use this book with all of my first year students since they can play "real", full-length arrangements once they know about six notes. I love to play-along with my students, and the duet parts are well-arranged. This book is great for newer players, or more experienced ones who just want duets that sound good and can be learned quickly.
About Michelle Anderson
Michelle Anderson is a professional clarinetist and teacher who currently lives in Vancouver BC. She has been a professional performer for 30 years and plays regularly with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the West Coast Chamber Music series. She has performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Touring Orchestra and many other groups. Michelle currently specializes in teaching adults to play clarinet more easily and quickly, and conducts the Vancouver Clarinet Choir.
Michelle Anderson, Clarinet
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