How to relearn the clarinet after an extended break

One of the great parts about playing clarinet is that it seems like everyone you talk to knows somebody who plays or played the clarinet. Once others discover that someone plays clarinet, they’ll usually reply, “Oh, my mom/dad/sibling/aunt/uncle/grandparent/–insert relative or friend– played clarinet!”

The problem is that many of these clarinetists discontinue their studies when life gets in the way. I realize that not everyone is training to become the next superstar clarinetist (is that even a thing?), but it seems like such a shame to give up a fun hobby which can be a great outlet for self-expression and even cardio activity!

I know most of us are stuck at home for the unforeseeable future, and there’s no time like the present to relearn your favorite instrument! If you’re looking to begin your clarinet studies after an extended break, here’s everything you need to know:


Before you start

I know you’re probably excited to start playing through some of your favorite tunes, but first things first – you need a clarinet! Here are your options:

  • If you still have your clarinet: Depending on how long of a break you took from the clarinet, your clarinet can fall in various states of disrepair. Before you attempt to play it, bring your instrument to a qualified music repair technician so they can check that everything is in working order.
  • If you don’t own a clarinet anymore: You’ll need to purchase, rent, or borrow a clarinet to play. Here is my guide for buying a clarinet (it was originally written as a guide for first-time band parents, but the information will be the same even if this isn’t your first clarinet-buying rodeo.)
  • Stock up on reeds, music, and other equipment or accessories. Once you’ve procured a clarinet, make sure you have the essentials – reeds, cork grease, swab, case, music stand, and music to play. I would also recommend purchasing a thumb cushion and lower teeth protectors to alleviate the discomfort you will likely feel once you start practicing.
  • Reed tip: After an extended break, you will likely have to re-develop your embouchure, so don’t expect to use the same reed strengths you might have used in your clarinet-playing prime. I recommend JUNO reeds, which are Vandoren’s beginner reeds for clarinet and saxophone. They are great for beginners and musicians of all ages to produce a quality sound with great response.
  • Set up a dedicated practice area. Many of you probably began your clarinet journey when it was just you, yourself, and your clarinet, but many of your life situations have probably changed since then to include partners, family, children, friends, roommates, pets, and others in your life. Clear out a space for yourself so you have somewhere to concentrate, stay motivated, and get inspired to play clarinet again! (Bonus points if you can find a photo from your clarinet-playing days to decorate your practice space!)

Clarinet time!

It’s time to revisit the clarinet fundamentals! This article is meant to be a general guide to getting back into clarinet playing, but here are a few articles I’ve written to help you revisit more specific clarinet fundamentals:


Getting back into the swing of things

  • Don’t compare your present self to your past self. Think back to the height of your clarinet career – you probably had ample time to practice, and you were probably surrounded by enthusiastic band members to encourage you. Your life probably looks a bit different now than when you first played (job, family, real life obligations, daily drudgery), so don’t be discouraging or engage in negative self talk. You are relearning the instrument, so you won’t sound like the clarinetist you were in your prime, and that’s totally okay.
  • Ask yourself questions to set some goals. Why do you want to play clarinet again? What role do you want the clarinet to play in your life? Do I want to get involved in local bands, orchestras, or other music programs? What songs did I enjoy playing the most? What inspired me to practice? Who are some musicians (classical or not) that I admire? What challenges will I face as I relearn the clarinet? Are there any obstacles I might have to overcome? What is the best time in my schedule to practice?
  • Take it sloooooooow. Learning or relearning a musical instrument is tough – it takes many weeks, months, and years or focused and consistent practicing to reap the benefits. Try to improve one tiny detail a day (no improvement or gain is too small!), and these will slowly add up over time.
  • Keep a practice journal. Take note of what you practiced, techniques, fingerings, or fundamentals you learned, and anything else you might find useful for future practice sessions.
  • Find ways to cope with frustration and setbacks. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but learning the clarinet isn’t all fun and games. Musicians’ emotions run the gamut, from frustration, anger, and any other variety of emotions. It’s completely normal to experience setbacks, bad practice days, bad reeds, and anything else, which is why it’s important to develop healthy coping mechanisms early on so you don’t give up.
  • Connect with other clarinetists. The clarinet itself is pretty cool and all, but my favorite part of playing the clarinet is meeting all the other amazing clarinetists from around the world! Connect with other clarinetists through social media, forums, YouTube, local ensembles, and anywhere else clarinetists congregate.
  • Find your joy. If we all think back to our musical beginnings, we can remember the pure joy we felt at creating something – music – out of thin air. How there was nothing better than playing through our favorite songs, discovering new techniques, and sharing our music with others. As we continue our musical paths (and life in general), the pressure increases, and it can be easy to lose sight of the joy with which we initially began. Take some time every time you practice to find your joy, whatever that is. Play through Disney songs, practice scales, blast out high notes, or whatever else makes your heart soar.

I hope these tips help you as you reenter the wonderful world of clarinet! As I said, I always like meeting clarinetists from around the world, so feel free to leave a comment or contact me to introduce yourself!

9 thoughts on “How to relearn the clarinet after an extended break

  1. Jenny,

    I caught your session on Clarinet Mentors yesterday and have begun to explore your postings. I’m among those who, after retirement, took up the clarinet after many decades’ hiatus.

    Perhaps you have covered this in prior blogs, but if not, you might suggest things like New Horizons, town bands and band camps to those getting back after a long time.

    I’ve joined the Nelson (NH) Town Band and experience the gamut from joy to frustration…maybe one day I’ll be able to smoothly play the 3rd clarinet arpeggios in Sousa’s Manhattan Beach March…maybe. It was our director who recommended the Mentors program.

    Anyway, I look forward to further exploring what you have written.

    Ted Graham

    1. Hi Ted, thank you for your kind message, and I’m so glad you enjoyed my presentation during the Clarinet Connections festival. I haven’t ever written about New Horizons, but it’s a wonderful program and I do need to make a few blogs about it. Thank you for the suggestion, and I wish you continued happiness and success in music!

  2. Hi Jenny, saw your session on clarinet mentors and now i am reading your articles, yesterday your Paris time. Like your writing. Thanks.
    After 37 years i bought a second hand clarinet and was surprised i could play immediately a piece i often played when i was 14 years old. It is a great difference, playing then and now. Because of youtube and internet. In the past, if i wanted some new sheetmusic, i had to go by train to Amsterdam and searching trough piles of clarinetbooks to find something new. Now you can find and listen all sorts of clarinetmusic on youtube. And studying a new concert, starts with listening to different musicians on youtube. When i was young i had to buy a record. And there is a lot of free sheetmusic. For the fundamentals etc. I watched a lot Michelle Anderson and Tom Ridenour. And now i watch every masterclass i can find. I also found a great teacher by the way. Bought a brand new great clarinet. Playing in a windband, in a duo with a flute and in a trio with another clarinet and a bassoon. Love it. Looking forward to reading all your articles, see you (at some clarinet conference in europe perhaps)

  3. Hi Jenny, saw your session on clarinet mentors and now i am reading your articles, yesterday your Paris time. Like your writing. Thanks.
    After 37 years i bought a second hand clarinet and was surprised i could play immediately a piece i often played when i was 14 years old. It is a great difference, playing then and now. Because of youtube and internet. In the past, if i wanted some new sheetmusic, i had to go by train to Amsterdam and searching trough piles of clarinetbooks to find something new. Now you can find and listen all sorts of clarinetmusic on youtube. And studying a new concert, starts with listening to different musicians on youtube. When i was young i had to buy a record. And there is a lot of free sheetmusic. For the fundamentals etc. I watched a lot Michelle Anderson and Tom Ridenour. And now i watch every masterclass i can find. I also found a great teacher by the way. Bought a brand new great clarinet. Playing in a windband, in a duo with a flute and in a trio with another clarinet and a bassoon. Love it. Looking forward to reading all your articles, see you (at some clarinet conference in europe perhaps) P.S. i recognized you from the duo meloname because i wanted to play yellow jersey.

    1. Hello Annelies! Thank you for sharing your musical journey, and I’m so happy that you find my blog useful. There are so many wonderful resources online today to help musicians (I agree with you – YouTube is amazing!) and I hope my blog helps you to be the best clarinetist you can be!

  4. Hi Jenny, I just stumbled upon your page, and I am sitting in my flat during lockdown, thinking of picking up my clarinet again after probably 15+years of quitting. I used to play for a living, but then went into other directions more involved with sound engineering and electronic music . I am so glad there are others who also pick it up again after so long, enough to warrant the writing of your concise list of things to do. So I am really happy to hear I am not alone. Yay! I like the article very much , especially the parts of how to organise it so you are not frustrated or trying to be your former self as a player. I was chatting to a neighbour about learning alto saxophone, and tonguing just a few hours ago. To my surprise, I remembered quite a bit about technique. Anyway, I wanted to say ‘hi’ and thanks for making your knowledge on the topic accessible to me, all the way on the other side of the world, South Africa 😉

    1. Hello Liezel and thank you so much for your heartwarming message! It’s so great to hear that you’re picking up the clarinet again (although it sounds like you didn’t stray too far from music if you did sound engineering and electronic music!). I’m sure you’ll find that you’ll quickly remember the ins and outs of the instrument – it seems like the clarinet never goes too far from our memories. I’m so happy to “meet” you, and please stay in touch to let me know how your clarinet journey progresses!

  5. Hi Jenny, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m one of those who are considering picking up on relearning to play the clarinet after about 15 years… of course, I’m afraid of not remembering anything, but your blog and the comments above are making me feel better. I also took a look at the Guide for buying a clarinet and noticed it is full of useful tips!. Unfortunately I sold my instrument and I am currently looking into options. I used to have a Buffet E13, however, I’d be buying something more affordable nowadays. Back then, wood clarinets were recommended over plastic ones because of the better sound, Do you know if this is still the case?. I was thinking of buying used and having it repaired by a luthier if needed. Are there any recommendations when buying a used instrument in terms of the age? or any other tips in general?
    Thanks!

    1. Hello Mariani and thank you so much for your kind message! I’m so glad that you’re relearning the clarinet and that you find my blog helpful. Generally, wooden clarinets do have a better sound than plastic clarinets. As far as used vs. new, it all depends on how well cared for a used clarinet is. Some used clarinets are wonderful, but some might be more prone to cracking or other problems if it wasn’t cared for properly before being sold. If possible, I would try to test any used clarinet or have a qualified repair tech examine the instrument to make sure it is in good condition before purchasing. I’ve written an article about upgrading from plastic to wood clarinets, and it has a bit more info: http://jennyclarinet.com/2018/01/upgrading-plastic-wood-clarinets-guide-band-parents/

      It’s nice to “meet” you, and I hope this helps! Let me know how your clarinet journey progresses!

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