10 Little Things That Make Big Things Happen!

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike” after a concert.

Below are 10 valuable items I carry in my clarinet case. ClarinetMike says, “Remember the words of Coach John Wooden, ‘Little Things Make Big Things Happen.’”

10 Little Things That Make Big Things Happen!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. Darker Lead Pencil. I always try to mark my music with a darker leaded pencil. This really helps me to see my markings. I have found that often “custom” pencils, such as  university logo pencils have a darker lead for some reason.
  2. Earplugs. I always carry a set of simple earplugs in my case. You never know when you’ll go on a gig and you’ll be sitting in an orchestra with a trumpet in your ear! Some of my worst memories involve the slapstick in “Sleigh Ride!” If you are involved in an ongoing gig that is tough on your ears, do some research on getting high-end musician earplugs. Protect Your Ears! UPDATE: I recently found out about and have been using Earasers earplugs. Check ’em out!
  3. Synthetic Reeds. Many single reed players play exclusively on plastic reeds and they sound GREAT! Unfortunately, I can’t get them to work as well for me, so I still use cane reeds. However, I carry a couple of plastic reeds with me for special occasions when regular reeds tend to fail: outside performances, “quick instrument switch” doubling gigs, etc. FYI, I like the Legere European Cut Signature Clarinet Reeds – Click HERE.
  4. Pad Dryer. During a long practice session or gig, especially in a cold room, water can get under your pads. I carried cigarette paper for years in my case to dab the water off the pads. I now carry the BG Pad Dryer. It works great! Check it out HERE. The last thing you need is to try to explain to a junior high school official about how cigarette papers are part of your “standard equipment” in teaching clarinet lessons! FYI, Muncy Winds makes a product called “Muncy Pad Papers.” They are cigarette papers without the word “cigarette.” Click HERE.
  5. ReedGeek. A couple of years ago I started using this amazing product. The truth is I hate working on reeds and am kinda scared of knives. But I love my little ReedGeek “Universal” Reed Tool – IT WORKS! The ReedGeek has REALLY helped me do simple reed adjustments that have very much improved the performance of the cane reeds I play on. Check it out HERE (watch the videos).
  6. Black Swab. At the rehearsal and gig, it is best if your swab is black. This will keep from drawing unwanted attention to yourself when you swab. This is especially important if you are new on a gig. (FYI, I carry an extra swab or 2 in wild colors for less formal occasions! I’m easily entertained….)
  7. Little Screwdriver. I always keep a little screwdriver in my clarinet case as a small screw will sometimes work itself out a little when playing the clarinet. I had a couple of screws on my beloved 1974 Buffet R13 Bb clarinet that used to work themselves out all the time!  [Now fixed, yes!] You can get a set of small screwdrivers at “Tool World” at a local home improvement store or in a sewing kit set at a Mega Mart.
  8. Small Watch. I don’t wear a watch as I don’t like the constriction on my wrist.  So, I have a little black watch (black like my swab) I carry around. It’s a little digital watch that clearly shows the time and such. I have taken off the wristband part and can position it on my music stand or near my clarinet peg. This allows me to easily keep tabs on the time and, importantly, be less obvious about checking the time during lessons or at a gig. A few years ago here in DFW, an “old school” conductor fired a couple of musicians in a local orchestra for looking at their cell phones during a rehearsal!!
  9. Two Clarinet Pegs. I always carry 2 portable clarinet stands with me at all times. This way I can have one on stage and one backstage at a recital. If I play an orchestra gig, I also bring my heavy steel-based stand. I put the heavy stand on stage beside me and the plastic ones in the dressing or warm up room. There are many portable clarinet stands to choose from. I like the simple plastic stands that are light and fit easily in my case cover.
  10. Plastic Mouthpiece Cap. A metal cap may be more secure, but if it falls off at the rehearsal or gig, it could make a loud and embarrassing racket, “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG……………..BANG!!!!”
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10 Time Management Tips

ClarinetMike says, “Study these tips, then turn off the computer and do them!”

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the USA are often a super busy time for musicians (and everyone!) with lots of time challenges. Therefore, below I offer the following updated 10 Time Management Tips from an article I published in the NACWPI Journal several years ago (citation below). I will post the entire article in coming weeks, likely in the new year.

10 Time Management Tips by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

1. Handle mail only once. Read it now or read it later (not both!). Emails should be answered within 24 hours. Extra Teacher Tip: If you use your school’s email, make sure that your school’s email storage has not reached its limit.

2. Practice/study/work where you cannot be interrupted by the phone. If possible, turn off your cell phone.

3. Learn how to quickly (and courteously) get rid of visitors when they drop by your practice room or office to just “chat.”

4. Always strive to improve your time management skills: Google it, read a book, attend a lecture, etc.

5. Exercise/Eat Right/Sleep 7-8 hours every night. “Every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two” is a good old rule to follow.

6. Recruit help. You do not have to do every chore yourself.

7. Carefully consider goals and goal-setting. Remember the Chinese proverb: “A journey of
a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

8. Just do it! Be disciplined. The more you are disciplined, the more disciplined you will
become.

9. Failure: If you fall down, don’t just lie there and complain. LEARN, get up, and keep going. Remember the words of John Wooden, “Don’t whine, complain or make excuses – just do the best you can.”

10.  Television and the Internet are your enemies (at least as far as time is concerned).  Now, a new enemy is here: the SMARTPHONE – when that webpage is “loading” your life is going with it! [NO! You don’t have to check Twitter on your iPhone every few minutes to see if your baseball team has acquired more pitching….]

Original Article © by The National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors NACWPI Journal, Vol. XLVI, No. 3, spring 1998.

Thanks to NACWPI for kind permission.

Photo above courtesy PDPhoto.org.

[NOTE: The photo was in Public Domain a few years ago and I assume it still is. Please notify me if not.]

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15 Performance Anxiety Tips

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike” Performing for High School Students

All-Region Auditions! Chair Tests! Music Juries! Final Exams!

One of the most frequent questions I get in lessons, master classes, clinics, etc. is how to deal with the normal stress of playing in front of people. Therefore, I’ve decided to repost some common sense tips on dealing with performance anxiety.

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15 Performance Anxiety Tips by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Successfully dealing with the concerns of playing or singing in stressful situations, such as recitals, contests, auditions, etc. is an important part of being a good musician. I have found the following tips useful with my students and in my own performing.

  1. Nervous is Normal. This is very important. The goal is not to eradicate nervousness. It is to perform well without letting nerves get in the way.
  1. There is a Tomorrow. Very few times in our lives do our careers hinge on a single performance. Also, not too many people die while performing!
  1. Be Confident/Be Positive. The key is to act or “be” confident whether you feel confident or not.
  1. Have a Routine. Most success is planned, so having a performing ritual will help.
  1. Prepare Music Well with Good Fundamentals. Music must be thoroughly practiced with sound basics of relaxation/body position, tone, rhythm, and technique. So, turn off that TV [and INTERNET!] and get to the practice room!
  1. Make Music. Understand that the point of performing is to make music. Careful reflection on this and related topics are an essential part of dealing with performance anxiety and good music-making in general.
  1. Avoid Alcohol, Drugs, etc. Be wary of chemicals that alter you. My university band director would always tell us that, “Performing and alcohol do not mix.”
  1. Breathe. Spend the first few minutes on stage thinking about your air use. Further, make sure the breath marks are well-conceived and clearly marked on your music.
  1. Eat Bananas. Chop up a few of them on your cereal on the morning of a big performance. They have natural ingredients that help deal with stress.
  1. Eat Right/Exercise/Sleep 8 Hours A Night. Eating burritos at 1 a.m. the night before an 8 a.m. audition is usually not a good idea. Also, “Every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two” is a good old rule to follow.
  1. Relax in your Body/Concentrate in your Mind. Usually we do the opposite.
  1. Get in the Hall Before the Performance. The day before would be best, but playing a little on the stage even an hour or two before “Showtime” helps.
  1. Check your Clothes Before You Walk on Stage. Make sure your performing clothes are not too tight and/or restrictive. (I think we all know why clothes we have not worn recently might be too tight, don’t we?)
  1. DO IT!! There is no magic formula for dealing with performance anxiety. Learning to perform well takes time. It is more like exercising than turning on a light switch. Try to make small improvements every time you perform. Always be looking for opportunities to perform.

[15.] ClarinetMike says, “LOAD the music carefully with lots of SMART PRACTICE and then UNLOAD fearlessly – GO FOR IT!”

[NOTE: The above information is based on the lecture presentation, “Perspectives on Performance Anxiety,” given by the author at the UMEA conference in February 1998]

This article originally appeared in and is © InterFACE (Journal of the Utah Music Educators Association) Fall 1998 (Volume 44, No. 1).

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ClarinetMike’s All-State Preparation Kit: 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Performance!

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Marching Band Season is over here in Texas (mostly). Kids in Texas and across the USA are turning their attention 100% to all-region/all-state preparation (along with catching up on homework and sleep!). Therefore, I have assembled some previously published ClarinetMike Blog posts that offer help on preparing and performing audition music. ClarinetMike says, “Click on the links below and then GET TO THE PRACTICE ROOM!!!”

ClarinetMike’s All-State Preparation Kit:
10 Ways to Upgrade Your Performance!

by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

General Helps

Practice Routine: Organize your practice with a plan that addresses basics, scales, arpeggios, sight-reading, music, etc.

Rhy-No Practice Technique: Simple, yet powerful, method for preparing music.

“Feed The Rhy-No!”:  An easy way to upgrade Rhy-No Practice to make it even more effective.

The Fast Way: A practice technique that works great by itself or within Rhy-No Practice.

Help on Tonguing: The Basic Tonguing Exercise (BTE or “Betty”) – a very useful exercise on a vital part of clarinet playing.

Tips on Texas TMEA and ATSSB All-State Music

Texas TMEA All-State Etude Preparation Tips

Tips On Texas ATSSB All-State Materials

Simple Ways to Upgrade A Performance FAST!

Sound Projection: Big results with just a little extra work!

Ligature and Reed Placement: “Little things make big things happen.”

Perform Music!: Insight on auditions, etc.

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Upcoming Audition? ClarinetMike says, “PERFORM MUSIC!”

ClarinetMike says, “PERFORM MUSIC!”

Do You Have An Upcoming All-Region Audition? Music Jury? University Entrance Audition? Concerto Competition? ClarinetMike says, “PERFORM MUSIC!”

In the preparation for and giving of auditions and such I suggest changing our thinking from “I want to beat people and WIN!” to “I will ‘Go For It’ and attempt to give a beautiful PERFORMANCE OF MUSIC.” Because MUSIC (i.e. ART) is what we are actually trying to do. Here’s a couple of inspirational quotes:

“We are musical if we are beautifully expressive and passionate –
the antithesis of mechanical, meaningless, accuracy-only producers of
organized sound. Accuracy unto itself is boring and lifeless. Through
beauty, expressivity, and passion, accuracy transcends into art.”
Donald Neuen (Southwestern Musician, Nov 2017, p 13)

“The heart of performing is the attempt to say something beautiful.”
Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

I want to quickly add that making all-region band, acceptance into a music school, passing a music jury, winning a competition, etc. are very worthy goals. And, of course, the music business IS competitive. However, it is vital that we not let our competitiveness overwhelm our artistry and joy.

Let us constantly remind ourselves and teach our students that it is ALL ABOUT MUSIC!

Practical Tip: With myself and my students, I push the idea of referring to the all-region audition as “A Performance of Music” and not “An Audition.”

NOTE: As previously mentioned on this blog, I’ve been heavily influenced by the ideas of the great John Wooden – see HERE and HERE.

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“E-Tips for E-Lips” Clarinet Embouchure Tips!

ClarinetMike Performing at the Orfeo Music Festival in Vipiteno, Italy.

I recently posted my 5-C Clarinet Embouchure click here. Below are 5 embouchure tips I strongly suggest using with the 5-C Embouchure. In addition to working GREAT with 5-C, I think these tips will generally work well with pretty much any clarinet embouchure on any size of clarinet AND will also be very helpful on saxophone. Further, I think that these tips will help fix at least some of the problems in other clarinet and saxophone embouchures. Each tip below begins with the letter “E” and gives an important concept, thus “E-Tips.” The “E-Lips” refers to embouchure.

ClarinetMike says, “Your tone won’t improve unless you change something. Try these and see if some or all work for you!”

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“E-Tips for E-Lips” Clarinet Embouchure Tips
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Texas USA
BG France Performing Artist
clarinetmiketexas@yahoo.com * 682-888-7639
clarinetmike.com * clarinetmike.wordpress.com

E-Tip #1Engage. “Keep Lower Teeth Engaged.”   Beneath the reed, keep the lower teeth right under the bottom lip – do not allow space between the lip and teeth.  Think “Reed, Lip, Teeth.”  You want to somewhat feel the reed through the lower lip with the bottom teeth. But, don’t push up too much. Think in terms of creating a good platform for the reed to vibrate upon. Keeping the lower teeth engaged allows for sensitive adjustments to the sound, as there is a close connection to the resonator (reed vibrating against the slot of the mouthpiece).

E-Tip #2: Edges. “Don’t Pinch the Edges of the Reed.” Be sure to keep the lower lip flat against the reed so as not to crimp the sides of the reed.  Once past the reed, the lips need to seal to keep air from leaking out. Remember, clarinet sound is produced by the vibration of the reed. The more the reed vibrates, the more sound is produced.

E-Tip #3: Eee’s. “Use ‘Eee’ Syllables.”  I’ve found it very helpful to voice[i] these syllables in the specified ranges when playing in different registers on the (Bb soprano) clarinet:

“Teu” low register (below Open G)  with a French pronunciation[ii] (see video clip below)
“Tee” Open G up to third space C in the staff
“Dee” C# in the staff and higher

Notice above, that each syllable has a progressively higher “Air Position” than the next. By “Air Position,” I am referring to how high the air goes through the mouth.  (I suggest trying this by whispering “Teu, Tee, and Dee” in succession. Notice that the air is higher on each one.) The basic idea is that the higher one plays on the clarinet, the higher the air should go through the mouth. I think it is easier to think “Air Position” than “Tongue Position.”

These voicings help not only with embouchure, but also help out greatly with tonguing. It was a big breakthrough for me to finally realize that embouchure and articulation are very closely related.  [There is a video clip of me pronouncing and explaining these syllables available on my website – Click HERE and watch “Embouchure: Tongue Position = Air Position.”]

Another important and useful syllable is “Hee.” It has a very high air position and works really great for me for voicing Super High G (fourth ledger line above the staff). However, it is not usable in the same way as the others because it is not good for tonguing. (In warm-ups, I’ll whisper “Hee” a few times to set the voicing and then play a Super High G with a “Dee” articulation.) “Hee” is also very useful pedagogically in explaining to a student about voicing and “Air Position.” (Have the student whisper “Teu” or “Tee” and then have them whisper “Hee.”)

E-Tip #4: Ex. “Say syllable ‘Ex’ – Lower Teeth Give, Top Teeth Receive.”  Don’t bite down hard on the mouthpiece with the top teeth – i.e. don’t push down with the head. Think in terms of top teeth “receiving” the mouthpiece from the lower teeth as when saying the syllable, “Ex.” As with all of these concepts, it is important to personalize this to a clarinetist’s unique physiology, equipment, etc. Also, be sure to say “Ex” and not “X.” They are very slightly different.

E-Tip #5: Eat. “Use ‘Chewing Muscles’ Up High.” Starting about High E (third ledger line above the staff) and higher, put molars and back teeth very slightly closer together as if chewing something. Be sure to use “Dee” voicing (see E-Tip #3). The higher the note, the more “chew” is needed. The key to playing up high is to find the best spot in your air position, embouchure, mechanism (i.e. your body), etc. for each note. Or, as Joe Allard used to say, “Every note has its own special feeling.” (This is true for all notes in all registers, actually.) As with the other E-Tips, this concept will take some experimentation.

[i] “Voicings” such as these are used to help with the position of the air, tongue, embouchure, mouth, etc. A clarinetist should be careful to not move stuff the same amount s/he does when actually speaking these in normal conversation.

[ii] On “Teu,” DO NOT drop the bottom teeth away from bottom lip (See Tip #1 above).

NOTE: The tips above are a shortened version of “E-Tips for E-Lips.” The complete version containing important acknowledgements (especially my heavy debt to master single reed teacher Joe Allard) can be found HERE.

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5-C Clarinet Embouchure: 5 Steps to Great Clarinet Tone!

Pianist Dena Kay Jones and ClarinetMike with Composer Raymond Head after a recent World Premiere in Italy.

ClarinetMike says, “The 5-C Clarinet Embouchure Below Works Great. Check It Out!”

5-C Clarinet Embouchure
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Texas USA
BG France Performing Artist
clarinetmiketexas@yahoo.com * 682-888-7639
clarinetmike.com * clarinetmike.wordpress.com

What produces the sound on the clarinet? Clarinet sound is produced by the reed vibrating against the slot in the mouthpiece activated by the air (see E-Tip #3). Unlike brass players, the clarinet embouchure is not the sound maker (resonator).

What is the purpose of clarinet embouchure? The purpose of clarinet embouchure is to provide a great platform (or “Happy Place”) for the reed to vibrate. The 5-C embouchure below will help a clarinetist develop a great environment or “Happy Place” for the reed to vibrate.

The 5-C embouchure could be thought of as a single lip version of a double lip embouchure (aka “Single Lip-Double Lip”).  5-C allows the reed to vibrate freely as in double lip embouchure. However, since 5-C is a single lip embouchure with top teeth on the mouthpiece, it avoids the problems of double lip: hard to do, hurts for some, lack of stability for marching/standing, etc.

5-C Embouchure Steps

1.  Circumference (or Circle)
2. Corners to Cheekbones
3. Chin
4. Cover
5. Click

5-C Embouchure Details

  1. Circumference (or Circle): Lightly stretch bottom lip flat around lower teeth circumference (or circle).
  2. Corners to Cheekbones: Use “Smile Muscles” (Zygomaticus major muscles) to stretch lightly upwards from mouth corners to cheekbones. These muscles are the ones used when smiling. This should also help flatten out the chin.
  3. Chin: Smooth out chin muscles, focusing the chin to a point. But, DO NOT hinge the jaw forward – use a normal face. NOTE: Steps 1 and 2 will likely flatten the chin just about right – this step could be called “Check Chin.”
  4. Cover: Put some bottom lip over bottom teeth – “Not too much, not too little, just right.”
  5. Click: Top teeth rest on mouthpiece. Think, “Click” (See E-Tip #4).  Don’t bite down hard – think of top teeth “receiving” the mouthpiece. IMPORTANT: Upper lip also sits gently on top of mouthpiece and moves upward toward top teeth with no downward pressure.

NOTE: The embouchure above and embouchure tips elsewhere have been heavily influenced by the ideas of master single reed teacher Joe Allard.  (This embouchure can be used on all clarinets and saxophones.) See HERE for important acknowledgements, etc.

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