Is Practising Making It Worse?

Sent Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Clarinet Mentors
For clarinetists who want to perform more easily and beautifully
In This Issue                                           January 23, 2013     
  • A Note From Michelle Anderson 
  • Free Training - 5 Great Habits so that "Practise Makes Better"...(not worse...)
  • Clarinet Tips - a great article on good practise habits
  • Michelle Recommends - Some Mouthpieces for you
  • Clarinet Is Easy - detailed lessons to help you improve your clarinet playing
A Note from Michelle Anderson

Hello Everyone!

A big welcome to all of you who are reading the Clarinet Mentors newsletter for the first time.  These newsletters are sent to the Clarinet Mentors community every two weeks, usually on Wednesdays. Enjoy the clarinet tips and pointers that you will find here!

I have updated the Clarinet Mentors Facebook page so that it is easier to find - If you use Facebook, please feel free to post comments there. When I answer your questions on Facebook, it is easy to share them with everyone else  who may share similar questions.

Although I have a very busy month, I don't have much performing this month. After a whirlwind of concerts in December, it is nice to have time to work on other projects. I'm looking forward to a fabulous chamber music concert with piano, clarinet and cello trios next month. I am working on the repertoire now, and I know that I will enjoy rehearsing the repertoire in about 2 weeks. I highly recommend playing chamber music - duets, trios, quartets with any other musicians in your life. It is fun, and challenging musically.

Enjoy your clarinet this week, and thanks for being a part of my community!

Free Training - Practise to Make it Better (not worse)
The Five Best Habits to Practise Your Way To Clarinet Success
Almost all of us practise our clarinets. However, what you may not realize, is that most of us have practise habits that constantly reinforce our bad habits. We get better and better at being, well,  (dare I say?) "bad". It took me years to realize how much of my practise time wasn't really very efficient. Not only was my progress slower than I wanted, I was actually really improving my BAD HABITS. Once I learned some systems to ensure that I was only moving forward with really productive practise strategies, my playing improved MUCH faster! I want to share some of those strategies with you.
Today's free training video is a long one - 15 minutes -  and gives you five different strategies to practise more productively. There are some links in the description afterwards to some other videos that relate to the topics here.
Enjoy this video, and be sure to comment on the video on the YouTube page if you enjoy it or have questions. I'd love to hear about your best practise strategies!
Click on the image above to view this video. 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:
Clarinet Tips 
Chuck Brown, of the San Diego Concert Band, sent me a copy of a great article from Time Magazine, Jan 25, 2012. I enjoyed it so much, that I wanted to share it with all of you (and serendipitously, it fits it very nicely with the theme of this issue's free training).

The Myth of 'Practice Makes Perfect'

By Annie Murphy Paul  Jan. 25, 2012

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice. In a groundbreaking paper published in 1993, cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson added a crucial tweak to that old joke. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Deliberate practice.

It's not a minor change. The difference between ineffective and effective practice means the difference between mediocrity and mastery. If you're not practicing deliberately - whether it's a foreign language, a musical instrument or any other new skill - you might as well not practice at all.

(MORE: Paul: How Your Dreams Can Make You Smarter)

I was reminded of the importance of deliberate practice by a fascinating new book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning. Its author is Gary Marcus, a cognitive psychologist at New York University who studies how the brain acquires language. Marcus is also a wannabe guitarist who set out on a quest to learn to play at age 38. In Guitar Zero he takes us along for the ride, exploring the relevant research from neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology along the way. One of his main themes is the importance of doing practice right.

"Hundreds of thousands of people took music lessons when they were young and remember little or nothing," he points out, giving lie to the notion that learning an instrument is easiest when you're a kid. The important thing is not just practice but deliberate practice, "a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one's weaknesses, rather than simply fooling around and playing to one's strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect."

So how does deliberate practice work? Anders Ericsson's 1993 paper makes for bracing reading. He makes it clear that a dutiful daily commitment to practice is not enough. Long hours of practice are not enough. And noodling around on the piano or idly taking some swings with a golf club is definitely not enough. "Deliberate practice," Ericsson declares sternly, "requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable." Having given us fair warning, he reveals the secret of deliberate practice: relentlessly focusing on our weaknesses and inventing new ways to root them out. Results are carefully monitored, ideally with the help of a coach or teacher, and become grist for the next round of ruthless self-evaluation.

(MORE: Paul: The Power of Smart Listening)

It sounds simple, even obvious, but it's something most of us avoid. If we play the piano - or, like Marcus, the guitar - or we play golf or speak French, it's because we like it. We've often achieved a level of competency that makes us feel good about ourselves. But what we don't do is intentionally look for ways that we're failing and hammer away at those flaws until they're gone, then search for more ways we're messing up. But almost two decades of research shows that's exactly what distinguishes the merely good from the great.

In an article titled "It's Not How Much; It's How," published in the Journal of Research in Music Education in 2009, University of Texas-Austin professor Robert Duke and his colleagues videotaped advanced piano students as they practiced a difficult passage from a Shostakovich concerto, then ranked the participants by the quality of their ultimate performance. The researchers found no relationship between excellence of performance and how many times the students had practiced the piece or how long they spent practicing. Rather, "the most notable differences between the practice sessions of the top-ranked pianists and the remaining participants," Duke and his coauthors wrote, "are related to their handling of errors."

The best pianists, they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. "It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists," Duke notes. "But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence."

Without deliberate practice, even the most talented individuals will reach a plateau and stay there. For most of us, that's just fine. But don't delude yourself that you'll see much improvement unless you're ready to tackle your mistakes as well as your successes.

To read this article with all references and links intact, go to:

Michelle Recommends
Some Mouthpiece Advice
I am often asked for recommendations of mouthpieces by Clarinet Mentors community members. I definitely recommend that you invest in a good mouthpiece. It is one of the most important pieces of equipment for helping us to produce a good sound.
In the past, I have been somewhat hesitant to recommend a particular mouthpiece for several reasons:
  1. There are many good mouthpieces, and I don't mean to insult any mouthpiece makers by inadvertently "leaving out" some good ones.
  2. More importantly, the ideal way for you to choose the best mouthpiece for you, is to test several. Everyone's mouth is built differently, and it seems as though mouthpieces in particular, respond quite differently from person to person. If I recommend a mouthpiece that works for one person, it may not work well for the next.
Having said that, I recognize that it is helpful for you to have some recommendations and guidelines. My number one recommendation is that you go to a reputable music store near you, and try out as many professional mouthpieces as you can. You will find that your reeds may react differently from mouthpiece to mouthpiece, so it is a good idea to bring some slightly softer and stiffer reeds. The right mouthpiece for you is usually pretty obvious. It can make an immediate difference in how easy it feels to play, and in how good you sound. You should bring a tuner, and check that the intonation is good. Try playing your lowest notes, and your highest, and note how it responds. You should also try tonguing in all registers, since some mouthpieces tongue easily, and some feel difficult. If you cannot test a mouthpiece in a store, many places will mail you a few options to try within a short trial period.
With my above disclaimers in place, I will say that I really like the Vandoren M series mouthpieces, in particular, the M13Lyre. The M30 is also very good. I haven't tried the new Masters series, but I have heard that they are worth trying. If you want to look at more advanced professional mouthpieces (and there are many superb ones), I can recommend Lomax, Greg Smith, and the Backun MoBa series since I have played on all of those and enjoyed them.
I would rather have my superb mouthpiece and a so-so clarinet than the other way around. If you haven't tried a better mouthpiece, I highly recommend it!
Clarinet Is Easy - Beginner Course - Now Available!
How To Solve Your Common Clarinet Frustrations and Play Clarinet More Easily
I firmly believe that if anyone has the "recipe" for how to play clarinet, things are really relatively easy to do. Most of our frustrations come from inadvertently learning bad habits along the way. With that in mind, I have created for you a 10 lesson course for beginners (and self-taught intermediate players) that gives you the tools to truly learn the clarinet easily, while avoiding all of the most common frustrations that can plague us. The lessons have great content, and are presented in a video format so that you can watch them again and again. If you would like to play with more ease and have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of clarinet playing, you can get more information on the Clarinet Is Easy course here:
Click the above link to find out more, and to see free preview videos. You can also try the first lesson with a 100% Money-Back Guarantee if it is not a good fit for you.
About Michelle Anderson
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.
Michelle Anderson, Clarinet
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