ClarinetMike’s “Practice Tips A to Z” [Complete Article]

ClarinetMike uses these tips when preparing cool New Music like this recent world premiere in Italy.

Practice Tips A to Z
by
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

The following are some ideas I have found useful with my students and in my own practicing. An easy-print PDF of this article can be found HERE.

A. Always ARTC (Approach, Relaxation, Tone, Counting – “Artsy!”). Always pay close attention to the basics. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “There is no replacement for sound fundamentals and strict discipline.”1 “Approach” refers to the mental state when practicing. We need to keep our minds engaged when we practice – mindless practicing gets mindless results.

B. Breaks. Take short rest periods when practicing. Organize your practice into several short sessions (no more than a half hour) with breaks between the sessions. Legendary violin teacher Leopold Auer (whose famous students included Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr.) said:

In all practice-work, and this applies to the advanced student as well as the beginner, rest during practice hours should never be overlooked. My advice – based on the experience of years – is never to practice more than thirty or forty minutes in succession, and to rest and relax for at least ten or fifteen minutes before beginning work again.”2

Auer also reportedly taught that forty-five minutes, followed by a fifteen-minute break, was probably the maximum time possible for good concentration.Additionally, lengthy practice sessions without breaks can put strain on your body that can result in injury.

C. Counting-Aloud Technique. Rhythmic accuracy during practice is of supreme importance. A great procedure to improve even performance of rhythms is the “Counting-Aloud” technique found in Lesson 5 of Leon Russianoff’s Clarinet Method, Book I.4

D. Double Articulation. This is a useful technique for working up a tough technical passage. It consists of putting two articulations of equal duration on each note of a passage. Double articulation works best in a passage that has straight eights, sixteenths, etc. It is often helpful to use it in alternation with other procedures (such as Counting-Aloud – see above or Fingers Ahead – see below).

E. Enjoy your metronome, but don’t get addicted. The use of a metronome is an essential part of any practice session; however, it is important not to become overly dependent on it for maintaining a steady pulse. The small and inexpensive “credit card” type metronomes are great for students and other musicians who are “on the go.” Get a metronome App for your phone.

F. Fingers Ahead. This valuable technique was used by legendary clarinet teacher Daniel Bonade and is explained in his short, but useful book, The Clarinetist’s Compendium.5

G. Go Slow at first (with ARTC), then Go Faster. Many are aware of the value of slow practice, but few seem to really go slow enough when working on music. It is important to go very, very slowly when practicing and at the same time maintain good fundamentals (such as ARTC – see above). Neurologist Frank R. Wilson states:

Slow practice is the key to rapid technical progress. The cerebellum is a nonjudgmental part of the brain: it assumes that any repetitive activity in the muscular system is being repeated because the conscious mind is trying to make it automatic. The cerebellum will be just as efficient an automatizer of incorrect sequences of timing as of those that are correct. When practicing takes place at a pace too fast for accurate playing, there is very little chance for the material to be mastered, and reliable, confident performance simply will not occur.”6

H. Hands! “If you can’t clap it, you can’t play it.”

I. Intensity. Learn to stay focused while practicing. This means you can’t practice while watching television! Also, make sure mental focus does not tense up the body while practicing – work for an ever-improving relaxed, natural, and efficient technique (by “technique” here I mean all that the body does when playing an instrument. In baseball, the word used is “mechanics.”) Remember to “Relax in your body – Concentrate in your mind.”7

J. Judge your playing soberly. By sober I mean maintaining an attitude of openness and honesty without becoming mentally or emotionally out of balance. Work hard to know what is “really going on” in your practicing.

K. Kinko’s [now FedEx Office] Go to a Kinko’s or other copy shop and make a study score of the piano part. Otherwise when you give your piano part to your accompanist, you won’t have a copy of the piano part to study. Also, when you come back to a piece you’ve performed before, make a copy of the old markings on your part before you start erasing and adding new ones. I often buy a new original to start out fresh – this is a very good idea if you have a new teacher. But, keep the old copy/original for future reference. You might look back in a few years and discover you like the older ways (or teacher) better.

L. Look for patterns in the music. Most music we play is based on scales and chords – even more modern composers use scales such as octatonic and whole tone. When you recognize that a composer is using a certain scale or chord, feel free to mark it on your music. For example, classical/romantic composers will sometimes outline a fully diminished seventh chord to add some punch to the cadence at the end of a section of a work. (See end of the exposition of movement one to Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet and m. 176 and m. 178 of Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet.) If you have been practicing fully diminished sevenths, such a passage is quite easy. If you don’t recognize the chord [or haven’t been practicing them!], then the passage is much more difficult to learn.

M. Make MUSIC! Great fundamentals and fantastic technical skill are a means to an end: to free the performer to express art.

N. No distractions or interruptions while practicing. Get away from phones, pagers, computers, television, internet, cell phones, etc. as much as possible. Also, learn how to diplomatically “get rid of” people who just drop by your practice room to “chat.” (Check out a blog post I wrote on this HERE.)

O. Organize your practice. We live in world of routine. Developing and following a good practice routine that includes a warm-up, scales, sight-reading, etc. will greatly speed up your progress.8

P. Pay Attention to Pitch and Tuning. Check out the small and inexpensive tuners now out on the market. Download an App on your phone!

Q. Quit if it hurts or you get overly upset. Don’t quit permanently! Just take a break and come back in a few minutes or another day.

R. Recordings. Listen to CD’s, tapes, [Youtube], etc. for insights, but not too much (don’t copy!). (I really dislike the practice of giving students recordings of all-state music, solos, etc. and telling them to copy. Such copying is counterproductive to genuine artistry. Such short cuts will eventually take a toll on how well a student does at auditions, contests, etc.)

S. Sit and Stand during practice. I like to start out my practice sessions by standing so I can check my posture and breathing. How much I sit vs. stand in a given practice session is determined by the kind of performing I have coming up. If I’m going to be performing a concerto with an orchestra or wind ensemble, I practice standing more. Conversely, I practice more sitting if I’m preparing some chamber or large ensemble music.

T. Tape yourself and listen to it. [Use your cell phone to record yourself – just download an app!] It is also extremely valuable to video yourself. It is imperative that you are aware of how you actually sound (and look) to the outside world. (For example, some clarinetists have a sound that only another clarinet player could love!).9

U. Understand the words, symbols, etc. on the music. Always have a good music dictionary10 handy to look up words you don’t know. You also need to pick up separate French, German, and Italian dictionaries since many composers (especially after 1900) have indications in their native language. (Go to a used bookstore and pick up a paperback language dictionary – you don’t need the latest edition.) Composers expect performers to understand their indications and it is imperative we work to understand the meaning of their words, symbols, etc. as much as possible. [If you “Google it,” be careful!]

V. Variety. Spice up practicing by changing the routine. Try working on jazz.11

W. Work on hard parts first.12 Don’t just go straight through a work over and over at performance tempo! Break the music into sections.

X. Examine the larger form. Notice what phrases, sections, etc. repeat. A little thoughtful analysis can pay big dividends. It can also aid in memorization.

Y. Yodel or SING the music. Singing is a valuable practice tool and does need not to be on pitch to be helpful. During a practice session, singing the music can be done when the embouchure or wrists, etc. need a rest. [Yodel your music only when alone!]

Z. Zero in on Rhythm (pattern & pulse). Think “Rhythm First, Notes Second.” Always be working to improve your ability to execute rhythmic patterns with a steady pulse. This is one of the most valuable skills a musician can possess.

1 John Wooden with Jack Tobin, They Call Me Coach (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1988), p. 168. Also, see his comments on pp. 169-170.
2 Leopold Auer, Violin Playing As I Teach It (New York: Dover Publications, 1980 [first published in 1921]), p. 17. This book can also be viewed or downloaded HERE. The quote is on p. 47 of this ebook.
3 Formerly at http://www.smsaonline.org/practice.asp.
4 Leon Russianoff, Clarinet Method, Book I. (New York: Schirmer Books, 1982), pp. 54-73. Unfortunately, out of print; however, it is available at many university libraries [use interlibrary loan].
5 Daniel Bonade, Clarinetist’s Compendium (Kenosha, WI: Leblanc Publications, 1962) pp. 2-3 and 8-10.
6 Frank R. Wilson, “Mind, Muscle and Music,” American Music Teacher Vol. 32 (1982) p. 14. Also quoted in Wilson’s Mind Muscle and Music: Physiological Clues to Better Teaching (Walnut Creek, CA: Selmer, 1981), p. 14. Also see his book, Tone Deaf & All Thumbs? An Invitation to Music-Making (New York: Vintage Books, 1987 [originally published, in hardcover, by Viking Penguin, Inc., in 1986]) pp. 203-205.
7 Michael Dean, “Performance Anxiety Tips,” interFACE [Utah Music Educators Association journal] Volume 44, No. 1 (fall 1998) p. 15. Also see HERE.
8 The practice routine I use is available at my web site, CLICK HERE.
9 James Boyk, To Hear Ourselves as Others Hear Us: Tape Recording as a Tool in Music Practicing and Teaching (St. Louis: MMB Music, 1996).
10 I suggest Don Michael Randel’s Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978). It is an excellent one-volume book with compact entries for terms, composers, etc.
11 A good place to start is Jamey Aebersold’s Vol. 54 “Maiden Voyage” Jazz Play-A-Long book and CD.
12 This is one of Wynton Marsalis’ practice rules on his excellent video on practicing, Marsalis on Music: Tackling the Monster (New York: Sony, 1995).

This article is © by The National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors NACWPI Journal, Vol. LI, No. 4, summer 2003.

[NOTE: The above is based on a presentation given at the NACWPI National Symposium 2001 at the University of Kansas.]

[NOTE: A concise version of these tips along with a practice routine is available HERE.]

ClarinetMike says, “Quit goofing around and start doing lots and lots of smart practice.”

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Practice Tip: “I Will Clap The Music Every Day!”

ClarinetMike says, “Teach Your Students How to Count!”

Inside ClarinetMike’s Studio: A few years ago, one of my bright-eyed junior high students, Ian, came to a lesson and played music that he was preparing for a contest. He did an excellent performance of the notes; however, the rhythms were less than great [i.e. bad!]. He told me that he had not worked much (or any) on the rhythms during his practicing at home. This in spite of the fact that I always emphasize rhythm using clapping and other counting techniques during lessons. So, as seen in Ian’s own handwriting above, I went sorta Old School on him and made him write, “I will clap the music every day” five times.* The next week Ian came to his lesson and played the music brilliantly! He told me he clapped the music every day in his practicing at home!

In addition to clapping, singing the music works great, too! Also, check out my Rhy-No Practice and Feed The Rhy-No Tips.

One of my favorite maxims is, “If you can’t clap it, you can’t play it.”

*FYI, I do NOT advocate the old idea of writing a sentence 100’s of times on a blackboard as punishment – making a student’s hand hurt seems a terrible idea to me as a musician….

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“Polka!” Etude No. 3 All-State Tips from ClarinetMike’s 2019-2020 Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Clinic

A couple dancing the Polka about 1840.

Below are my clinic notes on Etude No. 3 from this year’s Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Etudes.  My previously published notes on Etude 1 and 2 are available: Etude 1 here and Etude 2 here.

ClarinetMike’s Texas TMEA All-State Clarinet Clinic 2019-2020
Soprano Clarinet Preparation Tips: Etude No. 3 “Polka!”
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Texas, USA * 682-888-7639
clarinetmike.com * clarinetmiketexas@yahoo.com

Etude Book: David Hite editor, Artistic Studies, Book 1 – From the French School [Rose Etudes] Published by Southern Music Co.

Note: Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) was a very important clarinet teacher at the Paris Conservatory and 1st clarinetist with the Paris Opera orchestra for 34 years. Rose did not compose these etudes, but he adapted and enhanced etudes written for other instruments. He “clarinetized” them.

Etude 3 Allegro, Page 52. Etude Title: 32 Etudes, 6. Quarter note = 92-112. Play from Beginning to end (no repeats). Errata: check carefully here.

Composer and Style: This Rose etude is based on an etude by court oboist Franz Wilhelm Ferling (1796-1874) – to view the original etude, click HERE and go to Etude #2. Ferling  wrote this etude in the style of a Polka (cite). The polka started about 1830 in Bohemia (Czech Republic) and by the time these etudes were published in 1840, its popularity had swept across Europe. In Paris, polkas became so popular that the polka craze started being called “Polkamania.” (cite). This etude is a polka – so DANCE!

Overview: This etude has 3 main issues: Even Sixteenths, Tonguing, and Arpeggios. Make sure to always practice and perform with great tone!

Phrases and Sections: Etude has 4 sections: S1 = m1-m18, S2 = m20-m31, S3 = m32-m50, S4 = m52 to end. M32 is a recap of the beginning for 3.5 measures.

Tempo:  The TMEA listing is Quarter note = 92-112. The original Ferling etude is marked Moderato risoluto. So, not too fast. However, whatever the tempo, the etude must dance like a Polka, full of life and fun! In other words, MUSIC!

Musical Issues: Note dynamics carefully. Be sure to learn dynamics as you learn the rhythm and notes. Adding dynamics later does NOT work very well: ClarinetMike says, “If you learn it at Mezzo-Nothing, you’ll play it at Mezzo-Nothing.”

Technical Issues: Don’t rush off first sixteenth in four-sixteenth pattern. Keep sixteenth notes rhythmically even. As mentioned elsewhere, watch out for accidentals that carry through the bar in this etude.

Tonguing: Articulation is very important in this etude.  Here’s a ClarinetMike Trick: In the slow preparation of any fast staccato type passage, DO NOT practice it slowly with the staccatos short. In other words, when you practice slowly, play the articulation with a normal or regular tongue stroke with not much, if any, separation. As you go faster over time and the passage becomes ingrained and learned, it will be easy to adjust the length of the articulation to the desired shortness. Be sure to use your ears to help you decide how short to play the notes.

Scale and Arpeggio Cheat Sheet: G major scale and arpeggio. Chromatic scale.
Arpeggios: G = G B D,  D = D F# A, D7 = D F# A C, F# Fully Diminished 7th = F# A C Eb, E- = E G B, A7 = A C# E G, F# = F# A# C#, B- = B D F#, G7 = G B D F, C = C E G,
A- = A C E

Fingerings: In a number of places I use right B natural instead of left as in m1-m4. (This  may be because I use right B and left C# in the D major scale.) Try it different ways and see what works for you. Do not use resonance fingerings (or right hand down) on throat tones  in this etude as they’ll hamper and “muddy up” the technique.

Problem Passages: S2 (m20-m31) is tricky – consider right for some (or a lot!) of B naturals. Again, don’t rush off first sixteenth in four-sixteenth pattern.

Breathing: As marked (see errata) and as needed. Rhythm will have to be interrupted at times to breathe.  NO TENSION!

Suggested Listening: Listen to Polkas! Here’s one that Ferling and/or Rose may have heard or even performed: Offenbach “Schuler” Polka.

NOTE: The picture above of the couple dancing the Polka about 1840 is in Public Domain and can be found here.

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TIPS! All-State Etude No. 2 “The Slow Etude” Preparation Help from ClarinetMike’s 2019-2020 Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Clinic

ClarinetMike says, “Perform Expressively with lots of Emotion and Feeling!”

Below are my clinic notes on Etude No. 2 from this year’s Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Etudes.  My notes on Etude 1 are available here. Watch for my notes on Etude 3 coming soon!

ClarinetMike’s Texas TMEA All-State Clarinet Clinic 2019-2020
Soprano Clarinet Preparation Tips: Etude No. 2 “The Slow Etude”
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Texas, USA * 682-888-7639
clarinetmike.com * clarinetmiketexas@yahoo.com

Etude Book: David Hite editor, Artistic Studies, Book 1 – From the French School [Rose Etudes] Published by Southern Music Co.

Note: Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) was a very important clarinet teacher at the Paris Conservatory and 1st clarinetist with the Paris Opera orchestra for 34 years. Rose did not compose these etudes, but he adapted and enhanced etudes written for other instruments. He “clarinetized” them.

Etude 2 Adagio, Page 64. Etude Title: 32 Etudes, 19. Eight note = 92-104. Play from Beginning to end. Errata: check carefully here.

Composer and Style: This Rose etude is based on an etude by court oboist Franz Wilhelm Ferling (1796-1874) – to view the original etude, click HERE and go to Etude #35. Ferling’s “intimate knowledge of French opera” inspired him to produce this etude in the style of a Romance (cite). This excellent etude is loaded with opportunities for emotional musical expression and creativity. THINK OPERA! Further, recall that Rose himself was 1st clarinetist with the Paris Opera orchestra for 34 years. So, Opera, Opera, Opera! “Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve!”

Overview: Slow etude with lots of  “Over-The-Top” Romantic Phrasing – think “Opera!”

Phrases and Sections: Etude has 5 phrases: P1 = m1-m8, P2 = m8-m14, P3 = m15-m22, P4 = m22-m32, P5 = m33-end.

Tempo:  This etude should be learned and performed in 6, i.e. one eight note gets one beat. The TMEA listing has it Eight note = 92-104 with the middle section (P3 and P4) faster at about Eight note = 108-116. However, I think these tempos are too fast, especially the middle section (P3 and P4). I suggest playing the middle section only a little faster than the opening. And at the opening, I wouldn’t go any faster than Eight note = 92 with a little slower being preferred. FYI, the legendary clarinet player and teacher, Daniel Bonade, suggested Eight note = 84.

Terms: The editor of our version, David Hite, added a lot of words to this edition.  As suggested elsewhere, do look up these indications in the glossary at the back of the etude book (such as lagrimosamente, “tearfully”). Hite’s comments are generally good; however, as I have pointed out before, he does tend to over-edit at times! I suggest checking out the expressive indications in some different editions of this etude.

Musical Issues: “Over-The-Top” Romantic Phrasing – think “Opera!” Play the Eb in m8 as an accented mezzo forte. In m23 and m25, consider “linger[ing] for a moment on the bottom note of each trill before going into the trill. Speed up each trill as you play through it” (Guy, p. 37, cite). In m37, use only a small separation on the staccato notes – think mezzo-staccato or as we used to say at CU Boulder “long short notes.” Be sure to learn dynamics as you learn the rhythm and notes. Adding dynamics later does NOT work very well: ClarinetMike says, “If you learn it at Mezzo-Nothing, you’ll play it at Mezzo-Nothing.”

Rubato: Some rubato makes sense in a few spots, especially in the last half of P4 and at times in P5. Thinking of m20, m38 and m40 as “A Tempo” will help you, especially if you take a small rubato into them.

Scale and Arpeggio Cheat Sheet: G minor scale and arpeggio. Chromatic scale.
Arpeggios: G- = G Bb D,  F# Fully Diminished 7th = F# A C Eb, Bb = Bb D F

Technical Issues: In m4 and m36 play grace notes as 2 thirty-seconds on last fourth of beat 2 for dramatic effect. Play the 3 grace notes in m18 as a triplet on the upbeat of beat 1. In m26, take the breath on beat 3 (write -3 above eighth note) as this will give you two counts to get ready for the big molto risoluto. Also in m26, consider using side key trill fingering for A in grace note. Breath on beat 6 of m27 (-6). In m35, be sure to tongue the last note in the measure for dramatic effect. Also, consider using A side key trill fingering on open G trill in m39. In m41, notice and mark the skip between the last two notes of the measure. I use a bracket here between these two notes.

Fingerings: Be sure to use left C before and after fourth space Eb’s as in m12 and m16. Use fork fingering for Gb in m17. Do NOT use “1 and 1” for Bb at m20 or anywhere in this etude unlike what is suggested elsewhere. I very rarely use “1 and 1” because the tone is not as good as the regular fingering AND it will not speak if your clarinet is only very slightly out of adjustment. Consider resonance fingerings in exposed throat tone spots, especially on last 4 notes of the etude. However, DO NOT use resonance fingerings (or right hand down) in faster technical passages as they’ll hamper and “muddy up” your technique.

Problem Passages: M2 is tricky to count, especially if a student has learned it wrong. In P3 (m15-m22) be sure to count the rhythms very accurately.  In m26-m27, it is tricky to make the thirty-seconds and high G sound musical – ALWAYS play with a beautiful sound. Plus, make sure your high G fingering is trustworthy and in tune. In m38-m41, the rhythm is the critical.

Cadenza: The measures in P4 before and after the cadenza in m30 are very important. Plan these very carefully. On the cadenza itself, turn the fast chromatic passage into two measures of 4/4 in triplets with the last set being 4 sixteenths (or one measure in 4/4 of double triplets). Start the cadenza slowly and then speed up with a crescendo slurring into the high D trill. Crescendo even more on the trill for dramatic effect. It is possible to think of all (or most) of P4 as a cadenza.

Breathing: Relate to phrasing as much as possible. Make your breathing part of the music. Consider moving breath at end of m10 to third beat of m11.

Suggested Listening: Listen to great opera like singers Natalie Dessay and Maria Callas. (I’m especially crazy about Natalie Dessay.) Here’s a few videos (click on the name): Dessay 1Dessay 2Dessay 3, and Callas.

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How To Practice: Clarinet Power! Practice Routine from ClarinetMike’s Texas All-State Clinic

ClarinetMike Performing in Italy with Pianist Dena Kay Jones.

How To Practice: Prepare the All-State Music (plus solos, band music, etc.) inside an organized practice routine that addresses basics and scales.

TIP: Don’t feel obligated to hit every single item below every day. Use your creativity and common sense to rotate things around in a routine of Basics, Scales, and Music – this is how I use the routine below in my own practice. However, always work on relaxation, embouchure & voicing, tonguing, chromatic scale, and sight-reading.

Clarinet Power! Practice Routine
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Texas, USA * 682-888-7639 * clarinetmike.com
clarinetmiketexas@yahoo.com * clarinetmike.wordpress.com

Warm-up/Basics

Relaxation/Air/Balance

Tone (Embouchure & Voicing)

Long Tones (Sound Projection)

Tonguing

Various Exercises (Over The Break, Overtones, High C, High Notes, Legato Fingers,                                                          Tuning, Reeds, etc.)

 Scales

Chromatic

Major & Minor plus Arpeggios

Fully Diminished 7th Chords

Others (Whole-tone, Octatonic (a.k.a. Diminished), related to a work, etc.)

Music

Sight-reading/Transposition

Etudes/Studies

Solos

Excerpts (Band, Orchestra, Chamber, etc.)

Improvisation/Jazz

Doubles

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All-State Tips! Etude No. 1 from ClarinetMike’s 2019-2020 Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Clinic

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Below are my clinic notes on Etude No. 1 from this year’s Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Etudes. Watch for my notes on Etudes 2 and 3 coming soon!

ClarinetMike’s Texas TMEA All-State Clarinet Clinic 2019-2020
Soprano Clarinet Preparation Tips: Etude No. 1
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Texas, USA * 682-888-7639
clarinetmike.com * clarinetmiketexas@yahoo.com

Etude Book: David Hite editor, Artistic Studies, Book 1 – From the French School [Rose Etudes] Published by Southern Music Co.

Note: Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) was a very important clarinet teacher at the Paris Conservatory and 1st clarinetist with the Paris Opera orchestra for 34 years. Rose did not compose these etudes, but he adapted and enhanced etudes written for other instruments. He “clarinetized” them.

Etude 1 Allegro furioso, Page 71. Etude Title: 32 Etudes, 26. Quarter note = 100-120. Play from Beginning to end. Errata: check carefully-see here.

Composer and Style: This Rose etude is based on an etude by court oboist Franz Wilhelm Ferling (1796-1874) – to view the original etude, click HERE and go to Etude #12. Ferling was possibly influenced by the great violin virtuoso Paganini when he wrote this etude in the style of a Toccata. (cite).  A “Toccata (from Italian toccare, literally, “to touch”) is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections…generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer’s fingers.” (cite) So, play like a Romantic Era Virtuoso with lots of life, but keep your touch light and relaxed!

Overview: This etude has 3 main issues, Arpeggios, Even Sixteenths, and Tonguing. Make sure to always practice and perform with great tone!

Phrases and Sections: Etude has 3 sections: S1 = m1-m12, S2 = m13-m20, and S3 = m21 to end.

Tempo:  Quarter note = 100-120. (But as someone said, “Don’t play it faster than you can play it!”)

Musical Issues: At the start of the etude, the editor of our version, David Hite, added the words, duramente e frettolosamente “with hardness, firmly and hurried, hurriedly.” I have taken my pencil and scratched these out. [I’m not changing the Bible here, just adjusting David Hite’s unfortunate tendency to overedit!] As suggested above, play like a virtuoso with lots of life, but keep your touch light and relaxed. Note carefully the marked dynamics – remember, this is a work of music not a math problem. Be sure to learn dynamics as you learn the rhythm and notes. Adding dynamics later does NOT work very well: ClarinetMike says, “If you learn it at Mezzo-Nothing, you’ll play it at Mezzo-Nothing.”

Scale and Arpeggio Cheat Sheet: C minor scale and esp. arpeggio.  Lots of Chromatic scale. All three fully diminished 7ths are present.
Arpeggios: C- = C Eb G,   G(7) = G B D (F),   F- = F Ab C,   Eb = Eb G Bb,                                E Fully Dim 7th = E G Bb Db,  F Fully Dim 7th = F Ab B D,   F# Fully Dim 7th = F# A C Eb,
Bb7 = Bb D F Ab,  C = C E G

Technical Issues: Keep the sixteenths rhythmically even with every note getting ¼ of a beat. DO NOT rush off the first sixteenth of each set of 4. Move grace note in m17 to last half of final note of m16 – i.e. change last note in m16 to a 32nd and make grace note also a 32nd after it. To be clear, 4th  beat of m16 should be 3 sixteenths and then 2 thirtyseconds. In m16-m18 focus on lower notes while performing the passage. I suggest playing the first note in m26 as an A natural as written unlike what is suggested elsewhere. Hite’s use of A natural here is musically and technically better.

Tonguing: Articulation is very important in this etude.  Here’s a ClarinetMike Trick: In the slow preparation of any fast staccato type passage, DO NOT practice it slowly with the staccatos short. In other words, when you practice slowly, play the articulation with a normal or regular tongue stroke with not much, if any, separation. As you go faster over time and the passage becomes ingrained and learned, it will be easy to adjust the length of the articulation to the desired shortness. Be sure to use your ears to help you decide how short to play the notes.

Fingerings:  Carefully consider your choices of fingerings for this etude. Be sure to use left C before and after fourth space Eb’s as in m2, m3, m10, etc. I suggest using the fork fingering for high Eb in m3 and m34. I also like using the fork fingering for the B’s in m5. Unlike what is suggested elsewhere, I suggest flipping to first finger F# in m4, m27, m28, and m36 and not using the side key F# chromatic fingering. Further, I advocate first finger F# as the standard fingering in the chromatic scale, instead of the alternate side key F#. Learning to “flip” quickly between first space F and first finger F# is an important skill for a clarinetist.

Breathing: Breathe as marked and as needed. In a work like this where there are few good spots to breathe, you have to make do as best you can. This will likely mean that a breath disrupts the pulse a little at times. This is unfortunate, but necessary. Be sure to stay in balance and try to keep the pulse as steady as possible even with small rhythmic disruptions for breathing.

Suggested Listening: Listen to J.S. Bach’s Toccatas and Fugues – also his Partitas. Check out this over-the-top version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D MinorCLICK HERE. Here’s a Toccata by the great piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, CLICK HERE. Also, watch this video depiction of Paganini [but don’t live your life like him!] CLICK HERE.

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The ABC Exercise!

ClarinetMike says, “The ABC Exercise Works! Check It Out!”

The ABC Exercise comes from my research into the amazing pedagogy of master single reed teacher, Joe Allard. I’ve experimented with The ABC Exercise (or ABC) on and off for a number of years. I’ve lately been using it a lot in my own practicing and with my students with much success.

The ABC Exercise! by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

What? The ABC Exercise is simply saying the alphabet aloud a few times in a normal voice and then playing the clarinet. This very simple exercise always helps my embouchure and voicing.

When? I use ABC early in my daily Practice Routine as part of working on my embouchure and voicing. I often do ABC after going through the steps of the 5-C Clarinet Embouchure and the related E-Tips for E-Lips clarinet embouchure tips.

Why does ABC help? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. I think what is going on is that saying the alphabet gets me “in touch with things” with respect to my mouth, lips, tongue, teeth, face, etc. in embouchure/voicing.  For example, what do babies do when they learn to speak? They try to copy what they hear by experimenting with their voice using mouth, lips, tongue, teeth, face, etc. They start with “Dada” and end up smoothly using words to easily persuade soft-touch Dad to buy them things, “Hey Dad, I need $200 for …..”

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NOTE: Saying the Alphabet is mentioned in The Joe Allard Project website which features part of Debra McKim’s important dissertation on Joe Allard (see HERE). The ABC Exercise above features my own ideas and thoughts on a technique that Joe Allard taught. As was true on my previously published 5-C Clarinet Embouchure and E-Tips for E-Lips embouchure tips, I happily acknowledge a heavy debt to the great Joe Allard.

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