Articles by Ed Joffe

Scholarly documents that have been written and published or presented by Ed Joffe.

Intonation or In-tuneation?

In music, there remains a rule of thumb to tread very carefully before bringing up any pitch discrepancies within an ensemble performance. This would be the musical equivalent of asking a stranger on which side of the political spectrum they tend to vote. One’s pitch-playing ability is among the most sensitive issues for any musician. My experience as a professional musician has given me a perspective on this topic that I wish I’d had as a younger player. To fully explore the nature of this subject, it is crucial to understand the evolution of harmony and scales in Western European classical music.

Scales did not exist before music—they evolved as a means to understand the changing nature of music. The scales upon which Western European tonal music was based came about as a result of the notes of the natural harmonic series. It was eventually determined that a system in which the octave was divided into equal spacings between adjoining notes, thus creating a 12-tone equal tempered scale, would be most preferable. This made it easier to modulate to different tonalities and allow for increasing chromaticism, since all of the enharmonically spelled tones were of the same frequency. Keyboard and other fixed-scale instruments have been tuned in this manner. Woodwind, brass and string instrument manufacturers have attempted to approximate this type of tuning as well. However, there remains an “out-of-tuneness” with the perfectly tempered intervals when ensembles with strings, woodwinds and brass instruments perform with fixed-pitch instruments as well as non fixed-pitched instruments. As an example, the ear demands a subtle difference between the ideal pitch of an F# as the 3rd of a D+ chord as opposed to the F# as the 5th of a B+ chord when trying to make these chords sound in tune. This is due to how the resulting difference tones—an unwritten but audible 3rd tone that is present when two notes are heard simultaneously—will sound. When no adjustment is made when playing the F#s from the D+ to B+ chords, beats indicating that one of the chords is out of tune will result. (No beats would mean that the chords are in tune.) Hence, the need for “adjustable tuning.”

Master clarinetist and a former teacher of mine, Joe Rabbai, once told me that when he was a young player in New York he would sit down at a rehearsal or concert with Julie Baker (flute), Eli Carmen (bassoon) and Bob Bloom (oboe) and just start playing without a tuning note being given and magically everything would be in tune. Each of these masters understood that they would have to adjust to each other in order to achieve the best results. Joe lamented that with all of the sophisticated tuning equipment available in more recent times and with every “A” being presented by the oboist justified as correct by an electronic tuner, he believed that the woodwind sections played less in tune these days. Why is that?

The vast majority of electronic tuners used by professionals are constructed using the equal tempered scale. These types of tuning devices are invaluable as they relate to understanding the pitch tendencies of any individual note on any one instrument. When a player works with an electronic tuner or tuning app to correct whatever pitch inconsistencies exist within their instrument, they are focusing on individual notes as they relate to A440, or whatever pitch frequency one’s ensemble decides to adopt. Once there are two or more notes sounding together, everything changes. In order for intervals and chords to sound truly “in tune,” performers need to make adjustments beyond what the tuner has indicated for any one pitch. The following table is extremely valuable in indicating what the necessary adjustments are when playing a note above a lower pitch. (This also applies to playing scales when viewing the intervals within a scale.) The arrows up mean a slight sharpening of the interval; the arrows down refer to a slight flattening of the interval.

Interval Adjustment Required
Minor 2nd
Major 2nd
Minor 3rd
Major 3rd
Perfect 4th
Perfect 5th
Minor 6th
Major 6th
Minor 7th
Major 7th

These adjustments allow one to play with equal tempered instruments as well as with non fixed-pitch instruments in order to sound more “in tune.” In other words, there is a difference between matching pitches with an electronic tuner (moving the needle to the “0” point or dead center) and being in tune when playing with other instruments. As woodwind players, this necessitates the ability of the player to be extremely flexible with regard to embouchure adjustments and the use of altered fingerings. It also demands that the woodwind performer adopt a philosophy for playing—I will do everything I can to make the ensemble performance that I am part of sound as in-tune as possible!

Even if you have perfected the pitch on every note of your instrument against a tuner, when the first interval or chord of a piece is sounded, all of that goes out the window. We are then in a constant state of listening and adjusting where in a split second one must analyze what function their note represents within a chord; the pitch relationship of your note to the bass note and the rest of the sounding notes; and how that note will resolve within a phrase. (This also requires sensitivity to blending the note within a chord, the intensity of the note, and how best to articulate that note.) I have worked with too many instrumentalists who refuse to adjust since they are convinced that their pitch is right because their tuner told them so, they cannot hear harmonic implications, or because they’re just inflexible individuals. While their internal intonation may have been fine, their in-tuneation was not. I remember working with a reed-playing musical contractor who was playing the clarinet very flat and I adjusted accordingly on my flute. I had to physically move my head joint out—I could not lip the pitch down that much and still play my part for any length of time comfortably. He saw me doing that and asked if his pitch was a problem. I delicately stated that I thought he was a “little” flat. With that, he immediately took out his tuner, adjusted his embouchure to get his best sound and pitch, and was at A440. He said: “See, I’m not flat.” I never worked for him again. Bad for my pocket book but good for my musical and mental health!

So how can one become better at being an in-tune player and having fine internal intonation on one’s instrument? The first step is to develop interval recognition, sight singing, and transcribing ability—i.e. EAR TRAINING. Equally important is to develop one’s knowledge of theory—understanding chord structures, progressions and functions—i.e. HARMONY. Sound familiar? These are two of the required classes that all music majors take as undergraduate and graduate college students. The problem is that most student performers just try and get by in these classes with a passing grade in order to devote more time to practicing their instruments, paying very little attention to the importance of the subject matter as it applies to all music-making. I certainly did. Part of the problem lies with the teachers who are generally assigned to teach these crucial disciplines. Most are either theory majors, composers, or pianists who never actually earned their keep as professional instrumentalists playing within professional ensembles. As a result, these classes are often intellectual pursuits (boring) and not made to feel as relevant as they certainly should be. Private instrumental instructors tend to focus on repertoire, etudes, orchestral excerpts and moving the student along technically in their studios. Pitch is only discussed with regard to the internal notes of the instrument, which one can decipher from a tuner. In-tuneation is discussed only when receiving a coaching with a piano accompanist or chamber ensemble. Eventually, it begins to dawn on the instrumental performer that becoming an excellent in-tuneation player requires a great deal of study when you begin to work with more experienced, high-level professionals in quality ensembles. And that may be too late in many circumstances given our industry’s ultra competitive environment. Some remedies for this include:

  1. Go back and work on your ear training with excellent source materials such as A New Approach to Ear Training, Modus Vetus, Modus Novus, Aebersold’s Jazz Ear Training, etc. Make sure that you also incorporate playing piano parts while singing the upper woodwind lines while studying sonatas and/or concerti. Also, improve your understanding of harmony with books like Hindemith’s Elementary Training for Musicians, Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony, Jack Reilly’s The Harmony of Bill Evans, David Berkman’s The Jazz Harmony Book, etc.
  2. Play duets frequently on all of your instruments with your instructors and/or colleagues and focus intently on the intervals and difference tones. I am so thankful to my principal flute teacher, Tom Nyfenger, who always made it a habit of playing duets with his students at most lessons. He had radar-like ears with regard to pitch and harmony and made me more sensitive to those aspects of performance…or else!
  3. Use the tuner for in-tuneation as well as intonation by selecting short melodic phrases in one key center. Set the tuner to reproduce the tonic of that melody while playing the melodic line slowly without vibrato, always listening to the difference tones produced by the varying intervals.
  4. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask colleagues to check in-tuneation when things are not resolving themselves, even when you’re doing your best to make things better. The key is to find the right way to approach the situation. A famous woodwind colleague of mine is a master of this. He might say: “John, I’m having trouble putting my note in tune at m.32. Can we run that measure so I can see what I’m doing wrong.” By putting the blame on himself, he deflects any of the blame on his colleague but hopes that John will be sympathetic and make some changes as well. There is another way to deal with an ongoing situation with pitch difficulties, but one that might cause ulcers. Once again, Tom Nyfenger comes to mind. He related a situation he was in while playing with a high-level chamber group in NYC many years ago. After a rehearsal, the principal oboist said to Tom: “We play so well in-tune together.” Tom held his tongue (not always the case) but told me: “Yeah, we play so well together because I’m moving on every note with him to make us sound good.” Not many of us will ever possess the ears, harmonic knowledge, and the flexibility of a Nyfenger, but it is an enviable goal.

The ultimate statement on this subject was related by Erick Friedman—violinist Jascha Heifetz’ most prized student. Heifetz, one of the greatest instrumental soloists of the 20th century and renowned for his impeccable pitch playing among many other characteristics, once told Mr. Friedman: “You know, when I think I’m playing out of tune, I usually am.” Heifetz was constantly adjusting his pitch in rehearsals and performances and the results are in—it works! The motto is to make sure that BOTH your intonation and in-tuneation are excellent. If Heifetz did it, we can certainly try.

Practicing on the Gig

In the late 1970s the great saxophonist and woodwind artist, Ray Beckenstein, took me into the pit of the hit Broadway musical, Sugar Babies. There I encountered another wonderful woodwind legend, Dave Tofani, and I proceeded to ask both of them how they could continue to play the same music every night without going crazy. (I had not done a Broadway show at that point.) One of Dave’s responses proved extremely helpful throughout my years of playing in the musical theater. He told me that in order not to get bored, he would try to mentally transcribe what the other musicians were playing and thereby re-imagine the orchestration. That little bit of advice led me to think about and uncover other ways to improve one’s musicianship when doing a steady Broadway musical. Continue reading 

Two Roads Diverged…

Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken begins with the line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” In the Fall of 2017 I interviewed multi-reed virtuoso Eddie Daniels as part of my Woodwind Legacy Series and that line occurred to me as we were conducting the interview. During the course of our conversation, Eddie said that he initially began studying flute so that he could play the flute parts on a Broadway show (Mame) and on studio recordings. However, as he got more involved with the flute, he realized that “I want more on this instrument.” The more proficient he became on the flute, the greater was his desire to sound like a flutist and not just a competent doubler. He then proceeded to study with great flute artists such as Harold Bennett and Tom Nyfenger. (His achievements on the flute can best be heard on his album, A Flower For All Seasons.)

Eddie’s “I want more” statement touched a nerve within me because it brought into perspective something that I have observed throughout my career—the difference between “part players” and those with loftier artistic goals—the two roads in Frost’s poem. While these two different approaches to music-making might seem worlds apart, I believe most players have moved back and forth between these two paths in their musical lives. Continue reading 

Subbing: The Hardest Job in the Music Industry

During the course of a music-performing career, one encounters a variety of jobs that vary in their musical orientation and degree of difficulty. The expectation of performing at a high level on any gig is often enough to cause stress in any musician’s life. However, nothing compares to the stress, anxiety, and nervousness that a concerned, sensitive musician experiences when subbing for a colleague on a job. Whether in a musical theater show, orchestral concert, chamber ensemble performance, cover band gig, recording date, rehearsal, or any other type of musical engagement, the position of the sub is unenviable. I consider it the hardest job in the music industry. Continue reading 

It’s Not Like Riding A Bike

When I began to study music, it was much like other baby boomers—piano lessons during grade school years. Eventually, I chose clarinet, then saxophone, and finally flute as my principal instruments. During the course of studies that I embarked upon, I always worked privately with a variety of excellent teachers. Some of these mentors were associated with the schools that I attended, but most were individuals whose playing I admired and sought out to study with on a private basis. These studies occurred not only while I was a student, but also after I had finished my formal schooling and was working as a full-time player; while I was a professor at a university; and continue presently. In other words, I have never stopped studying. I have always found the help of an accomplished teacher to be inspiring while elevating my performance abilities and understanding of different musical genres. Throughout my years of study, the singular motivation was to improve, to learn more. I never picked a teacher because I thought he or she might “connect” me in the industry. Perhaps I was naïve, but that was the approach that felt right for me. It was verified for me during my college years when one of my woodwind heroes—Phil Woods—told me backstage after one of his performances, “If you’re good enough, they’ll (industry people) find you.” Continue reading 

Creating a Masters Degree in Woodwind Doubling

During my years as a professor, I had the good fortune to create a Masters degree in multiple woodwind performance (woodwind doubling). As someone who has been involved with this part of the music industry for most of my life, establishing this kind of an opportunity for talented students was a labor of love. It also was a pragmatic solution to finding a career path for talented students since the music industry of today offers very few career opportunities for woodwind performers. (By career, I refer to a forty-year period of employment that provides one with a steady livable wage, health benefits and pension.)

Institutions of higher education typically segregate their woodwind performance majors into categories such as “classical, “jazz,” “contemporary,” etc. And if there’s a “commercial” music component offered in a music department, it’s often Continue reading 

The Evolution of Commercial Woodwind Doubling

[This is a brief excerpt from Ed’s book: Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute. The article appeared in the December, 2016 publication of the Local 802 newspaper— ALLEGRO.]

Multi-tasking has become a staple of modern living and is certainly a requirement for surviving in today’s music industry. The contemporary saxophone doubler represents the greatest example of this characteristic in music. While most people believe that the origins of this discipline occurred with the Paul Whiteman Orchestras of the 1920s, woodwind multiple instrumental performance dates back several centuries.

In 16th century Vienna, consorts of wind instruments were used for ceremonial occasions, processions, and dances. The musicians changed from one instrument to another to avoid monotony of tone color and to accommodate a variety of musical forms. Continue reading 

Instrumental Performing Careers

I recently retired as a professor of music from a NJ state university after 24 years. This ended a 30-year career of institutional teaching that spanned 4th grade through graduate school. Having also been a full-time musician for the past 40 years while completing two Masters degrees and a DMA in music, I have a somewhat unique perspective of having lived inside the music industry as a performer, student and teacher simultaneously. While this blog post might be considered by some as biting the hand that once fed me and a means to vent frustration at a failing and out-of-touch educational system, I hope it will be taken as an honest look at the state of today’s music industry and a prescription for music programs to change in order to help aspiring instrumental music students prepare for the real world.Continue reading 

Seven Days to Reed Heaven

Excerpted from Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute

Day 1: Remove the reeds from their container(s) and let them sit belly up (the flat side facing the ceiling) on a flat surface for an hour. Do not play them or wet them. This allows the reeds to become acclimated to the temperature and humidity in which you will play them. Then, store them in a reed pouch with a 49% Boveda Reed Vitalizer pack.

Day 2: When you’re ready to begin the process of preparing the reeds to play, lightly rub the flat side (back end) of each reed in small circular motions on 3M polishing paper of 3000 grit until totally smooth. Be careful to apply light pressure with the 2nd/3rd/4th fingers of your hand above the stock (or bark) of the reed in order to move the reed over the polishing paper. This will help seal the flat side of the reed as well as correct any unevenness so that the reed can vibrate evenly on the mouthpiece table and side rails. The residue of the paper’s fibers fills in the spaces between the fibers of the reed. Put them back in the reed pouch with the 49% humidity pack. Do not play them yet!
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An Interview with Lew Tabackin

An Interview with Lew Tabackin
Originally Published November, 2006
The New York Flute Club Newsletter

This interview was conducted on Saturday August 19, 2006 at Lew Tabackin’s upper westside townhouse, which he shares with his wife—pianist/composer/arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi. Mr. Tabackin will be presenting a recital with his jazz trio on Sunday November 19, 2006 at 5:30pm at the Yamaha Piano Salon, 689 5th Avenue.

Lew Tabackin has been a vital part of the New York music scene since 1965. A virtuoso on both the flute and tenor saxophone, he has enjoyed a diverse career as a sideman working with some of the great jazz legends (Elvin Jones, Shelley Manne, Tal Farlow, Donald Byrd, Attila Zoller); a featured soloist in a variety of big bands (Maynard Ferguson, Duke Pearson, Chuck Israels, Cab Calloway, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, Clark Terry, Joe Henderson, and Toshiko Akiyoshi); a studio musician (Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band and the Dick Cavett Show Orchestra); and as a leader of his own jazz groups. Beginning in the 1980s, he won both the Down Beat critic’s and reader’s poll awards as top jazz flutist. He continues to tour the world extensively as a soloist, performing in both clubs and jazz festivals. His biography, discography, and upcoming performances can be viewed on his website:

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Repairmen Past & Present

Every professional musician owes part of their success to the talents of their repair technicians. The need to have one’s instrument in top performing shape for any job is self-evident but finding the right repairman is akin to finding the right medical doctor. It is more than just their abilities we seek; it’s also their understanding, creativity, flexibility and support that we need. One never knows when a pad or spring will break down at the 11th hour, a support post gets bent, reeds stop sealing on the mouthpiece, or the instrument has been jostled in the carrying case and suddenly doesn’t work as well. THAT’S WHEN WE REALLY NEED OUR REPAIRMEN!

There have always been many capable technicians available but in my career, I’ve experienced a few who went beyond that category who were also ARTISTS and enjoyed sharing their time, knowledge and experience with their customers. They were always there in case of a last minute emergency in addition to their regular appointments. Here are a few who made my life better, in alphabetical order.Continue reading 

America’s Musical Meltdown

The opening verses to two compositions that were both #1 hits, seventy-five years apart, are shown below. While both sets of lyrics describe unsettled relationships, I believe the difference in the sophistication of the lyrics mirrors the “dumbing down” of America’s musical culture over that span of time. It has been reported that the United States is forty-ninth in the world in literacy. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been involved in education for any length of time. Yet, the plain truth is that we have slid equally far down the music cultural ladder.

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How to Succeed as a Woodwind Multi–Instrumentalist

Excerpted from Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute

  1. Play each instrument because you love that particular instrument!
  2. Aspire to play each instrument as if it were the only one that you play.
  3. Set up a disciplined daily practice routine.
  4. Have a consistent set of warmups including tone, articulation and scale studies for each instrument.
  5. Listen to recordings of an assortment of great artists for each instrument on a daily basis. Focus intensively on one artist each year. Choose their greatest attributes to emphasize—tone, vibrato, articulation, phrasing, technique, etc.
  6. Study each instrument privately with teachers who have a similar philosophy with regard to breathing, phrasing, tone, etc. and are sensitive to a multi-instrumentalist’s role in the music industry.
  7. Study with only one teacher at a time on each instrument.
  8. Try to play in as many varied musical contexts as possible (especially helpful are saxophone quartets, woodwind quintets and jazz combo settings).
  9. Buy the best instruments possible (and all the major ones of each family of instruments).
  10. Buy instrument cases available that provide the best protection for each instrument and are ergonomically sound.
  11. Find an excellent repair technician for each instrument and cultivate that relationship. Make sure that you always have someone to go to in an emergency.
  12. Subscribe to all relevant professional journals and organizations.
  13. Attend concerts, masterclasses, and instrumental conventions as often as possible.
  14. Perform, rehearse and practice great music as often as possible.
  15. Become an excellent sight-reader on all of your instruments in all styles of music.
  16. *Developing an excellent sense of rhythm, pitch, stylistic knowledge and collegiality are essential for success in the music industry!

Information for High School Clarinetists

The following is a brief listing of notable soloists, recordings, and study materials with which a high school clarinetist should become familiar. This information will be particularly useful for those wishing to audition as music majors in college. In all cases, the young clarinetist should be encouraged to study with a professional clarinetist who also has formidable teaching experience. In addition, all clarinetists should become members of the International Clarinet Association.

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Improving High School Jazz Ensemble Rehearsals

Set Up

While the traditional big band setup is desirable for most rehearsals, it is very useful to occasionally establish alternate seating formations, including a box formation and triangle formation. This allows the players hear the music in a different way and proves beneficial when they are reseated in their usual fashion.


The standard big band alignment calls for 5 saxophones (2 alto saxes, 2 tenor saxes and a baritone sax), 4 trumpets, 4 trombones (3 tenor trombones and a bass trombone), and a rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, and guitar). An additional trumpet can be added as well as Latin percussion instruments and a vocalist(s) and still maintain the traditional sound. There are also “flexible” arrangements published by Kendor (convertibles) and Smart Music that allow for reduced instrumentations that sound full. A typical reduced big band arrangement might include 4 saxophones, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones and 3 rhythm. Try to avoid doubling parts within the traditional alignment of instruments—i.e. having 2 alto saxophones play the lead part; having 2 bass players playing a bass part together; etc. There are numerous arrangements available from a variety of publishers for quartets—nonets if there are not enough instrumentalists for a full band program.

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