Coming soon to this page, musings from the mistress, encompassing topics not already addressed in the FAQ page
I decided to start this page as an extension to the Frequently Asked Questions page, to delve more fully into clarinet and music issues. Many of the veiws on this page will be more philosophical than technical, hence the title 'musings'.
One of the most common questions I am asked is 'how do you play this or that piece so fast, or how do you get a good staccato'. You must apply the lessons learned from life to your clarinet playing, as the two are not dissimilar. Just as you cannot run before you can crawl, it also follows that, barring that you may be a musical genius, you will not be able to play a difficult study or piece up to speed immediately. What you don't see in the etudes and other videos I make are the hundreds of hours I put in taking a piece from a slow speed to a fast speed over a period of weeks and months. Over the last couple of months I have opened up my practice sessions to the youtube public, recording every minute of every practice session, so that you can see a record of how I approach each piece. At request, I have now started annotating my practice sessions to include what pieces I am practising at the time.
I'm hoping in time that my YouTube channel will be a beacon of light teaching wise, if the right person discovers it... Well, it worked for that Bieber kid...
The Benefits of a good warmup
In speaking to friends who no longer study, and who don't have enough time to practice to keep up to the standard of their student days, I have one hyphenated word for you - warm-up. You cannot discount how much of your student technique you can maintain if you only practice your warm-up once a day. I have a warm-up that can be as little as 30 minutes, and as much as one or two hours.
For clarinet playing, there are three main areas of technique you want to be working on. First is tone and breathing, for which I apply the abato tone exercise taught by my teacher Floyd Williams. If I have more time, I will do scales in sixths as per the Baermann method part three, and also the octave tone exercise at the end of the book. This I count as extremely important as the clarinet overblows at the twelfth, not the octave, and composers such as Spohr regularly have passages that call for quick octaves.
Here are a couple of YouTube examples...
You will note that a couple of the examples include some staccato work. This is the next area of technique you should be concentrating on. Staccato can be one of the first areas of technique to 'go' and it doesn't have to be this way. A simple fifteen minute exercise is all that is sufficient to keep a razor sharp tongue ready for that Midsummer Night's Dream excerpt. I practice my staccato using repeated note chromatic scales, starting on low E, eight repetitions of each note, going up the chromatic scale, until you hit high C, whereupon you tongue 16 repetitions of each note up to the altissimo E, and back down to high C. Thenceforth, back to eight repetitions. Start with the metronome slow, and gradually build it up. I didn't get a quick staccato overnight! Three octave chromatic scales really build up the endurance, and come in handy when the Neilsen strikes!
Here are a couple of YouTube examples..
And while you are at it, throw in the Mendelssohn just to keep your hand in. When I was preparing for Shepherd on the Rock, I encorporated this into my staccato warm-up, to very positive outcomes.
That's the first 15 minutes to half an hour of your warm-up. The last area of your technique to work on is, well, your technique. I have found that rather than reading rather aimlessly through your scale book, you can instead tailor your technique to suit the pieces you are playing, and any special weaknesses you or your teacher may have picked up.
I recently picked up a weakness with my chromatic scale, and with the left hand around the throat tones. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone, and concocted a chromatic scale exercise to conquer both. You start on the low E go up to the C, repeat a number of times until comfortable, then play the chromatic up to the octave, again repeat until comfortable, then two octaves, then three. Once you are comfortable with the E chromatic, start of F, then G, then F#. This exercise can go on for half an hour if you are really persistent, but if you are looking to shorten it, start on the E above middle C and really focus on those throat tones and over the break which will really give that left hand a workout. Here are a couple of examples.
Just as I incorporate pieces with difficult staccato passages into my practice warmup, so I use pieces like the Moto Perpetuo by Paganini and Flight of the Bumblebee into my technique warmup. It just stops you getting bored with the warmup, and ensures if you ever need an encore piece, well, you've got the Flight of the Bumblebee under your fingers. You never know when you are going to need it!
I also have several different technique books which also stop you getting bored. While the Baermann is my staple 'diet' I also use the Klose and Langenus just to mix things up. Then there are the Rose Studies, which I have recorded extensively on my YouTube channel, Cavallini, Uhl and Jean Jean. Jean Jean I find particularly useful for their concetration on the whole tone scale and augmented arpeggios.
Are Rico reeds as crap as I remember? If you have visited this website before, you will note that I have started writing my own book on how to play the clarinet. This musings page will still exist, but for side topics not covered in the book. So, are Rico reeds still crap? I personally think it is the fault of cut price rubbish reeds that cause the early death of clarinet playing in a student. To me, the reed is the most important part of the instrument. Yes having a good mouthpiece and ligature help, but even on my setup, you get a bad reed you sound bad. Yes Rico reeds are cheap, but are you getting value for money? Do they last for about a week and then you need a new one? I have used Vandoren V 12s for over a decade and haven't felt the need to change. I tried Reeds Australia and found there was far to much wood in the reeds compared to the Vandorens. Of course, if you follow my YouTube channel, you realise that reeds can be adjusted to sound better, with a little shaving here and there and polishing the back on a piece of paper. But some reeds are beyond help and need to be put out of their misery. What are your thoughts?