Advanced Clarinet Playing Practice Hints for Immediate Improvement
Improving your ability to play difficult music isn’t as hard as it might seem at first. Achieving the first few levels of expertise on almost any instrument comes rather quickly for nearly anyone. It’s the next levels, and in particular, the advanced ones that become the most challenging to acquire.
There are several things you can do to immediately improve clarinet playing:
1) Of course, playing scales are always helpful. Everyone knows this (well, just about) but to this day I get asked why. The answer is simple: music is based on scales and much of it is written in the pattern of scales. The idea is that if you can master your scales you will have already solved many of the difficulties of playing at least for beginner to intermediate levels of music.
The key to playing scales is to play them slowly and extremely even. Don’t rush them: NEVER rush them. Start off very slow keeping them steady, even and with good tone. Don’t feel like you have to play three octaves of the scale yet either. Play one octave in one or two breaths, depending on how slow you are actually playing and how much breath control you have (wind instrument). Also, vary how loud you play the scale. Start at MP, then MF and finally F. This way you can check to see if you begin to tense your arms, shoulders or hands as you play louder and/or faster.
2) Practice thirds. Of all the intervals, thirds are the most common in classical music --especially in the eras of Beethoven, Mozart, Weber (etc.) and probably still today with the exception of very abstract, contemporary music. Again, play slowly and very even. Make a notation if your hands tense anywhere or if you feel awkward or uncoordinated. Always have a notebook handy for practice notes and thoughts. Keep track of your improvement. It only takes a second but your notes will give you week-by-week feedback on how much you are improving.
3) Study all intervals. Take a week and evaluate your ability to play all intervals. You start with minor seconds, seconds, minor thirds, thirds, fourths and so on. Create a chart so you can keep track of the intervals that seem more difficult to play. When you’re done with your research, notate all of the difficult intervals on one page of manuscript. Those are ones that you will want to put special effort in.
Instruments inherently have easier and more difficult fingering patterns. Discovering the ones that are tough for you and then practicing them separately will improve your playing ability immensely.
Again, practice slowly and even at first. Do not try to rush or be flashy. All good clarinet playing will come to you in due time.