COMPREHENSIVE CLARINET & SAXOPHONE INSTRUCTION
Jazz harmony, transcription and jazz improvisation
Scales, etudes and performance oriented pieces like Sonatas and Concertos
Composition, ear training, recording techniques, ensemble playing and intonation
Preparation for the next level of advanced musical coursework
Music is a life long pursuit, and should be fun and gratifying. My goal is to help each student find their own voice, provide them with all the tools to teach themselves at some point in the future, and to help them learn to express themselves by developing their own musical identity.
In addition to my undergraduate work at San Francisco State and my graduate work at the Mannes College of Music on clarinet, I was fortunate to study with saxophonists Joe Henderson and Warne Marsh, two of the most unique improvisers in jazz history. Now, twenty five years later, I can clearly see their influence in my teaching, and I’m grateful not only for their music but for what they stood for, and how they continue to influence my thinking about life and music.
Using a variety of resources I try to meet each student at the intersection of their individual interests and my assessment of their needs. The first lesson is typically an evaluation where I run the student through a variety of diagnostic exercises to determine their skill level, and to gain an understanding of their interests and motivation. From there I devise a specific course of study and work with the student to attain short, intermediate and long term goals.
I spent 6 years at the Community School for Music and Arts in Mountain View, CA in the mid 1990’s teaching privately, and during that time also taught clarinet and saxophone for 5 years at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach CA. Around 2000 I began teaching at West Valley Music, the first clarinet and saxophone instructor hired there, and I continue teaching there to this day. I also currently coach saxophone and clarinet at Aragon High School in San Mateo, teach clarinet and saxophone at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, and do frequent woodwind masterclasses at Blach School in Los Altos.
“Bay Area resident and jazz/classical clarinetist, composer and arranger Mark Sowlakis’ new album Sinfonetta is a rich amalgam of two genres that have not always found common ground in the past–jazz and classical music. Because Sowlakis is so thoroughly trained in both, the project comes off almost without a hitch. Playing with some of New York’s best, if somewhat under recorded musicians, including fellow clarinetist Perry Robinson, pianist Frank Kimbrough, and George and Ed Schuller (bass and drums respectively), Sinfonetta’s strongest tracks are George Gershwin’s Second Prelude and classical composer Erik Satie’s well known Gymnopedie. Along with his solo take on Prelude from Suite 1 for Unaccompanied Cello, Sowlakis’ rich, full and flawless tone on clarinet and bass clarinet are striking. Robinson, serving as a special guest, meshes well with the leader. Especially noteworthy are the perfect piano stylings of Jay Jackson on Second Prelude and Kimbrough on Bill Evans’ Time Remembered. The gentle, unobtrusive accompaniment of brothers Ed and George Schuller add to the albums sense of enchantment. Sinfonetta is a self-confident and joyful affair, certainly deserving wider attention and significant radio airplay.”
All About Jazz/Los Angeles issue • December 2005
Reviewed by Ollie Bivins • Sinfonetta/PWMuProd
The first lesson is typically an evaluation where I run the student through a variety of diagnostic exercises to determine their skill level, and to gain an understanding of their interests and motivation. From there I devise a specific course of study and work with the student to attain short, intermediate and long term goals. I have specific general course work for beginning, intermediate and advance students, and I have a large collection of material available that I have personally catalogued including solo transcriptions and exercises culled from my work with various people over the years. I integrate much of this material for each individual student, and I emphasize and demonstrate playing along with recordings, by ear as much as possible, particularly for jazz improvisers.
First Lesson/Beginner – Starting with the mouthpiece/reed and barrel we work on blowing and embouchure development. Good habits are stressed. Generally for kids any of the basic band method books work just fine. We start with whole notes, and we tap a toe or heel to develop rhythmic coordination. We proceed with simple melodies and gradually add in the various elements like sharp and flats, key signatures and time signatures.
The First Lesson for someone who already plays clarinet is usually a diagnostic lesson where I try to determine each student’s strengths and weaknesses. I carefully observe a players habits and determine where they fall into the three levels I define as Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced. I find it best to use a chromatic scale, and I utilize a routine that gradually progresses while adding in various rhythmic and articulation elements. I also provide an Intermediate Scale Routine PDF for Intermediate level players and also start you on some basic etudes. I also have play along examples that I have made of a lot of my teaching material, high quality recordings done in a professional studio. I often have students wear headphones and play along with these on my lap top. I usually prescribe a course of study after the first lesson based on my sense of where each student is at musically at that point.
The same protocol is followed when I teach saxophone. The biggest difference is the use of jazz etudes early on; once students are a ways into their studies with me, approximately a freshman or sophomore in high school, I will get them started listening to jazz with the thought of introducing them to jazz improvisation. On both instruments the goals are a good sound, a developing technical foundation, a solid rhythmic understanding and the ability to perceive rhythm accurately. I also use duets with students to develop ensemble skills once they have developed some degree of musical independence. I also make it clear what I expect in terms of practice time and commitment. The minimum is usually twenty minutes a day four times a week. And no, you can never practice enough……
24 hour cancellation is required to avoid a $25 cancellation charge. Credits are granted for sickness; please do not send students to lessons that have obvious cold or flu symptoms. Payments is required for regular lesson time slots at the store at the beginning of each month, due on the first lesson of the month. I accept PayPal and Venmo as well as checks or cash.
Preferred lesson time is given to students that come weekly and demonstrate good preparation, good attitude, attention to all details and promptness. If you arrive late for a lesson, you will only receive the remainder of the lesson time that day provided you are no longer than 15 minutes late. Arrival after 15 minutes is considered a No-Show and the lesson is terminated at full value.
If I need to cancel a teaching day due to sickness, or to fulfill any professional musical obligation, a credit for any missed lesson will be extended. That credit will be good for a a period of 90 days. In all cases I will do my absolute best to not miss days and will make good on missed lessons.
Ask me if your equipment, reeds, mouthpiece and instrument, are appropriate for your skill level. I have inexpensive yet effective suggestions to get the most out of my work with the students, and having the right tools is a big part of the equation. Generally a commitment to practicing would be half an hour a day for middle school students and forty five minutes to an hour a day, or more, for high school students. Please do not purchase any equipment without discussing that with me first. ALWAYS take advantage of any performance opportunities like churches, school, and various community activities, to gain experience performing.
What can I say, Alex is one of my favorite people on the planet. He came to me as a sophomore in high school. What I dug about him early on was he was at my old high school, Harbor High, in Santa Cruz. That, and he’s about the smartest person I’ve ever met. To call the very shy and modest Alex brilliant is not overstating anything. When he got close to deciding on college he asked me what I thought he should do. I told him if I had it to do over again I’d go to USC, and double major in music and something else. He asked me if I thought he was good enough to cut it at SC. I said you won’t know until you try. Four years or so later he graduated with two degrees, one in Jazz Studies and another degree intended to further his goal of getting into medical school. His senior recital, which I attended and played a little on, consisted mostly of his original compositions. He’s now an amazing saxophonist and going to medical school. His mom remarked to me at his senior recital, “Music was only supposed to be a hobby!” I like to say this, you can’t teach that kind of talent, it just develops until it can create and express itself. Bravo Alex…..
Jesse was a tiny little kid when he came to me in Santa Cruz years ago for lessons. He went on to star in the San Francisco Jazz All Star Band and earned a full scholarship to The Berkelee College of Music in Boston. A great composer at an early age, what a talent.
Matt currently is at The Berklee School of Music in Boston, part of their prestigious Global Jazz Studies Ensemble. He is a scholarship recipient there and on the fast track to stardom as a clarinetist and soon to be monster bass clarinetist.
Trev earned a scholarship to Berklee after I worked with him for a couple of years at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.
Audun achieved first chair CA All State Symphonic Band on alto saxophone with a recording I engineered in 2011, and was selected again to All State in 2012 on a recording we made together. He now lives in San Francisco and works for a high technology start up company.
I get a lot of questions about Clarinet and Saxophone Care, Maintenance and Repair. There are a lot of contradictory theories and answers ...22 February, 2017No comment