by Craig Countryman
Playing the clarinet is one of the most enjoyable things that I do, yet it is also something that requires a tremendous amount of work. Over the past three and a half years of playing I have come a long way. I can still recall my first lesson, sitting in the office of my middle school band director, trying to get the correct pitch on my mouthpiece and barrel. I was already a tuba player, but when I started playing clarinet the learning process started all over again.
In the title of this article I refer to clarinet playing as an art. It is just that. To really master this instrument, you must play with feeling, emotion, and expressiveness. Before you can do that, however, you must learn the basics.
Probably the most fundamental aspect of playing the clarinet is tone. There are many players who have decent technique, adequate articulation, but no tone. The dark, rich sound of the clarinet is what characterizes it amongst the array of other instruments. An exercise that was very useful to me was playing with the mouthpiece and barrel alone. When you do this, your are trying to attain a specific pitch: F#. At my first lesson, I got a tone out, but it was very flat. The second lesson, it got better. Then, one day it happened -- out popped that long awaited F#. I believe this is a good exercise, because right off the bat attention is being paid to pitch and tone. Many questions I have seen posted on various clarinet bulletin boards deal with problems such as flatness of pitch, problems with intonation, etc. These are problems that, if treated early, can be permanently solved. This exercise will also promote good tone quality, and is an important part of early development.
Another valuable exercise, using the entire horn, is long tones. Long tones are excellent for developing a sense of intonation and improving tone quality. It is important to play long tones in all registers of the instrument, particularly the upper register (as one gains a greater range). While I really wont give a set regiment of specific long tones, I would recommend some kind of thoughtful approach to playing them. For instance, one could play a major scale in long tones, perhaps arpeggios, whatever suits you. Just make sure that you work out an agreeable exercise and use it consistency. Listen to what you are doing, and how the tone is produced. Make small adjustments and observe. You may fail to see immediate results, but over an extended period this will really pay off.
The Rest of the Warm-up
After you have finished working on long tones, I would suggest playing a chromatic scale from your lowest note to your highest note. Work at first for accuracy. Speed will come with time, right now we are concerned with development of basic technique. I usually slur mine, but you can tongue if you so desire. One technique that is advocated is to slur up, and tongue down, band vice versa. Immediately, you can make sure every note on the instrument is working and will speak when you begin to look at exercises. If there is a note that does not speak, isolate the note and try to get it to come out. When you are successful at this, try to play it with a group of the notes around it (i.e. if you cant get out F#, first work on getting the note out, then slur E, F, F#, G). If you are not successful after an inordinate amount of time, there may be something mechanically wrong with your instrument.
After the chromatic scale, I like to use an exercise out of the full Klosé Method. It is page 123, and it is an exercise in all major and minor scales. This is an exercise that is not feasible for the beginner, but should be attempted once basic concepts of playing are mastered. Take the exercise slowly at first, and work it up to a faster tempo. Again, the key is accuracy, not speed. Speed will only be achieved once all the notes are under the fingers. If this exercise is not available, a substitute would be to practice scales. I learned my scales progressively, one per week. Try for as many octaves on scales as are possible, and start using this exercise to slowly extend your range. Learning these now will save you a lot of time when preparing for auditions later.
Also, talk to your band director or private teacher and ask if they have any other ideas concerning warm-up. I have mentioned some of the techniques I have found helpful, but there are many other exercises which can be just as valuable.
Of all the things Ive had to learn this was by far the most difficult for me. I still have to work at this: it is probably my greatest weakness.
For articulation, I would recommend using long tones, in major scales or otherwise, and subdividing them, using a metronome. For instance, start on middle C and play a whole note. Then, setting the metronome to 60, play 2 half notes, then 4 quarters, the 8 eighths, then 16 sixteenths. When you can do this cleanly, gradually move up the metronome speed. Also, try this going up the scale, 4 beats on each note with varying articulation patterns.
I am not all that skilled when it comes to instructing the mechanics of articulation, so I would speak to your band director or teacher concerning that for a better understanding.
Everyone has their preferences on which method book to use and why. To be honest, I havent looked at many of the books people have mentioned. This is a description of what I have used. It has worked well for me, and I think it may be useful for the beginner as well. The books are listed in the order I used them:
- Belwin-Mills: Student Instrumental Course, Level One Elementary (Green Book) This book was my first book and was very useful in teaching me the basics of tone, articulation, etc. Because clarinet was my second instrument, I knew all the musical symbols, counting, etc. so I really cant comment on that aspect, other than to say there is instruction there, and it seems to be adequate
- Belwin-Mills: Student Instrumental Course, Level Two Intermediate (Red Book) A nice follow-up to the first method with more advanced studies for the student. It was more of a transition book for me then anything else, and I progressed rather quickly through it.
- Rubank Advanced Method, Volume 1 A book that is very popular. It was my first introduction to advanced material. It has a nice feature with the ability for duets, or one voice only. Has a variety of keys, and contains some solos as well. Incidentally, the audition material for the Florida 7th and 8th Grade All-State Band comes from this book.
- Rubank Advance Method, Volume 2 Follow-up to the first Volume. Provides the same features, just with more advanced key signatures and material. The audition material for the 9th and 10th Grade All-State Band comes from this book.
- Klose Method (Full) The first part of this book can be used to start people on the clarinet, and it might be a good idea to buy this for a beginner. However, I am using the second, more advanced part currently. It provides etudes, duets, and very nice exercises for scale, third, etc. warm-up.
- 32 Rose Etudes Advanced Etudes taken from those composed for violin. Many different editions available, I own two. One from Carl Fisher, another from Southern Music. I like the Southern version, but some complain because Hite (its compiler) includes so many editorial markings. I find them to be helpful guidelines, but ask your teacher for advice on what he recommends.
It is not my intent to provide a "course of study" here, but merely to give you can overview of some of the materials I have used. There are so many methods out there though, many which are equal to or better than the ones I have used. I merely took the ones given to me by my instructors and learned what was in them. I think that is a good attitude to take no matter what book you are using -- take as much as you can from it.
At long last...
At this time, I will conclude my comments on learning the clarinet. I have tried to share some methods which I have found helpful, and which have lead me to success. Playing the clarinet is a great learning process though, and I am still learning, as are the majority of musicians -- even professionals. I have tried to be concise, but complete. I hope you will take some new ideas from this, and benefit from implementing them.
Craig Countryman is a junior at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Florida. He has received superior ratings in the captions of Tuba Solo, Brass Quintet, Bb Clarinet Solo, Eb Clarinet Solo, and Clarinet Quartet at District and State Solo and Ensemble Festivals. In addition he was a member of the 1995, 1997, and 1998 Florida All-State Band. His beginner instructor was Mr. Les Kraus and currently he is studying with Mr. David Edwards. He has done solo work within his community, and also plays with the Charlotte County Concert Band. He is a member of the on-line discussion group Klarinet. If you have any questions, comments, etc. please contact Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org Also, check his homepage http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/1711 for more information and articles about the clarinet. This text iscopyrighted; however, it has been written solely to benefit those who read it. You may use any part of this text, so long as you contact the author first and cite where you obtained the information.
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