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!”


“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 * 682-888-7639 *

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 * 682-888-7639 *

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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6 Ways To Upgrade Your Practice!

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

I know many of you are practicing feverishly preparing for all-state, university auditions, concerto competitions, concerts, recital hearings, juries, etc. Below are some tips on making the most of your practice sessions.

6 Ways to Upgrade Your Practice! by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. LET THERE BE LIGHT: Make sure you have adequate light in your practice space.
  2. CARE ABOUT CHAIR: Get a good chair to sit in that is comfortable and the right height for you. Similarly, make sure you have a quality music stand that is adjustable.
  3. STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT: Be sure you sit up with good, relaxed posture – no slouching, leg crisscrossing, etc.
  4. NO FAN OF FANS: Do not have a ceiling fan (or similar) going above your head or near you while practicing. The fan will blow your sound around and you will not be able to accurately hear yourself.
  5. TURN OFF THE DANG PHONE: Limit distractions by turning off all beeps, buzzers, and bells on cellphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc.
  6. NO BASEBALL: Do not do something else while practicing. I know someone who listens to baseball games while practicing. Another friend warms up on his instrument while reading email. BAD IDEA!

ClarinetMike says, “Check out the excellent book Deep Work by Cal Newport. The book discusses the need for improving our ability to do Deep Work: ‘the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task [like practice!].’ (dust jacket flap copy)”

For more practice help from ClarinetMike, check out 10 Practice Tips for Preparing All-State, Solos, and Everything! Click Here.

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Etude No. 3 “The Caprice” Preparation Tips: ClarinetMike’s 2018-2019 Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Clinic

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Below are my complete clinic notes on Etude No. 3 “The Caprice” from this year’s Texas TMEA All-State Soprano Clarinet Etudes. Click here to view my recently-posted notes on Etude No. 1 and here for notes on Etude No. 2 “The Slow Etude.” Check out my previous posts on the all-state etudes: Click HERE.

ClarinetMike’s Texas TMEA All-State Clarinet Clinic 2018-2019
Soprano Clarinet Preparation Tips: Etude No. 3 “The Caprice”
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Texas, USA * 682-888-7639 *

Etude Book: David Hite editor, Artistic Studies, Book 1 – From the French School [Rose Etudes] Published by Southern Music Co. (For official TMEA listing, Click HERE.)

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.

Practice Tip: Load only accurate rhythms and notes by using Rhy-No Practice Technique with BOLD Dynamics: Click HERE and HERE.

Etude 3 Allegro un poco vivace, Page: 88-89, Etude Title: 9 Caprices, No. 6, Tempo: Dotted Quarter Note = 58-68. Play from beginning to Measure 79. Errata: CLICK HERE (Be sure to number the first measure as Measure Zero*.)

Composer and Style: This Rose etude is based on a Caprice by French violinist and composer Pierre Rode (1774-1830) from his 24 Caprices for Violin click here to view the original etude (#15). These etudes are an important staple in the training of violinists. Contemporary violinist Axel Strauss says about this etude, “In this lively and dance-like piece use a light detaché for the 16th notes and an elastic martelé stroke for the eighth notes….Count in one rather than in three to emphasize the dance quality of the rhythm.” (cite) Also, notice that the original etude was marked Vivace assai, “Very Lively, Full of Life.” Go with Rode on this and play “Full of Life” on this etude. [ClarinetMike says, “I’ve noticed over the years that often when there is a poco, “a little,” on something, forget about doing it a little, do it a lot!”]

Caprice: The dictionary defines “Caprice” as a “sudden whim or fancy.” Musical “Caprices” composed during Rode’s time were often written in a lively and playful “style of fast, evenly moving, light staccato figuration.” (Randel, New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 139)

Overview: Perform this virtuosic Caprice with a beautiful tone, accurate rhythm, and extreme dynamics. Relaxed hands and body are vital. There are 2 issues: 1) Solid Basics of Relaxation, Tone, Articulation, and Rhythm 2) Capricious Style that is lively, playful, impulsive, unpredictable, and fun!

Sections and Phrases: Etude breaks into 2 Sections: S1 = m0*-31 and S2 =m32-m79 (end of selection). Phrases are a little “capricious,” but here’s a suggestion: The Phrases for Section 1 (S1) are P1 = m0*-m6, P2 = m7-m12, P3 = m12-m16, P4 = m16-m21, P5 = m22-m31 AND The Phrases for Section 2 (S2) are P6 = m32-m42, P7 = m43-m46, P8 = m47-m54, P9 = m55-m64, P10 = m65-m72, P11 = m73-m79.

Problem Passages: Wide leaps as in m2, m3, m4 etc. are tricky. The rhythm in m7 is used a lot; it must be correct every time. S2 features all 3 fully diminished 7th arpeggios – identify these and mark them on your music. (Clarinetists should work on fully diminished arpeggios every day just like we do chromatic and major and minor scales/arpeggios). There are also some measures in S2 with unusual accidentals. Work these out carefully. Watch for measures that repeat – this will help A LOT!

Musical Issues: Play with LOTS OF DYNAMIC CONTRAST! Keep style light and play like a violinist – as Strauss indicated above, think “Dance.” At m7 play piano (soft) at beginning of measure. Virtuosity is an important part of the etude, but as a friend of mine says, “Don’t play anything faster than you can play it.”

Technical IssuesTrills: One trill only on each trill in m3 and m5. Fingerings: NO resonance fingerings or right hand down on throat tones in fast passages, this slows down and dirties up the technique. (Band Directors, take note for further reference click here.)  Articulation: Be sure to tongue and slur in the correct places – don’t blow this off! Notice that no sixteenths are marked staccato – take the staccatos off of m55-m59. Play articulated sixteenths with a light tongue stoke without separation. The staccato eight notes (as in m2, m3, m4 etc. ) should only be slightly separated, think “detached.” Think Violin! {As in Etude 1, check out this ClarinetMike Trick: In the slow preparation of any fast short-articulated or staccato type passage, DO NOT practice it slowly with the staccatos short. In other words, when you practice slowly, play the articulation with a mostly 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. Playing the notes too short can sound bad.}

Scale and Arpeggio Cheat Sheet: Scales: Bb major. Arpeggios: Bb major (Bb D F), F7 (F A C Eb), G7 (G B D F), C minor 7 (C Eb G Bb), C7 (C E G Bb), E diminished (E G Bb), E fully diminished 7th (E G Bb C#), F fully diminished 7th (F, Ab, B, D), F# fully diminished 7th (F# A C Eb),

Breathing: As marked and needed – stop and breathe. Be sure to get back to tempo after stopping.

Other: It takes time for this capricious etude to sound “normal.” Work on this etude at every practice session.

Suggested Listening: Listen to ALL of the Rode Caprices in their original violin versions for style, click here. (NOTE: Do not just listen to our etude over and over and just copy without preparing it carefully. You will sound terrible.)

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ClarinetMike Tip on “Going Over The Break”

ClarinetMike says, “Teach Good Clarinet Pedagogy!”

Teachers of beginning clarinet students should not teach “Going Over The Break” using the right hand down short cut.  The only exception to this is when a student is having real trouble and “freaking out.” Then, for a very, very limited time the student should be allowed to put it down. Even though it is difficult, it is absolutely critical that students learn to move all the fingers together “Going Over The Break” as this is how they will really play the clarinet.

QUESTION: Should clarinetists put down fingers in the right hand on throat tones ever? Stay tuned! I’ll be posting a ClarinetMike Blog post about this in coming weeks! Here’s a peek at what’s coming:

[Make absolutely sure that students ONLY put down fingers (right hand down or resonance fingerings) in slow passages and NOT in technical passages or scale work. Otherwise, good technique will be hindered.

In my more than 3 decades of teaching clarinet at all levels from 4th graders to graduate students, I’ve seen lots and lots of students who had very dirty technique due to various pedagogical errors like this above. It is simply unacceptable for teachers to hamstring their students with having to go through a mountain of mind-bendingly slow practice to fix these sort of issues later.]

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