• Quick Fix Friday: Play scales musically

    It’s been a while since I’ve written a Quick Fix Friday! Here’s a quick fix to start your weekend on the right note: Do you practice your scales (or other technical exercises) with the same musical intention as you do when you’re working on études or repertoire? Chances are, probably not. Scales are music too, but a large number of musicians focus just on the technical aspects, ignoring phrasing, tension, and overall musicality or expression. The quick fix? Add some musicality to your scales the next time you practice. Incorporate dynamics, rubato, pacing, and anything else to make your scales more interesting to play and to practice. Not only will…

  • Quick Fix Friday: No More Peekaboo Pinky

    Today’s Quick Fix Friday concerns a fingering issue I see all the time with beginner clarinet players – the dreaded peekaboo pinky! Most clarinet and band method books begin clarinet students with easy fingerings involving only the left hand, such as bottom line E or open G. This is practical for ease of technique and response, but many beginning clarinet students are often unsure what to do with the right hand. As a result, they develop bad finger and hand position habits as they devise ways to hold the clarinet more comfortably. The most common offense I see is holding the pinky (especially on the right hand) behind the clarinet,…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Breathe Like Kirby

    I love video games, especially when I can combine them with clarinet pedagogy. This week’s Quick Fix Friday is an analogy to help younger students (especially gamers) visualize proper breathing. I’ve taught dozens of beginner clarinetists over the years, and one of the most important fundamentals they must learn is air and breath support. Many younger students aren’t using enough air, and I can only say “More air!” so many times before we both get frustrated. Enter Kirby. He (or she??) is cute, cotton-candy pink…and a breathing machine! Anyone that’s ever underestimated Kirby in SSB (that’s Super Smash Bros., for any of my non-gamer readers) knows that his gale-force wind…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Head Position

    It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted a Quick Fix Friday, so I’d thought I’d remedy that with a quick post on proper head position. You probably know not to slouch, cross your feet, or allow other poor posture habits into your practicing, but when was the last time you checked out your head position? An alarming number of clarinetists (student and professional) are guilty of dipping their heads towards their chests when they play. This is a no-no because it constricts your air flow, and we all know that bad air = bad sound. The quick fix? Check your head position in a mirror while you’re practicing to…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Prepare Your Page Turns

    There is nothing worse than getting to a rehearsal (or heaven forbid, a CONCERT!) and realizing that you forgot about page turns. (Well, ok, maybe there are a few worse things. Like breaking your favorite reed or having to play upbeats for the rest of eternity, but I digress.) It’s all fine and dandy when you’re working on micro-sections in the practice room, but it’s a completely different story when you’re doing full run-throughs and realize that you have exactly 2.75 beats to turn the page. (Here’s looking at you, Tomasi Clarinet Concerto!) The quick fix? Prepare your page turns! Go through the entire piece (or pieces) and determine which…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Open the Case!

    I see you over there, pretending like you’ve diligently practiced every day all summer, telling yourself you’ll practice…later…maybe… There will never be a shortage of reasons not to practice, especially in the summer. (It’s too hot! I’m so tired! One more episode! I’ll do it after lunch! I forgot to order new reeds! I haven’t practiced in so long! I’ll sound terrible! I’ll do it tomorrow!) We’ve all been guilty of this at some time or another during our musical careers. Like anything else that matters, you have to make time to practice. I get that you’re covetous of your free time in the summer, but even 30 minutes a…

  • Quick Fix Friday: More Air, Less Fingers

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no panacea to become a master clarinetist (or any other instrumentalist, for that matter). We all have to follow a healthy musical “diet” of scales, long tones, and repertoire to improve. We’ve all seen the gimmicky tabloid headlines promising instant results with zero time or effort (Lose 20 pounds overnight! Earn thousands from home! etc etc). These are certainly enticing, but true improvement (personal, mental, musical, physical, or otherwise) is the result of long-term dedication and commitment… Buuuttt……I’ve discovered a close-to-instant fix that I use and share with my students. This is for those times during practice sessions…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Don’t “Rest” During Rests

    Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced that awkward moment when you spend so much time practicing and preparing the notes that you forget about the rests….and miss your entrance. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have experienced this at some point during our musical careers. There is a quick and easy two-part solution: Study the score.  Don’t rest during your rests! It’s so easy to relax and lose concentration when we’re not playing (especially during super-long rests), but it’s important to continue your inner pulse. This is crucial, whether you are playing chamber music, band music, orchestral music, and even unaccompanied music (yes, rests are still important…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Don’t Swell on Long Notes

    The title pretty much sums it up today’s quick fix, but let me elaborate. For whatever reason, musicians tend to get lazy with longer or sustained notes. Maybe you’re just glad to be done with the technical passage that came before. Maybe you’re dreaming of splurging on guacamole at Chipotle tonight (no judgement here). Whatever the reason, make sure that the dynamic of longer notes correlates to what comes before and after.  If you have a crescendo leading up to a whole note, maintain the volume – but don’t swell. By all means continue the intensity, but make a conscious and educated decision to swell on long notes. Just because…

  • Quick Fix Friday: Recovering from Mistakes

    My practice sessions are divided into two main parts: practicing to fix and avoid mistakes (woodshedding) and practicing to recover from mistakes (performance practice). I’ve already discussed the minutiae of woodshedding, from improving your rhythm to becoming a better sight-reader. Woodshedding is a crucial part of practice, but today I want to talk about performance practice. One of the simplest yet most under-utilized practice techniques is to incorporate full run-throughs of pieces or larger section to fortify your mental and physical ability to recover from mistakes (because let’s face it – no matter how much you practice, there will always be live performance errors). Many musicians do not include performance…