For the beginning clarinetist, gaining technical independence is a collective journey of determination, hard work, and consistent practice. These five essentials can help any developing clarinetist or music educator understand the foundations of clarinet pedagogy.
Use these tips as a basis for teaching, but note that they are simply a brief 'checklist' for covering the basics. For any questions relating to these tips, feel free to send me a message. Happy practicing!
1. CLARINET EMBOUCHURE
The formation of the embouchure is critical in the development of a beautiful clarinet tone and technique. Consistent care should be taken to ensure that the following aspects of embouchure formation are addressed and practiced each day.
The upper teeth are placed firmly on the mouthpiece.
The lower teeth are covered by a small amount of the lower lip.
The lips should be drawn around the mouthpiece in much the same way that a drawstring tightens a duffel bag.
Try to avoid independent pressure from either the upper or lower lips. Instead, the pressure should be distributed evenly around the mouth.
The cheeks should be pulled in toward the corners of the mouth.
Puffed cheeks will result in a flat and unfocused sound, while overly stretched and tense cheeks will result in a constricted and pinched tone quality.
The chin should be pulled straight down and pointed toward the floor. It should be firm, but not overly tight or tense.
If this is difficult to communicate to your student, this step can be accomplished the same way as blowing air into a coke bottle or drinking through a straw.
2. BREATH SUPPORT
The developing clarinetist must spend considerable time and energy working to develop mature breath support.
The head, neck, shoulders, chest, and arms should remain relaxed at all times during the inhalation and exhalation process:
Feel your stomach expand outward when you inhale and contract inward when you exhale.
Create a warm, focused air when you blow through the instrument. Avoid shallow, huffing gasps of breath.
Work to use all your air before you take your next breath.
Doing so will increase your capacity and help you create longer, more expressive phrases during performance situations with time.
3. HAND POSITION
The hands should be placed on the instrument in a very relaxed manner.
Any tension due to exaggerated finger arching, finger flattening, or improper angle of the instrument will result in diminished finger technique.
Practice creating a relaxed hand position by relaxing your arms at your side. Next, left your hand and create a relaxed letter “C” with your hand, making sure that the fingers are relaxed and curved.
4. DAILY PRACTICE
Consistent and careful daily practice is the single most important ingredient to becoming a fine clarinetist. Practice sessions should include the following:
Tone and Breathing Exercises
This includes long tones, range exercises, volume (dynamics) exercises, and work with a tuner for pitch accuracy.
Technical Facility Exercises
Major and minor scales, thirds, chromatics, arpeggios, and more as desired.
Single and multiple articulation studies should be practiced for precision, accuracy, and speed. Quality over quantity, always!
Musicality and Expressiveness
Etudes, exercises, and solo literature.
Maintenance of your equipment is a must in order to ensure peak performance.
Always swab the instrument after you complete a practice session. During long rehearsals it may be necessary to swab frequently, especially if the room is cold.
Don't depend on only one reed!
Always have at least four reeds ready to go at any one time.
Also, make sure you store your reeds in the proper manner.
Mouthpieces come in a variety of sizes and styles.
Work with your teacher to find a mouthpiece that offers the following: warm tone quality, flexibility in all ranges, accurate intonation, and ease of articulation.
Additionally, the mouthpiece should be reed friendly.
Never play on reeds that do not work well with your mouthpiece! Harder reeds do not equate to a higher level of performance!
Make sure your case is in good condition.
Many instrument repairs can be traced to worn out cases.