• Quick Fix Friday: Ligature Before Reed

    If you’re a clarinet player, I’m sure you know the agonizing pain of breaking a reed (especially a good one!). RIP to the hundreds of reeds I’ve unintentionally killed. May you all join the ranks of loyal and noble reeds from yesteryear who have met an untimely demise. One easy way to prevent premature reed deaths? When you’re assembling your clarinet, always put your ligature on before the reed. This avoids the risk of chipping or breaking your reed with the edge of your ligature. Simply loosen the ligature so that you can maneuver the reed to the position you want, then tighten the ligature and voilà – no chipped reed!

  • Quick Fix Friday: Think Horizontally

    What would you say if I told you that you can make your music sound more flowing, lyrical, and expressive with a quick mental adjustment? Think horizontally instead of vertically. Let me explain: A lot of times when musicians practice, we get bogged down by technical passages, individual notes, and the minutiae surrounding individual measures or even single beats. This is thinking vertically. We become so focused on perfecting each beat or measure that we may sometimes forget the larger musical picture. Even when we are “woodshedding” (working on the technical mechanics of a passage), we should always remember the larger music context. A classic example for clarinetists is the hated…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Give Good Cues

    You practice your part diligently. You study the score and mark in all the other instrumental cues. You listen to several recordings. Yet your chamber music still feels…off. Simple fix? Maintain good eye contact and give good cues. This is an often-overlooked aspect of performing with other musicians. Many musicians are so used to performing under conductors that they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable leading others in smaller conductor-less ensembles. Accompanists and chamber musicians are not mind-readers (although wouldn’t that be amazing if they were?), so it is important to let others know your musical intentions. Practice giving good cues and nonverbal gestures to let your fellow musicians know where you want…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Swab Your Instrument

    This week’s Quick Fix Friday is a public service announcement reminding you to swab your instrument regularly! I’m sure that by now, many of you have seen the report circulating on social media of the man who died from “bagpipe lung.” If you haven’t, you can read the story here. Basically, doctors were unable to determine why an otherwise healthy man was plagued by breathing and lung problems. After his death, they discovered that the bagpipe he played as a hobby contained fungus and bacteria. This isn’t an isolated case – another man with “saxophone lung” didn’t clean his clarinet for over 30 years. Luckily, doctors were able to isolate…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Clarinet Finger Placement and Position

    I’m a firm believer that most problems on the clarinet are caused by improper use of air. That being said, I believe that the 2nd leading cause of problems on clarinet are due to bad finger placement and positioning. Finger placement is important for all instruments, but especially clarinet because of its open tone holes. The slightest finger movement can cause air leaks, creating the dreaded squeak. Besides squeaking, improper finger position can cause notes to not speak properly and impede technical development. Let’s start with the basics – the six fingers that cover the tone holes on front of the clarinet should begin in “home” position. This is similar to proper typing…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Taking Good Breaths

    As wind instrumentalists, our most important tool is our air. I personally believe that air can solve about 90% of the problems we encounter on the clarinet (Note not speaking? More air. Can’t play high notes? Faster air.) Since this is a quick fix Friday post (key word being quick), I won’t go into great detail about the anatomical mechanics of taking a proper breath, but instead wish to address a common issue I see among my students: breathing from the nose or dropping the jaw to take a breath. The most efficient way to take a breath when playing clarinet is through the corners of the mouth. This optimizes…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Use A Dictionary

    You’re working on a new piece of music. Life is good. You know all the right notes. Rhythms? Piece of cake! Accidentals? Got it covered! But what about those extra-musical words? It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll look those up…tomorrow. You’re doing yourself a huge musical disservice by ignoring the text. After all, there’s quite a difference between dolce and con fuoco! Quick fix? Buy and use a musical dictionary. Use your smartphone (which is turned off or in another room, right???). You can even take the lazy way out and use the camera function of the Google translate app to save your precious fingers from typing these unfamiliar words. It…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Be Happy

    We’ve all been there. A frustrating practice session where nothing seems to go right. Not wanting to even think about your instrument after a long day. Feeling doubt and wondering why you even bother anymore. Losing an audition. And a million other reasons being a musician ain’t for the weak. So why do it? Hopefully, you still enjoy playing your instrument. It can be so easy to get caught up in the details, competition, and drudgery that being a musician entails. Take a few moments each day to remind yourself what you love about your instrument. Or maybe you don’t love it anymore – life is too short to pursue…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Right Pinky

    Hello, and happy Friday the 13th! Today’s quick fix will help polish your technique and make technical passages so much easier, all in one fell swoop. The secret? When possible, use your right pinky to play low E, F, F#/Gb, and G#/Ab or middle B, C, C#/Db, and D#/Eb (aka the “pinky notes”). If you’re coming from or going to another pinky  note, this won’t work (Clarinet Commandment: Thou shalt never slide from one pinky note to another). But take a look at the final line of Cavallini’s “Adagio and Tarantella”: It is much easier to play B with your right pinky than your left (or with both pinkies). Keep…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Breath Attacks

    What I’m about to tell you is so incredibly simple, you’ll be mad you didn’t think of it on your own (unless you already know, in which case, carry on with your Friday). You don’t have to use your tongue to start a note. Mind blown? In beginning band, most wind instrumentalists are taught to tongue every note, and we do so diligently as we progress. (This is not an article on proper tonguing technique – that’s for another day). There is nothing wrong with tonguing every note, but by using a breath attack, you are able to get a more delicate response from your instrument. If you didn’t already…