Cork grease

I’ve tested a number of different cork grease formulations in the past few years. Only recently I decided to try lanolin cork grease and the results have been amazing. I thoroughly cleaned the cork tenons and sparingly applied some Pro Lanolin cork grease. It’s been three weeks and the joints feel like they’ve just been treated! This stuff lasts! When I remarked about the “miracle” of lanolin cork grease, my wife (intrepid professional hornist) casually mentioned, “oh yeah, that’s what we use on our slides”!?! So, it’s all in the family 🙂

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My Journey Back to College as an Adult Bassoonist – by Rebecca Koffman (guest blogger)


(I asked Rebecca to write a memoir of sorts–to tell her story about the music in her life. I think her perspective is genuinely inspiring!–ed.)

Two years ago, I was asked a very profound question: “What do you most regret in your life?”  As a person who believes that everything that happens is beneficial in some way, this question was not easy to answer.  Yet, after reflecting upon the past 36 years of my life, I realized that the thing I most regret is giving up playing music.

My interest in music began in the 5th grade when I started playing the flute.  In the 7th grade, I was introduced to the bassoon.  By the time I graduated high school, I could play the flute, piccolo, bassoon, tenor and baritone saxophones, and the clarinet.  I taught music lessons on flute, bassoon, and saxophone and I apprenticed at a local music store as a clarinet repair technician.  I went on to college as a music education major on bassoon but dropped out after the end of my first year.  Soon after, I left my job at the music store and sold all my instruments.

Over the course of the next 18 years, I held numerous jobs.  I primarily worked in the restaurant and hotel industry but also spent some time washing windows professionally, working at a cash advance store, and selling water softeners door-to-door.  In 2007 I obtained a certificate in massage therapy and opened a massage business in 2012.

When I started playing again in 2016, I hadn’t touched a bassoon in 18 years.  Surprisingly, I remembered many of the notes, rhythms, and fingerings.  In fact, I could play the better part of a 3 octave chromatic scale from memory.  But I was pretty rusty.  I’d purchased a few easy solo books to get me started but my mouth was shot after only 5 minutes of playing.

I continued to play a little each day, gradually re-building my embochure.  The solo books were fun but my technique wasn’t improving much and I felt like I needed to practice differently.  I opened the bassoonist’s “old faithful” – the Weissenborn Method for Bassoon – and started from the beginning.  In many ways, the Weissenborn Method felt like a beginning band book for non-beginners, which is exactly what I needed.

I joined a community band and, as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one with a story similar to this.  Like me, another bassoonist had also left a college music program after her first year.  For her, it was 25 years later that she came back to the bassoon.  Now, here we are, sitting side-by-side in the same community band sharing similar stories, and making music together.

It didn’t take long before I decided I wanted to go back and finish my music degree, this time in bassoon performance.  I started taking bassoon lessons right away.  I had 3 lessons at the Community Music School, then found out my teacher wouldn’t be returning to the area.  I reached out to my former bassoon teacher from 8th-12th grade (also my bassoon professor my freshman year of college) and we started lessons the following month.

Over the next 8 months, I practiced almost daily in preparation for my college auditions.  In addition to taking lessons, I also met with the bassoon professors at a few different Universities to see which programs I wanted to audition for.  I purchased a different bassoon, a professional bocal, tried out different reed styles, and attended a bassoon day event.

When January came, I was ready.  Not just for one audition but for three.  I auditioned for two schools in January and one in February – and was accepted into the music programs at EMU, WMU, and MSU.

After much deliberation, I made the choice to downsize my massage practice, move from the Lansing area to Kalamazoo, and attend Western Michigan University.  A few months later, I performed my first recital as a Farewell Recital for my friends and massage clients.  Then, the next day, I moved to Kalamazoo.  I’m now a live-in nanny for a family with two young girls.  In just a few more weeks, I’ll be a 37 year old freshman at WMU majoring in bassoon performance.

While being an adult student will have its challenges, I also realize that I wasn’t meant to finish a music degree 20 years ago.  When I was younger, I didn’t understand that there were levels of musical ability beyond technical ability and coordination.  I needed 18 additional years of life experience to help me see that music isn’t about playing black notes on a white page.  Like everything in life that you love, music will become alive if you put your heart into it.

“May all that has been reduced to noise in you become music again.” ~ David Teems


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How to practice effectively

News about effective practicing based on research by Annie Bosler & Don Greene.

The link is to a TED ED video that is very compelling. I think the explanation of the biology of how the brain and the nervous system work is well worth the five minutes it takes to watch the video. Since it goes by fast, I’ve taken some notes:

Quality effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of our capability. To practice effectively we need to focus on the task at hand, eliminate distractions (Facebook is mentioned, but there are many distractions vying for attention). Then, start out slowly, or in slow motion. We all know that slow practice is the “go to” technique for elite performers. Interesting to learn that coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If we gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, we have a better chance of doing them correctly. (I want to read more about this.)

Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. In fact, the most successful performers devote 50-60 hrs. per week on activities related to the craft. But, multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration are most effective. Research has shown that “practice in the brain” actually is as worthwhile as physical practice once we have established and know in vivid detail what we need to do. I would caution that “brain practice” really isn’t a substitute for physical practice, rather, it is worthwhile in addition to physical practice. Physical motion established can be reinforced just by imagining it.

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Medir bassoon cane

Several years ago I bought six dulcian reeds direct from Medir in Catalonia (Spain). The reeds were so good that since then I’ve been meaning to try some of the modern bassoon cane.

Finally took the plunge!

I’m play testing the first three reeds from a batch of gouged/shaped/profiled cane (Rieger 1A shape) and I’m very pleased. I notice that the cane is a bit hard but the sound is even and full up and down the range. Maybe the profile is thicker than usual for me–with medium density cane–but, I could always try re-profiling.

With any new cane, shape, etc., there is a learning curve. I cut the reeds to 57 mm overall length, that’s 30 mm from the front of the first wire to the tip, and finished the tips with my Rieger tip profiler (factory taper). On one of the three reeds I’ve worked on the back of the blades and sanded a little overall to get the pitch and response where it should be. All three new reeds respond very nicely with breath attacks at the top of the staff (a, b-flat, b, c). The forked e-flat is in tune without the help of the right hand. I think I’m not in a hurry to coax rich and noisy vibration out of these reeds yet, but with more sanding I’m sure I could get there. For now, it’s probably best to let the reeds settle down before further adjustments. Expect updates on the Medir cane story in the coming weeks.

Update: I’ve noticed that the Medir G/S/P profile is a bit heavy in the back. I usually aim for .030 inches at the collar. The Medir cane I got was on average .037 inches at the collar. I previously mentioned re-profiling, but I think it will work to file/sand the back of the profiled blade to get it down closer to .030 inches. That way, if this cane works better with a slightly thicker profile (say, .032 inches), I won’t miss it!?!

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Glickman-Popkin Bassoon Camp 2017

10 Days at Wildacres Retreat, Little Switzerland, North Carolina
Monday, May 29 to Thursday, June 8, 2017

Register here:

               fei-xie           michael-sweeney                  ludwig

This year’s daily masterclasses will be given by our Camp founding father Loren Glickman, assisted by the legendary Leonard Hindell. We are also very pleased to welcome magnificent guest artists Xie Fei, principal bassoonist with the Baltimore Symphony, Michael Sweeney, principal bassoonist with the Toronto Symphony, and William Ludwig, professor of bassoon at Indiana University. Our program also features bassoon repairs for all full-session Campers by Paul Nordby, of world-renowned Paul Nordby Bassoon Repair. Our daily classes in Reed Making will continue this year, given by reed guru Jim Poe. Fox Bassoons will return to present their latest bassoon designs and innovations.

The lineup looks just terrific! Highly recommended!

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Looking sharp in the upper register

Playing scale patterns in sharp keys can be challenging, especially in the upper register. In A major, the following fingering pattern emerges:


Notice the right-hand cross fingering between e, f-sharp, and g, and the left-hand cross fingering between e and f-sharp. Cross fingering patterns can produce snags if not carefully and methodically developed. So, here is the first set of exercises designed to work on these problems:


Each measure can be repeated multiple times. Begin playing slowly and gradually increase tempo to establish your “outer limit.” It is best to avoid playing too fast since we don’t want to practice these patterns with wrong notes, etc. Another sequence that can be very helpful in isolating glitches is this one:


Here, we work through the cycle and play one of the notes longer, the rest shorter. In the first measure, the first note (e) is long, in the second measure the second note (f-sharp) is long, and so on. Since for practical purposes, all of the intervals between these notes will be important, the next step is to mix them up:


If you find a particularly gnarly interval, especially when slurred, be sure to isolate and work on that fingering pattern. Investing some effort into patterns like these will yield great dividends, enabling you to play with confidence and poise as you conquer the technical challenges. (Thanks to SS!)

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Personal etude

We’ve discovered a clever little “personal” etude this week. Here it is:


It captures the tricky b/c# interval that can always use more repetitions, crosses the break from e/f# with a touchy half hole, includes top space g for pitch accuracy and left-hand pinky precision, then descends to repeat.

With dotted rhythms, we can improve finger trajectories:



Then, for something a bit more involved, and useful for finding the latent lapses, here is the pattern in triplets (notice how it takes three cycles to come out even):


Later in the week we decided that a great way to really clean up the digits is to play short staccato:


Apply in liberal daily doses, rinse and repeat often. Add to your favorite warmup routine!

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Starting the conversation . . .

This week, we’ll be focusing on practice routines. What are your favorite patterns for warm up or technical exercise? Here is a 1990 article by an old friend from grad school:

I think it is very important to take short breaks after each 20-30 minutes of work, and to vary activities during each 20-30 minute session. Until we have a practice routine imprinted in our psyche, we should write it down and stick to it by the clock. Some new metronomes now have timers so that we can set the clock for each segment. Quite an improvement over my mother’s egg timer!?!

I tend to rotate through several different  long tones and technique routines. Recently, I’ve been using drone pitches to tune by ear. Particularly helpful is the “D” drone pitch. Tune D, d, d’, and d”. Then, test G, g, and g’ followed by A, a, and a’. These are all perfect intervals. If you choose a drone tone that is a fairly simple waveform, you’ll be able hear the “beats”–interference caused by two slightly different frequencies. The faster the beats, the greater the difference between the frequencies.


Transpose the pattern to tune other tonic/sub-dominant/dominant sets.

I also use this combination long tone/technique workout that has been associated with Simon Kovar (and his student Ray Pizzi):

arpeggioExtend the range out to at least an octave above and below the starting pitch. Choose different starting pitches for variety.

Here is an arpeggio pattern that helps exercise voicing, finger precision, pitch, and flexibility:


Try different starting keys for variety.

Finally, here are links to three sample warm-up videos with master teachers:

P.S. Here is a transcription of the pattern used by Matsukawa in his “Five with One Stone”:


Thanks to R.K. for the new header logo!

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Conditioning: Tuning Long Tones


Practicing long tones with a tuner is a very good way to recondition our wind playing apparatus: embouchure, oral cavity, breath support, and ears. Hardware tuners work very well. Most are adjusted to slightly “average” the pitch produced to make the display consistent (if they were too sensitive, the “needle” would jump around too much for meaningful feedback). Of course, sometimes we want to know in detail how steady (or not) we are playing.

The best software tuner I’ve found is iStroboSoft ($9.99) by Peterson. This app is available for iOS and Android. For the intensely serious, the flagship software is Peterson’s desktop software, StroboSoft ($49/$99) for Mac or PC. Why is it the best? Well, the strobe display gives you more information about the sound you are producing, and the sensitivity is incomparable. So, we’re seeing the truth about the long tones we play!

Another equally important exercise is to tune by ear. Using a pitch reference (some electronic tuners have pitch generating capability–I record a simple loop of an electronically generated tone in my DAW), play long tones at the unison, octave(s), fifth, and fourth. One develops the ability to hear the “beats” if the pitches do not agree. The next step is to practice long tone scales and arpeggios with the reference pitch. Learning to tune accurately by ear, of course, is a real-world skill.

Maybe the best approach is to use both approaches!? Try a set of long tones with the tuner of your choice. Begin in the mid-range, and gradually extend out to the higher and lower registers. Vary the loudness. The more conscientious we are about playing consistently in tune with a good sound, the better the workout. Then, switch on the reference pitch(s) and play a set of long tones by ear. I think the work with the tuner ultimately will be good for our aural hygiene, especially as we depend more and more on our ears! Daily long tones/pitch workouts will pay big dividends in terms of endurance, reliability, and confidence.


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Practice makes . . . better

“Why do some people achieve outsize success? Given the competitive nature of the modern world, it’s a question many have spent time thinking about. The usual answer is that success results from some combination of talent, luck, and hard work. Tales of prodigies and “naturals,” born ready to conquer the world, tend to minimize the importance of hard work, but the whole formula may need a rethink. That’s the message of Peak, a new book by Florida State University psychology professor Anders Ericsson and science writer Robert Pool. Ericsson has spent decades studying the concept of “deliberate practice,” the sort of hard, unglamorous focus on improvement that gets results. This highly readable book distills Ericsson’s work for a general audience, while raising thought-provoking questions about what talent really is.” Read the full review . . .

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