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Chamber Musician Accessories

by Parker Nelson


In the process of transitioning from dedicated student to working professional, I’ve come across some companies and products that have vastly improved my practice, performance, and overall musical lifestyle. Due to the niche career path we’ve chosen, it can often be difficult to find products specifically designed for the working musician, but they do exist and many of them are quite useful. With the help of some of my Black Moon Trio colleagues and friends, I’ve compiled a short list of accessories that we use on a near day-to-day basis. We’ll also be updating this post as we come across new things!


This post has not been sponsored by any of the companies or products listed below and the thoughts and opinions are our own, based solely on our experience.

 

Clothing:

I’m starting off this list with Coregami not only because I think they produce incredible concert wear, but because it is the only clothing company (that I’m aware of) that specifically addresses the needs of musicians. The formal wear that musicians are often required to wear can be stuffy and burdensome and more about look than comfort. Coregami set out design garments with ergonomics in mind and uses technical fabrics that support a range of environments. They allow a great range of movement with stretch fabric, wick moisture away from your body to keep you cool and dry under hot stage lights, and on top of that, are machine washable - no more trips to the dry cleaners. Think of these shirts as Under Armour for the stage and they are comfortable enough that you can wear them from your 3pm dress rehearsal until you get back from the afterparty. I can’t recommend these shirts highly enough and the larger price tag is definitely worth the investment.


Bluffworks I only became aware of Bluffworks within the past year or so but I certainly wish someone would have told me about them sooner. Starting out with just trying to make the perfect pair of dress pants, the company now makes all types of clothing including suits for all genders. Bluffworks makes their dress clothing wrinkle resistant, moisture wicking, and again, machine washable. That’s right, a suit that you can put in the washing machine. I promise I don’t have a vendetta against the dry cleaning industry, but I think most of us either know someone (or, let’s face it, are someone) who has decided to wait “one more gig” before taking our concert wear to be cleaned - a trend that desperately needs to end. Bluffworks also work great for those gigs where you need to travel to and from the performance. Too hot? Stuff the jacket in your backpack or case without the worry of it coming out a wrinkled mess. Need to carry a lot of extra things to the gig? Check out the numerous pockets on both the pants and suit jackets. And to quote the website, “women should have functioning pockets just as much as men do.” The price tag is pretty hefty here as well, but you won’t need another suit once you invest in this one.


 

Tech:

iPad Pro 12.9’’ If you haven’t already joined the tablet sheet music crowd, there is literally no time like the present. I’ve heard all of the concerns from those who still swear by paper parts, so let me address the positives and negatives to making the switch:

Positives:

  • You carry your entire music library with you, all of the time

  • Donate your clothespins, no more sheet music getting blown off stands by wind, fans or A/C

  • New levels of organization: create setlists for your gigs and keep the concert order together. Also, you can easily edit and color code the markings in your music and keep those markings in-between performances.

Negatives:

  • Glare from bright lights and sunshine can become an issue

  • Battery charge can last a long time, but not forever. Remember to charge your tablet so that your music doesn’t shut off in the middle of a performance.

  • Always make sure that your tablet is up to date and has recently been shut off/turned on again just to avoid any possibility of freezing


If you’re ready to purchase a tablet for music, there really is no better option than Apple’s iPad Pro. Make sure to get the 12.9 inch version to get the largest screen which is easiest to read. When it comes to storage, be honest about what you’ll use it for. If you only plan on reading music, PDF files are usually quite small and won’t require a lot of space. If you plan to load on lots of music and movies for those long plane trips, maybe invest in a little more storage space.


From Jeremy: This can be a vital add-on for situations where you need to set your iPad in a place where the piano’s music rack will not allow. Especially in cases of contemporary music, where you need access to the strings, the case supports either portrait or landscape orientations for those tricky landscape scores.


Not necessary to unlock the full functionality of the iPad but the Apple Pencil is the only way to go if you prefer using a stylus for accuracy and comfort.


In order to turn your pages without needing to put your instrument down and touch the screen, you’ll need a bluetooth pedal to control with your feet. AirTurn has been the only company I can recommend for these products - not only do these pedals last a very long time (especially considering they’re literally getting stomped on), but their customer service has been historically fabulous for everyone in our ensemble. The springs in these pedals do wear down over time and AirTurn has been great about getting these pedals replaced. Do note that the DUO is our favorite model and as much as we love AirTurn, please DO NOT purchase the PEDpro as it has poor performance on carpet and other softer surfaces.


Forget interfaces, DAWs, and cables, this portable mic from Shure is just a plug away from connecting to your phone and in tandem with the MOTIV app, you can capture professional quality audio wherever you happen to be.


 

Apps:

Hands down, the most useful music app I own. The interface helps you to find what you’re looking for, organize, and edit your music with ease. Super fast load times (nearly nonexistent) and while there is a store for downloading music, ForScore also lets you upload whatever PDF you’d like. I use this app for everything I play, no joke. If you’re on a tablet and you’re not using ForScore, stop reading and go download it now! The only downside is you might be scanning your hard copies for a few hundred hours to get everything you own in PDF format, but once it's done, it's a resource like no other.


In the sea of metronome apps, this happens to be my favorite. For those that are familiar with the Dr. Beat (DB-90) metronome made by Korg, this app will be immediately recognizable. With easy options for subdivision and mute buttons to control up to 13 sounds, creating your own sound-set with your own sounds, creating your own patterns (sequences), creating chord progressions, switching to swing feel and halftime feels, tapping out tempos, saving any and all settings, this is a very powerful app that will become a staple of your practice session.


When an oboe player recommends a tuning app, you listen. Tunable has a super simple interface with an adjustable sensitivity based on your skill level (from beginner to advanced). Tunable also has a visual history of your intonation over time which can help you learn to hear what “in tune” sounds and feels like. While there is also a drone function, I have a more preferred tool for this below in the Tuning CD.


This app is a must if you’re using the MV88+ microphone listed above. The MOTIV app offers recording, monitoring, and control for all of the mobile microphones that Shure makes. Includes metering, equalization, and compression, wind noise reduction, improved UI, and a new editor. This is basically a mixer for your MV88+ and your settings will be saved in the app so that the next time you plug in the mic, you won’t need to set levels again and again.


 

Stands:

The Jazz Stand is really unique in its portability and functionality. It’s able to fold completely flat in three moves and doesn’t have any detachable parts, screws, or knobs to deal with. Its unique shape is also great for those of us using tablets and Bluetooth foot pedals as the feet of the stand actually create a space for the pedals to go. Super durable and great customer service to boot!


Other recommendations are the Peak SMS-20 and the Manhasset Voyager with Stand Outs if you need some extra space. We like to use Stand Outs for putting up visual aids in a lot of our education programs.


 

General Accessories/Practice Aids:

For the instances when you work off paper parts, having a good pencil is a must. Marketed specifically for artists and musicians, Blackwing pencils have a soft and smooth Japanese graphite core that are great for soft, dark lines without excessive sharpening. If you’re like me and keep your pencil attached to your instrument, the Point Guards are also good to keep the lead from breaking on accident. I’ve also found that they make good impromptu batons in a pinch.


No doubt a product of my teacher from undergrad, I still use the Tuning CD as my go to intonation tool. Tuners are nice but they turn intonation into a visual exercise rather than an auditory one. While a lot of tuners (and tuning apps) have a drone on them, the issue becomes the amount of overtones present. For example, Tunable’s drone is a simple sine wave that doesn’t have the same fullness as those found on the Tuning CD.


Ear Plugs

I’m not someone who uses earplugs with any sort of regularity. For that reason, I asked Fifth House Ensemble founding cellist, Herine Koschak, who says, “I haven't needed ear plugs in a long time, but I did really like the Etymotic ETY High Fidelity Ear Plugs and they're great if you can't afford custom earplugs (or won't use often enough to justify)”


Hey, did you know that viruses are a thing? Do all of us a favor and position yourself to stay safe and healthy wherever you happen to be by carrying some hand sanitizer with you.


 

Bags:

Tom Bihn has been making bags out of Seattle, Washington for nearly 3 decades. The fabric and zippers are super sturdy and their customer service is fantastic. I actually have two different sized bags, depending on what I need to carry with me. The larger bag I use is the Cadet, which easily carries my 13’’ Macbook Pro, my iPad, and AirTurn DUO. I like the messenger bag style so that I can wear this and my Marcus Bonna horn case at the same time. Tom Bihn also makes things like the Snake Charmer or Freudian Slip to easily organize cords and other items and move them from bag to bag easily.


In addition to the essentials, here are some other things I keep in this bag for day to day use:

  • Belkin Mini Power Strip has proven especially useful in rehearsal spaces and hotels when there are limited outlets.

  • Whether it's to blast the sound of the metronome or drone over a 10 piece ensemble, or to jam out on a break, this Anker Soundcore 2 Portable Bluetooth Speaker is small and does the trick!

  • Going back to the tablet discussion, having a charge is always important. If you find yourself running a little low on juice, the Anker External Power Bank is a great way to keep your device running until the end of the rehearsal.

  • Gigs and rehearsals can be long and if you are tacet for multiple movements in a row like the horns are, it doesn’t hurt to have a phone charger handy.

  • If you wear contacts like me, make sure you carry an extra pair in your case as a precaution. All these other accessories aren’t any good if you can’t even see the music you’re supposed to play.

  • Is that horn player blasting those marcato accents just a little too close to your head? Never a bad idea to keep some painkillers in your case. I love these small pill fobs and refill as necessary.

  • Couldn’t hurt to have a bit of cash in your case for emergencies or just to pay for the drinks after the concert. $20 is usually a safe bet, just don’t forget to replace it if you use it!

 

Horn Accessories:


Whether it be in the car on the way to rehearsal or not having the ability to take your instrument on a family day trip, if you find yourself doing a lot of mouthpiece work away from your instrument, this mouthpiece case is great for keeping your mouthpiece protected.


Another accessory for practicing away from your instrument is this practice pipe made by Wes Hatch. Essentially a short leadpipe with different holes for increasing or decreasing resistance, this short pipe gives more resonance and range than the mouthpiece alone.


One of the harshest realities once leaving school was that I no longer had regular access to soundproof practice spaces. Realizing that I also didn’t want to anger all of my neighbors, this practice mute was a big part of my practice. This mute is great because it’s durable plastic and can be taken apart for easy packing when you are on the road or in a hotel. Expect increased resistance on your embouchure from any practice mute but this one is on the lighter side for sure.


On the list of things the pandemic has permanently changed: brass players getting away with dumping water on the floor is absolutely a thing of the past. My friend and colleague, Robin Schultze, has created a wonderful solution in the Spit Catcher. This product is super absorbent, self packing, and most importantly, antimicrobial with the use of SILVADUR 930 Flex fabric that inhibits odor.


For those instances when I do have paper parts, it's nice to know that I always have a pencil with me because it's attached to my instrument. I can’t think of any horn player that I know who doesn’t have one of these.

A new addition: check out Brass Witch magnetic pencil clips. I started using these when I picked one up after a performance at the International Horn Symposium this summer. Sometimes pencil clips can vibrate and make you think you have a broken brace, but this clever magnetic system has been a great solution. Just loop the leather strap around 1 or 2 tubes (depending on the size you buy) and the pencil magnet does the rest!


 

Below are some recommendations from the other members of Black Moon Trio without editorial remarks. If you're a violinist or pianist looking for something special, give these a try!


Violin Accessories:

Rosin:

Humidifiers:

Cases:

Mutes:

Strings:

  • Evah Pirazzi G string

  • Peter Infeld PI A & D strings

  • Hill E string

 

Piano Accessories:

Keep an eye out for a dedicated post about specialized pianist extended technique tools and keyboard and gear options from Jeremy soon!


A useful thing to keep on hand, should you ever find yourself needing to mark specific strings on an unfamiliar piano. These kinds of stickers will not leave residue, and fit well on either the dampers, the frame, or bridge of the piano.



 

If you have any questions on any of the above recommendations, be sure to check out the links provided. Have something you love that you’re not seeing on this list? Be sure to let us know at info@blackmoontrio.com.

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