Tarantella for Sax – rough as guts

I’m trying to get into the routine of posting at least one lesson videos every week, and currently a couple of students are doing Tarantella for saxophone. It’s a clarinet piece by Carl Baermann, but it translates quite well to saxophone.

And in my attempt to put my best foot forward into the vast internet, here’s my unfortunately hurried 8:30pm on a Tuesday night quick-demo of Tarantella for saxophone.

…and the reed was too hard.

I’m of the mind that at the moment, creating content regularly is more important than trying to make it ridiculously high quality. Truth be told, I just don’t have the skills or equipment to make amazing videos. What I can do though, is get used to embarrassing myself in front of a camera, stuffing up my notes, but doing so in the most authentic way possible.

There’s certainly no way I’m going to be able to change much of my teaching style, but what I can do is be more aware of diction, trying not to waffle too much, and making sure I cover just a few core learning aspects in order to keep the video reasonable succinct. I should also practise the pieces a bit more.

This video was admittedly too long, so perhaps I should have noted down exactly what I wanted to cover. Perhaps I need to be prepared to make more video cuts, rather than doing everything in one take. I wasn’t going to throw this effort away though, someone may find it useful. From here, it’s just a matter of improving for next time…

…with a more appropriate reed.

Troubleshooting a Student’s Instrument

I have a general reluctance to try and play a student’s instrument, mouth piece, reed and all. Call it the “grossness factor”. When I play, the only way the reed gets wet is from sucking it prior to playing it, or the condensation that builds up under it. A student though, they’re sometimes not as controlled with their saliva.

See what I mean? Just the word saliva sounds a bit gross.

And even when the students are beyond that spit-overload-stage, it’s as if their mouth piece and reed have all these micro-organisms that have been specially tailored for that player, so that if a different player comes in contact, e.g. me, the mouth and tongue riles, and I feel like I have to drink water for the next 30 mins to wash the psychological overreaction away.

But to do a successful troubleshoot, it sometimes has to be done. Here’s a couple of examples. Thankfully, the first I could my own mouthpiece, so no harm there. The second I needed to play the tenor sax with the student’s setup to figure out what was up.

The Squeaking Clarinet

My young clarinet student was initially having a terrible time with low notes. It was definitely fingering related because small hands take a bit of time to get used to stretching and applying pressure. I knew his clarinet was pretty good because I had played it when he first started and so any squeaks were generally fatigue related. That’s why I encourage youngsters to rest the bell of the clarinet on something.

Over lockdown though and the subsequent Skype lessons, we reached high notes, and it didn’t go so well. We mixed it up with some low note pieces, which generally went much better.

Upon exciting lockdown and an eventual face to face lesson again, I felt compelled to play the instrument again just in case. You never know sometimes, because instruments come in with mysterious malfunctions and the like. Instruments don’t like being knocked and dropped.

Anyway, I swapped off the mouth piece and sure enough, even I was having issues with getting the high notes to sound. It turns out one of the pads wasn’t closing perfectly if the clarinet wasn’t perfectly aligned when putting it together.

A not-perfectly-straight assembly resulted in the join mechanism pushing a pad higher. NB: This is my instrument (not the student’s)

Yikes! Most clarinets are way more forgiving, and this would explain why sometimes the student was fine, and other times not so. For whatever reason, the mechanism relied on perfect alignment or else a pad wouldn’t successfully seal unless the student pressed the keys down really hard.

I’m large handed adult and not a 9 year old, so my hand pressure could get me by, but it was obvious the student wasn’t going to be able.

Once the mystery was solved, the student was acing all his high note homework. Fantastic. Unfortunately the clarinet is difficult to put together; it’s cork is thick and often the wood expands, making it very difficult to pull apart, but that’s a side issue.

The Mystery of the Quiet Tenor

Louds and softs; a critical aspect in playing a wind instrument. If the instrument can’t exercise any kind of dynamic contrast, then, well…

So after going through my usual teaching repertoire to try and encourage some more volume from my tenor student, I had to play her instrument to ascertain if the setup was okay. I did this at the end of the lesson to give all my personal mouth bacteria a chance to die on her equipment before she practiced again (as I wrote earlier, gross).

Sure enough, teacher-mode showed that her tenor was a mighty beast capable of outlandish fortes and super mysterious pianissimos, complete with aggressive marcato and smooth legatos.

So what gives? Why could I get this insane contrast out of the instrument whereas the student could not?

  • Her embouchure looked fine
  • She reads music incredibly well so there’s definitely brain power to spare for details like dynamics.
  • Generally the pulsing air exercises generate some dynamic change, but not too much, so that may be an aspect worth looking at.

The point of playing her instrument wasn’t so much for me to show off, although, to be fair, that’s part of it. The point was to show that her setup was capable of doing what I was trying to describe how to do. It means there’s something wrong with my instruction; it’s almost impossible to get a student to truely understand physical requirements of things such as:

  • How hard to squeeze the mouthpiece? Where on the mouthpiece?
  • How hard to squeeze the reed?
  • Where is the tongue exactly? It’s under the reed and always touching, but that’s hard to describe this.
  • What is the shape inside the mouth? Saying dooo, aaah, taaah, yaaa all make the inside of the mouth take on different shapes.
  • How much force is the guts really applying to force air out of the instrument?
  • How much should the embouchure “fight” the air coming out? How much resistance should the embouchure create?

These are hard things for a student to come to grips with, but I have one idea. Different reeds.

The reed is too soft, despite it being a somewhat large sounding 2 1/2, it was a Rico and they’re typically soft. Generally a soft reed is too easy for the student to squish closed again the mouthpiece, stifling the sound. A harder reed would would be far too hard to squeeze closed, and producing a sound would force more core muscles (gut muscles) to get involved.

The student now knows what the instrument is capable of, it’s a matter of getting her own physicality to match, so something in her equilibrium needs to change.

Just like a weight lifter lifts heavier and heavier weights to allow the muscles to grow (else it just turns into a cardio exercise), I think experimenting with harder reeds may be the catalyst for getting other aspects to work differently. “Oh, the saxophone is too hard to blow, well, now the guts have to work harder, the mouth has to loosen a bit but the bottom lip has to solidify more…” things like that.

Now to send a shopping list of reeds to the parents.

When dads wish to play music too

I had a surreal teaching experience last night when I gave an adult student his first lesson. It was a potential a disaster from the start because the music centre who booked him in didn’t make it clear that he needed an instrument (usually I don’t bother calling new students before their first lesson but perhaps I’ll have to change this to avoid these situations).

But it didn’t really matter because I have the clarinet standing by and most of the lesson was going to be demonstrating how to get a sound out of the thing. Luckily I had a 1 1/2 strength reed so I gave him my saxophone, showed him how to set it up and away we went. Clarinet is a sufficient demonstration tool.

Well, this guy was giddy as a school boy, as the saying goes, not that I’ve ever seen a school aged kid get as excited as this guy was. Safe to say he was looking forward to this moment a lot. His son was learning guitar and he figured that this was his chance to finally learn the saxophone and he’d thought, heck, I’m based in one spot for a while, work is local, let’s do it!

This guy was so visibly psyched to be playing sax that I had a grin a mile wide. The guy totally got it too; fingers were in the right place, tone steadied out and by the end he got used to the tonguing. He would have raced off and bought a saxophone right there and then if it wasn’t 8pm on a Thursday night. I convinced him renting one for a few months would be a good starting point. I gave him a bunch of details about stores and books, photocopied off what we played that night, and that was that.

So it was with regret that I had to inform him that I was going on holiday to Europe for 4 weeks and that that lesson may be his last with me. You can’t get a guy that excited about playing saxophone and then deprive him of it for 4 weeks! There’s another sax teacher at the centre on Wednesdays so he should be sorted for subsequent lessons.

Gutted for me, because I’m interested to know how much progress an adult student with that much excited energy can make.

Looking like you’re owning it

Next in the list of first world problems after consuming way too much food and guzzling down copious amount of the wrong beverages, is posture. We sit at our desks for hours, we lean further into the monitor as eye strain and/or myopia take effect and we look down at our phones. The result is something like that old guy I see walking around my work’s industrial area who fits an engineer’s stereotype, looking like he’s been hunched over a soldering iron for too long. His shoulders are so slumped he looks like he has to lift his chin up to look straight ahead.

That guy is a warning to all young people to look after their posture.

I remember my folks drilling me on posture as a kid as if it were as important as manners. “Get your hands out of your pockets…” was to allow the arms to swing while walking. Then there was the 3-4 years of ballroom dancing I did up until the age of 13. I remember the ‘wall treatment’ (standing with one’s back to the wall in order to flatten out the shoulder blades) and the reminders to keep the head tall and shoulders down; all things to help you look like a million bucks on the dance floor.

Those things stick too, because 22 years later I took up salsa dancing and the body naturally wants to return to those positions. Curse my desk job that threatens to unravel it all again.

Posture in music performance

Posture in incredibly important for performance music too, yet students often twist and contort their bodies into all sorts of odd looking positions.

Standing straight

Yesterday’s sax student (much like many before him) find it difficult to stand tall and ground both feet; they stand there with one leg crossed behind the other and they begin to sway. Naturally this completely messes with their sense of pulse; in fact, swaying like that is evidence they currently don’t think about pulse at all while playing. It should be next to impossible to maintain a sway that is counter to the actual pulse of the music.

Sitting correctly

For the younger students, standing isn’t practical because of the weight of the instrument. Some even struggle to have their feet touch the ground and so have to sit at the very front of the chair. Sometimes the weight of the instrument means they have to rest it on an instrument case.

Once they get taller though, there’s no excuses. “Sitting is standing from the waist up” I think I heard at a ballroom dancing class, yet some students will attempt to cross their legs (I’ll stop that pretty quick), or wrap their feet around the chair legs (can’t tap when that happens), really, anything that is not feet flat out in front of them is a bad idea.

Sax to the side vs. centre

“Bring your instrument to you, not your head to the instrument…” is some advice I heard once. Often times a student gets themselves in all sorts of odd shapes by being influenced by how they’re holding the instrument.

I had to demonstrate this with the saxophone yesterday. I took off the neck strap and demonstrated standing nice and tall, holding the saxophone with my right hand. I can  pull off the staunch, one-handed demonstration because I’ve got big hands and strong arms but it was an amusing looking struggle for my more diminutive student. Still, it was just a demonstration. I said, “look, I’m standing tall, both my feet are grounded. I’m looking forward at the music and my chin is level. I’m essentially at a neutral position. Now, bring the saxophone to you… and nothing about your posture should change.”

The result should be a saxophone that is positioned in front of you, not the side. Despite the fact that the saxophone keys look designed for a right side bias, this compromises your right hand position and makes you less agile. Having the sax to the side also brings it too close to your body, making you cramped and angling the mouth piece down too much resulting in a less jazzy sound.

Also, you look like a complete ass.

If you’re no longer a pre-teen, do yourself a favour and hold the saxophone out from your body. The right thumb will pivot the instrument to your mouth, the left thumb will act as balance, the mouth will assist in stability and the neck will take the weight.

Chair swinging

When I was 12 years old, my school teacher took away my seat because I was swinging on it.  You’d think that’s a bit counter intuitive to learning; perhaps there should have been a class engineering assignment of designing a better seat so that one doesn’t want to swing it, or perhaps a seat design that was swing resistant or absorbed swing forces.

Anyway, the chairs in my music studio are the classic welded metal square piping type and they don’t take to being swung very well. One of my students snapped a chair at the weld joint by swinging while playing (to be fair, the chair had probably already been re-welded)

Students sometime have their seat so far away from the music that they sit on the very front of the seat then lean it forward to get even closer to the music. In the act of swinging they’re stuffing up the pulse of the music again. How can you swing out of time to the beat? Answer, they’re not feeling the beat, which is why they’re swinging. It’s important to cut that out, if not for fixing their timing, you at least have to think about looking after the chairs.

Don’t perform sitting in a mini-skirt

A pro-tip, don’t go playing saxophone at an all-boys school assembly in a mini skirt. You’ll struggle to hold those legs together for the entire set. “What was I thinking?!” proclaimed the 2nd sax player from my school’s Big Band. Plus, unless your 6ft and playing an alto sax, that saxophone is going to be to the side again and result in all the aforementioned bad stuff.

Final thoughts

Music performance is like theatre, you have to look like you’re owning that stage, you have to look like you’re owning the pulse, the beat, the rhythm, everything. None of the musicality can afford to accidentally work. Instead, you’re entire physical presence has to give the audience reassurance that there’s not going to be a train wreck, allowing them to sit back and enjoy the show rather than feeling nervous for the person performing (well, that’s how I feels sometimes when watching those talent shows. Yikes).

Positive Report Writing

It’s that time of year again where I somehow spend about three times longer than expected at doing a task that should be straight forward. I’m never sure why but I spend many hours writing reports for just 13 students.

I’ve written about writing student reports before but in that post I was quite general about the topic. In this post I’m going to hone in on a very important aspect of report writing; how to keep them positive and constructive.

The objective is to get a message across by using positive inflection when it’s really easy to inadvertently use a negative one; basically avoiding stating what the student is doing wrong and instead merely implying it by suggesting what a student should work at in order to better themselves at some aspect (technique, tone etc).

Eliminating the negative

Often there are cases where the student is really struggling but there are way to express this without inflicting self-esteem killers. Here are some examples:

The student doesn’t practise enough

“…Regular practise will allow <student> to make greater progress.”

No tonguing (too much slurring)

“…be mindful to use more tonguing; articulation brings varied character to the music.”

The embouchure is weak and the resulting tone is poor

“…a little more embouchure strength will allow <student> to achieve a darker, richer tone.”

Note accuracy is poor and there are too many mistakes

“…it’s important to practise at a slow, controlled tempo in order to get the fingers used to going to the correct places.”

Sight reading is bad

“…sight reading is proving a challenge but continued practise will allow note reading and rhythmic interpretation to become much easier and faster.”

Phrasing is poor

“…remember that phrases are like musical sentences; continuing to push air until the very ends of phrases will allow for greater shape and musicality.

Student is going through the motions and not pushing themselves

“…music is as much a performance as it is a technical pursuit. Embracing the theatrics of performance and embracing some eccentricity will bring much more life to <student’s> playing.”

How are those for euphemisms?

Putting in the truth

For kicks and giggles, here’s a comment from my report written by my university clarinet teacher back in 2003.

Glenn gets good marks for flair, energy, versatility and natural ability and for what he achieves on so little practice. If he worked hard he would be a phenomenal player.

In certain aspects of music he is intensely motivated but the wider picture fails to motivate him and this results in a narrow and limiting attitude which manifests itself in bouts of extreme negativity, even while he is playing, and this makes for very uncomfortable listening.

You could say that I had a differing opinion on how lessons should have been constructed.

High performance coaches

Why do professional athletes have a coach? Surely they’re amazing enough that they don’t need one any more. We know that’s not the case because they’re always striving for that extra something; those small optimisations that can be made to enhance technique or endurance. A swing coach can identify technique changes to help a golfer reduce risk of back injury, a swim or sprint coach could help refine an athlete’s technique to give them an extra fraction of a second speed advantage. Perhaps a tennis coach can make sure that the athlete is doing the correct recovery drills so that they reduce the chances of injury after an event or training.

I offered these examples to a new student (intermediate level) to explain the importance of using correct tonguing technique and correct fingering technique. Some students are very resistant to advancing away from ‘easier’ fingering and it necessitates the need for some analogies to get the message across.

Case in point, this intermediate level student had somehow avoided tonguing the sax reed for many years and with many teachers. This isn’t the first time this situation has happened yet correct tonguing is so critical to half way decent woodwind playing it makes me wonder how prior teachers could let the student get away with it.

Naturally a student who has played a certain way for many years is very reluctant to change what they’ve become accustomed to; it takes a bit of convincing that another way is better. You’d think tonguing would be easy to convince because firstly, you just can’t ‘not-tongue’ fast. Secondly you’d never be able to achieve all the variety of character achieved by different tonguing (tenuto, staccato (short and sharp or light/leggiero), marcato, accents). Just playing some jazz would demonstrate this. One could hazard a guess that 95% of all notes played would be tongued and not slurred.

I eventually convinced him of this with the aforementioned sporting analogies and a good dose of me giving lots of tonguing examples. The ha, ha, ha sounds have now been replaced with ta (or too, doo etc) although often I then have to snap students out of slurring too much; that’s what happens when students become afraid (or unsure) about tonguing. I’ll point out a line of music and count the number of notes that are slurred and it may be 2 out of 20. How many did the student do? Certainly not 2.

Convincing him of tonguing technique changes was simple next to convincing him (and many, many others for that matter) of the merit of alternative fingering.

“I don’t understand why I have to use this fingering. This way is much easier,” they’ll say, and I’ll reply: “It’s easier because you’ve never practised the other way.”

Insert sporting analogy to reference getting that extra 1% of effectiveness and that’s essentially what the alternative figuring is for. They’re technique optimisations to bypass some of the inefficiencies of certain finger patterns. The coach/teacher is able to spot these inefficiencies in the athlete’s/student’s technique and it’s our job to put them right. In the case of woodwind playing, it’s in order to gain that extra advantage is speed, smoothness and clarity.

A good example is the saxophone side-key C, especially if it goes from B to side-key C (easy and ideal) but then to D (not as easy but definitely doable if the hands are in the correct place).

Side-key C is incredibly important to avoid the blah, blah, blah sound that can happen when taking fingers off and putting fingers on in one movement; ideally you either put fingers on or take fingers off. That is an optimisation that cleans up the sound and allows one to play faster.

Again, a student that has always done something a certain way is reluctant to change, especially if they perceive one way as ‘easier.’ It turns out that the ‘other way’ was hard because their right hand (lower keys) was in the wrong place and therefore took the hand too far from the keys resulting in too much distance to cover.

“But that’s too uncomfortable in that position,” would be a reply and all I can say is “look at me…

  • I push my saxophone away from the body and use the neckstrap for balance (the student was leaning the saxophone to the side of his body even though he’s tall, this results in a twisted standing posture)
  • I then have my right hand out from the instrument in such a way that the finger are over the keys, including the side keys (or at least are within a very short distance of them).
  • I’ll then play some scale-like passages to show how little distance the fingers need to cover.

I think it’s going to take a while to convince him of this too. Sure, I could video him and show him what I’m seeing but ultimately though, the student has to figure this out themselves. As the teacher, sometimes you just have to put the seed of the idea into their heads and wait for that eureka moment to hit.

Clarinet swabs (pull-throughs)

A pull-through is one of those unglamorous pieces of clarinet kit that I haven’t really thought about much. In my approximately 25 years of playing clarinet, I can only recall owning maybe three pull throughs. The first was a piece of green fabric with a long nylon chord with a tubular weight at the end (on the outside of the nylon). The second was a home made job which was a hanky tied to a fat blue shoe lace on which I threaded through the same tubular weight from the retired green one.

When by Le Blanc had its latest service, the mechanic noted that amount of lint in the tone holes. ‘Oh yeah?’ I said, not really thinking much of it. ‘It’s that pull through you’re using,’ was pretty much the gist of the mechanic’s reply. Apparently a cotton hankerchief is a poor choice for a pull though.

I’m now the proud owner of a Black “Legend” Silk Swab Premium quality, generous sized, Pat (pend) balloon design, heavyweight China silk, sealed properly sized weight www.doctorsprod.com

It’s pretty good. The silk does a superior job at absorbing the moisture (I’d assumed otherwise) and the silk just feels nicer to use than the other materials available such as the micro fibre cloths or the sponge like materials. And yes, the metal weight is covered by the fabric.

The large balloon shape also helps get the swab through the instrument without getting stuck. On numerous occasions I’ve had students with the stubby little yellow pull-throughs trying to pull them through as a clump and get them stuck on the thumb hole metal on the inside of the instrument. (There’s a lot of pressure of me to then fix the situation with brute force without breaking anything).

If a cotton hankerchief is bad for link around tone holes, imagine how much of a lint-magnet those massive saxophone swabs (fuzzy light-sabers)must be. I don’t use them.

Funny enough, that incredibly old green pull through still has life as a wood oil pull through that I use to make a (reasonably ineffectual) attempt at getting wood oil through the clarinet. The instrument mechanics would shed a tear knowing that for a weight I used a half dozen metal washers. Shhhesh, that can’t be good knocking about the inside of the clarinet.

Now, should I be doing a better job of swabbing out my sax and trombone too?

Terrible instrument hires

In three weeks I’ve had two new beginner alto saxophone students start and both were provided with terrible rental instruments.

The first saxophone was pretty banged up. I think the right hand side keys had taken an almighty wack at some point so were too close to the instrument. The reed was probable too soft and the mouthpiece was complete rubbish. The result was a saxophone that sounded like a voice breaking teenager; the low notes just couldn’t stay low.

Then, just last night, I saw one of the worst examples of a rental. I was showing the adult student how to put the saxophone together, proceeded to put the mouth piece on, then, hang on, WTF!?

They’d given him a tenor saxophone mouthpiece!

Not only that, the speaker key mechanism that closes the tone hole on the neck of the saxophone was completely bent out of shape so that it couldn’t close. It’s next to impossible to play anything meaningful when that happens.

Problems like these are typically only discovered when I play their instrument, something I’m often reluctant to do because of the ‘gross’ factor (for them and me). Unless there is obviously something wrong with their instrument I don’t usually trying playing it, although one could argue I probably should just to ascertain that there aren’t going to be any dramas later on.

In the first dodgey-sax instance I actually forgot to give it a play at the end of the first lesson (time constraints) but during the second lesson I had to; reed and all. Yuck; beginner students generate a lot of spit. Sure enough, the sax was crap. The reed was too soft and the mouthpiece was very volatile (ready to squeak). *sigh* A crap instrument. I gave the student my nothing-special Yamaha alto to play but using his own reed and he was able to play easily.

Students don’t need this kind of drama. The last thing they need is an instrument that doesn’t work reliably because it will ultimately drain all sense of enthusiasm as the squeak count mounts. Why the music store rental people don’t realise this is beyond me; they’re essentially killing off any chance of future business if a student gives up music.

That shoddy piece of hiring paled in comparison to the other saxophone with its incorrect mouthpiece and bent mechanisms. I just gave the student my saxophone to play and I did my best to demonstrate things via the clarinet. Thankfully this adult student was pretty clued up and was playing some notes by the end of the lesson.

As someone who values their time because I always feel like I’m on the go, these situations irk me. Incompetence on the part of the hirers has given my students the run-around. They will waste an hour plus going to and from the store to arrange a replacement and it’s almost certain that the stores aren’t going to chuck in a few reeds as penance.

The end result, ultimately, is me not recommending those stores. Music Planet in Takapuna and Auckland Bank Instruments in Glenfield, sort your sh*t out. Please.

(ABI fixed the sax and sold the student a harder reed; no replacement mouthpiece though).

[update] Music Planet actually sold my student that instrument. They found the appropriate mouth piece and offered to pay to fix the speaker key but in the interim I bent it into place to make it functional.

New Year, New Students

I have this inkling that student numbers are picking up again after the lull of the last few years. By virtue of luck and some word of mouth, I have only one remaining space on my timetable; a good start to the year.

I got lucky though.

First off, the other sax teacher at the music centre left for Australia meaning his Wednesday night students need a new teacher. Despite being offered that entire night (I got first dibs due to tenure), I declined the offer. I enjoy teaching but with a full time programming job and all these crazy side projects I indulge in, I just couldn’t do it. If this was my university days I would have snapped the offer up in a heart beat.

I don’t think any of the new sax teachers took up the offer either though, so luck was still taking its course.

Fortune through diligence

I just happened to be at the music centre one Tuesday night to teach a single student on account of me being away the previous Saturday.

“Hey, Glenn. Could you do me a huge favour and teach Jo tonight. It turns out that Ron, the sax teacher, isn’t able to teach her advanced clarinet.” (something like that anyway, and not their real names by the way)

Advanced clarinet!


By virtue of being at the music centre on a day I don’t usually go, just to teach a single student, I now have the opportunity to teach an advanced student potentially to grade 8. I was able to ‘save the day’ (getting the music centre out of minor booking mess-up) and now I get to teach a student that I can tell ‘gets it’. She’s going to be able to play some wicked awesome clarinet in the near future which I’m really excited about.

This wasn’t the end of it though.

One person’s mistake is another’s opportunity

Ron unfortunately did what I’ve done in the past (a long, long time ago) and accidentally offended the student on their first lesson (although my student was a few lessons in before I messed up). It was some kind of passing remark about girls generally not taking up saxophone, or something. I feel sorry for Ron because I could imagine phrasing something completely the wrong way too.

Unfortunately the damage was done but after some emergency phone calls by the staff, I’m now teaching this student. First impressions are she’s content and rocking out some beginner saxophone. Phew. Saved from the brink.

Positive word of mouth

The last piece of good fortune was part luck or perhaps just hard work paying off. I was recommended to a family member as a good clarinet teacher so by virtue of word of mouth, I’ve earned another new student.

That’s three new students, all of which have varying levels of existing musical experience.

This has the potential to be a great teaching year.

Musical Commuting

I take a keen interest in transport infrastructure. I like to ride a motorcycle and bicycle but am dismayed by the shear number of people that use cars to commute to Albany where my software programming day job is located. The streets in that industrial area is a lane each way and wide enough for parallel parking on both sides. The result is this intense parking-lot looking feel and at lunch time it’s like everyone gets back in their cars to drive 0.5km to a cafe or gym.

I’m keen on the development of pedal assisted bicycles and projects related to them, especially the Copenhagen wheel. Unfortunately, without safer infrastructure (and the resolution of minor issues such as cost, marketing, popular support etc.), there will always be a reluctance to adopt them. The biggest problem is the culture issue with a car-centric transport system like Auckland where drivers aren’t used to sharing the roads with cyclists and tend to do stupid things around them. The result is this crazy chicken-egg scenario: until there are more cyclists, motorists won’t (can’t) change their “I’m bigger than you, you’re holding me up, get out of my way” culture but there aren’t more cyclist because motorists rule the infrastructure.

…and man, do I have strong opinions against the “cyclists should follow the same rules as cars” rubbish. A pedestrian != cyclist != motorcycle != car != bus != truck. All the vehicles are different so why should they follow the same rules? (That’s rhetorical because I’d like to think the answer is obvious).

But I didn’t start this post to moan about driving culture, I’d like to share how an Auckland clarinet/saxophone teacher gets around.


A Ventura pack rack and bag works well with a bungee cord tied saxophone. Yes, I do have a legit number plate but I clone-tooled it out.

A Ventura pack rack and bag works well with a bungee cord tied saxophone. Yes, I do have a legit number plate but I clone-tooled it out.

There's not much chance of an alto sax case hitting any wing mirrors.

There’s not much chance of an alto sax case hitting any wing mirrors.

That, is my fantastic 2002 Honda VTR-250 complete with Venutra pack rack.

The clarinet can easily fit in the Aero Delta rack bag (with room for shoes, books, lunch and then some) and the saxophone can be bungee cord tied to the pack rack.

I tend to not ride with the saxophone as much now because I can keep it at my teaching studio but while I was playing gigs and studying at university, I must have been a conspicuous sight on the roads. Sure, it rains on occasion and yes, I get wet because my gear is only good for about 10-15 minutes of rain before it soaks through but there are “strategies” to account for that. The water has never gotten into the saxophone case.

I’m certainly not a so called fair-weather motorcyclist; I’ll ride in anything Auckland weather has to throw at me.

If anyone ever wanted to buy their first ever motorcycle, you just can’t fault the early 2000s Honda VTR 250s. I bought this bike went the mileage was on 11,000 km, now it has done 143,000 km. It’s had regular replacement tyres, oil and filter changes, sprocket and chain replacements and required a battery swap at about 110,000 km but nothing else. The bike just keeps going. I’ll admit some of the wiring is a bit flaky but the engine is good, corrosion is minimal and the bike still works great.

Is there anyone else in the world with a couple of bungee chords in their sax case? They come in handy. The bari sax player forgot his neck strap one day so we bungee tied him to the sax. Bounciest instrument posture ever.