7 Ways to Improve Your Practicing

ClarinetMike practicing at the Scuola di musica Vipiteno at the Orfeo Music Festival in Vipiteno, Italy.

Here’s some tips that will help you make the most of your practice sessions.

7 Ways to Improve Your Practicing by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. Practice First. “Work expands to fill the time available.” (A time management maxim known as “Parkinson’s Law.”) This means if you wait to practice until you finish all your homework (or housework, etc.), then you won’t practice because you’ll run out of time. So, my suggestion is to practice first for at least one practice session before starting on other work. This way you’ll get at least some practice in every day.
  2. Let There Be Light. Make sure you have adequate light in your practice space. FYI, you should own a couple of stand lights and take them to your rehearsals and gigs. A stand light saved my neck the first time I performed in Italy at the Orfeo Music Festival. I played Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock in an amazing (but dark!) old church – La Chiesa di Santo Spirito, built in 1399!
  3. Care About the 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.
  4. Straighten Up and Fly Right. Be sure you sit up or stand with good, relaxed posture – NO slouching, leaning over, leg crisscrossing, etc.
  5. 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.
  6. Turn Off The Phone! Limit distractions by turning off all beeps, buzzers, and bells on cellphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc.
  7. No TV or Internet. Do not do something else while practicing. I know someone who warms up on his instrument while reading email every morning. Don’t do this.

ClarinetMike says, “Hang in there. Go practice right now.”

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7 Woodwind Doubling Tips

ClarinetMike testing flutes at TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association Clinic/Convention).

These tips are generally pointed toward doubling on clarinet, saxophone, and flute [my doubles]; however, I believe they also will be useful on double reeds. Further, I think the principles in the tips will generally be helpful on any instrument.

7 Woodwind Doubling Tips by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. Think Like a […….]. For example, if you are learning to double on the saxophone, “Think Like a Saxophonist.” This is the most important concept in learning to perform well on a new instrument. It is critical to learn how good performers on an instrument “think,” i.e. approach technical (and musical) issues, especially basics such as embouchure, posture, tonguing, etc. ClarinetMike says, “There’s nothing worse than hearing a clarinetist trying to play the saxophone like a clarinet!”
  2. Have a Goal. Having some kind of doubling goal (even if it’s flexible) will help you make decisions on how to spend your time practicing and studying a new instrument.
  3. Embouchure is Everything. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of good embouchure and voicing. Check out my clarinet embouchure and related clarinet embouchure tips. (The embouchure and related tips owe a heavy debt to master woodwind doubler and teacher Joe Allard.)
  4. Basics are Fundamental. Along with embouchure, focus lots of time on important fundamentals such as relaxation, posture, air/breathing, hand position, tonguing, sound projection, etc. Even though some of these concepts may be similar on your main instrument, make sure you use versions that address the particular needs of your new instrument.
  5. Learn Instrument Specifics. This refers to things like brands of instruments, mouthpieces, ligatures, neckstraps, headjoints, instrument care, music, etc. An area of special consideration should be reeds (this goes double for double reeds!).
  6. Seek out Good Instruction. Find a good teacher (or a good book/video) to guide you. Take some private lessons. [During this time of pandemic, I suggest taking some Skype lessons with a good private teacher. If you can’t find someone or aren’t sure who to ask, sent me an email or text and I’ll help you find someone.]
  7. Listen. Listen to various great performers to give you a sense of how you’d like to sound.
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Duo 35 in Miami, Florida! ClarinetMike and Saxophonist Todd Oxford to Perform at the NACWPI/CMS 2020 National Conference, October 22-24, 2020

ClarinetMike and Saxophonist Todd Oxford after a Duo 35 Concert in Alabama.

Saxophonist Todd Oxford and I (Duo 35) have been invited to perform at the National Conference of NACWPI (National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors) on October 22-24, 2020 at the Hilton Miami Downtown in Miami, Florida! NACWPI will hold its conference in conjunction with the 2020 National Conferences of the College Music Society, the Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI), and Pi Kappa Lambda (PKL). Below is our accepted conference proposal that includes 2 World Premieres for clarinet and saxophone!

NACWPI/CMS 2020 will be the final leg of our Duo 35 Tour 2020 this fall! Watch for more Duo 35 Tour 2020 information coming soon!

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NACWPI 2020 National Conference/College Music Society
October 22-24, 2020
Hilton Miami Downtown, Miami, Florida USA

Michael Dean, clarinet (independent)
Todd Oxford, alto saxophone (Texas State University)

PROGRAM:

[Untitled] (clarinet and alto saxophone) (World Premiere) by Michael Schneider

Blue Caprice (solo alto saxophone) (1981) by Victor Morosco

Transposing A Feeling: For Bailey Sikorski (solo clarinet) (2020) by Austin Ali

Garage Sale Llama (clarinet and alto saxophone) (World Premiere) by Jeffrey Hoover

BIO: Duo 35 is a dynamic chamber ensemble featuring Michael Dean on clarinet and Todd Oxford on saxophone. The Texas-based duo engages and entertains audiences with a fresh and versatile repertoire of mostly new music. Mike and Todd recently performed in Canada and at the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) Clinic/Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Clarinetist Michael Dean “ClarinetMike” performs and teaches internationally and across the USA. Dr. Dean’s career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, Royal Northern College of Music, Eastman School of Music and the Orfeo Music Festival, with recent recitals and master classes in Italy, Canada, Spain, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas. His professional website is clarinetmike.com.

Todd Oxford has appeared as a concert artist, recording artist and on radio and television in Europe, Asia, Mexico, Canada, and across the USA. Recent engagements include Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, CAMI Hall in New York, and Texas Rangers Ballpark performing for 30,000 fans. He is Associate Professor of Saxophone at Texas State University. His professional website is toddoxfordsaxophonist.com.

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ClarinetMike says, “Saxophonist Todd Oxford will also be performing a solo recital at this Mega-Conference as part of the Association for Technology in Music Instruction’s (ATMI) National Conference! Hey Now!!”

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7 Time Management Tips: Coronavirus “Stay-At-Home” Edition

ClarinetMike with Orfeo colleague Clarence Padilla and clarinet students in downtown Vipiteno, Italy at the international Orfeo Music Festival 2019.

With all the “Stay-At-Home” orders due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, many have found themselves saying, “I have loads of time, but can’t get anything done!” So, I rewrote some of my time management tips with adjustments for our current situation.

7 Time Management Tips: Coronavirus “Stay-At-Home” Edition
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

1.  I Got Rhythm! Work hard to have good sleep/wake habits, i.e. “rhythm.” The endless “Spring Break” can really throw us off. [We need to work on Rhythm Changes!]

2. Mom is Right! 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.

3. Goal! Do some goal-setting. One or two things actually accomplished is better than ten things not done.

4. Get a Plan, Man! Get some kind of plan and DO IT! I have found that having a plan and following it (even if it’s a so-so plan) results in great success.

5. Just Do It! Be disciplined. The more you are disciplined, the more disciplined you will
become.

6. Phone NO! Practice/study/work without interruptions as much as possible. Don’t look at that phone! Turn it off.

7. Hey, How’s It Going? Handle texts, email, Facebook messages, regular mail, etc. only once. Read/act on it now or later (not both!). However, ALL messages should be answered within 24 hours.

ClarinetMike says, “Get off Facebook, Go Practice.”

The above is a modified version of information from my article, “Basic Time Management” © by The National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors NACWPI Journal, Vol. XLVI, No. 3, spring 1998. Thanks to NACWPI for kind permission.

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Practice Tip: “Practice with a Practice Routine”

ClarinetMike practicing last summer at Orfeo Music Festival 2019 in Vipitenio, Italy.

Below is the Practice Routine I use and teach. 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 & posture, embouchure & voicing, tonguing, chromatic scale, and sight-reading.

ClarinetMike says, “The point of all these basics is to help you (and me!) play music better!”

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 & Posture/Air

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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5 Brilliant New Clarinet Works to Check Out!

Pianist Dena Kay Jones and ClarinetMike with composer Raymond Head after the World Premiere of his Small Voice of Calm at the Orfeo Music Festival 2018 in Vipiteno, Italy.

Here’s five super cool new clarinet works that would make excellent projects to work on during the coming weeks (or more) of being at home during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. ClarinetMike says, “Check ’em out!”

1. Summer Sunrise on the Mississippi (clarinet and media) (2009) by Robert Fruehwald.

The sheet music and media accompaniment for Summer Sunrise are available for FREE from the composer here. Information on this work is available here.

2. Small Voice of Calm (clarinet and piano) (2018) by Raymond Head.

The sheet music and information on Small Voice of Calm is available here.

3. Filtrò poi una luce (clarinet and piano or media) (2011) by Andrea Ferrante.

The sheet music for Filtrò is available for FREE here. Here’s a blurb on it:

Filtrò poi una luce roughly translates as “filtering of the light.” In a Facebook message to me on the meaning of the title, Andrea said, “As when [in] the morning a ray of sun enters from the window of your room… softly.”

I have a special version for clarinet and media (as in the video above) that I helped cook up (with the composer’s permission). If you want a copy, let me know.

[NOTE: That is me performing above and on the other videos on this post. CD Baby or somebody has confused me with a bass-baritone at UCLA named Michael Dean – maybe we should do a concert together!]

4. September (clarinet and media) (2007) by Jeffrey Hoover.

The composer is making the sheet music and media accompaniment for September FREE during this time of pandemic. [Thanks Jeff!] Contact Jeffrey Hoover directly at jeffreyhoovercomposer@gmail.com or here. Here’s a blurb on the work:

Jeffrey Hoover says, “September has always been a month of change and transition – a time when nature embraces both summer and fall, and life unfolds in new ways for individuals and society. The music of September is set in two related and contrasting sections: music of thoughtful reflection and music of engaging the present. The sound and music of September posses an autumnal quality, while spanning the psychological and emotional gap between the sound of memories and the music of now.” September (for clarinet & media) by Jeffrey Hoover was commissioned by Michael Dean and appears on the CD, Desertscape: New Music For Clarinet.

5. Stuff: Theme with Seven Variations (clarinet alone) (2001) by James Grant.

The sheet music and information about Stuff are available here.

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Free Skype Clarinet Lessons With ClarinetMike

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

To help out students stuck at home due to coronavirus school and university closings and to celebrate the 9th Anniversary of this ClarinetMike Blog, I’ve decided to offer free Skype clarinet lessons for the rest of the month of March. I will also offer them at a reduced rate for the months of April and May on a case by case basis.

ClarinetMike says, “If you are stuck at home, you have plenty of time to practice!”

Equipment. Skype lesson students need a computer with a good internet connection, webcam with microphone, and free Skype app. (I can help you figure it out – it’s easy!)

Information. For information on Skype Lessons with ClarinetMike, just send me an email or give me a call or text – CLICK HERE.

BIO: American Clarinetist Michael Dean “ClarinetMike” performs and teaches internationally and across the USA to consistent praise such as, “world-class clarinetist and pedagogue,” “consummate performer,” “inspirational,” “outstanding teacher,” “super,” “brilliant performer,” and “one of the best clinicians I have ever seen.” Dr. Dean’s career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, NACWPI, Royal Northern College of Music, and Eastman School of Music, with recent recitals and master classes in Canada, Italy, Spain, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Louisiana, and Texas. In 2019, he returned to Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at the international Orfeo Music Festival. He is featured on 6 commercial CD’s including his soon-to-be-released new CD, Postcards from Silver Lake. He is also prominent on New Media, such as YouTube. He was clarinetist with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra for 11 years and he’s also performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. He has given more than 500 master classes, clinics and performances at universities, conservatories, conferences, festivals, high schools, junior high schools, and a diverse array of venues.

As “ClarinetMike,” he writes for his noted and widely-read ClarinetMike Blog – viewed in 150 countries on 6 continents, clarinetmike.wordpress.com. His blog is the #1 clarinet blog on the Internet according to Google Search and a recent ranking on Feedspot. His articles also appear in professional journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, The Bandmasters’ Review and NACWPI Journal. He is a past president and former officer on the National Board of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI). After a successful 20 years of teaching clarinet at the university level, he relocated to his native Texas due to family concerns. He is currently an active clarinet and woodwind performer, teacher, clinician, blogger, and consultant based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Colorado at Boulder, and University of Texas at Arlington. His teachers include Robert Walzel, Phil Aaholm, Carol Jessup, Bob Ackerman, and Jess Youngblood. He is a BG France Performing Artist and his professional website is clarinetmike.com. Mike and his family live in Hurst, Texas.

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7 Ways to Improve Clarinet Tone Immediately! [or almost immediately]

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

ClarinetMike says, “The granddaddy (and best) of all clarinet tone quick fixes is ‘More Air.’ Here’s seven more.”

7 Ways to Improve Clarinet Tone Immediately! [or almost immediately]
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

1. Show Me Your Reed! I suggest band directors and private teachers personally inspect the reed of each and every student. Don’t let the students play on reeds that are super old (soft) or badly chipped (however, sometimes slightly chipped reeds will play ok).  This leads to:

2. Get a Good Reed! Do what it takes to have high quality reeds to practice and perform on. Check out the newer reeds from Vandoren and D’Addario. Remember, the best clarinet player in the world sounds bad on a bad reed.

3. Don’t Pinch The Corners 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 can 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. (This is E-Tip #2 from my 5 E-Tips for E-Lips Clarinet Embouchure Tips. For more on this tip and the other embouchure E-Tips, go here.)

4. Voice Eee’s.  I’ve found it very helpful to use different “Eee” syllables when playing in different registers on the clarinet. Go here to check out the syllables. (This is E-Tip #3  from my 5 E-Tips for E-Lips Clarinet Embouchure Tips. For more on this tip and the other embouchure E-Tips, go here.)

5. Sit Up Tall. Noted clarinetist Julian Bliss said something similar at a clinic I attended at TMEA a couple years ago.

6. Project Your Sound. Think about it, work on it, and DO IT! Check out my article on sound projection here.

7. THINK ABOUT TONE! Pay Attention to Clarinet Sound.  Students: Don’t just mindlessly blow – Listen! Teachers: Don’t put up with bad clarinet sounds – Work On Them! You will find my 5-C Clarinet Embouchure helpful: check it out here.

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7 MORE Performing Secrets from ClarinetMike!

ClarinetMike performing at the University of Toledo on his recent tour of Michigan and Ohio.

This is a follow up to my recent ClarinetMike Blog post, ClarinetMike’s 10 Little Secrets!

7 MORE Performing Secrets from ClarinetMike!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. Number Measures At The Left Margin On Your Music. Don’t number every measure – it’s too messy.
  2. Keep It Clean! Carefully clean your instrument and keep it in good repair. On clarinet, for example, don’t wipe out the tenons with a swab. You’ll end up with cork grease on your swab and then you’ll pull it through your clarinet. Ick!
  3. Mark Music Only With Pencil. Pencil can be erased! DO NOT USE HIGHLIGHTER! Highlighter cannot be erased. (Bright colored highlighter on music kinda freaks me out!) If your students mark rental music in highlighter, you’ll be in BIG TROUBLE!
  4. Wear Layers of Clothing In Rehearsals, Auditions, etc.  This way you can take them off or put them on based on the temperature of the room, etc.
  5. Use A Black, Wheeled Tote For Your Stuff. Black is best as you can often keep it on stage during rehearsals and even concerts – no one will notice or care. Also, make sure the tote is small enough to be a carry-on on an airplane.
  6. Water! Always carry a full bottle of water with you at all times. I often will have 2 water bottles for a concert: one on stage and one backstage in the green room, dressing room, etc.
  7. Food! Consider and plan your eating carefully around your gig. I always try to eat a few hours before a rehearsal or concert to make sure I have energy while I’m performing. However, many musicians only eat after a gig.  FYI, for a long time my special performing food was spaghetti and meatballs. [YUMMY!]

ClarinetMike says, “Remember the words of Coach John Wooden, ‘Little Things Make Big Things Happen.’”

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ClarinetMike’s 10 Little Secrets!

ClarinetMike teaching a clarinet master class at the University of Michigan.

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

ClarinetMike’s 10 Little Secrets!
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 somewhat recently found out about and have been using Earasers earplugs. Check ’em out!
  3. Synthetic Reeds. Many single reed players play exclusively on synthetic 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 synthetic 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 sells a product called “Zonda Pad Papers.” They are cigarette papers without the word “cigarette.” Click HERE.
  5. ReedGeek. A few 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 Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, 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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