Life is busy. I get it.
One day you start playing clarinet, and before you know it, ten, twenty, thirty, plus years have passed. Once you find your groove, it’s easy to coast along on autopilot without always making conscious decisions (or efforts) like you used to.
It’s important to take some time every year to stop, re-evaluate, and make sure that you and your clarinet are both performing at optimal levels. I like to call this a clarinet checkup.
Here’s a checklist so you can schedule your own clarinet checkup:
- Is all my equipment still performing at the highest level? I’m not a big gear-head or equipment junkie – once I find something I like, I stick to it until I find something I like better. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as you’re actively trying new equipment and staying up-to-date on the latest technology and innovations in your field. Take some time to make sure that you are still satisfied with the quality of your mouthpiece, reeds, ligature, barrel, bell, and instrument itself.
- Am I still performing at my highest level? Music and practicing are a lot of fun, at least until life gets in the way. Make sure you play with mindfulness and intentionality every time you open the case and aren’t just going through the motions. Feel free to evaluate other lifestyle factors, such as sleep habits, diet and exercise, and mental health. (You can read my mental health tips for artists here.)
- How can I upgrade my studio/practice space? True confession – I didn’t own a proper music stand until quite recently. I made do with folding stands, which were much easier for my international travels. However, when I finally got a real music stand, my practice sessions were so much more productive! Take stock of any equipment that’s functional but not ideal and upgrade. This can be as simple as replacing metronome batteries or buying that clip-on water bottle holder or fill-in-the-blank you’ve been eyeing for the last year. Life’s too short to rely on average equipment and accessories.
- How are my fundamentals? Make sure that you haven’t snuck any bad habits into your practice routine. Check embouchure, posture, finger/hand/wrist position, articulation, head position, and any other fundamentals to make sure they’re not holding you back from being your best clarinet-playing self.
- How’s my music library? Have you been procrastinating ordering that piece? Is your music library a disaster zone? I can’t say enough about how an organized practice space yields wonders for musicians. Take some time to organize your music collection, replace any missing pages or pieces, and put in an order for any pieces you’re planning on using in the near future.
- How are my practice habits? Do you ever feel like no matter how much you practice, you never get anything done? Take a good, long look at your practice habits and see if any of them are to blame. Leave your phone on airplane mode, grab some sharpened pencils, or ban your pets from your practice space (I love adorable pets in the practice room photos as much as the next person, but if you’re posting them on social media, you’re not practicing!).
I hope these suggestions help you regain focus and motivation as we begin another school year. As always, happy practicing!