useful information and resources
What reeds should I get?
Beginner player strength 1.5, grade 3+ player strength 2
Clarinets use B flat clarinet reeds, and saxophones use E flat alto sax reeds.
The cheapest clarinet and sax reeds are available at www.internetreeds.com
Rico Royale and Vandoren are better quality but more expensive. They tend to be a little harder too.
Bassoonists may order reeds from KB or direct from a supplier (details provided on request)
Oboists can order reeds from KB or direct from a supplier (details provided on request)
How long should a reed last?
This is a bit of a "how long is a piece of string" question. If you're careful they can last for weeks or even months, but all reeds can get tired after a lot of playing. Bassoon and oboe reeds are much more expensive so you need to make them last as long as you can! A small nick at the top might not matter on any reed, but a large crack down the reed is terminal. Be careful not to catch them on your clothing. Always dry reeds after use, and make sure they are damp before playing (licks for single reeds, soak for double reeds). Don't leave them on your instrument!
How much should I practise?
As much as you can! Generally 4-5 times a week ensures good progress. Grade 1 10-15 mins, grade 2 15-20 mins, grade 3 20-25 mins, grade 4 25-30 mins, grade 5 30 mins +. It's a good idea to tick off in your diary when you practise so you can see how much you've done in a week. It's ALWAYS better to do several shorter practices than one long one the day before your lesson!
What do I do if my instrument stops working?
1) change your reed if you have one. It's the most common reason for strange sounds. 2) give your instrument a good clean - take it apart at the joints, and check that nothing's fallen inside your instrument! 3) email and tell me what's wrong with it. I'll need to know which notes aren't working. Sometimes I can do repairs over zoom with the help of a pupil parents. If I can't fix it, then Woodwind and Reed on Russell Street in Cambridge are the people to see. Ring them first to say you're coming.
How do I clean my instrument?
Flute - wipe the keys regularly with a non-fluffy cloth, and keep the lip plate where you put your mouth really clean. You can get a pad saver (fluffy caterpillar) to put inside your flute when it's in the case which helps absorb any moisture.
Clarinet/saxophone - remove the reed and dry it after you play. No-one likes a mouldy reed! Use a pull through cleaner for the clarinet and sax crook (top curved part), and a pad-saver for the main body of the saxophone.
Oboe/bassoon - blow excess moisture out of the reed and keep it in a reed case (preferably open while you put away your instrument). Bassoonists make sure you blow out your crook and occasionally wash it through with warm water. Use pull through swabs for both instruments.
When can I join a band or orchestra?
Harmonia Philharmonia takes players from their first year of playing, There is an orchestra which children can attend as long as they are accompanied by a playing adult, and a band which children can attend on their own (adults also welcome!).
It's well worth looking at Cambridgeshire Holiday Orchestra for holiday courses. They offer 3 levels of band plus string groups, orchestras, choirs, African drumming and much more for age 7+. I'm often there leading drum sessions and tutoring the woodwind sections.
What accessories are most useful?
An instrument stand is a great way of encouraging more practices, but make sure they are placed where they won't get knocked and out of the reach of pets/smaller siblings. Amazon have a good range of stands for all instruments. Ask me by email if you need advice. A tuner/metronome is very useful for players of grade 3+ although there are also free apps which cover this.
What exams can I take?
At Harmonia, pupils follow the Trinity College London syllabus and are welcome to take exams once they have prepared all the necessary elements. For a digital exam this means performing three pieces (two with piano accompaniment and one unaccompanied) and a pre-defined selection of scales and arpeggios (technical work). A video recording is made (in a single take) and if both pupil and teacher are happy with it, then the exam entry can be made and the video submitted. If it's not quite right, then pupils can rerecord. This means that each pupil can take each grade when they are absolutely ready instead of aiming towards a particular date.
Do I HAVE to take exams?
Absolutely not! You don't have to do every grade, and you don't have to take any exams at all if you don't want to. The digital exams are probably a little less intimidating, but still quite a tiring experience as you need to be able to play all your three pieces well in one take. Exams can be expensive and some people prefer to do just a few as they progress.
How much do exam entries cost?
Grade 1 £46 Grade 2 £50 Grade 3 £55 Grade 4 £65 grade 5 £73 (correct Aug 2023)
How long does it take to get to each grade?
Most pupils make around a grade progress each academic year, but some go faster and some take a little longer. Sometimes pupils will skip a grade as it's clear they're ready to progress faster.
What happens if I forget my instrument/books for a school lesson?
Sometimes it's possible to ask the school to ring home to see if someone can bring them in, but if not, you should expect a lesson of aural skills (ear training games) or perhaps some music theory!