A More Accessible and Versatile Clarinet?

Would you like to play a simple, versatile instrument with a good clarinet sound that’s light and easy to carry around and works great for playing jazz and folk? Yes?- then you need a chalumeau. This isn’t, as you may think, some newfangled instrument but, rather, a very old one. The chalumeau seems to have been the forerunner of the clarinet. It is a a recorder-like instrument but played with a single reed. It was essentially a diatonic instrument with a range of a ninth and came in various sizes, each producing the notes of a different scale. Some chalumeaux have pairs of half-holes for the lower notes, as do recorders, and this allows for some chromatic notes. Over the years, instrument makers have experimented with adding one or two keys and, eventually, this led to the instrument we recognise today as a clarinet.

Early music afficionados have often had reproductions made of chalumeaux and early clarinets. Naturally, these were expensive to produce and so were available only to a small circle of people. Then, a few years ago, a British firm created a chalumeau tailor-made for the “Wider Opportunities” scheme introduced in UK schools. This was a very modestly priced instrument in one piece and virtually indestructible. I blogged about it in my post “Chalumeau Clarinets and Wider Opportunities”  There are now several thousand of these instruments in use in UK schools. It is not only children who can benefit from these instruments, though. Anyone who wants to achieve a clarinet sound without the weight and complexity of the modern instrument will appreciate this alternative.

Having no keys and rings, the chalumeau responds much more readily to pitch modifications as practised in jazz and many folk music styles. Several instrument manufacturers have created their own versions, with or without one or two keys to extend the range. Online stores for folk instruments are good places to look for them initially.

To whet your appetite and demonstrate its versatility, here’s the response of clarinetist Heribert Eckert when he encountered one at a trade fair:

Family and Group Music Making


Activities shared by the whole family are the stuff of precious memories. And creative activities, in particular, are a potent way to build a strong family or group identity. At the present time, there is an ever-growing awareness amongst parents and educators of the many extra-musical benefits of children’s involvement in music. Sadly, though, the importance of the social milieu in which music is experienced is usually overlooked. Unless children observe that their parents and teachers are also emotionally involved with the music and value it themselves, only the most dedicated will sustain motivation.

It isn’t necessary for adults to be skilled or knowledgeable musicians to enthuse youngsters, only to join them on their musical journey.

Computers have often been blamed for causing fragmentation in family life and encouraging children to spend long periods in isolation. But computers don’t have to be isolating. Today, there are many interactive applications that can simultaneously engage the interest of users with very different levels of knowledge and skill.

On The Full Pitcher website, we make suggestions for using our online music scores as the focus of activities shared by groups of mixed age and ability. The same principle is applied in our GridPlay software. One, of many examples, is the arrangement, ‘One Man Went to Mow’, on the Summer Music page. In this, the written parts are for experienced instrumentalists. However, the very simple tune of the song can be substituted for any of these parts. It is an easy song to sing and there are suggestions for involving a very young, or disabled child.

Often, lyrics and playback are available online for ensemble arrangements. When one or more members of the group plays an instrument the parts can be downloaded at very modest cost and they can play along with the online track. Our tuneful downloads for beginners on flute, clarinet, recorder, violin and cello have very simple piano accompaniments so that elementary pianists can enjoy ensemble playing from an early stage. Those parents who wish they hadn’t given up on the piano may find these arrangements a way back in!

Most music is flexibly arranged, with optional parts suitable for beginners and for the basic instruments most likely to be available. Suggestions are often made about ‘how to improvise with this piece’. Sometimes a lot of mystique surrounds the improvisation of music and people often think it requires lots of skills they couldn’t hope to have! In truth, it is a very natural thing to do. We improvise all the time in various aspects of our daily lives and music is, really no different. It has been said that all we need to improvise is ‘the courage to move from one note to the next’. What better way is there to develop the confidence and self-trust, necessary to explore,  than just ‘having a go’ and learning to improvise together in the accepting and sharing environment of the family circle?

Families with disabled members should be aware of our custom arrange & print service. We are very happy to supply custom-arranged prints to meet the needs of would-be musicians with disabilities that prevent the playing of conventional instruments, or who must play them in unconventional ways. Of course, a person doesn’t need to be disabled to play an unusual instrument!

We want our resources to be accessible for all so, if you need something different, please ask. If you simply want the music transposed to a different key, we will usually request that you purchase the standard version and then we will email you a custom part free of charge. If you want something more complicated like an arrangement for an Allcomers orchestra, we will charge a modest fee.

These are some of the places on our website to mine for family-friendly materials:

Kids’ Pages
Creative activities for parents and teachers to share with children age 3-7 (Level 1) and 8+ (level 2).

Seasonal Fun
Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas pages have lyrics, audio and melody parts for a seasonal selection of our Miscellaneous Scores, together with activities to share with family, friends or classmates. Downloads of ensemble arrangements can be purchased from the Miscellaneous page.

Music for Beginners
Our music downloads for beginners on flute, recorder, clarinet, violin and cello have very simple, but satisfying, piano accompaniments to enable those with elementary piano-playing skills to join the beginner in an ensemble experience, right from the start. These could be a way back in for those parents who regret abandoning the piano as teenagers, as so many do!

Miscellaneous Scores
On this page full ensemble arrangements of many pieces which feature on Kids Pages and Seasonal Fun pages will be found, as well as any other downloads for which we do not have a dedicated page.


Our family-friendly software:

GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level
Activities to share with younger children. No previous musical knowledge is required to start exploring. the included ebook has lots of ideas with which to get started.

GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level 2

Explore and improvise, right away. even if you do not play an instrument or read music. These grids have been used from age 8-Adult. The included ebook contains words and music for many songs, in addition to copious activity suggestions.

GridPlay for Teachers/Carers
Songs and activities to make music with friends and family, however severely disabled




A Strummer for 1-Handed Guitarists?

I was very interested to see this contribution to the Disrupt SF Hackathon 2013, in which Yu Jiang Tham introduced ‘Strumbot’, an automated guitar strummer which he had, literally, created overnight. With this, a metal lever moves the pick across the strings according to strumming patterns controlled from a computer, leaving the performer free to concentrate on the chords and lyrics. Yu Jiang created the device to accompany his own singing because he felt “rhythmically-challenged” in the strumming department but I’m sure it would be possible to adapt it  so that a 1-handed player could control the strum patterns with foot-switches. It looks as though this might be a solution for some guitarists.

Yu Jiang intends to work on refining this prototype and would welcome readers’ feedback on it. For many, of course, it’s the picking that’s the main thing and they would prefer to automate the chord-formation side of things but I have been asked for information about mechanical strumming, so for others this could be a distinct possibility. I understand that Yu Jiang is interested in looking into chord formation, as well, so do all contribute your comments.

Update 7/02/2014: Here is another adapted guitar with a pedal-operated strummer. With this Ian Pearce can play again  after 47 years:

Music Education Matters!

They say “you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until you lose it” and the danger, real or perceived, of losing  music education has galvanized many to proclaim, at every opportunity, the extra-musical benefits of the subject. I fear that this is a dangerous path to tread!

I can’t deny that active involvement in music can bring physical, intellectual, social and, yes, spiritual benefits.  I think of  the emotionally disturbed child who would not submit to normal classroom discipline until his desire to be part of the class music session led him to accept that intrinsic to making music; of the lifting of the spirits experienced by friends who joined a choir; of the increased alertness and engagement of profoundly disabled youngsters after music sessions, of improvements in coordination, strength and respiratory condition brought about by playing instruments; of the timid girl whose song-writing enabled her to step confidently out into the world.

So, why am I worried about using these examples as justification for music provision? Well, the tension between music as therapy and music as education has haunted my professional life. I became a music teacher because I wanted to enable access to music for everyone,  as a valuable experience in its own right. I was thrilled when the National Curriculum was introduced into UK schools and, with it, every child’s entitlement to music education. In my innocence I thought it meant that schools now had a responsibility to explore ways of teaching those who couldn’t respond to the ‘one size fits all’ lessons of tradition. There was a growing acknowledgement that music was ‘good for special needs’ but, sadly, it wasn’t seen as an essential part of ‘good teaching’ within the system. The emphasis on the therapeutic benefits of music enabled the educational establishment, in many instances, to leave provision to music therapists and charities. Most young people with special needs were not in a position to challenge this but, for many years, I ran workshops for people with physical disabilities. Music was of huge importance in their lives, deprived as they were of many opportunities and experiences most of us take for granted. Some were very bitter about the poverty of the education they had received in schools and the emphasis on therapy. We were all agreed that therapy was hugely valuable and must be available for those who need it but it is not a substitute for music education.

I fear that the present emphasis on extra-musical benefits will weaken rather than strengthen the subject’s place within the curriculum. Some would like music to move out of schools into the wider community and there are, undoubtedly, great strengths in that model but we would lose ‘entitlement’ and a common experience and body of knowledge which are important to our culture, Great changes are afoot in education, generally, not just in music. We are just letting it happen without any reflection or discussion. I think we have to overcome our natural laziness and identify what is most valuable in music education and not, in our rush to adapt to the 21st century, ‘throw the baby out with the bath-water’! There are inherent values in music education and it must not be treated as a utility!

Access to Music: 3 Magic Flutes in ‘Joyful’ Performance

Here is a performance not to be missed! In this YouTube clip you can see three young musicians from My Breath My Music playing their Magic Flutes along with members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The Magic Flute is a wind instrument developed by My Breath My Music to allow young people with severe motor impairments to participate in live performance. No hand or arm movement is required, the pitch being controlled by changing the angle of the mouthpiece by means of head movements. You can read about the development of this exciting instrument in a previous post at “the true story of a magic flute”    Here, Christian, Glenn and Karin join members of the orchestra in playing an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. How L van B must love this performance!


Chalumeau Clarinets and Wider Opportunities

Most clarinet teachers will probably be aware that the clarinet was invented by one, Johann Christian Denner, in or about the year 1700, Denner having got the idea from examining examples of a simple single-reed instrument called a chalumeau. What they may not know is that there is an English company, based in Yorkshire, manufacturing a chalumeau today.

Hanson Music are manufacturing their chalumeau expressly for the Wider Opportunities scheme, through which whole classes are introduced to instrumental music-making. The Hanson Chalumeau project aims to:

1.Promote music making at an early stage and to equip pupils with sound foundations for future music making.

2.Provide an instrument which sounds good, is easy to play, is affordable and kid proof!

The chalumeau on which Denner started work was a single-reed instrument with a compass of nine notes, from the F below Middle C to the G above. It is believed , though, that these simple instruments were available in several keys. The Hanson Chalumeau has a similar range. but  in the key of C. There are no keys to press and the fingering is simple, so pupils can focus on learning the basics and making a beautiful sound, on an instrument that has a long tradition.

Being in the key of C, the Chalumeau combines easily with other instruments in the junior classroom: there are none of the complications of providing for a transposing instrument. It’s a great way to get a true clarinet sound in the junior ensemble without the ‘aggro’ – no broken springs, bent keys, sore thumbs or transposition perplexities! It may also prove attractive to disabled musicians unable to cope with the weight or complexity of the modern clarinet.

See: Hanson Music Chalumeau Project

New Accessible Instrument for Young Music-makers

This year was the first time since it began that I have not attended BETT, the UK’s big educational technology exhibition. I’ve been disappointed with it in recent years and thought, “I doubt I’ll miss anything”. Then, recently, I was sent information about an exciting new musical instrument, intended to enable any child to play music, which made it’s debut at the exhibition:

‘Skoog’ is a squashy cube. Technology within its soft tactile surface is linked to a computer. This converts the way Skoog is touched into musical sounds. The development project came to fruition largely as the result of reseach, led by Professor Nigel Osborne of the University of Edinburgh, in Scottish schools.  Nigel Osborne is also a professional composer, interested in all kinds of creative music-making and in improving access to music for disadvantaged groups.

The website describes the instrument thus:

“An expanding range of musical instrument sounds means that there’s sure to be something for everyone. Give a gentle squeeze on Skoog™ for a smooth swell of brass, or how about a subtle twist for a screeching over-blown flute? And with a different note on each side it’s a piece of cake to create chords and melodies.”

The Skoog has been commercially available from March 2010 and has received widespread interest from the education community.
A new company, Skoogmusic Ltd, has been spun out of the University to commercialise the instrument. See the website, www.skoogmusic.com

Functional Forums

I have long wanted to improve two-way communication with visitors to my sites and have been frustrated by the lack of feedback and by the very small amount of real communication that seems to take place online. That’s one reason why I set up this blog and I have been delighted to create new connections through it. I also wanted to further The Full Pitcher’s mission of helping those whose musical interests are not well-served in the, mainly commercially-focussed, music scene to locate the information and resources they require and to share their ideas.

I have been nervous of setting up the forums I wanted The Full Pitcher to provide because of the technical, financial and labour implications. I’m pleased to say that, after much thought and research, I have now found a, modestly-priced, hosted solution that seems to provide the features I require. I have set up my bulletin-board with several forums, matching the special interests identified by my visitors.

The forums will, of course, enable members to provide mutual support but I intend them also to be bulletin-boards in the traditional sense of a place where members can publicise their events and courses, etc. and where The Full Pitcher can post links to the specialist resources it makes available online. At present, forums are set up so that anyone can read them but only registered members of the board can post. Posts will be rigorously moderated, on a daily basis.

Forums Homepage
Class Music Teaching
Instrumental Teaching
Music & Disability
Family Music
Music Technology in Education

High-School Band:Involving A Pupil With Special Needs

One of the most rewarding of my recent online activities must be an exchange of emails with an American high-schooler.This wonderful child was looking for a way to share the joy she experienced as a member of her school band with one of the school’s special needs pupils. She had some excellent ideas of her own and sought advice as to whether she was on the right track. She explained that the challenge was to find a way to involve him in the band without detriment to the performance of this competetive and advanced ensemble. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to hear that the school had put my suggestions into effect, to the general delight of pupils and staff. I thought I’d share these ideas here, as they may be relevant to other schools:

“It really brightened my day to hear from a young musician who has given so much thought to sharing the wonderful gift of music!

Providing a suitable instrument for a disabled player is a very individual thing but I can make some suggestions that have proved useful in similar situations. As you have worked out, any electronic instrument could be used with headphones, so that the band’s performance is not disrupted. I believe, though, that a more truly inclusive solution is to feed the sound output into a small keyboard amp, the volume of which can be controlled by the conductor or by the special needs teacher/facilitator. It may not be the case with this young man, but the contribution of people with severe disabilities is often surprisingly musical and appropriate. Even if this boy’s performance leaves much to be desired, he could have the satisfaction of joining in ‘live’ when the band’s going at ‘full throttle’ and could be easily silenced when his contribution is inappropriate. This would be educational for everyone. :>)

An electronic keyboard is an extremely versatile bit of kit for a lifeskills program and, if one is available, it could be used in the manner suggested. For the more physical experience that you are exploring for your friend, Yamaha drum pads are worth considering. Higher specification sets, like the DD35 and the DD55, are touch-sensitive and have a hand-percussion mode. The DD55 has two foot-switch inputs built in. Any kind of switch can be attached. This could be useful if the conductor wanted, for instance, for the pupil to use a single sound and he was unable to confine himself to one pad.  A MIDI facility makes it possible to attach a switch box, enabling several switch-users to play a variety of percussion ‘instruments’ through the drum machine.

Thank you for exploring this issue. I hope my reply will be useful to you and that you will let me know how you get on. Do get back to me if you have any further questions.

Happy music-making, everyone!

Best wishes,

The True Story of a Magic Flute

This is a happy story about the kind of magic that can happen when the worldwide web is used in the way the early developers envisaged – a great antidote to all those poisons injected into the system by spammers, hackers and crooks! It is a story of love, creativity, generosity and determination facilitated by the internet.

A little over a year ago, Ruud van der Wel, a musician and therapist from Holland, set up a website, “mybreathmymusic.com” to showcase the music made by disabled children at the rehabilitation centre in which he was working, to create a dialogue with like-minded musicians and to attract sponsorship to develop the centre’s music resources.

One of the first people to contact Ruud online was David Whalen, a quadriplegic living in New York. David was looking for a way to play a wind controller that didn’t involve finger movements. Working together by means of email, internet phone and e-conferencing, they drew up ideas for a simple slide-flute that would change pitch with head movements.

Their search for a developer led them to Brian Dillon of Unique Perspectives, an imaginative Irish firm, manufacturing technological aids for disabled people and providing a prototyping design service. Now there were three ‘dreamers’ in three different lands inspiring and encouraging one another and, in no time at all, Brian had created an instrument that went beyond their dreams!

It certainly added ‘magic’ to my Christmas, 2006, when Karin wished me a “Merry Christmas!” with her video of “Jingle Bells” performed on the new instrument! You can watch this and lots of other clips of Ruud’s young musicians in action on The Magic Flute User Pages. For full details of the instrument , see The Magic Flute Homepage.

The Magic Flute goes on sale this year and will, no doubt, be the magic password opening the door to music for many would-be instrumentalists. Today, my love-hate relationship with technology is in love mode!