Freshmen Recital

On November 22, I had my first recital as a college student this semester, and I performed Milhaud’s Scaramouche from memory. Very special thanks to my professor John Nichol for being my accompanist.

Equipment: Should you Buy a Professional Instrument?

An “instrument” is a tool, and that applies to musical instruments. What I’ve been taught and come to realize is that a musical instrument is a tool to send a message in the form of sound. Other people, like construction workers, artists, and engineers, require “top of the line” equipment in order to make a high quality product.

Does the same principle apply to musical instruments? Kind of.

As most people know, instruments generally come in three levels: beginner (or student), intermediate, and professional. I am a saxophone player, so many of the examples I will use will deal with saxophones, but the ideas are the same for all instruments.

I recently read a post online that beginner level instruments may be considered “budget” instruments. They provide a potentially decent instrument for a relatively low cost, depending on the manufacturer. Many people think that they need a pro instrument to sound good, but that is not true. In fact, a well constructed beginner instrument should sound almost as good as a professional level instrument.

Key phrase: well constructed. Assuming all of the mechanics of the instrument are of good quality, a student horn should sound almost as good as a professional horn to the average listener.

My advice to people with a beginner horn thinking about upgrading: buy a high quality mouthpiece and send your horn into the shop to get it adjusted and fine-tuned. This will be a lot less expensive than buying an entirely different instrument. For classical saxophone players, two of the best mouthpieces are Selmer C* and Vandoren Optimum. I own both of these and they are very good. I played the C* for 3 years in high school, and it served me well. After high school, before I started college, I got a Vandoren Optimum mouthpiece, and I prefer it to the C*. But that is just me – if you’re in the market for a new mouthpiece try both of these (maybe more) and pick out which one suits you best. Anatomically, we are all different, so the different dimensions and shape of mouthpieces will affect our sound differently. If a professional takes their mouthpiece and reed and slaps it onto a student level horn, they will sound almost as good (assuming the horn is in good shape).

More on mouthpieces: the C*s are generally more expensive, costing around $150-180. The Optimums are slightly cheaper, around $110-120. Professional mouthpieces are made out of hard rubber, which is more durable than the plastic that cheap mouthpieces are made out of. If a cheap plastic mouthpiece is dropped on a hard surface, it will likely break. This has happened to me and my friends before in high school marching band. Rubber mouthpieces are tougher, but they still might chip if dropped. If my Optimum fell and broke, I would probably cry.

The reason to send your horn into the shop is mostly to fix leaky pads. A leaky pad does not completely cover the tone hole, and it causes one or more notes to be out of tune and unresponsive. This problem is very common and is often present in instruments bought from third party sellers (not a music store, as they usually inspect their instruments before they sell them). To fix a leaky pad, the technician will bend the key, float the pad (which is melting the glue attaching it to they key and moving it around), or replace the pad. Pads can become leaky due to physical trauma, absorbing too much liquid (such as playing outside in the rain during marching band), or old age.

Intermediate instruments are constructed better than their student level counterparts, and they may exhibit some features found on professional instruments. The intonation is usually better and the instrument may be made out of higher quality material. They are usually more visually appealing, too. The price is between the beginner and professional levels, but sometimes leaning closer to the professional instruments. In that case, depending on your needs and level of playing, it may be best to just purchase a pro horn.

Professional horns are made out of the highest quality materials, have the best intonation, play the best, sound the best, are the most durable, and the prettiest. Some pro instruments are mostly or entirely hand-made. Be prepared to drop a lot of money for a new professional instrument. Used instruments at this level are not as common as used beginner horns because a player who is willing to buy a pro horn will use it forever or want to keep it.

I have owned saxophones of these three levels. My first alto was a Vito student model, my intermediate saxophone was a Yamaha 575 Allegro, and my professional instruments are Yamaha 875EX alto saxophone and a Yamaha 675 soprano saxophone. I am very much a fan of Yamaha saxophones.

When purchasing any saxophone, it is recommended sticking to the “big four” manufacturers: Selmer, Yamaha, Yanisigawa, or Keilwerth. At the college level and professional level, probably ninety percent of saxophone players will use either Selmer or Yamaha.

Cost-wise, a professional alto saxophone will cost between $4000-6000. Selmer saxophones are the most expensive, but many players believe the extra cost is worth it for a true high quality horn. Yamaha is the only manufacturer to produce the entire spectrum of beginner through professional saxophones.

So, should you buy a professional instrument? Is the extra cost worth it for an amazing instrument?

For most people, the answer is no. For the average high school band student, they will not benefit from a professional horn. An intermediate horn will likely be more than sufficient for almost every high school musician. However, for college level music students and professionals I believe is it important to have a professional horn.

Like I said earlier, the most cost-effective thing you can buy for your instrument is a high quality mouthpiece and a tune-up.

For saxophones and clarinets – how much does a good ligature help? In my opinion, a good ligature affects the feel more than the tone of the instrument. The material of the ligature can affect the feel, such as a metal ligature or a leather ligature. I played on an Rovner inverted leather ligature for years and it feels more muted than the metal ligature I have now. For saxophone, good ligatures include Vandoren Optimum, Vandoren M/O, Rovner, Rico Olegature (jazz), and Francois Louis (jazz).

One other point of discussion: how does the plating of an instrument affect the sound?

High level instruments will likely come in a variety of colors and finishes. Most gold colored instruments do not have gold in them – the lacquer is just gold colored. Black lacquer is also common, and the sound is nearly identical to gold lacquer. Some instruments are silver, which means they are likely silver plated. This boosts the price of the horn, and it may affect the sound, sounding a bit brighter to some listeners. Some instruments (especially jazz instruments) may have no lacquer, just bare brass. This sounds the brightest to many listeners, and brightness is a desirable sound quality when playing jazz. Finally, we have the gold plated finish. True gold plated instruments are not very common anymore because it is incredibly expensive to gold plate a horn. On saxophones, prepare to spend an additional ten thousand dollars or more to buy a gold plated horn. The gold plating makes instruments sound darker and more muted. However, they do not sound $10,000 better than gold lacquered instruments.

Some ligature manufacturers (ahem, Vandoren) claim that a gold plated ligature makes you sound better. I think this is ridiculous. Gold plated ligatures are about twice as expensive as normal ligatures, and I am not convinced that gold plated ligatures do anything but cost more.

In conclusion – a high quality instrument is worthwhile for some people, but a good mouthpiece and tune-up is more cost-effective for the player with a beginner horn. They should start there. However, the best way to be better is to practice efficiently.

If you are interested in my saxophone setup, read more about it here.

Creating a Personal Score Style in Finale With Templates

Ever since I got Finale, it changed the process in which I write music. I used to use Cakewalk’s piano roll view to do all the work, but now I do what ‘real’ composers do, and work almost exclusively at a notation program. So I thought I would do my own little tutorial. This may be a lengthy post.

When you set up a score in Finale, the style (such as fonts, positioning, scaling, ect) is very bland – at least to me. It looks like this.

    Looks very plain to me.A lot of composers have configured Finale to set up their own style. They use different fonts, sizes, and whatever to make their score pop out. You may think that none of this matters. If so, stop reading and do something else.In order to set up your own template, you need to know which fonts you want for each type of text. I will tell you the fonts I like, as well as some other suggestions.

  Step 1 – Basic Layout

Set up your score for the type of ensemble you want to write a template for. It will look default right now, but we’re going to change that.

Tip: when you want to change the title, arranger or subtitle, don’t just click on that text and change it. Go to Window > Score Manager > File Info. Changing these fields will automatically set up text inserts, making things much easier later.

When setting up a large ensemble score, I like to make things a little more tight on the first page. Also, I don’t often use the subtitle, so delete that if you want. Click and drag the part name and composer texts to be even with the title. If you want to be really precise, right click the composer or score text and hit Edit Frame Attributes. Change the positioning V (vertical) value to a number that’s the same for all three texts at the top. You should get something looking like this.

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“Dark Intensity”

I wrote a short marching band piece. I got really fired up over it, and I finished it in just 2 days. I absolutely love marching band. There are snotty composers out there who only compose for orchestra and despise marching band music. Well, good luck getting orchestras to play something from a living composer.

I really enjoyed writing that. Maybe I’ll do some more someday…

I also did the video for Being Serene which should of happened a year ago.


My Toys


I thought that I would share what types of instruments, software, and other equipment I use for music.


Yamaha 575 “Allegro” alto saxophone – It is technically an intermediate-advanced instrument, but it plays just as well as a Custom EX does, and it costs about 500 – $1,000 dollars less.

  • I use the S80 Selmer C* mouthpiece with a Rovner rubber inverted ligature.
  • For my reeds, I use the traditional Vandoren Blue Box reeds, strength 3.
    Yamaha 675 soprano saxophone – This is a professional soprano saxophone. It looks beautiful and sounds amazing.Casio CTK-4200 electronic keyboard – This keyboard sits on my desk and serves as a reference for composing. Whenever I need to pluck out ideas, I turn my office chair to the left and play my keyboard. It does not have all 88 keys, but it does have 60 of them. It has 600 instrument patches and can record and sample patches on its own. It has midi connectivity capabilities.

My alto saxophone

My soprano saxophone

My midi keyboard
Software     Finale 2012My notation software. Finale is very powerful. Coupled with the Garritan library and Human Playback, it can make some very pleasing sounds as well.Home Studio (Cakewalk) – This is a sequencer that I have used for a long time. Currently, I am trying to wean myself off of it and use solely Finale for composing.MuseScore – This is a notation program I used to use before I got Finale. The best thing about MuseScore is that it is free, so if you aren’t willing to shell out $600 for Finale, this is the best alternative.


An example of Finale, showing a current project of mine.

My Article

Originally posted 4/18/14

I recently had an article written about me. The article talks about my acceptance into the Western Michigan University All-Star band, as well as my compositions. I’ll copy the article onto this blog.

Visit the article here.

Kent City Musician Earns First Chair Spot in Western Michigan University Concert


Parker Fritz pulls out his alto saxophone and begins to play a jazzy melody, made up on the spot.The Kent City High School junior’s exceptional talent with the instrument and songwriting has
led him to become a standout musician on the school band and in performances across the state, said music director Jonathan Schnicke. He recently played first chair in the 46th annual Spring Conference on Wind and Percussion Music at Western Michigan University and earned a first division rating for his solo at the State Solo Ensemble Festival at Grandville High School.He was one of 120 Michigan high school students selected to join guest classical music composer John Mackey for the concert, during which they played Mackey’s song “Strange Humors.”

Parker, a long time fan of Mackey’s, said he was thrilled to be named first chair, a very competitive post.

His songwriting has also caught on with his classmates. Fellow band students recently performed his piece, “Spontaneous Moods for Trombone and Piano,” at the State Solo Ensemble.

“I love doing honors bands and music camps,” said Parker, who hopes to major in music  education in college and become a band director. He is the son of Ron and Kerry Fritz.

He began playing the saxophone is sixth grade and has attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. He also plays piano.

“I’m very impressed with his grasp of music and composition style,” said Schnicke. “It’s exciting to see how he continues to develop.”

2014 Spring Conference

Originally posted on 4/18/14

Every year at Western Michigan University, the music program hosts a large music conference. The conference lasts all day and includes performances from guest high school bands, faculty ensembles, and an honors band. There is also a prominent guest composer present each year. In the past, composers such as Ticheli, Whitacre, Holsinger and Hazo have been the guest composer. This year it was my favorite modern composer John Mackey.

When I first heard about it, I was so excited to go, mostly because John Mackey would be there. The university symphonic band was going to play one of Mackey’s newest works, The Frozen Cathedral. No way was I going to pass up an opportunity to play in a great honors band and meet Mackey.

I sent in an audition CD. I played the first movement from Lunde’s saxophone sonata. It is a beautiful piece, but it is not well known. It was composed during the same time period as the famous saxophone sonata by Creston, and so it was neglected because the Creston was thought to be better. Anyway, I was lucky enough to get first chair!


Me and John Mackey shortly before the concert.
    In between honors bands rehearsals, guest high school bands performed. Several of Mackey’s pieces were played. The pieces I heard were (Redacted), Night on Fire, and The Ringmaster’s March.The final concert was the one I was looking foward to. The WMU Symphonic Band played The Frozen Cathedral, and it was beautiful. I think I have a new favorite band piece. After intermission, the honors band played (we were called the John Mackey All-Star Band). We played a Filmore march and then Mackey’s Strange Humors.In Strange Humors, I was asked to play soprano saxophone because I was first chair. I accepted and really enjoyed my part. It was interesting bouncing back and forth between soprano and alto sax. It was a pain to carry around both cases and a garment bag

Best Mackey quote of the night: “You guys are really good, damn.”

Dr. Boerma, WMU’s director of bands, conducted the final concert of the evening.

During the concert, Dr, Boerma asked the first chair players to stand and be recognized.

It was an amazing day. I got home at about 11:30 and I had to get up early the next day for Quiz Bowl state championships. Good times.

Special thanks to my mother and my band director for taking these photos.