Couch to Cavallini Practice Plan

Has it been a while since you’ve played clarinet?

Perhaps you decided to take an extended break. Or your job/family/kids took precedence over your clarinet. Maybe you haven’t played clarinet since the last century – no judgement here!

Whatever the reason, life got in the way of you and your clarinet, which is currently collecting dust in a closet somewhere.

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already taken the first step, which is deciding that you want to play again – congratulations!

Before we get to the Couch to Cavallini practice plan, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • This practice plan is for anyone who used to play clarinet and wants to pick it back up again. This is not intended for beginners or those trying to learn clarinet for the first time.
  • The hardest part is behind you. You’re not starting from scratch. You have the knowledge and experience to play clarinet, but it will take some time to review fundamentals and rebuild your muscles.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to your glory days. After any extended break, there will be a learning curve. Forget how you used to play – focus on the future, not the past.
  • Commit to practicing regularly. The only way to improve is by maintaining a consistent practice schedule (whether that’s once a week or once a day). Everyone has excuses, so plan a practice routine that works with your schedule and lifestyle.
  • Be patient. Every musician has frustrating practice sessions. Be patient with yourself and remember why you chose to play in the first place – to have fun!

Now for the practice plan!

The Couch to Cavallini practice plan is based on the similarly-named Couch to 5k running plan (although I think mine is better because it doesn’t involve any running…). The idea is to gradually take your clarinet-ing from zero to Cavallini (the famous 19th century Italian virtuoso clarinetist/composer). The Cavallini is metaphorical, but this practice plan will allow you to rebuild a solid technique and other clarinet fundamentals.

I have organized the Couch to Cavallini practice plan into four weeks (one month), although you must continue practicing regularly to maintain your improvement after this month. Before you start, make sure that you:

  • Take your clarinet to a quality repair technician. If your clarinet hasn’t been played in quite some time, it’s probably out of adjustment and needs repairs.
  • Gather your music. Dig out any method books, technical studies, or any other music you’d like to relearn. Order any new music you’d like to learn or practice (I have a few recommendations below).
  • Find or create a dedicated practice space. Clear out a corner, closet, or other area conducive to practicing. Make sure you have a music stand, metronome, tuner, pencil, and anything else you’ll need to practice.
  • Consider taking private lessons. Having professional advice will not only help you improve, but it will also hold you accountable to someone else. (Shameless plug: I offer online clarinets lesson through Skype! Contact me if you’re interested in scheduling a lesson.)

Once you’ve done all of this, you’re ready to start the fun part – practicing! I’ve purposely avoided listing specific books in the practice plan, as each person will be starting from a different ability level. However, here are some of my favorite books that I use to teach and practice:

  • Methods: Rubank Clarinet Method (Elementary – Advanced); Klosé Celebrated Method for the Clarinet
  • Scale books: Baermann; Pares; Stiévenard
  • Technique: Kroepsch 416 Progressive Studies (in 4 volumes); Jeanjean Vade-Mecum du clarinettiste
  • Articulation: Kell 17 Staccato Studies
  • Etudes: Rose 32 Etudes
  • Bonus material (for all my literalist readers): Cavallini 30 Caprices

Here is a more comprehensive list of clarinet fundamental and technique books.

I’ve also listed daily practice goals, which gradually increase each week. These are merely recommendations – never practice past the point of pain or discomfort. The numbers on the clock don’t matter. When you’re practicing, stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand.

Couch to Cavallini Practice Plan

Click here for a printable version.

Week 1 – Rebuild your embouchure

After an extended practice break, your embouchure will probably take the biggest hit. It will be out of shape and will fatigue more easily. The focus this week is long tones, which are the best way to retrain your embouchure and redevelop your air. Start with long tones in a comfortable range – not too low or high. Strive to create your best sound, focusing on using proper air.

Practice goal – 30 minutes

  1. 10 minutes long tones
  2. 10 minutes long tones
  3. 10 minutes long tones; 10 minutes slow scales (40-60 BPM)
  4. 10 minutes long tones; 10 minutes slow scales (40-60 BPM)
  5. 10 minutes long tones; 10 minutes slow scales (40-60 BPM); 10 minutes articulation
  6. 10 minutes long tones; 10 minutes slow scales (40-60 BPM); 10 minutes articulation
  7. 10 minutes long tones; 10 minutes slow scales (40-60 BPM); 10 minutes articulation

Week 2 – Retrain your fingers

At first, your fingers will probably feel unwieldy and awkward, so we are retraining them to work fluidly together. Scales and technical exercises are the best way to improve finger agility and finesse. Practicing these exercises is like weight-lifting – you would never begin by lifting 100-lb weights; you gradually increase the weight to reach your goal. To improve technique and avoid injuries, start slowly and work your way up to faster tempos.

***I highly recommend practicing the first exercise in the Vade-Mecum (played at a slow tempo). It goes through every chromatic pitch and works every finger – great for reviewing all chromatic fingerings and simultaneously building technique!

Practice goal – 40 minutes

Practice the following each day:

  • 10 minutes long tones
  • 10 minutes medium scales (60-80 BPM)
  • 10 minutes technical exercises
  • 10 minutes articulation
  • Bonus: 5-10 minutes free choice

Week 3 – Play some music!

After the last 2 weeks, your embouchure and technique should have improved considerably. Use your newfound clarinet prowess to work on some etudes and other short pieces of music. Work on one or two etudes at a time before moving on to more.

Practice goal – 50 minutes

Practice the following each day:

  • 10 minutes long tones
  • 10 minutes fast scales (80-100 BPM)
  • 10 minutes technical exercises
  • 10 minutes articulation
  • 10 minutes etudes
  • Bonus: 5-10 minutes free choice

Week 4 – Put it all together

By now, you’ve revisited all clarinet fundamentals. Now it’s time to customize your practice routine and throw in some repertoire. Each practice session should include long tones (to warm up and avoid injuries), scales and/or technical exercises (to get the fingers moving), and music (etudes, repertoire, or anything else to apply these fundamentals). You can multitask and combine some exercises, such as scales or technical studies and articulation.  This practice plan is well-rounded and can continue to be used beyond the scope of the Couch to Cavallini practice plan. Make sure you take a 15 minute break after every hour practiced to avoid injury and fatigue!

Practice goal – 60 minutes

Practice the following each day:

  • 10 minutes long tones
  • 10 minutes scales (at any tempo)
  • 10 minutes technical exercises
  • 30 minutes etudes and repertoire
  • Bonus: 5-10 minutes free choice

A few final recommendations:

  • Feel free to customize the practice plan to fit your needs. You can shorten or extend the practice times – just don’t overdo it so you avoid injury (or at the very least, a sore embouchure!).
  • Find a musical outlet. Find other clarinetists in your community. Join a local band or orchestra, or search for regional clarinet events in your area to meet other clarinetists.
  • Go virtual. Join clarinet groups on social media, browse blogs, and interact with clarinetists worldwide online.
  • Keep practicing! Now that you’ve regained your clarinet chops, maintain a consistent practice schedule to maintain your improvements!

I hope this practice plan helps anyone who wants to get back in shape! Leave a comment below with your advice, and feel free to contact me with any questions.

Happy practicing!




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