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The Apocalypse

In the weekly mailing of local ads there was a page of coupons for the Florida Lottery!

Times are hard when people don’t have a buck to throw away on an infinitesimal chance of winning millions.

[Note: one of my neighbor’s kids is learning to play the recorder. I have been hearing the same riff for three hours. Music is important, so, as much as I want to do terrible things to that whistle, I will maintain, or scream at the cats, or blog…]

21 comments

1 Steve Bates { 03.24.09 at 10:29 pm }

My condolences on your having to listen to the student recorder player. I had to do that, for several hours on most weekdays, for something over 30 years, but at least I was paid for my troubles. I freely admit there are few instruments more painful to hear played badly, and thanks to the approach taken in America… and only in America… we are more liable to hear recorder played badly than any other instrument. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. But it is.

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek (tongue-on-beak?) suggestion: Sneak around and take the instrument home for a short time. If the recorder is made of wood, remove the head joint (a twist of the hand should do the job), place a dowel small enough to fit without friction into the joint and against the block (the mouth end), and tap lightly but firmly with a hammer. If the instrument is properly made (and not swollen with spit), the block will fall out. Keep the block and return the rest of the instrument. Offer to return the block in exchange for a firmly established practice schedule that does not drive you crazy. OTOH, if the instrument is plastic, there’s little you can do; plastic instruments don’t have actual separable blocks.

2 Bryan { 03.24.09 at 11:05 pm }

It’s plastic, I can tell from the sound quality, and the school wouldn’t let a middle-school student bring home a real instrument. I have a feeling it is for a particula event, because I haven’t heard any scales, only the repetition of this short piece that only involves three notes, that he is having a great deal of trouble producing.

You have to learn, and it will be good for him – if his brother and sister don’t decide to kill him. He is sticking with it, which is a good thing and will instill discipline, but I wish it was colder so I could justify shutting the windows.

I can’t imagine the pain of trying to teach someone a musical instrument. Having your ears and the instrument tortured in the hopes that someone will one day master the art.

3 Steve Bates { 03.24.09 at 11:24 pm }

For the record, cheap wooden recorders usually sound worse than all but the worst plastic instruments. Indeed, the least expensive way to make a “real” recorder is to have a premier maker fashion a prototype in wood, then replicate the prototype thousands of times in plastic… with the careful supervision of the maker. I often had arguments with students and/or their parents over my demand that they replace their “fine” wooden instrument (i.e., cheap POS) with a “cheap” plastic instrument (i.e., excellent recorder in all respects except material). Students learn better on instruments that speak reliably and in tune without extreme “humoring” by the player.

The thing that saves music teaching as an activity, aside from the income, is the satisfaction of watching the most talented students grow to the point of performance, and the worst students grow (sometimes) into at least minimal competency. Usually, the truly unteachable students eventually give up in frustration. The rest, good or mediocre, accomplish something, and that is worth something to a committed teacher. Yes, the sounds are sometimes painful, but at the moment, in my degraded, unpracticed state, the sounds I make on a recorder are occasionally pretty wretched. Like all skills, playing an instrument must be learned and then maintained.

4 Bryan { 03.24.09 at 11:36 pm }

This was his first day, I can hope for improvement until I can turn on the air conditioner and blank out the world.

I’m guessing that it may be too big for him, and he isn’t able to close the holes properly, because it is really inconsistent. There may be good plastic recorders, but this district wouldn’t spend the money. Until the get to the high school marching band, they will be using cheap. The band raises its own money and buys its own instruments.

5 hipparchia { 03.25.09 at 12:08 am }
6 Bryan { 03.25.09 at 12:15 am }

Unfortunately my hearing is too acute for them to work well, and I do have to answer the phone from time to time.

7 Badtux { 03.25.09 at 10:12 am }

Bryan, the general problem with playing the recorder, or any similar whistle device (e.g. Irish tinwhistle, etc.) is wind control. There is really only one volume of air at any particular note that produces the “right” sound. Anything else either squeaks or is off-key or both. So you’re not only manipulating the holes with your fingers, you’re also changing the volume of air you send through the instrument as you play it, and it’s the latter that’s the hard part. The recorder at least is not like the tinwhistle (where the volume of air is how you reach the higher octaves), but it is particularly susceptible to squeaking if you don’t give it just the right volume of air, and on the lower register that volume of air is *low* and loud-mouth kids tend to blow lots of air and achieve lots of squeaks.

So I doubt it’s his fingering that is at issue here (though it may be if he has particularly tiny fingers). Probably it’s just a case of him being a blowhard. (Heh! Been waiting to use that term to describe someone other than a Rethuglican windbag!).

– Badtux the Musical Penguin

Badtux´s last blog post..Ah yes, the nuttiness continues…

8 Steve Bates { 03.25.09 at 11:12 am }

What Badtux said. Recorder playing involves coordination of fingers (including the always-tricky left thumb venting its hole for octaves), tongue and… perhaps most significantly… breath. And the instrument is not uniform across its range: one has to know how to play each note (fingers/thumb, tongue, breath) and each transition from note to note. It’s more than general principles; it’s a lot of specific knowledge. Moreover, the differences from one recorder to the next are not negligible. The kid needs help: it’s possible to teach oneself, but it’s very, very inefficient as a way of getting to competency.

I neglected to mention that I have both the skills and the credentials… Lecturer in Recorder at U. of St. Thomas – Houston for about 20 years, and performer on recorder in three different professional early music groops in Houston for longer than that… to say what I’m saying.

Steve Bates´s last blog post..Stella Is Here

9 Badtux { 03.25.09 at 4:19 pm }

Steve, even knowing the principles intellectually (and I suspect the kid does have a teacher at school who taught him the principles) doesn’t mean that you can perform on the recorder. It takes practice so that you can “feel” the right breath control for the various notes and operations. It took me a few days between picking up a recorder and being able to play simple tunes on it without squeaking and squawking and I already knew the basic principles from playing Irish whistle. When I pick up a strange Irish whistle or one of mine that I haven’t played for a while, it takes me about an hour of running through the notes to get everything nice and crisp and squeak-free, and I already know how to play an Irish whistle. BTW, for Bryan, the tongue is used primarily for breath control with whistles, you need to quickly modulate the air flow when transitioning between notes or when putting glottal stops within notes to break them up into multiple individual notes, and tongue action is how you do it. Tongue action is for more than porno movies!

– Badtux the Musical Penguin

10 Bryan { 03.25.09 at 5:19 pm }

He changed the riff today, and had to use the thumb hole, which is brutal. He isn’t blowing as much as puffing for each individual note. He does have small hands and is in charge of retrieving dropped bolts from engine compartments [his dad is a mechanic and does side jobs in the yard].

He didn’t practice as long today due to loud and pointed threats by his older sister.

11 Badtux { 03.25.09 at 6:52 pm }

Puffing=you’re doin’ it wrong. You want a constant blow using your tongue to modulate between notes as necessary, with the occasional inward breath between notes. Sounds like he needs a better teacher, or just hasn’t Gotten It when his teacher tries to tell him what he’s doing wrong. Oh well, if he has any musical talent at all he’ll eventually “get it”…

Badtux´s last blog post..VAT taxes and financial crack

12 Bryan { 03.25.09 at 7:49 pm }

With the state of our schools, I’m happy he’s getting any exposure. At least it isn’t drums.

13 Steve Bates { 03.25.09 at 8:33 pm }

“… early music groops…” – SB

Oops. Or perhaps I mean oups.

“Steve, even knowing the principles intellectually (and I suspect the kid does have a teacher at school who taught him the principles) doesn’t mean that you can perform on the recorder.” – Badtux

No kidding. Recorder playing may have an intellectual component, but if you don’t know the guts-and-fingers aspect, you can’t play.

“Puffing=you’re doin’ it wrong.” – Badtux

Again, right on the money. It’s either tongue to start notes and stop notes, or tongue to start notes and open the mouth (still blowing steadily until the very moment) to cease… puffing just doesn’t work. The 17th- and 18th-century method writers discussed what initial consonants to use: T and D (the German or French soft D, tip of the tongue just above the upper teeth) were favorite single strokes; in fast, liquid 16th-note passages, “diri” or “diddle” were common double strokes (but not the “taka” popular with today’s brass players… it’s an ugly sound on a flute-class instrument). FWIW, the development of tongue use goes on even today, particularly in the Dutch school. No, I’m not talking about A’dam’s red light district. 😈

Bryan, one’s first encounter with the thumb hole deserves utmost sympathy… sympathy that I admit is difficult to muster. Working in an auto mechanic’s shop should be no limitation; one of my best students ever (technically and musically) worked on oil rigs. And small hands can be a problem on the larger instruments; a few kids even have trouble with alto (“treble” if you’re British) and tenor, and everyone has to stretch on instruments larger than a bass, despite its keywork.

Steve Bates´s last blog post..Watch Bill Moyers

14 Bryan { 03.25.09 at 9:59 pm }

Oh, he doesn’t work there, he just “helps” his dad.

15 Kryten42 { 03.25.09 at 10:44 pm }

In primary school, I had a choice and chose drums (percussion) and enjoyed it. I even played in the school band. In college, they didn’t gave a damn what the students wanted or what they could do. Every student was forced to learn the recorder. I hated it even though I did manage to play reasonably well. It was a Christian Brothers College, except there was nothing either *Christian* or *brotherly* about the sadists that ran it with a leather fist. I remember my parents had to pay a lot for the recorder which had to be purchased through the school… was a Yamaha from memory. I didn’t really hate the recorder (and I enjoy listening to a good performance), but I hated being forced to learn and play an instrument after I’d just spent three years getting good at an instrument I did enjoy. My mom and my Grandparents had just got me a drum kit for Christmas (a near-new 2nd hand Pearl kit), and I’d turned the garage into a sound studio (it was solid brick and I padded the walls with foam insulation and egg cartons.) Worked a treat. LOL I got part time work and saved and got myself a hi-hat and a 20″ full-ride paiste cymbal. I had no idea there were so many variations until I went to the drum shop (was called Billy Hyde’s Drum Clinic. Billy ran the place back then with his son and was a drummer most kids aspired to emulate! He was always helpful and patient with me.) He passed away a year later. A real shame. 🙁

I don’t recall having any problems with the thumb hole. I suspect because the thumb and index finger are used a lot with drum work. 🙂 I did have a problem with my little finger though! I mean, come on… who uses it? *sigh* 😉

16 Bryan { 03.26.09 at 12:03 am }

I would prefer that he learned to play guitar, either nylon-strung acoustic, or an electric with earphones, but no one asked.

I played an electric bass badly for a while. Short fingers and a total lack of musical talent brought that to end.

17 Badtux { 03.26.09 at 12:33 am }

Well, Steve, I don’t teach the recorder, I just play the dadburned thing, so I’ll leave the technical description of what I’m doing with my tongue to get good sounds out of the thing to the experts like you :-).

Kryten, no problem with the thumbhole here either. But agree that the little finger can be a bit difficult to hit. It’s set up to be half-holed the “easy” way (i.e., without having to “feel” for the note) and my finger only gets across one of them, and then it’s a bit flat and I’m like, “wait a moment, that wasn’t the right note!” sigh. Luckily I don’t play (or teach) recorder for a living, so I just start over and play it right the next time, undoubtedly driving my neighbors as mad as Bryan is being driven by his next door neighbor’s kid :-).

– Badtux the Musical Penguin

Badtux´s last blog post..VAT taxes and financial crack

18 LadyMin { 03.26.09 at 2:30 pm }

This brings back memories.

When I was in grade school we all had to learn to play the “Melody Flute”. I enjoyed it but I’m pretty sure anyone listening to me did not feel the same way. I am not musically inclined… not even a tiny bit. Although I love to listen to music, I couldn’t carry a tune if it were in a bucket.

LadyMin´s last blog post..Project Budburst

19 Bryan { 03.26.09 at 6:41 pm }

After it became patently obvious that I couldn’t sing, I was trusted with the triangle. This was because I could recognize directions and would follow them if they were logical.

20 LadyMin { 03.26.09 at 7:03 pm }

Back when I was in grade school there was no political correctness to worry about… the music teacher felt free to tell me to just “lip sing” the words at our Christmas play. Yes, my singing was that bad. 😐

LadyMin´s last blog post..Project Budburst

21 Bryan { 03.26.09 at 8:00 pm }

I wasn’t trusted to do that for fear I might produce a sound. The triangle kept me occupied.

I have heard my voice on tape, and that was a good decision. My speaking voice is a versatile instrument, but there is something about the addition of music that makes it go atonal and really annoying. I think the problem is what I’m hearing, versus what everyone else hears.