I hope you are enjoying your August pastimes. I want to say "welcome" to all new members of Clarinet Mentors who have signed up for this newsletter in the past couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy all of the clarinet pointers here, and feel free to send me some feedback.
I am currently on holidays visiting family, and I am looking forward to combining family visits with some teaching as I work at a music camp in Winnipeg next week. I am trying something new in today's newsletter. For those of you who prefer to listen to information rather than read it, I have included today's article in both written form and video. I recorded it while on holidays at a beautiful lake in Northern Minnesota, so you'll see a different view than my clarinet studio.
I was privileged to participate in the first annual Conducting Symposium at UBC with Dr. Robert Taylor of UBC and Dr. Mallory Thompson from Northwestern University for five days at the end of July. It was an incredible experience for me. I entered the symposium as a conductor with no previous conductor training. I was definitely less experienced than most of the class. Luckily, we can all learn new things at any age! The teachers were skilled enough to teach each student systems that were appropriate to their current level of experience. That meant that I was given systems to do things that would be considered very basic to most of the other participants. I learned a lot. I was reminded that one advantage to being at the very beginning of a new learning endeavor is that it is easy to make huge improvements quickly. It is when we are at a higher level of something that it often seems to take a lot of time and effort to make a relatively small improvement to our overall playing.
For me as a teacher, it was useful to be a student again. I definitely had a moment where I had to face my own insecurities when I was stepping onto the podium for my second session. By now I had an awareness of how truly bad my conducting technic is. (Sigh...) I could really relate to all of my students who express their frustration at knowing how they want to sound, and knowing that they didn't sound that good yet. I really wanted to be a great conductor (instantly), but the truth was that I had to learn a few things before I could even be an adequate one. I chose to participate fully in the symposium, and try every suggestion that came my way. I worked very hard, and my second session was better than my first. By my third session, I could see some of the results of my efforts. I felt much better for overcoming my frustration and simply doing my best with the tools that I had been given by two fantastic teachers. I left the symposium very inspired by these teachers to continue my conducting endeavors, and to hopefully be as inspiring to all of my students as they were to me. I know that if I can do it in front of a room full of colleagues, that you can make improvements in your practise rooms at home!
If you are new to clarinet playing, you can look forward to making some leaps and bounds in the early stages of your learning. If you are more experienced, there are still breakthroughs to make. Read on to learn about one that really helped me, and may help you.
For this issue of the Clarinet Mentors newsletter, I'm trying something a little bit different. For those of you who like to read clarinet articles, read on. For those of you that prefer to learn by video, here is a link which basically says the same thing (although not word for word). Of course, you are welcome to view the video AND read the article if you wish. Click the video link below to hear this article, but be sure you come back to read the rest of the newsletter!
Video link: https://youtu.be/_91zAS77Srg
Do you have this common bad habit?
Is it OK to make bad sounds? Any person who has ever learned a musical instrument has certainly made some less-than-beautiful sounds along the way. It is part of the learning process. There are some bad sounds that give us valuable information about things that may need correcting in our clarinet playing. Squeaking might indicate that fingers are not quite covering the holes, or more commonly, that there is biting pressure on the reed. Some "bad sounds" are part of the learning process, and happen when we are genuinely trying to make a better sound. However, most people are guilty of making bad sounds in an unconscious way that I believe interferes with our ability to improve our sound. Do you do this?
I am most aware of this during the first 10 seconds that my students play once their clarinet is set up. Most people have an unconscious routine that spills out of their instrument once their reed is on. It usually involves playing some really fast notes, and then they pull out their music to start practising. They generally are not even aware of what they are doing, and it happens unthinkingly.
What does this do to our playing? When the first sounds that we make are not so good, it indicates that we are not really paying attention to our playing. So many parts of our brain are involved in the art of performance, and our unconscious brain can read these messages as "permission" to sound bad. Do we want to send the message to ourselves (or anyone else) that it is OK to play with bad tone and air support, and to really not pay much attention at all to what we are doing? I say an emphatic "NO!". If we are not consciously training our brain to listen for and demand better sounds from our performance, we are in fact desensitizing it, and allowing it to accept bad sounds as normal.
One of the finest brass players that I have ever heard, Jorgan van Rijen who plays trombone in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, said in a masterclass that he warms up for about 45 minutes before he plays his first note. That blew me away. 45 minutes of warm-up, without playing a note. He does breathing exercises, visualization of how he wants to hear the music, and some mouthpiece warm-ups at the end (which is kind of like playing a note, but not really). He firmly believes that our first sounds should be really good ones. He sounds fantastic, so there is something to it.
That really got me thinking about how I start out my practise routine. I remember once going into a lesson with a fantastic teacher, and I pulled out my instrument and did my basic quick warm-up. He made a disgusted noise and said "How can you sound like that?" ("Like what?", I was thinking, because I really hadn't been paying attention, but I didn't think it was that bad.) "You have poor air support, sloppy fingers, and those middle notes sounded disgusting." Wow! Here I was, with a teacher that I was prepared to impress, and he was already telling me that I sounded disgusting. Not a great way to start a lesson, although at the time, I thought that perhaps he was overreacting. No longer. He was absolutely right. I sounded "disgusting", and I didn't even notice it. To make matters worse, I did it every single time that I played clarinet.
Do you do this? Most people do. I did for years. Something really strange happened to me when I broke this habit. When I made a conscious effort to pay attention to my very first sound of the day, and worked to improve it, I started to develop a new warm-up routine. When I followed this routine for about 2 weeks, I started noticing a lot more about my playing throughout all of my performance activities. It was as though I woke up my ears. Instead of accepting a filter upon them, I became more demanding of myself. At times, this is not fun, because I noticed more things that I did not like. However, noticing them allowed me to single them out for improvement. My playing radically improved. This was a major breakthrough for me. I now try to be very mindful of my first sounds of the day, and hopefully, this gets me in the habit of staying mindful for all of the other moments.
In this issue's training section, there is a video that I made especially for you where I show you exactly how I start my practise routine every time. This exercise, when done well, opens up my ears and gets me into a "mindful" state right away. It happens to also be one of the best air support/tone exercises that I know as well. I challenge you to try it out for the next two weeks.
Let me know how it works. You can email me, or visit me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Clarinet-Mentors/237380966382664.
Extensive Clarinet Training
I am pretty excited that my new 10 lesson video course will soon be available for all of you who want more extensive training on many aspects of clarinet playing. If you have been enjoying the Clarinet Mentors tips and trainings, and want to go deeper, I know you will enjoy this course. It is specifically designed to give you easy to follow systems to improve your playing. If you know how to do it, you can!
I'll let you know when it is available, which will hopefully be in late September. (You still have time to make last minute requests on things you would like to see included in this course.)
Warm-up - use these long tones to drastically improve tone and air support
|This 15 minute video is a bit more intense than the usual Clarinet Mentors tips. I want you to have a chance to really try out a more "conscious warm-up". This is exactly how I start my routine, and it has really helped me.|
Free Training Video: [ https://youtu.be/7tyKWTO0mqs ]
I encourage you to try this warm-up seriously for the next couple of weeks, whatever your level of expertise, and let me know your results.
I have more videos currently in production. If there are topics that you would like help with, please send me some suggestions. If you are on Facebook, you can post your comments at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clarinet-Mentors/237380966382664
A Good App - Visual Metronome
There are more and more good musical apps available for your smart phones and tablets. I have not made a thorough study of everything that is out there, but I do have a product that I highly recommend.
The Visual Metronome by One More Muse, is a really handy metronome app. I have it on my iPad, and i use it often. It has many sounds available, has a wide range of tempi, and what I love most is that it is very easy to subdivide the beat. If I am working on a piece in 6/8, I can easily set the beat to subdivide into a triplet feel. I often set it to a sixteenth subdivision for harder passages in any "4" time signature.
I have used it with several students at lessons, who have been so impressed that they have downloaded it onto their phones. One student of mine is a band teacher, who recommended it to her entire class.
I'm sure there are other good metronome apps as well, but since I am happy with this one, I have stopped looking elsewhere. If you have a smart phone or tablet, I recommend that you try it.
I have just created a new Clarinet Mentors Facebook page to allow members of the Clarinet Mentors community to post comments and interact with me, and each other. If you are a Facebook user, please visit the site and post your comments as well as "like" this page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clarinet-Mentors/237380966382664
Michelle Anderson is a professional clarinetist and teacher who currently lives in Vancouver BC. She has been a professional performer for 30 years and plays regularly with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the West Coast Chamber Music series. She has performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Touring Orchestra and many other groups. Michelle currently specializes in teaching adults to play clarinet more easily and quickly, and conducts the Vancouver Clarinet Choir.
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