What I've learned in my lessons (So far)
Music is hard - I’m constantly reminded of this everyday, every time I put the reed in my mouth before I even think about sounding a note. This blog post will be a little different than the previous ones, since it’s aimed at what concepts I’ve personally picked up on in my private lessons, and how I’m learning to apply them to my everyday playing, making success in the music world a little more tangible everyday.
This first semester is dedicated to technique alone, which involves numerous practicing techniques, exercises, and etudes. One of the first exercises that was introduced to me here was what Clouser calls the “Five-Note” exercise, which is exactly what it sounds like; a rounding exercise that consists of five notes based on one core note as a starting pitch. For example, the first exercise we worked on used the note “A” as it’s revolving pitch. The sequence goes as such:
First, The notes in scale order, like you’d find in a regular, A-Major scale:
A, B, C#, D, E, D, C#, B, A
Then, the notes in scale order again, but with “A” functioning as the major seventh for the scale one half-step above it, which is B♭ Major: The notes for that consist of these pitches:
A, B♭, C, D, E♭, D, C, B♭, A
And finally, the notes of an A major scale again, but in sequencing order in thirds:
A, C#, B, D, C#, E, D, B, A
These rounds are played in an ongoing order, with repetition as needed for clarity and clean execution between each sequence. You should use the same articulation throughout each scale pattern to ensure that traveling between each mode doesn’t have any errata. I’ve played these sequences in all octaves with varying articulations, dynamics, tempos, and phrase swellings. I’ve even tongued these patterns using only the syllable “Ka”, which helps immensely when trying to improve the clarity of double-tonguing.
This exercise serves as “crowd control” for fingers moving in relation to each other when it comes to passages that might trip up a bassoonist. The five-note exercise helps eliminate extra little flubs and glitches that might be heard if one note isn’t executed clearly to the next. This is a common problem for bassoonists whose fingers don’t move evenly together, and it can be hard to catch a lot of times.
Another subconscious aspect I’m trying to apply to my playing is the thought of using what Clouser calls the “I go to there” motive. This concept is directed towards not rushing any passages that contain sixteenth notes, using the verbiage above as a medium in accounting for passages that could potentially rush. Below is an example of the “I go to there” motive. I’ve abbreviated the words “I go to there” to “IGTH” to make it easier on myself (and for the viewer) to understand these basic fundamentals that ultimately help with tempo and playback control. “H” stands for “There”, since I didn’t want to have two “T’s” to cause confusion.
The words “I go to” are assigned to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th notes in a sixteenth note bracket, and “there” is assigned to the 1st note in every other bracket after the initial start of the phrase, providing the player with an even distribution of note values as they ascend, and descend, in scalular order. Here is how the exercise looks in practice, or least how it sounds when we think of it in context:
This is the best way to interpret the practice when it comes to stripping it down to it’s bare essentials. If there is any sign of rushing, or as we say “crushing” two or more notes together, this exercise will work wonders in one’s playing to help eliminate the source of rushing in a scale. I also recommend applying these to the “Five-note” exercises from before, making your foundation for your fundamentals extremely sturdy and believable to the listener, and yourself.
This motive helps tremendously when it comes to orchestral repertoire as well, especially when the passage consists of uniform rhythm, such as the opening passage in the overture from Mozart’s “Le Nozze de Figaro”, which is pictured below:
It’s important to discern what is helpful and what isn’t when one practices how to perform smoothly and with direction. A misnomer with the “IGTH” train of thought can be to mistakenly think of the the “I go to there” motive as an “I come from here” one, which provides little to no direction in one’s phrasing if they were to think of it as “I go to there” instead. “I go to there” insinuates a slight crescendo in each little bracket, which helps with the gravity of the phrase going to point B, rather than coming from point A.
Another great fundamental exercise is Simon Kovar’s book, “24 Daily Exercises”, which contains long-tones that truly test the player’s endurance and breath support. The book is available for purchase from Trevco Music, a popular music distribution site for bassoonists and oboists alike.
Along with the Kovar studies, melodic etudes are what give the opportunity to make mature musical decisions. For our purpose being focused on technique, the books that Clouser and I are working out of currently are Ludwig Milde’s “25 Studies in Scales and Chords” and Umberto Bertoni’s “12 Studies” for bassoon. Both works are wildly different from each other, which provides a great contrast in musical genres, however both exercises require somewhat the same amount of musical thought, whether they use factors of the five-note exercise, “I go to here” motive, or endurance sustainability through long-tones. The Milde studies are always very tonal and predictable in their composition, using basic chord progressions and voice leading to help train the player’s ears in order to help them realize where their part fits in to what we know as tonal music. The studies by Bertoni on the other hand are a little more exotic in nature than other fundamental books before it, which train the player’s ear for the more unlikely chord changes and melodic content. The Bertoni studies also explore extremely awkward fingerings for the bassoon (which isn’t to say the Milde doesn’t!), as well as uncomfortable time changes and rhythms, constantly testing the bassoonist’s skills in mixed-meter. However, the end goal with these books is to always make music, and to never practice exercises.
For three weeks this has been a huge serving that’s been put on my plate, but I’m really enjoying the workload that has challenged me. When you make something a challenge, there’s a sort of game feeling you get from it that you wouldn’t have felt if you didn’t make your task a challenge in the first place. And you don’t need to make a marathon out of a certain challenge; I’m usually pretty malleable and adaptable when it comes to changing things about my playing on the spot, but the concepts I’ve written about above will take more than a few weeks to attain full “enlightenment” for. But, I’m here for the long haul in the end.
I’ll continue to keep writing on my private studies with John Clouser, as I believe they deserve to be shared with the rest of the musical world, whether they’re for bassoonists or for other musicians alike.
Thank you for reading.