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A jam-packed manual revealing the best clarinet lessons, performance tricks and practice methods that all Clarinet players must know to get maximum results right now
My promise to you is that you will see results in all areas of your playing, regardless of your level of proficiency. You will see great improvements in the following areas: Tone Intonation Control Agility Expression Fingering Tonguing Phrasing Articulation Musicality Sight-reading
The goal is to be able to play a short piece of music. I advocate this greatly because the sole aim of a musician is to perform. Many a times, we have been inspired to take up an instrument because of how another person plays it beautifully. There are others who take up an instrument to show off their ‘shredding skills’ (think electric guitar) or seek to impress others with fast notes and extreme range. It is my obligation to inform you that playing a melodic piece beautifully sets the stage for other more advanced acrobatic acts on whatever instrument you play. Throughout my years of teaching and playing the clarinet, I have come across numerous students who either (1) have not gotten their basics corrected or (2) have developed an ignorance to the importance of having a strong foundation. Also, I realised that many students lack training in musicality. I wrote this book in response to that. Music has always been something that has frustrated yet excited me. My frustrations tend to exceed my excitements greatly, and this is due to the lack of personal guidance from an experienced teacher throughout my years of practice. It is a privilege to have a teacher that can insist on his way of playing, especially as a beginner, where you have no knowledge that you can use as a basis to reject your teacher’s ideas. I hope that my deep enthusiasm for the clarinet echoes throughout the book, and may your hunt for more ideas go beyond what I teach. This book cuts away all the countless hours in a practice room spent on trial and error. In my search for a beautiful sound, I have experimented rigorously and found a simple, quick, yet unusual method of producing inspiring sounds on your instrument of choice. One can 2
quickly denounce my tyrannical approach of teaching music, but it is in my interest for a student to acquire a beautiful sound in the shortest possible time, and with minimal frustration. Too many students of music have dropped this pursuit simply because of the perceived difficulty of improving or achieving the level of proficiency they wish to have, having not yet realised the deep satisfaction of producing music with your very own hands. This is not to say that this book is a shortcut. Life has no shortcuts. You may find yourself stuck on certain ‘Facts’ of the book for a number of weeks. By insisting on putting in consistent work in a method that has worked for others, you can achieve maximum results, with minimal frustration. You may even contact me if you face problems understanding what I teach. Is music easy to learn? Yes, if you adhere to simple rules, focus on your objective, and continually push yourself to achieve more and more.
What do I want to sound like?
“Louis Spohr’s Clarinet Concerto No.1, 2nd Movement” played by Ernst Ottensamer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2uAkZiVYY8 Time: 0:00-0:36
Source: IMSLP Petrucci Music Library (http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/18885)
You can download the sheet music from the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library for free. It is in the public domain, so you shouldn’t face legal problems downloading it in most countri es. The important thing here is to have an outcome: let’s get working with just one tune so that we have a common aim to work toward. I want you to record an audio clip of yourself playing this excerpt. Once you are done, keep a copy of it, and review it after you are done with the book. Do what is necessary for you to be able to play through the excerpt. If you are unsure about the rhythm, study it and break it down yourself. Musicians have a tendency to fall in love with one piece, work on it, and in the process end up falling in love with another, leaving both pieces half-done, or even undone. I chose these excerpts because of their melodic qualities. As you will learn later throughout the course, sound quality is a pre-requisite to developing speed. Type the corresponding link into your web browser, and listen to the music on a regular basis. Pick an instrument Get a pro to choose an instrument for you. This could be an experienced player, or a clarinet teacher. Always choose someone who has already had experience playing the instrument. The art of selecting an instrument warrants a whole section on its own, so it would be better to let someone else do it for you when you are completely new to the instrument. When you are buying an instrument for the first time, do not bother wasting time “testing” instruments that you are not already proficient at. What is our focus? Do you want a day of endless trying, or would you want someone who had already gone through the process, the trials and errors, to make an experienced judgment on your behalf? Tap on their experience. This is not being lazy; this is being 4
focused on your objective of wanting to sound good by spending minimum time achieving this. If you are short on cash, it would be better to seek a rental. You can do so by doing a quick search on the internet. An alternative would be to look for a second-hand instrument. However, it is important that a pro decides whether you can buy it or not. A clarinet can look visually appealing, with its shiny keys and polished wood, but end up playing like a piece of junk. It is of utmost importance to get a serviceable instrument that plays well. Do not ever select an instrument based on its looks; this is as ridiculous as buying wine based on the colour of the bottle alone. Which Clarinet if there was an old clarinet and a new clarinet to choose from? You wouldn’t know! You would need to play both using a previous setup that has worked in order to find out. In clarinets, the setup includes the mouthpiece, reed and ligature. Although I encourage active experimentation to discover the best combination for one’s personal needs, the following equipment have served me well and must be used for these 30 days. Mouthpiece Clarinet: Vandoren M30 Price: USD$130++ Reed Vandoren V12 Size 2½ Price: USD$45++ (10 pax) Ligature Versa ligature Price: USD$60++
Disclaimer: I am not in any way endorsing the products for personal gain. These products are personal preferences and are not the ‘best’ products out there. Preferences for equipment vary from person to person. More about this in my website.
Now that you’ve got the clarinet you desire, it’s time to finally start with the book. But wait! You need to be familiar with the way I describe notes and keys on the clarinet.
The fingering system of David Pino
In his book, The Clarinet and Clarinet Playing, David Pino describes a way of referring to clarinet keys using a string of text. The concept is simple and can be understood in 5 minutes. Firstly, we need to understand the symbol that has been given to each key on the clarinet.
Here is an example of a fingering. T|000|000 The clarinet is divided into three sections as given by the ‘|’ sign. The left section has a [T]. This represents the thumb key. The middle section has three zeroes, so this means that the keys ,  and  are not being pressed. The right section also has three zeroes, so this means that the keys ,  and  are not being pressed. The note given by T|000|000 is F4.
How about this? TR|123|456, E-B The left section has [T] and [R], so the thumb key and register key are pressed. Keys  to  are pressed. Also, The [E-B] key is being pressed. Notice that extra keys are separated by from the keys  to  by a comma. In this case, the note given is thus
Another case to note is this: R, A|000|000 If you realise, this is actually A#4
Some complex fingerings include TR|123, C#-G#|456, F-C TR, Ab|023, C#-G#|056, D#-G# However, don’t be taken aback! All you need to identify is the three different parts, separated by the ‘|’ sign. You should get used to it the more you employ it in your practice.
My notation system
The piano has many octaves. In order name the notes as well as which octave it belongs to, you can add the octave number behind the name of the note. For example, B2 is the note ‘B’ at the second lowest octave. D5 is the note ‘D’ at the fifth lowest octave. The clarinet is a B-flat instrument and sounds two semitones lower than written on the clarinet score. If I were to play G on the clarinet, it would sound like an F on a piano. The lowest note on the clarinet is E3, clarinet pitch. It goes all the way up to D#3, then goes to E4. The cycle repeats itself as the notes go higher. The number represents the octave that it belongs to. Anything above E6 is considered very high.
Throughout the book, when I refer to notes, I refer to the clarinet pitch for that note. If I say E4, I mean E4 on the clarinet.
This is E3, F3, F#3, G3, G#3, and until D#3.
This is E4, F4, F#4, G4, G#4, and until D#4.
This goes on all the way until E7. As of now, I can only reach E7, so I’ll limit my discussion of the clarinet up till E7. If you realise, in my notation system, a new octave starts at each E. I do this because the lowest note on the clarinet happens to be E.
What do I want to sound like? ............................................................................................................ 4 The fingering system of David Pino .................................................................................................... 6 My notation system ............................................................................................................................ 9 Section 1: Technique (Fact 1 to 7) ........................................................................................................ 12 Fact 1: Breathing is done with your stomach, and you need to blow toward the bell of the instrument regardless of which note you play ................................................................................. 13 Fact 2: You need to dissect the way each finger holds the instrument to improve fingering efficiency ........................................................................................................................................... 17 Fact 3: A strong embouchure is not just about having a pointed chin ............................................. 25 Fact 4: You can strengthen your embouchure even when not playing the clarinet ........................ 29 Fact 5: The tongue plays a passive role in tone production ............................................................. 32 Fact 6: You can enhance your performance by adjusting the amount of mouthpiece in your mouth .......................................................................................................................................................... 35 Fact 7: You need to visualise in order to improve sight-reading ...................................................... 36 Section 2: Developing Artistry (Fact 8 – 12).......................................................................................... 39 Fact 8: The art and science of music-making has to be understood in order for you to progress beyond technique ............................................................................................................................. 40 Fact 9: Singing in your head helps you save practice time ............................................................... 41 Fact 10: Studying how other people play helps you develop the sound that you want .................. 43 Fact 11: Breaking down the music is essential for us to perform it well; the details matter ........... 45 Fact 12: Relating the music to a situation or feeling that you once experienced or want to experience can get you the musical expression you want ............................................................... 46 Section 3: Exercises (Fact 13- 22).......................................................................................................... 47 Fact 13: Playing soft to loud without changing pitch is a great way to improve embouchure strength ............................................................................................................................................. 48 Fact 14: Viewing multiple notes as a single contour or viewing multiple bars as a single phrase can give character to the music that you play......................................................................................... 49 Fact 15: The ability to adjust tone colour while playing can enhance your performance ............... 51 Fact 16: A neck strap is very useful in preventing injuries to the wrist ............................................ 53 Fact 17: Not moving at all when practising will help you develop your expression ......................... 55 Fact 18: Playing the fast parts with random tempos makes you appreciate the fast parts better .. 57 Fact 19: Knowing the scale degree of notes in a piece improves your intonation and gives you unique performance hints ................................................................................................................ 58 Fact 20: Intonation can be improved dramatically with a drone ..................................................... 60 Fact 21: Working on your technical competencies makes you more artistic ................................... 62
Fact 22: The ability to play overtones at will improves the tone quality in your high notes ........... 64 Section 4: Mindset (Fact 23 – 30) ......................................................................................................... 66 Fact 23: Total, absolute confidence in your ability is the key to becoming an amazing musician ... 67 Fact 24: Play all your scales diligently. It works. ............................................................................... 69 Fact 25: You need to stop being a guilty musician, be completely honest with yourself, and have specific aims in order to raise standards .......................................................................................... 70 Fact 26: Taking a video of yourself and watching yourself perform can accelerate your progress . 72 Fact 27: Proclaiming your goals to others doesn’t make you cocky; it makes you want them more and gets you there more quickly ...................................................................................................... 73 Fact 28: A musician without motivation is not a musician ............................................................... 74 Fact 29: Understanding other instruments is important to developing artistry and expanding your performance vocabulary ................................................................................................................... 76 Fact 30: Not acquiring the skills I teach here is the biggest mistake you can make in your musical journey .............................................................................................................................................. 77 BONUS 1: How do I set up my clarinet without damaging it? .............................................................. 78 BONUS 2: The biggest rhythmic mistake musicians make.................................................................... 79 The metronome ................................................................................................................................ 79 The basics of rhythm ......................................................................................................................... 80 BONUS 4: Which instrument should I buy? ...................................................................................... 82 Brand of clarinet ............................................................................................................................... 82 Material of clarinet ........................................................................................................................... 83 BONUS 5: Vibrato or no vibrato? .......................................................................................................... 84 Bibliography .......................................................................................................................................... 85
SECTION 1: TECHNIQUE (FACT 1 TO 7)
Fact 1: Breathing is done with your stomach, and you need to blow toward the bell of the instrument regardless of which note you play
Many other books actually mention about using your diaphragm to breathe, but I find it easier to understand if you use the word ‘stomach’ instead. Do this exercise in front of a mirror. Place both hands on your stomach, similar to the picture below.
Hands placed on stomach
Say ‘shhhhhhhh’ very loudly for 10 seconds, or until you run out of air. You must feel as though your stomach is deflating, and your fingers can feel that happening.
Notice how the stomach is deflated; it caves in so much so that the chest looks expanded
Once you have completely deflated, hold your breath!!! You should feel as though your stomach muscles are scrunching up inwards, toward your belly button. You should NOT feel as though you were taking a dump in the toilet! Only your stomach muscles are working really hard. Refer to the picture on the previous page.
Notice how the stomach expands so much that it curves further out than the chest
Next, breathe deeply with your mouth, as if your mouth were a vacuum cleaner, sucking all the surrounding air in. While breathing deeply, visualise the air going downwards into your body, filling up from your toes, your ankles, your knees, your hips, and finally up to your stomach. Next, feel your stomach expanding forward and downward. All this while, your fingers will be on your stomach. If done correctly, your stomach will behave as a balloon and expand accordingly. All this while, your shoulders will remain where they are, your chest remains unexpanded, and your head should be facing your toes. How should your stomach muscles feel? You should feel as though the muscles are stretching, and even to the point where they ache and are going to snap. Once you are fully inflated, aim at an object about 2 meters away, and use your throat to blow air out of your mouth. You should never pucker up your lips. Nothing happens to your mouth (except to open it slightly in order to let air come out). Your fingers should feel the balloon deflating in the same manner as when you started out. Once you have done this successfully 10 times (you should feel rather giddy!), take a break before reading on. You may actually find that your stomach is unable to expand forward beyond a certain point; it tends to hurt a lot after that limit. You have to do this daily for a couple of weeks for it to become a habit. What I did when I discovered this technique is as follows.
The moment I wake up, I do the exercise lying down, for exactly 10 times. The moment before I go to bed, I do the exercise lying down, for exactly 10 times. Rinse and repeat daily. Now that you have established the right procedure to breathe in and out, let’s get more specific. Firstly, breathing in should occur at the corner of both sides of your mouth. Secondly, when breathing out, seek to blow the air at a faster speed than you are normally comfortable with. This occurs again without the lips or mouth moving; only the throat and stomach is responsible for the exit of air. One special way to increase your air speed is to imagine the air passing through your nose bridge. This may seem odd, but by directing your air firstly through the nose bridge, and then out of your mouth, you can achieve a faster air speed which is responsible for a beautiful tone on your instrument. I discovered that breathing using the stomach is the culprit for the weak sound that many clarinettists produce. You can actually predict whether the player would sound good by just watching whether he raises his chest and shoulders when he breathes in. If he does raise his chest and shoulders, chances are he will not be able to play for very long. Since many of us lead a sedentary urban lifestyle, we don’t breathe with our stomach very often. Our stomachs are crunched up when we sit! That explains why many of us breathe with our shoulders and chest. Correct this immediately and you are on your way to experiencing drastic improvements in your sound. It is normal to feel breathless or giddy in the beginning. Do not overwork yourself. Once you are fully rested, pick up your instrument. If you don’t already know how to set it up, check BONUS 0. Remove the reed of your instrument. Pick the instrument up. Do the exact same breathing exercise 10 times, but this time without placing your fingers on your stomach. In addition, aim to blow toward the end of the instrument (the bell of the clarinet or saxophone). The air must flow toward the end of the instrument for a full, rounded, strong sound. For now, internalise the method of breathing so that when you actually assemble your full instrument, you have a strong, fast volume of air that can activate your reed to produce a wonderful sound. Wait! “Do I really need one full day to learn how to BREATHE!!??” you may ask.
The reason is simple. Breathing and air support is the solution to the majority of problems that clarinettists face throughout their years of practice. If you follow what I tell you to do, 15
you would skip the frustrations and the countless hours I have put in to find out the root of my playing problems. In order to get maximum results, here’s a trick I’ve developed after learning how some of my friends do bodybuilding. Their mindset is simple: If I start to feel pain and aches in my muscles, I would do 3 more repetitions. Applying this to the breathing exercise, you would always breathe in for 3 more seconds the moment you feel you cannot breathe in anymore. Feeling the pain in your stomach muscles when breathing in? Breathe in for 3 more seconds before letting go. After you have acquired this skill, you need to also internalise the fact that blowing to the end of the bell is the solution to many of the problems associated with intervals. Consider the following extract:
If you were to play this extract slurred, you would most likely face problems at the second and third beat. The solution is simply to blow to the end of the bell (as you would for B4) even while you are playing G4 in the extract. Try playing only from the third beat onwards. You would face the same problem transitioning between D4 and G4 and back to D4 again. Assuming you have acquired a fair amount fingering skills, you should be able to bridge these notes better simply by blowing to the end of the bell. The reason is simple: the note G4 is produced when most of the air leaves the tone holes ,  and . However, the note D4 or B4 has air leaving the instrument at tone holes much lower down the instrument. You would want to allow the air to leave near the bell of the instrument all the time, so that if you were to transit to playing notes like D4 or B4, you would have little trouble allowing the air to exit near the bell.
Fact 2: You need to dissect the way each finger holds the instrument to improve fingering efficiency
The aim today is to hold the instrument in a comfortable way, so that you will not have longterm injuries, or worse still, suffer in terms of tone-production. The advanced clarinettist may dismiss what I say, but each finger has unique considerations and their behaviours must be understood in painstaking detail. Once you have set this up, you will never face have fingers ever again. The clarinet is held as illustrated in the photos below.
Observe the individual fingers and where they are placed
There are only two considerations when holding your instrument. 1. To ensure your fingers do not FLY above the keys. When you play your instrument, you will want your fingers just slightly above the keys so that when you need to press them, there is minimal lag time between wanting to press and actually having the key pressed down. It would be helpful for the keys to be conveniently just below your fingertips. This applies especially to the clarinet, because when fingers are too high above the clarinet, we tend to ‘miss’ the hole when we attempt to cover it, resulting in leakage of air from the partially covered hole. 2. To hold the instrument as if you were holding two tennis balls. The instrument is designed in a way to be comfortable to play. If you find it strenuous to hold, look at the picture below. The fingers are limp before holding the instrument.
Observe how all fingers are made to droop downward
Each finger on each hand plays a very important role! It is important to internalise all that is taught here to ensure efficient fingering of the keys, especially for fast passages. Here’s a complete breakdown of how each finger should be placed on the instrument. Read the first few pages to have a better understanding of the keys, and how they are named. In fact, I discuss fingering on my website too. It is such a simple subject, but many of us tend to ignore it and do not realise its importance. The pictures that follow are zoomed in from the pictures on the previous page. For each finger, the word ‘inactive’ means the key is not pressed. If the key corresponding to that finger is pressed, then the word ‘active’ follows the name of the finger.
Left hand, thumb, inactive: Placed above the [T] ring, at an upward angle, lightly touching [R]. Notice that the thumb points 45 degrees upward.
Left hand, thumb, active: Pressing [T] and [R], using only a very slight upward movement of the thumb. You do n’t actually have to press the whole [R] key for it to be depressed. You can simply roll your thumb up slightly without bending the thumb joint.
Notice how only a small bit of the thumb presses [R]
This joint here does not bend during the transition from [T] to [T][R]
Left hand, pointing finger, inactive: tip of finger hovering above the key , the two joints of the finger touching the [A] key and [Ab] key respectively. The joints are the ones responsible for these two keys.
Left hand, pointing finger, active: Firstly, this is how the hand behaves before pressing the [Ab] Key.
This is how the hand behaves when pressing the [Ab] key.
The difference between the two pictures above can be described with reference to the green line. The green line is drawn at exactly the same place on both pictures, but in the first picture, the joint of the finger is higher. When the key is pressed, the joint goes down onto the [Ab] key. No change should be observed anywhere else in the hand! Also, notice how the middle finger and ring finger slant diagonally toward the key.
Little Finger: Touches the [E/B] key, but does not depress it. The little finger should be made to rest on the [E/B] key when not in use. By cultivating the habit of resting your little finger on a key, your little finger does not fly too high above the clarinet when you play something like G Major scale ascending. When combined together, the left hand should look very relaxed. There should be no strain on the fingers at all. Right hand, thumb: Depending on the size of your hand, your thumb should rest underneath the thumb rest. Some players have such small hands that the thumb rest is just above the nail of the thumb. In my case, I rest my thumb rest on the joint of my thumb. It gives me just enough freedom to press nicely onto the keys at the front of the clarinet.
The thumb position also depends on whether you can feel [SK1] with the side of your right pointing finger. The pointing finger has to hover above key  and also be in contact with [SK1].
When pressing [SK1], observe how your other fingers behave. You should have minimal movement in the other fingers throughout the process of depressing [SK1].
Notice that the fingers on the right hand also slant diagonally downwards. The right hand little finger touches the E/B key but does not depress it. Only the meaty portion of my little finger depresses the key; not the tip of the finger!
In summary, these are the keys that have fingers hovering above them.
, , , , , ,
And these are the keys which have fingers touching them, but not depressing them.
[A], [Ab], [E/B] (left), [E/B] (right), [R] and [SK1]
It is important to always feel [A], [Ab], [E/B] (left), [E/B] (right), [R] and [SK1] when you are holding the instrument but not playing. By always having contact with these keys, you can activate them using minimal effort and minimal movement of the fingers.
Fact 3: A strong embouchure is not just about having a pointed chin
Many books attempt to explain the embouchure, but here, I have the most comprehensive guide to forming the embouchure you can find on the internet. The pictures are selfexplanatory, and I break down each muscle group so you understand how they work. I am going to describe this in painstaking detail because the embouchure is VERY important. Place your left pointing finger on your chin, as seen in the photo below. In front of a mirror, say “EEEE”. Feel the flatness and hardness of your chin. This flatness should be maintained as long as you are passing air through the instrument. Always observe yourself in the mirror to know if you have unconsciously un-flattened your chin.
Say “EEEE” again, but this time, open your jaw downward (ignore how hideous you may look in the mirror). Remove your left finger. Now, roll your lower lip over the low two front teeth, as in the picture below. Observe how the chin is still pointed down.
With your chin still flat, lower lip still over your lower two front teeth, close your mouth.
Squeeze your left pointing finger into your closed mouth, with the nail facing the sky. Your teeth should rest (notice I do not say BITE) on the nail of your finger.
The above two pictures show the end state of this process. Congratulations, you have managed to form the right embouchure necessary to produce a sound. An embouchure is just a name for the combination of muscles required for a sound. Now, do this full exercise 10 times, internalising the sequence of forming the right embouchure. Always do this in front of a mirror. To summarise, these are the steps you have to take. Memorise and internalise this. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) Say ‘EEE’ Open your mouth, with chin still flat. Roll your lower lip over your lower teeth, with chin still flat. Close your mouth, with chin still flat. Squeeze your finger into your mouth, chin still flat. Exert sideward mouth pressure toward the finger that is in the mouth.
The next step is to repeat this exercise 10 times, but substitute your finger with the real instrument, and each time you reach the end of the exercise (with the instrument in your mouth), do the following: 1. Breathe in through the instrument (or another way to do this, would be to suck air through the instrument as if it were a vacuum cleaner). All this while, your CHIN HAS TO BE FLATTENED, FIRM AND HARD. 2. Using the breathing exercise taught in Day 1, breathe out into the instrument, disregarding whether any sound I produced. A lengthy explanation is necessary to allow you to accept this fact, but you need to follow this in order to have the fastest, highest quality result. You don’t want to go through the same trial and error process as me, do you? ;) 27
3. If a sound is produced, great! But keep in mind that although the sound is our ultimate goal, we need to produce an inspirational sound rather than a mediocre sound. It remains that a proper breathing technique, a well formed, flat-chin embouchure is necessary for the production of a beautiful sound. If there is no sound produced, it could be that you are not blowing enough air (with your throat!), you are not blowing air in the right direction (pass your nose bridge and down toward the bell of the instrument), or you have neglected looking at the mirror to constantly correct your embouchure.
To tackle the first point, one can attempt to breathe more deeply, and breathe more quickly to get the sound he or she wants. For the last point, it depends on your willingness to force your chin and mouth to behave in an unnatural, uncomfortable way (this should get less unnatural and less uncomfortable as you become more proficient) in order to produce a wonderful sound.
Fact 4: You can strengthen your embouchure even when not playing the clarinet
Before you learn how to do this, you need to know the components of a good embouchure. You have learnt about the method to form an embouchure, but that explanation is not complete. If you are an experienced player reading this book, I wish to inform you that the order with which I have chosen the different parts of the embouchure IS VERY IMPORTANT.
The arrows in the picture show where force is applied. Chin The chin should be flat, hard, and firm. Force should be applied downward. One way to improve this is to imagine your chin reaching for your neck. The arrows show the force pulling the chin, like a sheet that is stretched over the flat surface of the chin bone. Lower lip Your lower lip should roll over your lower teeth. However, pain should not be felt when the instrument is over your lip. If there is a mark on your lower lip after playing (where the teeth have gnashed into), you are biting too hard. Upper lip Your upper lip has to curl inward and exert force downward on to the mouthpiece. However, the upper lip DOES NOT ROLL OVER THE UPPER TEETH. Your upper lip should exert so much pressure, that you should even feel your nose crunching inwards and downward toward your mouthpiece. Upper teeth Your upper teeth should be PLACED on the mouthpiece. Force should not be exerted onto the mouthpiece. Cheeks Your cheeks should be drawn inward toward the your jaw. The cheek should feel as though it is in contact with the molars (back teeth on the upper and lower jaw) or even your 29
wisdom teeth. However, you do not suck in your cheeks. What I am telling you to do is only metaphorical. You should imagine that your cheeks are drawn in, and imagine that your cheeks are touching the teeth on the sides of your jaw. Corners of mouth The corners of your mouth can be described as the place where your lips meet at the sides of your mouth. These muscles should be pushing to the sides of the mouthpiece, and the lip near the corners (the red/pink parts) should be tucked INTO the mouth. It is crucial for me to reiterate, as well as for you to follow, the development of the embouchure in the starting stages of learning up your instrument. Every single time before you produce a sound today, follow these steps religiously. Your task for today is as follows: Task Repeat the breathing exercise explained in Fact 1. This time, once you have breathed in fully (inflated your stomach), hold your breath, bring the instrument into your mouth, and then follow the steps to create the embouchure while still holding your breath. Upon creating the right embouchure, you may proceed to blow air through the instrument using your throat. This must be done 10 times before you proceed on. Task Repeat the task above, but now lay your tongue at the bottom of your mouth, with the tip of the tongue touching the inside of your lower two front teeth as well as your lower lip. Once you have completed this exercise (you should feel rather giddy!), take a rest. If you have produced a sound already, you may be tempted to press the keys of the instrument and experiment, but I will not allow it. The reason is simple: many young players do start out playing perfectly well on a single note, but in struggling to produce other notes, neglect the basic shape and airflow required to produce a note. Once they do find a wrong way to produce the notes, it forms a bad habit, and they practice this bad habit to perfection. Normally, once this happens, an experienced player or teacher would have to correct the behaviour, and this could take up to several months. No form of playing on the instrument for today, other than described above. As the title says, you can improve your embouchure even without your mouthpiece. Simply place your finger into your mouth, nail in contact with your upper teeth, and then exert force as how the arrows indicate in the diagram above. That’s all. All you need to do is to pull your finger gently out of your mouth, but let your embouchure resist the pulling-out by sort of sucking in the finger, in accordance to the arrows in the diagram. WAIT! At this point of time, you should be asking yourself how a sound is produced in the first place. If the lower lip, upper lip, lower teeth, and upper teeth do not exert too much force on the mouthpiece, how is the reed going to respond? The answer is AIR. An embouchure should only be used as a doorway for the air to flow through. If you feel an ache in your mouth, it is natural and should be seen as progress being made toward a stronger embouchure. However, you should NEVER have to feel an ache in 30
your teeth, nor develop ulcers in your lips due to excessive biting. Not only will this hurt, it will hamper your progress in achieving what you want. The whole idea of pain and the level tolerable will be discussed in my website. For now, focus on achieving the embouchure described. Now you will continue.
Fact 5: The tongue plays a passive role in tone production
Key phrase for the day: Always let your tongue stay
LOW AND FORWARD.
The tongue plays a part in producing a round, wholesome sound. Your tongue should be placed at the bottom of your mouth. It should lie on the lower jaw, and be placed low and forward. In reality, the tongue is used as a DOOR to the DOORWAY. To understand this better, the diagram below should be internalised. Closed door (tongue placed on reed opening) AIR AIR AIR AIR STUCK Open door (tongue placed on lower jaw)
AIR AIR AIR AIR AIR AIR AIR AIR LEAVING
Do you know that the position of the tongue determines the actual tone of the clarinet as well? Try it. Move your tongue into various positions whilst holding a long single note. I have seen all sorts of contraptions in tonguing before, such as saying different syllables to produce the sound. In my search for a proper technique, I have noticed that saying ‘tAWHHH-----’ works the best. Not only does this ensure the throat is the one providing the air support, but the tongue also does not fatigue easily due to the light ‘t’ syllable. It also produces the German tone that I love very much. Here is one exercise to help you understand it better. Place the mouthpiece into your mouth, and then consciously rest your tongue low and forward, in contact with both your lower front teeth and lower lip, closing the entrance into the instrument. Blow into the clarinet even though the air cannot possible enter the instrument. You should feel as though the air is stuck, struggling to escape through the sides of your mouth.
Are the corners of your mouth giving way? Are your cheeks puffing up? Is your chin starting to become round, losing its firmness and flatness? If you say yes any of these questions, do the exercise in front of a mirror. Ensure the embouchure is always the same before, during and after you blow air. You should have to move any part of your body (neck, chin, lips, cheeks, nose) to start a note. All the actions should be going on inside the mouth.
Just in case you are not doing it correctly, you should not face the mirror straight. Look at the diagram below to understand better. Mirror Mirror
Face the mirror at an angle. Either of the above angles is fine; either turn slightly to your left or to your right. Don’t look straight, because you would want to view your chin to see if a contour is formed, ensuring you preserve its flatness and hardness. Now you are ready to produce a sound. In order to produce a rounded sound, say the word ‘tawh’ out loud. Now say the word ‘tawh’ again, but this time blow air at the same time as when you say the word. It just has to be a short jet of air. Now, without the instrument, open your jaw slightly so that there is a small gap between your upper and lower teeth. Place the tip of your tongue there, so that you cover the gap. Now say the word ‘tAWHHH’ in the same manner that you said ‘four’ without the ‘r’, noticing that the ‘t’ in ‘tAWHHH’ is smaller than the ‘A’, ‘W’ and ‘H’. Upon saying ‘t’, rest your tongue on the lower jaw, and place the tip of the tongue on the inner part of your lower teeth. This action can be visualised as having to slide the tongue from the gap downwards and backwards onto the lower jaw. Notice how your jaw actually opens up more. Now place the clarinet in your mouth, and repeat this exercise. This has to be done with your embouchure in place, namely: Chin The chin should be flat, hard, and firm. Lower lip Your lower lip should roll over your lower teeth.
Upper lip Your upper lip has to exert force downward on to the mouthpiece. Upper teeth Your upper teeth should be PLACED/RESTED on the mouthpiece. Cheeks Your cheeks should be drawn inward toward your jaw. Corners of mouth These muscles should be pushing to the sides of the mouthpiece, and the lip near the corners (the red/pink parts) should be tucked INTO the mouth. Tongue The position of the tongue should be on the lower jaw, the tip of your tongue touching the tip of your lower front teeth and your lower lip. If done correctly, you should be able to start a note on the instrument smoothly and elegantly. It does not matter if the note starts flat. You can improve your intonation later in the book.
Fact 6: You can enhance your performance by adjusting the amount of mouthpiece in your mouth
To discover how far in you should place the mouthpiece into your mouth, there is this tip which I call the ‘Business Card Trick’. Take any name card or piece of thick paper, and slide it into the gap between the mouthpiece and the reed. Do not force the business card down; just let it sit nicely between the mouthpiece and reed. The point by which the business card stops is where your lower lip should contact the reed. This is just a rough guide though. There are many reasons why we can deviate away from this! The amount of mouthpiece you use actually determines the point at which you pinch the reed closer to the mouthpiece. The close you are to the tip of the reed, the easier it is to make the reed bend toward the mouthpiece. When you do so, you artificially reduce the size of the mouthpiece opening, making the clarinet sharper in pitch, and sounding thinner in tone quality. You can adjust the amount of mouthpiece in your mouth by simply changing the angle of the clarinet to your mouth, without moving your neck or head. If you raise your clarinet up, you will sound thinner and sharper in pitch. If you lower the clarinet, you will sound rounded and flatter in pitch. Now that you know this, you would instinctively play a soft section with the clarinet angled lower. There are many other applications of this fact, go and discover how you can employ it!
Fact 7: You need to visualise in order to improve sight-reading
Here are some basics on reading music, just in case you are an absolute beginner. In most clarinet music, you find that there is this symbol called a treble clef before the start of the music .This is known as a treble clef. There are many clefs, such as the bass clef, the alto clef and so on. However, we only need to know this in order to play our music. The letters of the notes on the staff line is shown below.
Notice that the notes in the blank spaces form the word FACE. Also notice that the notes on the lines form the word EGBDF, which can be remembered as an acronym for ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’. If you notice, the letters start from A, goes on to B, C, D, E, F, G, and then goes back to A. There are only 7 letters in naming musical notes. Also, notice that when notes are ascending, they alternate between being on a line and being in a white space. You can go on forever by adding extra lines called ledger lines below or above the staff lines.
In the extract on the previous page, I have circled four of these notes. The first three notes are ascending, and are named ‘G’, ‘A’, and ‘B-flat’, and the last note is an ‘F-sharp’. You need to take note that all notes that are named ‘B’ or ‘E’ have to be replaced by ‘B -flat’ and ‘E-flat’ respectively. This is because of the key of the piece.
If you notice, the figure above is a treble clef with two ‘flat’ keys. (the ‘flat’ symbol is similar to the letter ‘b’) This means that all notes on that particular line or space is ‘flattened’ by one semitone. Since both the ‘B’ and ‘E’ are ‘flattened’, this means that all ‘B’s and ‘E’s are flattened, regardless of whether they belong to that particular line where the flat key is applied. You may be wondering what a flat key is and be put off by the seeming difficulty of matching notes to names and then to finger positions on the clarinet. You need to treat this as the learning of a language; in order to have a better understanding of why music is the way it is, you need to know how to read and write it down. It is just like learning a language; you must know how it sounds like, and learn to read and write it as well. The next thing you need to know is the idea of semitones. The most basic interval between two notes is the semitone. This is observable between the letters ‘B’ and ‘C’, as well as ‘E’ and ‘F’. Look at the diagram below to understand this better.
*Each arrow represents a semitone
You will soon realise that some notes are enharmonic equivalents, meaning they sound the same. Some examples can be obtained from the circle above. For instance, C# and Db are exactly the same note (they are enharmonic equivalents), and E and Fb are exactly the same note. It is crucial to internalise the fact that all natural notes (A,B…F,G) have two semitones between them, except for B-C and E-F. Musical notes can go on forever, by simply following the circle above clockwise (ascending) or anti-clockwise (descending). As such, there can be many of the same ‘A’s and ‘B’s but each will be of significantly different pitch.
Now, here comes the juicy bit. Whenever you view a note on a staff line, you should instinctively know which keys to press. You may even be familiar with the sound it should produce. Great. But have you ever done it the opposite manner? Try pressing the keys for any note your desire, and then visualising a staff line in your head, with the correct note in the correct position. Let’s say I press D3 on my clarinet. Immediately, I should imagine this in my head:
You can even make yourself familiar with chords in this manner. Memorising chords in this manner helps you identify chord patterns in your music with ease. Let’s say I want to play G major starting from G4. Immediately, I should imagine this in my head:
The reason why this is so powerful is because we get better at sight-reading by learning it in two directions. This can be understood in the diagram below. By familiarising yourself with sheet music in BOTH directions, your response to sheet music actually becomes quicker. Sight-reading becomes a breeze when you do this on a regular basis. You can even use this to familiarise yourself with new fingerings. You remember them faster this way. It is great if you are able to read sheet music, but you can accelerate your playing if you acquire the ability to do it both ways. Basic sight-reading skills: One-way
Advanced sight-reading skills: Two-way
SECTION 2: DEVELOPING ARTISTRY (FACT 8 – 12)
Fact 8: The art and science of music-making has to be understood in order for you to progress beyond technique
Science betters the Art; Art betters the Science. What I taught in filling up your legs with air, is something that is technically not possible. When you formed the embouchure using the 8 steps, that is a science. But what is the link between both? When you breathe artistically, you actually set yourself in the right physical shape to play your instrument. Another example: When I play two notes (D2 and C2), I can play them as either plain notes (the hardcore sciency approach) or I can embellish it by thinking of the word ‘sweetly’ just before I play (the arty-farty approach). The key is this: When you imagine something figuratively in order to play your music better, that is art helping the science. When you adjust something physically to play your music better, that is the science helping the art. The best players understand this idea really well and apply it to all areas of musicmaking. Remember how I wanted you to suck in your cheeks metaphorically in the embouchure lesson? You didn’t actually have to suck your cheeks in, but you will instinctively bring them toward your jaw so that you enhance the pointed-ness of your Give yourself time to develop in this aspect. I do not believe that people are born to play music, or are more predisposed to music; to me, everyone starts out a blank slate. The influence we get, the training we get, and the attitude we adopt towards practice determines our ‘talent’ in music (notice I put ‘talent’ in quotations!). Do you think you can be really good in what you play? If you’re not as good as you want to, you need to understand that ‘talent’ can be learnt! I am still learning something new each day even though I have written extensively on the clarinet, and that is the joy of music; our musical journey never ends. We can never be perfectly knowledgeable or perfectly skilful. Throughout this book, I have carefully outlined ways you can develop artistry. Try them for yourself, and develop your own ways of doing so.
Fact 9: Singing in your head helps you save practice time
Yesterday I discussed the effect of art on the science of playing music. You can actually make yourself more sensitive to pitch changes by simply predicting the pitch of the note before you actually play. Have you ever had the experience where you found a melody really nice, and started humming of singing the tune almost instantly? This is what happened. Sound Source: Melody from radio/TV/MP3 Imitation: Melody inside your mind Imitation: Melody from vocal chords
When you sing a note before you play, Sound Source: Melody from vocal chords Imitation: Melody from clarinet
So the combined process will be, Sound Source: Melody from radio/TV/MP3 Imitation: Melody inside your mind Imitation: Melody from vocal chords Imitation: Melody from clarinet
I believe all clarinettists should strive to achieve this: Imitation: Melody from clarinet
Sound Source: Melody from radio/TV/MP3
When you can acquire this ability, your instrument becomes your vocal chords. You can literally sing through the instrument, and it is a thoroughly wonderful experience. How do you acquire this skill?
The only way is to go through the process over and over again until the middle process goes on so fast, it disappears. Try looking for a sound clip of a simple melody that you like that is less than 10 seconds long. It can be an excerpt from a pop song or a catchy melody that is already stuck in you. Once you have the sound clip, play it on a sound system. After listening to it, sing it in your head once. The whole idea is to be able to recreate the melody without making a single sound using your vocal chords. The ability to sing in your head will determine your proficiency in experimenting with interpretations. I always think of the correct way that I want to play the piece, without actually playing it. The reason for this is that you do not let yourself hear the WRONG interpretations and the WRONG things which you do not want to play. If you keep trying to play the melody on your instrument and keep getting it wrong, you get better at getting it wrong! This is extremely important in order for you to access the artistic side of music. Another way you can see this, is to imagine yourself as a stuntman being paid to perform in a circus. I do not just jump in on the fly, and then decide on what to do. I make observations of my surroundings and determine the best way to do the stunt. Should I land on that platform on the right? Should I bend my knees when I land on that rock, so that I can jump to the next rock immediately after? I would plan all my actions even before trying it out, because the cost of trying out and failing (injury, wastage of time) is way too high. When I was still schooling, my teacher used to tell us that planning an essay before writing it ensures greater success. If you plan, you only focus on thinking. When you are done thinking, you only focus on writing. If I were to plan along the way, I would be preoccupied with handling both. Most essays that I wrote ‘by feel’ didn’t turn out well. But all the essays that I planned had better structure and better focus. Our mind isn’t built to multitask. Even if we can, we tend to do all the tasks badly. The point I’m driving across is, think carefully before you play. When you actually play, focus all your energies on what was planned. By doing this, you can reduce time spent playing the actual instrument, and achieve much better results.
Fact 10: Studying how other people play helps you develop the sound that you want
People normally pick up music because they admire the qualities of the sound that another person produces. There are many examples of this, such as the schoolboy who picks up the electric guitar because he heard (insert famous guitarist) perform on the television, or even the little girl who took up tap dancing because she liked the rhythm and how it made her move. We need to study how other people play music, in order to develop a vocabulary of techniques and forms of expression that we can model after. If you study music history, will realise that famous composers of the likes of Beethoven and Bach often got their inspiration from other people’s music. We are always in the process of imitating and improving what we hear. Do you seek to be like that too? Let me give you an example. When I took up the guitar and started watching performers on the Internet, I discovered an entire realm of percussive techniques that you can employ on the guitar. I would never have realised all this if not for the Internet. Check out Andy Mckee, Michael Hedges, Don Ross and Jimmy Wahlsteen on YouTube. They were so good that after I watched their videos, I decided that the clarinet was easier to play! The question many people ask is: What should I look out for in other musicians? I have no idea. It depends on what kind of qualities you appreciate in a player, and what sounds pleasing to you. Some people will love the German style of clarinet playing, while others like the bright, cheery sound of the Americans. For me, I tend to appreciate tone quality more than technical prowess. As a result, when I listen to fast passages, I take note of changes in tone quality. If I was someone who appreciated even-ness of rhythm, I would focus on how well the person plays in tempo even if there’s like 24 notes in a beat. The point is this: We only hear the qualities that WE LIKE to hear. Let me give you another example. Suppose three people spot a guitarist strumming and singing by the roadside. The first person, a singer, would proclaim: “I love his voice and how he allows the lyrics to flow so smoothly.” The second person, a guitarist, would proclaim: “I love the way he strums the guitar. It is so fluid and even and effortless.” The third person, a guitar repairman, would proclaim: “I love how the deeper notes on the guitar string sound very full and complete.” It does not matter what we appreciate. What matters is you have a sound you really love and feel inspired to reach for that sound quality. Regardless of what you are looking for, you need to take action. It doesn’t matter where you start; it only matters if you start. The moment you start, the videos you watch will lead you 43
to other videos. The people whom you wish to emulate will lead you to discover more things about playing. I cannot prescribe a ‘best’ path for you to take, because we all have different preferences! Having an inquisitive and open mind is extremely important. It will lead you to discover things you didn’t know existed. You should be spending more time doing the actual listening than planning what to listen to!
Fact 11: Breaking down the music is essential for us to perform it well; the details matter
I read a book by Mark Changizi, which was a scientific discussion on how music mimics nature. I got bored after the second chapter, but he talked about something that intrigued me deeply. However, I managed to pick out something and explain it with my own examples. We can understand music by understanding how a person paints a picture. Let’s say he paints a picture of a mug. When we look at the final product, all we see is a mug. But to the painter, as he is constructing the mug, he has to make decisions on the intensity of brushstrokes, the colours to be mixed, the shades of the mug, the contours, the shadows, the texture and even the size of the mug. When you stand back and look at his painting, you see a mug, but when you walk nearer to the picture, you see individual brushstrokes and shapes such as an oval forming the opening of the mug, the different angles by which the handle is attached to the mug, and how the colours blend into each other. If you go even closer, you see individual spots of paint and single colours. In this case, his painting has three different levels. Level 1 (smallest) Individual spots of paint Level 2 (medium) Curves, angles, shapes Level 3 (largest) The entire cup
The levels build upon each other. The individual spots of paint form curves, angles, and shapes. These in turn form the entire cup. In music, it is important to understand you are a creator. In order to create, you need to produce music from the bottom up. Applying the above table to music, you get the following. Level 1 (smallest) Individual notes Level 2 (medium) Phrases Level 3 (largest) Entire sections
You need to start with individual notes, build onto phrases, and then construct entire sections of music. This is different from just listening to music. We normally listen to the final product (stage 3) and then proclaim that the piece of music is beautiful. However, in order to produce the music, you need to dissect it, identify its components, see similarities across the music, and understand it on a much deeper level than a passive listener.
Fact 12: Relating the music to a situation or feeling that you once experienced or want to experience can get you the musical expression you want
Using the example of a 4-note turn in Bar 1 of the extract, how long should each note be, relative to each other? How should I articulate the note? Should I tongue it? How fast should the turn be? Is the turn on the downbeat or is it slightly before the beat? Play the 4 notes in crescendo? Should I play it with accelerando? These are some things that go through my mind. I need to know which notes are the notes that are important; they are to be emphasised. I need to know the mood of the music. Is it solemn, or happy? I need to look at other such decorations in the music. I also need to know what the piece means to me.
And the most effective way for me to determine this, is to think of a situation or feeling that I once experienced, and then sing it in your head as if you were saying the music. If you notice, this is exactly how the Art and Science of music can work hand in hand! I can use the Artistic approach to answer scientific questions on the volume and length of notes! When I try to understand what this piece mean to me, a conversation goes on in my head, and a typical one goes like this: “This piece to me, has a yeah, I have lots of problems, but I’m doing ok I guess, I’m really fine, yeah, tired but I’m fine, kind of feel.” Based on the sentence above, I would play the individual notes in the turn long enough for them to be heard clearly, but still keep the tempo steady and land the F exactly on the third beat. It doesn’t matter how horrid your description is. As long as you can identify a situation you have been through and understand how you want to feel when you play the music, use that situation to help you. A decoration need not be broken down too scientifically, nor follow strict rules such as “Oh, Louis Spohr always wants the turns to be very fast and perfectly even”.
SECTION 3: EXERCISES (FACT 13- 22)
Fact 13: Playing soft to loud without changing pitch is a great way to improve embouchure strength
Tone quality can be improved greatly by following the exercise given below. It can also dramatically improve your embouchure strength.
Steps to take: - Start the note extremely softly - Slowly increase volume to your maximum - Hold the loud sound for a few seconds - Slowly and gradually reduce the volume until it reaches the level which you started - Rinse and repeat across all notes of the clarinet Some considerations to take note: Ensure you play this in front of the mirror. Check that your chin does not move at all, and the red part of your lips do not reveal themselves more and more as you play. You would want to check if you can maintain a strong embouchure regardless of the volume of sound you are producing. By forcing yourself to control the shape of your embouchure while you play louder and softer, you can improve your control of the tone. Ensure you play with the intention of blowing air all the way down to the bell of the instrument, even if you are playing the throat notes such as G4! This ensures that you continuously provide a large volume of air across all registers. Many players tend not to blow to the end of the instrument for the throat notes, resulting in difficulties in playing wide intervals smoothly. Ensure you do not change the pitch while going louder and softer. When you play louder, you tend to go flatter. When you play softer, you tend to play sharper. We need to compensate for these pitch changes by either changing the pressure on to the SIDES of the mouthpiece, or by ‘closing and opening’ your throat. You may be thinking that we can simply raise or lower the angle of the clarinet to your mouth, but it would be quite comical to see a person raising his clarinet up and down while he performs. It is more effective to use embouchure to correct pitch problems.
Practice with a tuner! Try playing the exercise without bothering to correct changes in pitch. Simply observe what goes on in the tuner. Next, play the exercise with the tuner in front of you, and consciously monitor and correct the pitch where necessary. Lastly, play the exercise without a tuner, and correct the pitch without the reference of a tuner. You should record yourself when you play with a tuner, and when you play without a tuner. Listening to yourself to determine your problems is a very effective way to improve your sound. One more tip: In order to play softly without pinching on the mouthpiece and making the tone sound ‘thin’ or weak, always ensure a high air speed, but use a small quantity of air.
Fact 14: Viewing multiple notes as a single contour or viewing multiple bars as a single phrase can give character to the music that you play
We are very used to viewing single notes and then simply responding by pressing the appropriate keys. However, by viewing multiple notes as a single entity, you can understand your music on a deeper level. Multiple notes form something called a ‘contour’. I coined this term by myself, and do not know if anyone else uses it. The example below shows an example of a contour.
You can define a contour with ANY number of notes. I can choose to view the entire bar as a single contour. If I were to view it this way, I imagine the notes to be a little hill.
I choose to see the third beat as the peak of the hill. I have placed a rectangle on the peak of the contour. If I were to perform the piece now, I would play with a crescendo toward the peak, and then decrescendo and let the last note fade into the background. I would also want to tongue the notes lightly because I want to give the listener the feel of climbing toward a peak. If I were to tongue it too hard, I may give the listener the feel of a watching soldiers marching their way to another place. This gives the phrase direction; if the bar was repeated and slurred throughout, it feels as though the music is trying to portray wave motion. What happens if I shift the contour away from the standard hill-shape? Here’s another example.
In this case, I chose to make the last note the peak of the contour. If I were to play the piece, it would sound as though the last note were the last note of a piece. It gives the feel of conclusion in the music; it sounds like a full stop. However, if I were to reverse the curve,
You get the feeling that the piece is still going to continue further. The phrase ends as though it were a comma ‘,’ in a sentence. You can even have contour within a note. Simply apply the curve to the single note, and experiment with placing the peak at different points. The content taught here can even be applied to multiple bars. In Mozart’s clarinet concerto, I realised that I could draw the hill-shape contour over four bar intervals. It seems as though the music is always pushing forward for two bars, and then pulling backward for the next two bars, and the cycle repeats itself. Every time you see multiple notes, think of how the notes can create direction and meaning to your music. You can use the idea of pushing forward and pulling back to help you with your interpretations. You can also think of punctuation marks like commas and full stops. You could even think of the situation that the piece is trying to portray. Using these tricks, you can develop your own way of knowing how to articulate your notes, and how you can add meaning and make your music exciting. Music is like poetry; you can spend years figuring out how to interpret the notes on the pages, and still discover new things all the time.
Fact 15: The ability to adjust tone colour while playing can enhance your performance
Tone colour refers to the timbre (pronounced tam-ber) of the clarinet sound. It can be bright, dark, thin, penetrating, round, deep, hollow, grainy, woody or reedy, depending on how you want to describe it. I prefer to limit my discussion to just two main kinds of tone colour: the dark, woody sound of the German Clarinettist and the bright, lively tone of the American Clarinettist. In order to understand this, it would be useful to start our investigation with this note, using the standard fingering, TR|123|B
Play this note and record it on your audio recorder. Listen to it to internalise how it feels and sounds like. Next, I want you to play the same note, but this time, add the C#-G# key. The new fingering becomes, TR|123|B, C#-G# Record yourself playing F#4 using this fingering. What do you notice? In my case, I notice that my pitch has changed, and I confirmed this using an electronic tuner. In addition, I noticed that I enjoy the sound of the new fingering more than the old fingering. The new fingering gave the F#4 a mellow quality which I found appealing, especially if I were to play classical clarinet pieces. The next thing you need to do is to imitate the quality on TR|123|B, C#-G#, but by using TR|123|B. In order to achieve that deep tone quality without depressing C#-G#, you need to do a combination of the following. Voicing ‘O’ in your throat Make your embouchure even rounder Blow with your throat Pinch the mouthpiece less (less upward and downward force on the mouthpiece, and more sideward force)
One quick way you can learn this is to use a double lip embouchure. All you need to do is to put your upper lip over your upper front teeth when you play the clarinet. This forces you to use less upward force on the mouthpiece. The main force that puts pressure on the reed 51
and mouthpiece is the sideward force; your upper lip and lower lip merely hold on to the mouthpiece lightly. Another note you can experiment with is
Try using the standard fingering TR|000|000 As well as TR|000|456, E-B I like to use the second fingering because it gives a rounded sound to the note. It also depends on what kind of music you are playing! In summary, these are the ways you can colour your notes, Using alternate fingerings Alternating between double lip and single lip embouchure Changing the shape of your throat Changing sideward pressure Pinching the mouthpiece
And these are the advantages of doing so. Better intonation Rounded tone Gives dynamism and variety to your performance
One trick that I use in order to remind myself to always use the ‘O’ shape in my embouchure, is to simply draw a circle around the notes in my warm-up exercises. This unconsciously makes me want to make my mouth more rounded.
Fact 16: A neck strap is very useful in preventing injuries to the wrist
If you have played clarinet for more than a year, I suggest you get the neck strap by BG. In order to understand the benefits of using the next strap, sit on a comfortable chair with your back posture straight. Hold the clarinet as per normal, but bring your knees in contact together and rest the instrument in between the knees. The keyword here is REST. Do not press the clarinet onto the area between your knees. Do not push the instrument toward your mouth. By sitting down and resting the instrument in between your knees, you spread some of the downward force (that normally rests on the right thumb) to the knees. In fact, you can even take away your right thumb when you play in this special posture. However, we should always seek to play while standing because I believe it allows more room for expression. The neck strap plays the role of the knees for you when you are standing. Why should you bother about wrist problems? Here’s why.
The green arrow shows the force that the clarinet exerts on the thumb. However, the upward force is distributed not only at the joint of the thumb, but also down your entire arm starting from your wrist. There are more red arrows because I want to illustrate the fact that you may actually be exerting more force on the instrument than it actually weighs. If you want to play clarinet over the long-term, never allow yourself to feel pain in the wrist. In fact, never allow yourself to feel pain in any form.
Record yourself playing the extract with the clarinet resting on your knees while sitting down, and record yourself again while playing standing up. The reduction in stress on your wrist can have a profound effect on your playing. Imagine trying to play a slow, emotional piece with your wrist screaming in pain! You’ll be unable to convey the feelings that are associated with your piece if you are always feeling pain! Even if you want to perform a piece of music that depicts someone in pain, I would rather you imagine the pain than actually feel it. The clarinet strap should be shortened to the point where the clarinet mouthpiece already touches your lips, so you only need to use a little bit of force to bring the clarinet into the mouth. I highly recommend every clarinet player uses it in order to avoid unnecessary pain.
Fact 17: Not moving at all when practising will help you develop your expression
Watch the two videos below before proceeding on. Sergei Nakariakov plays Variations on a Rococo Theme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qzB1cp6xd0&feature=relmfu Soo Bae plays Variations on a Rococo Theme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d0okmsJuMY Notice that Mr Nakariakov hardly even moves at all! However, that is not to say Ms Soo Bae plays without emotion. It is up to you to determine which virtuoso you would like to model yourself after. I personally play my clarinet with my arms tucked in and hugging my ribcage. I find that this forces me to use AIRFLOW rather than to use my arms or bodily movements to express myself. In fact, if you have been paying attention to what I teach, I always stress the importance of airflow. The only thing that produces the sound on the clarinet is the vibration of the reed, and the only thing that causes these vibrations is the airflow! You can have the best embouchure possible, but without a strong volume of air passing through the instrument, you can still sound weak. Therefore, with my arms tucked in, I restrict my movement and thus put 100% effort in ensuring my air does the expression for me. In order to force yourself to be more expressive, especially in slow passages, you can also play as if you were a statue. Stand in front of a mirror to ensure you don’t move about when you play? Are you still able to portray the same emotions without moving your body? What you can use include variations in air speed, changes in air volume, phrasing, tempo, colouring and controlling the length of notes. Do you literally list down these things that you help you express yourself on the pages of your music? You wouldn’t want to write “use less air, but more air speed, tongue harder on the first note and clip away the last note.” What is more desirable for me is to internalise the expression that you seek, and make it a part of my vocabulary (your long-term memory). I suggest writing 2-4 words about a situation that helps you recall how you feel at that point in the music. For example, if I was performing something mournful, I would write “breakup with girlfriend” above the notes! It depends on what situation helps you to remember how you felt and makes you very expressive. The key point here is to remember the EXPERIENCE rather than the actual technique. This is because we tend to recall experiences with greater ease. You should notice that when you talk to your friends about something that you experience, you rattle off without even planning how you want to present your points. By feeling an experience, you don’t have to move your body to convey the message you want to bring across!
That’s why I always tell other players not to move around too much. You can move, but I would rather not move about too much because I want my fingers and body to be able to accommodate the strong airflow that my music demands. I love playing the Bach cello suites on the clarinet just to show how many ways one can perform the same piece! Sometimes, I even dance when I play it. Other times, I try to play it like a funeral march. It makes me feel like an actor, because I can play any role I want to! Each time I play the suites for fun, I try to imagine myself as a different person. Try it for yourself! You could even challenge yourself by performing the entire piece slurred, or the entire piece staccato tongued as if you were playing a guitar.
Fact 18: Playing the fast parts with random tempos makes you appreciate the fast parts better
Eddie Daniels demonstrates how to play fast in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9oB5lkexqk&feature=relmfu I love playing Moto Perpetuo (Paganini). It is a beautiful piece that requires the violin player to play semiquavers for about 4 minutes non-stop at about 160 beats a crochet! I committed myself to memorising because I thought it was really lyrical and special. I heard Wynton Marsalis play it on the trumpet, and it astounded me because it proved to me that there were no boundaries to technical ability. I love how Eddie Daniels demonstrates how playing slow can make you enjoy the piece. He actually plays a little section of Moto Perpetuo at the end of the video, and when he plays, he adds in little decorations, trills, slows down at random spots, feels the intervals as he plays, and really enjoys every bit of the motion of the piece. I love doing this piece for warm ups, but for other reasons as well. In order for you to play fast, you need to play slow. You can only play something fast if you are totally familiar and comfortable with each and every single note and contour in the phrase. Take the fast section apart, and ask yourself the following questions: Which part is the most important? Where should I emphasise my playing? What are the intervals present in the fast section? What musical effect should I strive to create?
I strongly recommend doing this instead of playing the fast section over and over again with increasing tempos. You could put your metronome at 60 beats a minute, and then slowly increase in intervals of 4 beats a minute. However, I would rather do that when I am focused on a very technical aspect, such as improving the evenness of my double and triple tonguing. I also do that when I realise I have problems with difficult fingerings, and I have done this before when I started learning Moto Perpetuo. When playing a fast section, I am more interested in understanding how I can delight audiences with what I play and make it interesting.
Fact 19: Knowing the scale degree of notes in a piece improves your intonation and gives you unique performance hints
I had a very peculiar but impactful lesson when I was preparing to perform a piece by Louis Spohr. I was thinking of a way to play arpeggios in an artistically pleasing manner, because I believed there was something more than just playing louder or softer when I ascended or descended. I just wasn’t satisfied. Look at the image below.
You may instinctively want to play the arpeggio with a crescendo. You may even wish to play it in strict tempo and rhythm to give a militaristic style and feel to the music. That is fine. But I am looking at something much deeper. How can I generate an emotion and give the passage meaning, so that I can develop it in the bars that follow? I found the answer after my teacher said “Think of a chord”. I experimented with what it meant and found the best way to experience this. What I did was to imagine that my instrument was ALREADY playing a chord even when I wasn’t blowing into it. I had to feel as though the chord and the constituent notes were already vibrating, and all I had to do was to fill in those gaps. It was as if I was playing a piano, and all these harp strings were already vibrating, and all I had to do to activate them was to press the keys. By doing so, I created a RELATIONSHIP between the notes. I made the notes hold each other hand in hand, and climb up to reach the highest note. I discovered that the third degree in the scale (E3, E4 and E5) deserved less emphasis than the fifth (G3 and G4) and the tonic (C3 and C4). I also realised that the last note, E5, was not the end of the music! It would be awkward to end on the third degree of the scale, especially for a solo piece. I perceive it to be this way only because of my unique view of how the third degree of the scale plays a lesser role than the fifth and tonic. You may choose to disagree, but I have experienced playing the third degree many times and I always feel a very strong urge to continue playing even when it is the last note in a little section of music. I also realised I enjoyed the arpeggio a lot more because I was playing a chord. If you study chord progressions, you will know that chords give direction and flow to a piece. I started thinking in terms of chords for all my music after I discovered this important point. This is simply because unless you are playing an unaccompanied Clarinet piece, you will most often have to perform with other musicians who assist your quest for expression by constantly supporting and pushing you (metaphorically!) throughout the piece. Let’s apply this to the extract from Louis Spohr’s Clarinet Concerto.
The key of the piece is B-flat major. The first note, D4, is actually the third degree in the scale. Should it be played as though it were a grand entrance? No! The next thing I realise is that the second bar also starts with a D4. So has the chord changed from Bar 1 to Bar 2? I choose to think no. This is because there is a very big change in Bar 3; a B-flat becomes the soul of the Bar! (B-flat appears three times in bar 3). Knowing this, I would want to play Bar 1 and Bar 2 as though they were a single note, so that I can accentuate the change in mood in Bar 3. If you notice, Bar 4 starts with D4 again! But I realised that the core of that bar was actually C4! This is because I thought that the C4 and C#4 was placed there in order for a gradual resolution to the D4 in the Bar 5. Also, I believed that Bar 4 had to be of a different mood compared to Bar 5. Bar 5 is basically just the same as Bar 1! Hence, I knew that we had to phrase the music in 4-bar intervals. Now that you realise the first note of the bar may not be part of the chord of that bar, you should see that at Bar 8, the focus of the bar is actually Bb4, a tonic! This gives Bar 8 a feel of resolution and closure and that the piece has come to a temporary pause. Experiment with how different degrees of the scale should feel! You will enjoy your music much more just by knowing this fact that I just taught. You don’t need a Master’s Degree in Music Performance to experience this. You can even invent your own interpretations of the piece!
Fact 20: Intonation can be improved dramatically with a drone
Many of us would own a personal chromatic tuner to help us in our rehearsals. However, many of us do not realise that a drone can supercharge your instinct for intonation. I like to use this tuner that I bought at a guitar shop, at Peninsula Plaza, Singapore, and it cost me SGD$50. It is able to produce an electronic sound for any note you want. In the picture below, C2 is the note being played. This tuner can be said to also function like a drone.
The reason why a drone helps you improve intonation is because all you need to do is to imitate something that you want to become. The keyword here is FOCUS. If you want to sound in tune, then keep listening to something that is perfectly in tune! If you want to sound in tune, but keep trying to modify your pitch and hopefully you’ll know what being in tune sounds like, you are taking a very inefficient pathway to success. My tuner is fantastic because it allows me to test myself. There is this mode that will echo the note you just played, but at the exact correct pitch. If I were to play, say G4 but 10 cents flat, the tuner will play the note G4 through its speakers, but at the perfect pitch. This way, I can instantly compare my note with the actual, correct note. The moment I play the note, I get a response which to me, is like someone telling you: “No way! That is wrong. Let me show you what it should sound like!” and the tuner plays the note perfectly in tune! In addition, you should download a tuning chart from my website so that you will understand the pitch tendencies of your instrument. Do you go all the way from E3 to E7 60
and record the pitch of each note? No! I would rather practice intonation IN THE CONTEXT OF A PHRASE OR PIECE OF MUSIC THAT I WANT TO PERFORM. Remember that if your concern is performance, you would want to only tune the notes that are essential for your performance. If you want to tune the other notes, you can do so when there is no hurry to prepare for a performance. Consider the following extract:
I would rather take note of my intonation on the LAST NOTE, because that is the note that I hold the longest, and therefore any intonation problems, if present, would be more apparent than intonation problems in the first two notes! Now that I have my intentions clear, I would want to know my intonation tendencies when I play from C4 to B4. That is where intonation matters; we work on intonation because we want our INTERVALS to sound pleasing. If you don’t wish to work on intervals, you can also work on single notes, such as if you have to play the first note of a slow movement in a clarinet concerto, or a long note after many bars of rests in an orchestral context.
Fact 21: Working on your technical competencies makes you more artistic
If music is an art, why am I being so technical? Isn’t artistic ability more important? We don’t need technically impressive performers; we need real musicians with a great feel for the music! If you remember what I talked about in Fact 18, I mentioned how Wynton Marsalis performed Moto Perpetuo, a violin piece, on the trumpet. It is a most atrocious piece for the violin player because it gives no mercy to the arm of the violin player, who must bow semiquavers nonstop for about 4 minutes with absolute technical brilliance. However, Wynton Marsalis plays it in a very, very artistic manner! He carefully emphasises rises and falls throughout the piece. In areas where there are arpeggios ascending, he takes careful effort to play slightly more on the higher notes. He also knows that in the middle of the piece, he can slow down slightly just before the recurring theme because he wishes to emphasise the theme. The reason why I believe in practicing technique diligently is because your ability to control the instrument over a wide range of volumes and pitches determines your CAPACITY TO EXPRESS YOURSELF. For example, if you can’t even reach the highest note of the piece, what makes you think you can express that note artistically?! The body must have enough capacity and a big enough frame to work around with, and we also need to be able to produce a huge variety of sounds, with all kinds of articulations, and at any speed we choose to. That’s why we need to improve our technical prowess. I have always believed in the power of focus. In order to improve your technical abilities, you need to break down the components of good technique, and work on them specifically so that you can acquire the CAPACITY to perform difficult pieces, and make them sound artistic and simple! Many players have approached me and asked me if there is a way to MEASURE the technical abilities of a student. For myself, I have this little checklist that I keep in my reed case to remind me to work on the following aspects: Air Capacity Air Speed Embouchure Tongue Stamina Tone quality Tempo Fingers
I believe that having total control over all these things is essential to becoming a virtuoso. For example, a dancer would have to continuously improve his muscular strength and keep increasing his flexibility by doing weight training and stretching exercises. This is essential
because the dancer would like to be able to have as large a framework to experiment with when he dances. If you can’t touch your toes when you bend down, you have much less room for expression than a dancer that can stretch beyond touching his toes. A good writer is normally very proficient in his language. The framework that allows the writer to express himself is his vocabulary. By expanding his vocabulary of words, he has a larger framework to experiment with. Technical progress is very important! If you are working on technical aspects of your playing, you are actually going to enhance your performance in the future. That is why I always encourage young players to learn circular breathing. Once you acquire this skill, the entire realm of string music is available for you to explore! I cannot further emphasize the importance of becoming technically competent!
Fact 22: The ability to play overtones at will improves the tone quality in your high notes
If you had played clarinet for a while, you would have realised that squeaks are an inevitable part of learning to play the clarinet. That is true to a certain extent, but many people do not realise that being able to squeak at the desired pitch at any point of time will improve the tone quality of your high notes. Play the following extract in one breathe, tonguing the start of each note.
The next thing you need to try is to play the extract slurred. After you have done that, I want you to now play E3, and without thinking of that fact that you are going to play B4, simply add the [R] key with your left thumb. You need to play B4 through the clarinet, but play it WHILE THINKING OF PRODUCING E3. The next thing you need to do is to play the extract again, but this time once you have managed to produce B4 while thinking of E3, let go of the [R] key. You should be able to produce B4 even though you have only pressed the keys required for E3! In other words, I want you to produce B4 using this fingering TR|123|456, E-B If you are able to play B4, and then release the [R] key without letting the pitch slip back to E3, then you have achieved the first level of competency in controlling overtones. To get to the next level, you need to tongue a note using the fingering for E3, but produce the sound B4. In other words, you need to start immediately on the higher overtone. The reason why it is POSSIBLE to do it, is because each note has a complex mix of overtones that include notes much higher than it actually is. For example, E3 actually contains E3, B4, G5, C5, E6, F#6, A6, B6, and even C#6. I can actually produce all these notes just with one fingering! However, these upper partials are not exactly in tune. If you know how to play a brass instrument, you notice that this is exactly how brass instruments can produce many sounds with just three valves (or one slide if you play trombone!)!
What I want you to cultivate is an awareness that E3, B4, G5, C5, E6, F#6, A6, B6, and even C#6 BELONGS to E3. If you are still wondering how you can tongue a note and immediately start on a higher overtone, this is how you do it. Put sideward pressure on the mouthpiece Instead of blowing downward into the mouthpiece of the clarinet, try imagining yourself blowing UPWARD into the mouthpiece. You can also close up your throat slightly.
It is difficult to describe how it is done, because a complex combination of muscles is responsible for the phenomenon. However, you can easily acquire this by playing the higher overtone WITH the [R] key and then letting the [R] key go while you are still playing the note. You should be able to maintain the pitch of the high overtone even though you no longer press the [R] key. By remembering the experience and the way your muscles are placed when you play the overtone, you can get better at producing overtones at will. I have discovered 8 different notes above E3 that I can tongue and start at will, using the E3 fingering. Technically, there is no limit to the number of overtones above the base note, but I am quite happy with being able to play just 6 of these because that is all I need in my performances. You can experiment with the overtones for all the keys starting from E3 to Bb4.
SECTION 4: MINDSET (FACT 23 – 30)
Fact 23: Total, absolute confidence in your ability is the key to becoming an amazing musician
I am someone who has total, absolute confidence in my ability. I may not be the best musician, but I believe I am the best, and I behave like I already was the best musician in the world. The best musician is one that will not be defeated when people reject his playing/music. He accepts himself as an imperfect being and strives toward being as close to perfection as possible. He has total, absolute confidence that his ability will drive to him to improve by leaps and bounds, and will allow him to perform any piece that he has set his mind on. My experience as a guitarist was quite a horrendous one. My parents bought me a guitar when I borrowed a friend’s guitar, and they decided I should love to have my own guitar. I still love my own guitar, but no longer play it as much as I used to. When I started playing guitar, I was getting quite good at it, and decided to man up and perform somewhere. I did perform at an event in a hotel ballroom, but it was a flop. From there on, I lost confidence in myself as a guitarist, and went back to playing clarinet. The point of my discussion is not around why I flopped. The point I’m trying to make here is that the ability to recover from failure will determine the level of musicianship that you eventually attain. When we fail or people criticise our playing, we can always throw our instrument aside and simply stop playing. However, the real winners are those that are able to turn horrible experiences into amazing opportunities for improvement. From the flopped performance, I realised that it is absolutely essential to rehearse at the venue you are going to perform in. The horrid experience turned into an invaluable lesson that I now apply in my clarinet playing. My aim in playing music is to inspire; not impress! If I was playing music to impress, I would have stopped by now because some of my friends are impressed by my playing. But I want to achieve a level of musicianship, where people would WANT to pick up the clarinet because of how I play it. I want to be able to instigate ACTION just by doing what I always have loved to do. If you have tonguing problems, do you believe that you will find a way out? Do you have total, absolute confidence that you can find a solution for it, be able to understand it, internalise it, and acquire the skills needed to tongue freely, quickly, at any pitch and at any volume you desire? Once you answer yes, you are halfway there. You see, the world has a peculiar way of pushing us to achieve the things that we want to achieve. When I started out on the clarinet at the age of 17, I had no teacher to guide me; only my friends, my conductor, and sometimes the Internet. I struggled greatly because my embouchure was so weak! I could only practice for 5 minutes a day, and my embouchure would just totally give way! This is what many beginners face. I had to work on tone production for a good 12 months before finally having enough stamina to play for at least 30 minutes a day. It was a very tough 67
journey because I had set a goal for myself; I wanted to perform a clarinet solo in a year’s time. Can you imagine how frustrating it was when you knew you could only last for 5 minutes a day, and you wanted to play a piece that has really high notes but you can’t even play the low notes without your lips giving way? It was a very tough period for me. That is why I created a number of articles on how to develop embouchure in the easiest possible manner, with little frustration. Not only did I manage to search for a way to create the best embouchure, I wrote about it so that I can help other people achieve their goals! I managed to turn a horrible situation into one that is constructive for me and for other people. Do you have the total confidence that you will become a world-class performer? I do. I may not be there yet, but I am slowly and steadily approaching that goal. I only aim to be worldclass; I am never satisfied with myself, and to me this is a wonderful thing because I always find something that needs me to spend time working on! This mindset has brought me a lot of amazing learning experiences and has opened doors for me. You can experience music in a whole new way just by chasing your dreams and not lowering your expectations because of what other people say, what situation you are in, or your current musical ability.
Fact 24: Play all your scales diligently. It works.
Many of us cringe at the thought of scales. This immensely unpopular study is one reason why many students of music detest music examinations. However, I swear by my scales. In fact, if not for my scales, I would never be able to improve consistently. When I was 13, my conductor made all of us (first year band members) practice our scales, and he would evaluate our ability based on that. It was a nightmare for me because I had no idea how to read music notes, and I had never encountered a scale in my entire life. I was thankful he did that though, because when I was 16, I encountered an article online that preached the wonders of mastering your scales. That was when I had an idea. I would practice my scales over 3 octaves, and play all sorts of variations of them. Some of them include, for C major:
And the list goes on. You can invent all sorts of variations to a scale, and this has to be done for all 12 keys! They even extend to harmonic minor, melodic minor, pentatonic scales, blues scales, major arpeggios, minor arpeggios, dominant 7th scales, or you can even do this with different modes such as Dorian, Lydian and Mixolydian modes! It depends on how far you want to stretch your abilities. The best part about this is you have to do it from memory. By doing the exercises without reference, you will experience vast improvements in your technical competencies. You will have much greater control over the clarinet. You will even develop your sense for perfectpitch to the point where you can play anything you hear, almost immediately! (Check out Fact 9!) Practice your scales. It works.
Fact 25: You need to stop being a guilty musician, be completely honest with yourself, and have specific aims in order to raise standards
People practice music for a variety of reasons. These are some that I have heard of. I have rehearsal coming up I need to practice because my music lesson is tomorrow I am not as good as my friends I don’t want to waste my parents’ money on lessons I don’t want to get scolded
Notice that all these reasons have a negative feel. It’s as though the person is practicing out of fear. In order to continually raise standards, we need to practice out of LOVE and DESIRE rather than FEAR. I practice on a regular basis because I love performance, I have a strong desire to continually push boundaries on my technical capabilities, and I am passionate about all kinds of music. In fact, I hate using the word practice. When I lack the motivation to practice, I don’t tell myself “I have to practice.” What I say, is simply “I want to improve.” There is a very fine line between practising out of guilt and practising out of love. Look at the two sentences below “I want to improve.” “I need to improve.”
The person that needs to improve would face negative consequences if he did not improve. He is doing it out of fear. The person that wants to improve is doing it out of love. This is similar to how relationships work out. “I want you.” “I need you.”
The person that needs his partner is more often than not afraid of losing his partner! Think about it. Are you practising out of fear of something? Some practise because they have had a bad experience in a performance, where people criticised him or even jeered at him. He is doing out of avoidance of criticism. However, this person can easily escape this endless cycle of trying to avoid criticism! I am going to show you how. If you read widely, you may have come across books on the law of attraction. In essence, it describes how you can get anything you want, just by focusing your positive thoughts and by thinking about it all the time.
Instead of saying “I don’t want to sound horrible”, you can change it to “I want to sound great”. But that’s not all. You can increase the effectiveness of what you said by simply describing how you feel after you achieve what you want to achieve. “I want to sound great because I want to feel proud of myself, and people will feel happy and overjoyed listening to me! People will feel inspired when they listen to me and I will feel immense gratitude that I am able to generate these feelings in them!” Just by reading this out loud, you can feel immense warmth in you and even feel the satisfaction immediately. You don’t actually have to achieve what you want in order to feel the way you want to! Try creating your own positive statements, and read them out loud on a regular basis! By already feeling the feelings you want, you attract the exact things that will magnify the way you already feel!
Fact 26: Taking a video of yourself and watching yourself perform can accelerate your progress
The camera-shy among us may cringe upon reading this fact. I actually think that once you are able to watch yourself perform, and make mistakes on camera, you will remove stage fright from your repertoire of illogical fears. Are you afraid of making mistakes on stage? Then video yourself making mistakes! In fact, you should let your friends watch the videos you take as well! This makes you more stoic to criticism, and you will easily embrace negative comments in the future. You may even earn respect for being brave enough to accept your own mistakes and shortcomings. You need to record yourself on video on a regular basis, on top of recording yourself on audio. By doing this, you get used to seeing yourself, and you get a first-hand view of how you look like when you perform. You can even spot your tendencies and correct them immediately. Once you have corrected the way you look when you perform, you can have full confidence that you know exactly what you are doing on stage. This is also the fastest way you can improve! The whole point of doing this is to make yourself conscious about your mistakes. In learning, these are the four stages that the mind goes through.
By taking a video of yourself, you move from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence. That is where work can start! The ultimate goal is to reach Unconscious Competence, where you don’t even know you are good because you have become accustomed to playing well! The point is this: If you don’t even know where you can improve, you can’t even start to improve!
Fact 27: Proclaiming your goals to others doesn’t make you cocky; it makes you want them more and gets you there more quickly
Tell the world that you are learning this instrument and making great progress. Why you should do this: When you eventually get better, you need to be able to take criticism. If you’re unable to take criticism just 30 days into playing an instrument, you will be unable to take criticism 30 years into playing your instrument.. If you are someone that needs constant encouragement to do things, send the video to me. I will give you tips on how to improve it, send the suggestions back to you, and you can then confidently upload your video. Don’t be afraid to let people comment, if they do, ask them who told you that, what examples do you have, why do you think these examples failed?
Fact 28: A musician without motivation is not a musician
Have you diligently been doing the exercises? Do you question your own ability but lack the determination to reflect on all the small details such as embouchure, breathing, finger exercises? Do you believe in yourself? This last question is the most important. If you have been reading through the book looking for a success ‘tip’ or key ‘concept’ that can rocket your learning, you will not find it. Who do you aspire to be? Many of us are bogged down by what we call “ Limiting Beliefs”. “I want to be good at my instrument but I have no time.” “I can’t find a good teacher.” “I’m not talented.” “Maybe this instrument isn’t for me.” “I think the guitar looks easier to play.” “I can’t read music.” “I will never understand how to play in tune.” You see how negative these quotes are? Lets flip them all around. “I have no time to be good at my instrument, so I’ll make time for my instrument. I will wake up early everyday to practice before going to work.” “I can’t find a good teacher, but I can go online to look for support, and develop my own practice plan.” “I’m not talented, but I can develop the artistry that I admire in other people with perseverance and hard work.” “Maybe this instrument isn’t for me, but I will do what it takes to ensure I familiarise myself with the instrument.” “I think the guitar looks easier to play, but I am only thinking this way because I refuse to face the difficulties I face when playing the clarinet. I can overcome my difficulties with the right guidance” “I can’t read music, but I can get better at it and learn at my own pace.” “I will never understand how to play in tune, but I can get the help of other people and understand how they do it.” You see how the new sentences have so much hope and desire in them? Tiger Woods played golf when he was very young. At 8 years old he proclaimed that he wanted to be the best golfer in the world. He believed it and made it happen.
The man who wanted the filthy Kallang River in Singapore cleaned up made it happen within a few years (Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew). Colonel Hal Moore, who fought in the Vietnam War during the famous Battle of Ia Drang, had 300 American soldiers fighting against 3000 Vietnamese soldiers. He eventually defeated the enemy, losing only 25% of his soldiers, compared to 1000 of the Vietnamese forces. His ideology in war is simply this: “There is always one more thing I can do to increase my chances of survival”. He applied this to his entire battalion and emerged victorious. The question is this: Is there always one more thing you can learn to improve your playing? Is there always one more thing you can do to motivate yourself? Is there always one more person who can help you achieve your goals? “Nah, although the intonation there is quite shaky, it’s acceptable to me. I don’t think most audiences will notice.” If you refuse to work on your intonation because you think other people will not notice, have not pushed yourself to the limit when doing your breathing exercises, or allow yourself to accept a lower standard of performance, it probably means you do not have a strong enough reason to practice. Be honest with yourself about why you are thinking this way! Some people do not practice because they are afraid it is too difficult. Some people do not practice because they are would rather spend their time on other things. That is fine. As long as you are honest with yourself, you would either find more reasons why you love to practise, or you would find that there are in fact no reasons why you love to practise. It is your decision! You should never have to feel that just because I bought this book, I need to read it and work on it or I’ll be wasting money! If by buying this book, you realise that you don’t really find music interesting after all, then you have made a great investment. This i s because if you hadn’t bought the book, you would have wasted countless hours pursuing something that you don’t have a real passion for! You’re paying to save time; that in itself is invaluable!
Fact 29: Understanding other instruments is important to developing artistry and expanding your performance vocabulary
I did mention in one of the earlier facts that learning circular breathing suddenly opens the door to the entire realm of string music. This is because string music tends to have little consideration for pauses that are required for wind musicians to breathe. The Bach Cello Suites are especially merciless in this aspect. I strongly recommend acquiring knowledge of how other instruments sound like and what sounds they are capable of producing. When I was in school, I was deeply fascinated at how trumpet players could play fanfares with absolutely precise fast tonguing. In fact, this led me to discover the Brass method book by J.S. Arban. In the book, I discovered a technique to tongue very, very fast, and this is called multiple tonguing. Just by being curious about other instruments, I have managed to acquire the skills necessary for fast, multiple tonguing. I have used double tonguing on some of the clarinet concertos, and created very inspiring musical effects. For example, I realised that double tonguing an ascending arpeggio helps me to relax on the high notes. Another skill I acquired is the ability to play octave skips efficiently. I learnt this when listening to the violin solo for Carmen Fantasy, composed by Pablo de Sarasate. I was amazed at how elegant octave skips could sound, and I searched extensively for a way to play wide intervals with ease. That is when I discovered the overtones of the clarinet and the magical effect of directing air toward the bell at all times. There are many other things I have discovered, but these do not deserve space on this page. My point is that it is infinitely valuable to understand how other instruments can produce different sounds, and by imitating them, you have a lot to gain.
Fact 30: Not acquiring the skills I teach here is the biggest mistake you can make in your musical journey
Although this fact has a propagandistic feel, I truly believe that not following what I teach is the biggest mistake you can ever make. What I teach here is the result of countless hours of experimentation and rehearsals. What I teach here is taught by the best clarinettists in the world. The skills I teach here can be very advanced, but I have broken it down in such a way that you can easily understand how to execute them and the advantages of doing so. I even teach musicality by giving detailed examples. In summary, my point is simply this. This book works. If you had kept an audio recording of yourself playing the extract before you read this book, you should record your playing again, and compare the two.
BONUS 1: HOW DO I SET UP MY CLARINET WITHOUT DAMAGING IT?
I have a strict method of setting up my clarinet to ensure no damage is done to the keys, the mouthpiece or the reed. This method is described below. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) Fitting the bell to the lower section Fitting the upper section to the lower section Fitting the barrel and the mouthpiece together Fitting the mouthpiece and barrel onto the instrument Fitting the ligature and reed on the mouthpiece
BONUS 2: THE BIGGEST RHYTHMIC MISTAKE MUSICIANS MAKE The metronome
For this exercise, you need to purchase a metronome. I suggest using the iPhone app “iBeat”; it is free to download and simple to use.
Alternatively, you may purchase an actual metronome at any music store, but to me, it is normally too expensive or bulky. I personally use my iPod Touch as a metronome. This is because I can plug my earpiece into the iPod. Also, it is convenient for me because I use my 79
iPod Touch as my daily planner and to record my progress. You can also use an online metronome at http://www.webmetronome.com/
The basics of rhythm
Set the metronome to 90. This means that for every minute that passes, 90 beats of the meter would have occurred.
I like to classify notes by the number of counts it represents or its value. The whole note lasts 4 counts. Turn on the metronome and say ‘ah’ for four counts. You have just sung a whole note. The half note lasts for 2 counts. Try singing a note for 2 counts. The quarter note lasts for 1 count. Try singing a note for 1 count. Realise that each note is half of the value of the previous note. The reason why a note that lasts for 4 counts is called a whole note is because music tends to be played in 4 count intervals. Notice that some rock bands like to start the music by saying ‘a one… a two… a one, two, three, four’. Four counts is the most common framework that composers create their music within. A half note therefore lasts 2 counts (4 divided by 2 is equal to 2), a quarter note lasts 1 count (4 divided by 4 is equal to 2) and so on. It is important to note that the length of the note ends just before the next beat. Look at the diagram below to understand this better.
Each number represents a ‘tick’ on the metronome. The whole note above (4 counts) starts on the 1 and ends exactly before the fifth tick on the metronome. Try singing a note for four counts, starting exactly on an arbitrary first tick, and ending just before the fifth. A common practice for beginners is to end the note before beat 4. If you were to do this, you are actually playing only for 3 counts! This is wrong and should never be allowed to happen in your practice, unless otherwise musically directed. How about notes that are under one count long? The best way to understand rhythm is to practice drawing the diagram above. We can understand the eighth note and the sixteenth note by doing the following: 80
If you recall, an eighth note lasts half a count. Diagrammatically, you would picture it as follows, with each beat cut into two…
The eighth note lasts for half a count. Hence, you can sing the extract above by starting a note on the beat, ending halfway through, and starting again on the next beat. How would you then play a sixteenth note?
The sixteenth note lasts for a quarter of a count. Hence, you can sing the extract above by starting a note on the beat, ending a quarter way through, and starting again on the next beat.
The value of notes can be visualised using the above diagram. Notice that eighth notes and sixteenth notes can be joined together by linking the stems of the notes (the straight part that joins to the black oval part) In clarinet playing, it is crucial to start a note by removing the tongue from the opening of the mouthpiece, and to stop a note by either (1) stopping air supply gradually or suddenly, or (2) placing your tongue on the opening of the mouthpiece to prevent air from entering.
BONUS 4: Which instrument should I buy?
Selecting based on NEED Always select an instrument based on your needs. For example, if you are learning the clarinet and do not know if you would pursue it forever, buy a student model. An intermediate model should be purchased as a first instrument if you can afford it. A professional model is for the serious musician who would want to make clarinet playing a part of his lifestyle, and elevate his pursuit of musical excellence. The difference in price between the intermediate and student model is substantial, but the difference in price between the intermediate and professional model is much smaller. However, in my opinion, the difference in sound quality and response of the intermediate models and professional models does not warrant this huge price increment. Should you want to play the instrument for more than a few years, I strongly recommend getting a professional clarinet to get the best value for money The instrument is not the most crucial part in producing a good sound. Look at the pyramid below to understand this well.
*pre-requisites of a good sound
At the bottom of the pyramid lies the foundation; the embouchure. One must always remember that the quality of sound, more often than not, lies in the ability of the player rather than the instrument. This is not to say that one should take the selection of an instrument lightly. Although we can always ‘adjust ourselves to the instrument’, I believe, and most professionals would agree, that once we have found a superior instrument, we rarely ever accept an instrument that plays less freely or beautifully.
Brand of clarinet
The brand of the clarinet should be secondary to the quality of sound produced. Although I have recommended that you get a pro to choose an instrument for you, after some time 82
playing the instrument, I recommend that you check out alternative equipment to have a better idea of what kind of sound and response you like. This is covered in detail on my website.
Material of clarinet
The clarinet is normally made of granadilla wood, grown in African countries. Alternatives like the metal and plastic clarinets can be explored, but these considerations should only be made on the basis of sound quality and whether it is inspiring to play music on these instruments. If you play in an outdoor band, it is best to get a metal or plastic clarinet. Wooden clarinets get warped when exposed to harsh weather conditions and changing temperatures. Here’s a great tip: If you ever need to subject your precious wooden clarinet to temperature changes, leave the instrument in the case, and bring it to the room with the new temperature (say an air-conditioned storeroom). After about 30 minutes, open the case and set up the instrument. You can then continue playing your instrument. I have played on crystal mouthpieces by Pomarico, and I love the warm sound that it produces. However, I always tell myself the mouthpieces only enhance the sound. I still have to get my fundamentals practised and mastered.
BONUS 5: VIBRATO OR NO VIBRATO?
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