The clarinet is #blessed with a wide variety of repertoire written in all styles and for all skill levels, with a scope from beginner to extremely advanced. This can be overwhelming when you’re making the leap from method and etude books to your first full-blown solo, concerto, sonata, or other serious repertoire.* Here’s everything you need to know to select, prepare, and perform your first clarinet solo:
*Note: I am referring to solos of the clarinet repertoire – not one-page solos found in method books or simple arrangements of pieces for other instruments.
When should I play my first solo?
There is no correct age or years of experience, but generally after developing proper fundamentals and a decent technical level. I encourage my students to start preparing and performing solo repertoire during high school.
How do I choose my first solo?
Assess your strengths and weaknesses. You want to find a solo which showcases your strengths but also helps you improve your weaknesses. Many pieces fall within the broad categories of lyrical or technical, so choose something with a proper balance suited to your abilities. Make sure you don’t choose something too easy or too difficult. Listen to recordings of different solos and narrow down your favorites. Most importantly, choose a solo which excites you and makes you want to practice and improve!
How should I practice and prepare my first solo?
Give yourself plenty of time before your first performance or audition to fully prepare a new piece. Depending on the piece and the player, this can be several weeks to several months.
- Break it down. Break the solo down into bite-sized sections to practice every day. Start slow and gradually increase tempo as you become more technically proficient and comfortable with the piece. Here’s my advice on how to practice properly to maximize improvement.
- Score study. Listen to several recordings and study the score so you know what the other instruments are playing and how they interact with your solo line.
- Build endurance. One of the biggest challenges in learning solo repertoire is building endurance. Many solos are 5-10 minutes (or longer if you play an entire sonata or concerto!), so you need to develop physical and mental endurance. Practice small sections at first, then gradually build upon these. Incorporate performance practice into your practice sessions, where you do run-throughs of larger sections or movements without stopping.
- Rehearse with piano. Up until now, you have probably only played with a band, orchestra, or by yourself. Performing with piano will take some getting used to, so make sure you are familiar with the piano part before your first rehearsal. Write downs cues and entrances in your music. Make sure you schedule ample rehearsal time so you become comfortable performing with piano.
- Schedule a performance. I love practicing, but what I love even more is performing. Make sure you have the opportunity to show off the results of all your hard work!
Here are my recommendations for your first clarinet solo:
- Malcolm Arnold – Fantasy
- Gordon Jacob – Five Pieces
- Willson Osborne – Rhapsody
- Heinrich Baermann – Adagio
- Eugène Bozza – Aria
- Gerald Finzi – Five Bagatelles
- Paul Hindemith – Sonata
- Franz Krommer – Concerto in Eb Major, Op. 36
- Paul Reade – Suite from “Victorian Kitchen Garden”
- Camille Saint-Saëns – Sonata, Op. 167
- Carl Stamitz – Concerto No. 3
I hope this helps you as you embark upon your journey into the vast world of clarinet repertoire. Remember to have fun, and good luck!