What Should My Students Play? Thoughts from an Oklahoma VRA

with Justin Pierce

Date Posted: January 06, 2017

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Justin Pierce is Assistant Professor of Instrumental Music at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he teaches saxophone, clarinet, and jazz studies courses. This year, he will complete a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of North Texas, where he also earned a Master of Music in Jazz Studies. While at UNT, he served as lead alto saxophone in the One O'Clock and Two O'Clock Lab Bands. As a freelance woodwind performer, Justin has performed with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Doc Severinsen, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The Temptations, The O'Jays, and Wayne Newton.

Tell us about your studio/program.

Justin Pierce: At OBU, I teach the saxophone and clarinet studios, improvisation lessons, direct the big band, and lead a touring ensemble called 519 Collective, a jazz-fusion ensemble (think Snarky Puppy, Yellowjackets, etc.). Curently, my private students are preparing for Concerto-Aria, an annual competition where they have the opportunity to perform a major work with a professional orchestra at OBU in the Spring. Our big band and combo will record soon to submit for the JEN 2018 Conference in Dallas.

What are your thoughts on equipment?

JP: I believe quality equipment makes a tremendous impact on the student's long-term success. For instance, a 6th grade student who came to me a few years ago started on a reed a half-strength too hard. He was discouraged and ready to quit band, until we switched him to a half-strength softer reed. Response and tone were vastly improved and he was encouraged to see that a good sound was possible with equipment that matched the player. A reed can make a $5000 instrument feel either stuffy and unresponsive, or brilliant and dynamic. Trying a few different mouthpieces is great for advancing players to check it articulation, tone, response, or intonation may be improved. I encourage my students to bring their horn to the shop at least every 3 months, to keep it in top playing shape.

"The bottom line is if a student has had the opportunity to select the best equipment, they can focus on making beautiful music with ease." - Justin Pierce

What equipment do you recommend to your students?

JP: For clarinetists, I am a fan of the M13 Lyre and M30 mouthpieces, depending on the performer. The new V21s pair quite well with the M30. For classical saxophone, the AL3 provides a quick response and even, dark sound throughout the registers. Blue box or V21 3 to 3.5s are my favorites here. For jazz saxophone, the V16 mouthpieces are consistent and are a great blend of projection and control. The V16 and Java Red in a 2.5 or 3 strength are my favorites here.

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