Blow & Blast !

Group music therapy for frustrated adult learners

Stressed clarinet player!
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Some of the more frequently asked questions about Blow & Blast woodwind ensemble workshops and the Blow & Blast lunchtime woodwind band. 

Do I need an instrument?


If you no longer have an instrument or you have never played before, our starting up link has some useful tips.

Do I need to be able to read music?

Yes – although, in an easy-level group, basic recognition of pitches and note values in sufficient.  Orchestral and chamber music are written traditions.  Poor or non-existent reading skills severely limit the music to which the player has access.

Which group would suit me best?

This depends not just on your ability level but your personality and previous musical experience (if any).  Contact us with details of your instrument, standard and information about any past group musical activities and we will do our best to advise appropriately.

What is the difference between a workshop and a play-along?

Essentially, the level of nitpicking!  In the workshops, we aim to develop your ensemble-playing skills.  Players are encouraged to attend carefully to details of articulation, dynamics and balance, all of which improve the overall level of performance.

Play-along events are more of an opportunity to enjoy group music-making, in a context where the music has been tailored to participants' ability levels.  While we encourage everybody to do their best, there isn't the same emphasis on part because we, as tutors, don't have the same level of expertise when it comes to things like trombones and violins!

I'm coming to a workshop and playalong event.  What can I do about lunch?

In Birnam, the players have access to the community kitchen.  Anyone who intends coming to both a workshop and a play-along event may wish to bring a sandwich and help themselves to tea or coffee.  There is a lovely café downstairs but this is better visited before or after playing, when there is more time to enjoy what is on offer.

Both the Perth Theatre and Concert Hall have cafés, but it is difficult to squeeze a proper lunch in between playing sessions.  A quick snack is probably a good idea.

Am I too old?

Starting young is obviously best but it is seldom too late to get great enjoyment out of playing a woodwind instrument.  It is just a question of being realistic about your rate of progress and final performance level.  Our 'Blow & Blasters' include a number of players who have taken up instruments in their 70s and 80s.

However, problems with arthritic fingers and deterioration in eyesight or hearing have to be taken into account. There can also be issues with teeth. Frequent dental work can make it very difficult to manage consistent sound production, particularly on the clarinet (or saxophone). False teeth in themselves are not necessarily a handicap.
Enjoy playing...

Picture of mature players
...whatever your age!

Would you consider running workshops at other venues?
Have you considered similar workshops for families or young people?

Yes, but we are rapidly running out of spaces in our calendar!

Could I have copies of the music to practise in advance?

Unfortunately, this hasn't proved to be practicable.  Often we do not know the exact composition of the group until the last minute, so it is impossible to decide weeks in advance which pieces to play.  Also, we like to be able to adjust the repertoire on the day depending on how well the group is managing.

We know that many players feel more confident if they have been able to practise parts in advance, so we are still working on this one!

Why do you have so little modern music?

There are copyright and performing issues with music that has been composed recently and, in some cases, it is necessary to apply - and pay – for permission to have a new arrangement.  Also, more modern material tends to have complex rhythms so it is much more difficult to sight-read than Haydn or Mozart! 

Why do you ask for information about instrument, standard and musical experience?

This is not so that we can be selective about whom to accept – we work on a ‘first come, first served’ basis (except for ‘extras’ in the band).  The music is specially arranged to match the capabilities of the players.  Adult learners are a real mixture – some are learning completely from scratch, others already read music fluently but are struggling with technique on an instrument that is new to them.  Some want a bit of a challenge; others prefer to gain confidence playing well within their ‘comfort zone’.

I have never taken any Grade exams.  How do I know what standard I am?

We don’t need to know exactly.  If you have a teacher, ask him/her to say roughly what level you have reached.  It is possible to look up the requirements for the ABRSM Grade exams on the internet.  However, it is probably less trouble just to email us and tell us your range of notes, what you can and can’t play comfortably, etc, so that we can be sure to have appropriate parts available for you.

What is the likely composition of the group?

This varies, although generally there tend to be rather more flutes and clarinets than oboes and bassoons.  The players include a mixture of men and women – some are parents of young children, others are retired.  Blow & Blast participants have included everything from an undergraduate music student to a 90-year-old flautist who was registered blind (although she did have enough vision to see the music!)  We've even had visiting players from as far away as New Zealand!  Enthusiasm is the essential ingredient.

Numbers are limited to a maximum of 10-12 players in the workshops, so that everyone receives some individual attention.  There may be up to 25 in the band.

Why are saxophones not included in the woodwind workshops?

The saxophone is sufficiently powerful that it is capable of drowning out a whole group of orchestral woodwind instruments!  Also, it is virtually impossible to come up with music in 'beginner-friendly' keys and suitable registers for a small group containing E flat, B flat and C instruments.

We accept a few saxophones in the lunchtime band but have to limit the number to retain the musical balance, so contact us first if you would be interested in coming along.  Also, we now have a separate saxophone/brass group, which gives saxophone players access to the 'workshop'-type experience too.

Have you a question that is not answered here?  If so, contact us and we will try to help.

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