Northern Illinois University

Greg Barrett

Clarinet Fundamentals

Shortest List of the Most Basic Clarinet Fundamentals

How Do You Know You Are Done Warming Up?

Mental Preparation for Potentially Scary Situations

Sight-Reading

Dr. Gregory Barrett, Northern Illinois University Copyright 1998

Shortest List of the Most Basic Clarinet Fundamentals

(with thanks to all of my teachers* for their ideas)

  • Music feels good to the mind, body, and soul.
  • When practicing, rehearsing, or performing concentrate as if you are in love, then concentrate even harder.
  • Don't forget that Rome wasn't built in a day.  Many musical skills take weeks or years to bring to a high level.  Start now!
  • Hold your clarinet correctly.  Place thumb rest in crook of first joint at the base of your nail, curve your fingers gently as if you are picking up a bread crumb.  L.H. (left hand) thumb should be at 45 degree angle to the length of the clarinet.

    Make sure that none of your fingers rest against a key, or part of the clarinet, when they should not.

  • Glue your bottom lip to the front of your bottom teeth and your bottom gum.  Place most of the soft part of your bottom lip over bottom teeth.  Experiment for the best sound and feel. Place top teeth on mouthpiece.  Experiment to see how much mouthpiece and reed should go in your mouth for the best sound and control.  Too little mouthpiece in mouth will close the reed and give you a small pinched sound.  Too much mouthpiece in mouth will give you a wild squawking sound.
  • Is your chin flat with its muscles set as if pointing down toward your left thumb?  Are your cheeks not puffed?  Are you not leaking any air from the corners of your mouth?
  • Experiment to find the best angle for the clarinet in relation to your chest.  At what position is the sound and feel the best?
  • Check your posture.  Are you sitting or standing as if there is a string rising out of the middle of your head that is holding you up?  Is there a little bit of space under your armpits?  Are your palms rounded as if you are holding a tennis ball?
  • When you breathe, do you fill your lungs from the bottom up?  Do your lower abdomen, back, and sides expand when you breathe?
  • When you blow into the clarinet do you push your stomach muscles out against the waist of your clothes?  This results in air support.  Blow fast cold air.  Make the air passageway in your throat and mouth small by raising the back of your tongue and saying "eeeeeeeeeee" in your throat.
  • In general, do you move your fingers both up and down with a relaxed yet precise snap?  In very slow legato playing think of squeezing the clarinet.
  • Do you hear the music in your head before you play?
  • Are you always listening very carefully to the music that comes out of your clarinet?
  • Do your musical sentences rise and fall in an expressive manner?  Are specific notes given more "weight" or stress than others?

How Do You Know You Are Done Warming Up?

  • Your fingers feel like they know exactly where all the keys and holes are on the clarinet.
  • Your fingers move in perfectly even rhythm in scales, arpeggios, and other technical passages.
  • You feel comfortable with the reed and know how it will sound and respond in all registers of the clarinet and in tonguing at different speeds.
  • Your tongue knows exactly where the reed is and how it has to move to start notes both gently and firmly.
  • You have quieted your mind and are ready to focus on the rest of your practicing.
  • You have a clear conception of what you want to accomplish in the rest of your practicing.

Mental Preparation for Potentially Scary Situations

  • You will feel less nervous if you are well prepared and have practiced in a consistent and productive manner.
  • The more times you play your audition or concert music for teachers, friends, and family members the better prepared you will be.  It is always easier to play an audition or recital the second time rather than the first.  Keep at it!
  • In the days and weeks before an audition or important performance, imagine all of the events on that specific upcoming day.  As you go to sleep each night paint a mental story of your morning routine, your warm-up, going to the audition or recital hall, waiting for your performance time, walking into the performance room, and your performance itself.  Imagine playing very well.  Imagine in great detail how you will feel during each part of your day.
  • Practice simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and giving yourself plenty of time to warm up and get to your performance without rushing.
  • Think positively; relive in your mind past inspiring performances by yourself or others.
  • Remember that no one is perfect and that there will always be room for improvement in your playing.
  • Read books such as A Soprano on Her Head by Eloise Ristad, The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green, and Peak Performance by Charles A. Garfield, Ph.D.
  • After reading and practicing the exercises in Garfield's Peak Performance keep working on his "Putting It All Together" exercise:
    1. Deep diaphragmatic breathing - three breaths.
    2. My relaxation mask is on.
    3. My face feels smooth and relaxed.
    4. My arms and legs are limp, heavy, and warm.
    5. My arms and legs are getting heavier and warmer.
    6. My arms and legs are completely heavy and warm.
    7. My heartbeat is calm and steady.
    8. I feel supremely calm and relaxed.
    9. My stomach feels soft and warm.
    10. I feel supremely calm and relaxed.
    11. My forehead feels cool.
    12. I feel supremely calm and relaxed.
  • Before and while you are playing, keep your mind focused on the present (thinking about the past or what might happen distracts your mind from the task at hand) by concentrating on something such as your breathing, your musical expression, or the way the notes look on the printed page.  Be aware, not self-critical.
  • Don't worry if you feel nervous - just about everybody does.  Think of the energy from your adrenaline as a potentially positive ally to help bring greater awareness to your playing.
  • Every performance or audition is a learning opportunity.  You will always have another opportunity.

Sight-Reading

(from Ed Yadzinski's Germaniums for the Clarinet and Saxophone)

  • Sight-reading is easy.
  • Practice it every day.
  • Quickly scan the music for unusual difficulties before you play it.
  • Clearly understand the musical meter and key signature before you begin.
  • Know where you are in each measure (on which beat) as you are playing.
  • Mentally group notes into patterns such as scales, arpeggios, and recurring motives.
  • Chose a tempo that is slow enough so that you can play the fastest notes accurately.
  • Start tapping your foot in a steady manner before you begin to play and follow your foot while you are playing.
  • Think ahead, maybe think even further ahead.  Don't think about what you have already played.
  • Because you are looking ahead, hear the music before you play it.

*I have had clarinet lessons with many teachers.  Beginning with my first: Mr. Eggert, Mrs. Whaley, Donna Hamlin, Allen Sigel, Ed Yadzinski, Sal Andolina, Dave Dworkin, Laura DeLuca, Clark Brody, Wes Foster, Robert Marcellus, Woody Jones, Gwen Moon, Russ Dagon, Jim Pyne, Robert Listokin, Dave Thomas, Larry Combs, John Yeh, Jim Campbell, Avrahm Galper, and Eli Eban.