Top 10 Clarinet Things To Do On Summer Break!

ClarinetMike outside the Pantheon in Rome, Italy on a recent summer vacation.

I love summer! When I’m wearing shorts, I’m always in a good mood! Below is a follow-up to my recent 7 Ways to Improve Your Clarinet Playing This Summer! post.

Top 10 Clarinet Things To Do On Summer Break!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. IMPROVE. Work on improvements and adjustments in your clarinet technique. (Hey Students! How about working on what your teacher emphasized last semester – posture, embouchure, tonguing, etc.?) See my related recent post.
  2. STUDY. Study an orchestra or band work you don’t know (or a solo, chamber work, etc.)
  3. BASICS. Work on Etudes, Sight Reading and Transposition.
  4. LIVE. Go to a concert. When was the last time you went to a LIVE concert just to enjoy the music?
  5. REPAIR. Take clarinets to the repair shop. AND clean out your clarinet case!
  6. CLEAN. Organize your office and/or practice space! Those stacks of music (and pizza boxes!) need to be dealt with.
  7. LUNCH. Contact an older musician – especially a retired private teacher or band director. Go have lunch with them. [Pick up the phone and call them right now – yes, right now!]
  8. MOVIES. Watch old movies (check out TCM) and listen to the music. Learn about the composers. Some of them have written solo music for the clarinet!
  9. JAZZ. Work on Jazz or a style that is new to you. If you don’t know anything about Jazz, now is the time to learn.
  10. LIFE. Most importantly, take some time off and NOT think about the clarinet. Attend a church or philosophical meeting, go to a baseball game, get some exercise, read a good book, become a volunteer in an organization that helps people, etc.

ClarinetMike says, “Have a Great Summer!”

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7 Ways to Improve Your Clarinet Playing This Summer!

ClarinetMike says, “Clarinet Lessons are Fun! Find a Good Teacher and Take Clarinet Lessons!”

7 Ways to Improve Your Clarinet Playing This Summer!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. Take Clarinet Lessons. Make sure you have a good teacher who spends time improving your clarinet basics and teaching you how to practice.  Rote-only clarinet teachers are BAD clarinet teachers.
  2. Upgrade Embouchure. Check out my 5-C clarinet embouchure here and related embouchure tips here.
  3. Improve Tonguing. Spend quality time with your new best friend, Betty: click here.
  4. Enhance Posture.  Check out these posture links:  Head PositionDon’t Lean OverDon’t Look Down, and Unkink Your Hose.
  5. Get Better Reeds. I strongly recommend checking out the ReedGeek – I find the ReedGeek easy to use and it really helps! Also, make sure your reed strength matches your mouthpiece. For example, if you are playing on a 2.5 reed on a more “closed” mouthpiece such as a Vandoren M13 Lyre (what I play on), you simply cannot play well or at all in the high register without biting the mouthpiece hard since the reed is not strong enough. [Biting is BAD, folks!] FYI, on my Bb clarinet, I play Vandoren v12 and D’Addario 3.5 reeds on a Vandoren M13 Lyre mouthpiece using 5-C Clarinet Embouchure (LISTEN here and here.)
  6. Learn New Practice Techniques. Try these out: Rhy-No PracticeFeed The Rhy-No!The Fast Way!Note Grouping, and others.
  7. Play Duets.Get together with your buddies and have FUN playing chamber music – duets, trios, quartets, etc…. Go to the local music store and buy a duet book (ALL of us must support local music stores!). Of course, there’s a lot of free music on the Internet.

BONUS: Go To Summer Band Camp or Clarinet Camp. For example, here in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas there are some excellent ones, such as UTA Concert Band Camp, TCU Band Camp, TCU Clarinet Workshop, and others.

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ClarinetMike to Premiere Three New Clarinet Works at Orfeo Music Festival 2019 in Vipiteno, Italy!

Pianist Dena Kay Jones and ClarinetMike having fun preparing a world premiere at Orfeo 2018.

Hey! As previously posted, this summer I’m again returning as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at the international Orfeo Music Festival 2019 in the beautiful Italian Alps of Vipiteno, Italy (Sterzing) on July 5-19, 2019.

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be premiering three new clarinet works this summer at Orfeo 2019! There will be 2 World Premieres and a European Premiere. I’ll be performing the works with two of my fabulous Orfeo piano colleagues, Dena Kay Jones and Faina Lushtak! In June I will be posting more information on the premieres, including program notes, venue information, etc. Here is basic info:

Semplicemente (2019) for clarinet and piano by Andrea Ferrante
(World Premiere)
Michael Dean, clarinet
Dena Kay Jones, piano

Filtrò poi una luce (2010) for clarinet and piano by Andrea Ferrante
(European Premiere)
Michael Dean, clarinet
Dena Kay Jones, piano

Blues in c (2019) for clarinet and piano by Faina Lushtak
(World Premiere)
Michael Dean, clarinet
Faina Lushtak, piano

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“Unkink Your Hose!” A Practical Tip for Lawn Care and Performing on a Wind Instrument

Does your airflow have kinks like the ClarinetMike Garden Hose?

A few years ago, the city of Hurst, Texas sent out some nice folks to put down new grass in my lawn where they had previously dug it up to fix a water line. As I got out the ClarinetMike Garden Hose to water the new grass in my lawn, I noticed a kink in the hose. So I made sure all the kinks and such were out of the hose and watered my lawn.

I realized this is similar to clarinet (plus saxophone and ALL wind instruments!) playing. We need to make sure our air flows freely without any tension or “kinks” in our body.

ClarinetMike says, “Unkink Your Hose!”

Here’s the ClarinetMike Garden Hose working well after removing the kinks.

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Urgent Clarinet Maintenance: “Swab Your Clarinet and Clarinet Mouthpiece!”

ClarinetMike says, “Swab Your Clarinet!”

Urgent Clarinet Maintenance: “Swab Your Clarinet and Clarinet Mouthpiece!”
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

“Common sense (the best tool in a teacher’s toolbox) clearly indicates
you should swab out your clarinet, including the mouthpiece,
every practice or performance, etc. Also, swab your clarinet during
sessions as needed. Excessive water in the instrument, especially
“Flooding Out,”
hinders good clarinet playing.”

Many, if not most, of you are thinking, “Hey ClarinetMike, everybody knows that!” Well, I used to think so too, but in recent years it has come to my attention that many students do not swab their clarinets after every practice session. This is BAD for a million gross reasons.

Further, I have come to understand that some clarinet teachers do not emphasize (or even mention) the importance of swabbing the clarinet. THIS IS REALLY BAD.

Unfortunately, I have also come to understand that some clarinet teachers even tell their students to NEVER swab their mouthpieces ever. THIS IS SUPER DUPER BAD!!!

So, let me say it again, “Swab out your clarinet, including the mouthpiece, after every practice session or performance, etc.”

NOTE: The swab I’m holding up in the picture above is a GEM Swab. I recommend using “hanky” style swabs like this one. I do not recommend using the stubby little nylon cheapo ones that often come with new clarinets. These little demons can get stuck in your clarinet! And that is BAD!

A NOTE TO ACADEMICS: Having taught the clarinet at all levels for more than three decades, it has become clear to me that clarinet instruction in higher education in the music ed techniques classes is often inadequate. FYI, this is a driving force for the ClarinetMike Blog.

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5 Steps to Great All-State Preparation [Clinic]

ClarinetMike Performing Recently on Tour at a High School in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas USA.

Kids here in Texas are already starting to work on this fall’s ATSSB All-State audition materials. So, below are my 5 Steps to Great All-State Preparation.  The steps below are loaded with information from my ClarinetMike All-State Clarinet Clinics (click here).  Also, below is a template I use in preparing my annual Complete Clinic Notes on the all-state etudes. Watch this blog for more All-State help from ClarinetMike!

5 Steps to Great All-State Preparation
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas USA * 682-888-7639 *

Step 1: Preliminary Concerns

  1. Get quality equipment. FYI, my Bb soprano clarinet set up: Buffet R13 clarinet [1974], Vandoren M13 Lyre mouthpiece, Vandoren V12 3.5 or D’Addario Reserve Classic 3.5 reeds, BG Super Revelation ligature, metronome/tuner, GEM swab, ReedGeek, etc.
  2. Find a good private teacher who teaches solid basics and expressive musical style. Stay away from Rote-Only Teachers and YouTube Videos. [Don’t just copy a recording. Learn to count! Rote-only playing will not get you past a good university audition.]

Step 2: Core Concepts

  1. It’s All About the MUSIC. So, work on ARTC Basics & ARTSY Musical Style (Phrasing, especially Romantic Era Style)
  2. Loading & Unloading. Slow Careful Practice = Speedy, Confident Performing. The Tortoise and the Hare – Be a Turtle! (See Frank R. Wilson)
  3. Focus on What You Control: Preparation & Effort. Success, John Wooden, etc.
  4. Genuine Excellence = Talent × Practice Time × Practice Quality.
  5. Power of Habit. Work on Basics (ARTC) & Scales, along with the All-State Music in a Practice Routine.

Step 3: General Preparation Tips

  1. Practice and perform only on good reeds.
  2. Use a metronome and tuner.
  3. Record yourself – check out phone apps!
  4. BOLD Dynamics.
  5. Sound Projection
  6. Plan and mark breathing carefully.
  7. Understand terms, notation, ornaments, etc. that are on the etudes.
  8. Create a cheat sheet. Write each etude’s scales and arpeggios at top of music.
  9. Clap and sing the music.
  10. Check out additional Practice Tips.

Step 4: Scale Preparation Tips

  1. Thoroughly prepare your scales as if they were etudes or solos. Don’t just run through them quickly and thoughtlessly. Careful preparation of scales with good fundamentals (relaxation, tone, counting, etc.) will pay big rewards not only on the scales themselves, but also on the all-state etudes and all the music you play since they are built on scales.
  2. Work on scales in an organized practice routine that includes basics, sight-reading, etc. My Practice Routine is here.
  3. Practice a scale all slurred first, then work on the tongued version. Slurring will allow you to hear how smooth (or not) the connections between notes are.
  4. Work on tonguing every day – check out my Basic Tonguing Exercise (BTE) click here.
  5. Practice the chromatic scale every day. Many consider it to be the most important scale. I suggest starting your scale practice with it.
  6. Use a metronome. BUT, don’t use it 100% of the time – DO NOT get addicted to the metronome. Common Sense is your most important tool in preparation of scales and all-state music (and everything!).
  7. Work on cleanly going over The Break! This is often neglected and results in a lack of smoothness in the playing. The finger combinations for going over The Break are tricky and must be addressed every day by clarinetists at every level. Also, DO NOT use throat tone resonance fingers (or keeping right hand down, etc.) when doing scales. This will slow down and dirty the technique.
  8. Make sure you have good tone, relaxed body position, good hand position and finger movement, etc. as you learn the scales. Otherwise, you will be memorizing flaws that will be much harder to fix later.

Step 5: Etude Preparation Template

  1. Composer and Style
  2. Overview
  3. Tempo and Key
  4. Sections and Phrases
  5. Special Issues (repeated figure, etc.)
  6. Musical Issues
  7. Technical Issues (articulation, rhythms, fingerings, etc.)
  8. Problem Passages
  9. Scale and Arpeggio Cheat Sheet
  10. Breath Marks
  11. Other
  12. Suggested Listening

ClarinetMike says, “It’s all about music. So spend your time preparing to give a beautiful performance.”

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Clarinet Vibrato?

ClarinetMike and Pianist Dena Kay Jones in the video below give the World Premiere of “Small Voice of Calm” by Composer Raymond Head (above) at the Orfeo Music Festival 2018 in Vipiteno, Italy.

Clarinet Vibrato?  by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

I’m often asked questions about clarinet vibrato such as “Do you use vibrato?” or “As a clarinet teacher, should I allow my students to do it?” or “How do I do vibrato?” Below, I consider the first two questions – I’ll leave the third question for another day.

Many professional clarinet players use vibrato in classical music as well as in jazz. For example, the much-admired principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Harold Wright, used vibrato.  Also, I myself use some vibrato in my clarinet playing, as in the video above. (So, yes, I use some vibrato in both classical and jazz.) However, not all clarinet players and teachers hold a high opinion of vibrato on the clarinet, especially in classical music.

The renowned clarinet player and teacher Robert Marcellus said he used no vibrato at all in classical music; however, he did use it in jazz or in a jazzy work such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (see Marcellus interview here). Similar to Marcellus, many clarinet players and teachers believe that a clarinetist should not use vibrato, especially in classical music. And I’ve noticed that some of them are very strict about it.

So, question number 2: “As a clarinet teacher, should I allow my students to do it?” After a number of years of carefully considering the issue, I came to the conclusion to not allow my clarinet students to use vibrato on classical music. My primary reason for not allowing them to use vibrato is a pragmatic one. Almost all of my clarinet students (whether high school, university, etc. ) will someday have to audition at a region or solo contest, for university or graduate school entrance, or for acceptance into a professional or semi-professional orchestra, wind symphony, etc.

The widespread influence of those who dislike clarinet vibrato is significant enough (at least in the USA) to potentially limit the audition success of a student. I’ve felt (and continue to feel) that it is not worth the risk. Certainly, there are exceptions. For example, if I was working with a graduate student who came of out a military band and was older and more musically mature, it might be fine to allow vibrato.

The mention of age and maturity brings up a second reason for not allowing clarinet students to use vibrato. In addition to being a clarinetist,  I’m also a saxophone player and teacher and have a lot of experience dealing with saxophone vibrato. (I taught clarinet and saxophone at the university level for more than two decades.) I think of and teach vibrato as a tone and musical enhancement. I believe it is important to get a student’s basic saxophone tone established and “locked in” before moving to an expected musical use of vibrato.

Unlike saxophone, there are no expectations on clarinet vibrato in classical music. Therefore, it seems wise for me to not only wait on vibrato until the student’s clarinet tone is developed, but to also wait for a deepened musical maturity (usually age). Such a deepened maturity would generally be beyond the range of study of most students in secondary and university study.

Since my prose is a little thick above, let me restate with some bluntness (and a little glibness) why I don’t teach clarinet vibrato to students:

1. If a clarinet student plays with vibrato on an audition in front of a clarinet vibrato-hating judge, they’re DEAD – “Next Please….”

2. I encourage the clarinet student to wait until they are on their own as a professional musician before using vibrato. Otherwise, they could end up sounding kinda goofy.

ClarinetMike says, “Thanks for reading my opinions. As always, I welcome comments.”

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