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!)
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:
- The Complete Guide to Clarinet Articulation
- The Complete Guide to Developing Great Technique
- The Complete Guide to Clarinet Tuning
- The Complete Guide to Long Tones
- The Complete Guide to Clarinet Resonance Fingerings
- The Wind Player’s Guide to Building and Increasing Endurance
- No More Chipped Reeds: A Beginner’s Guide to Reed Care
- The Musician’s Practice Pyramid
- My First Solo: A Complete Guide to Choosing & Practicing Clarinet Repertoire
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!