Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekend Warriors (this one is for you, CT!)

I have been approached by a couple people asking about my previous blog regarding warming up. Specifically, could I give a warm-up/practice plan for someone who does not play every day, someone who plays the clarinet as a hobby.

Well, here is a plan for you weekend warriors!

If you read my previous post, you will see that the same principles apply here. First, you MUST warm up. This 10-15 minute period is critical for getting your air flowing and getting your muscles loosened up. It relaxes and limbers up the hands. In the case of weekend warriors it has the added importance of sparking your physical memory - getting all your muscles back where they should be for good clarinet playing.

Following this is a 15-minute period of skills practice. This is very important for development. Even with a very limited weekend warrior type practice schedule you CAN make advancements in your playing. The key is to not overdo. Do not try to cram a week's worth of practice into one hour. You will end up with a little of everything. Yet, nothing will have received enough time for improvement to take place. So, choose one skill you would like to focus on and do just that - focus. Put all your energy into that one skill and work on it. Be creative, try several different approaches to the problem until you find one that you feel is working. If you focus on one skill you WILL be playing better at the end of the 15 minutes than you were when you started.

Now on to the fun part ~
The third section of your practice is 30 minutes (or whatever you wish) of playing. That's it - just play! Work on rep if you are preparing for something. Work on etudes if that strikes your fancy. Play through anything you want - just play and have fun. Work on what you need/want to work on, but your main focus is to simply enjoy music-making.

That's it! A simple recipe for success that you can take to any level you want. Once every few days, once a week, etc.

I am not including suggestions for etude books, scale books, or repertoire here because it depends on one's level of experience and level of involvement. However, please feel free to leave a comment or send an email and I will be happy to give suggestions.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Warming up seems to run the gamut from the 'slap a reed on and play' technique to the 90 minute warm-up. I think we can all agree that the first technique is not your best choice! Having said that, I don't think the 90 minute warm-up is the way to go either.
Here's why:

The purpose of the warm-up is to - you got it - warm up! It is not to make substantial improvements in your playing, it is to relax and loosen muscles and get blood flowing. That's it. I think of it in three parts; tone production, technique and articulation. We need to warm up all muscles involved in these areas, namely embouchure, voicing and air support muscles, hands, fingers and tongue. Along with this we should be working towards relaxed arms and shoulders as well as good posture.

This should not take over an hour! Those of you who swear by your 60 - 90 minute warm-up, read on - I'll explain!

As stated earlier, warming up loosens and relaxes muscles, gets the blood flowing, and reaffirms the physical memory involved in playing the instrument. This is a direct parallel to stretching before a workout, or starting a run at a slower pace before warming up to your workout pace. At the risk of being redundant, it loosens and relaxes muscles and gets the blood flowing - this is the primary goal of warming up! I can't stress this enough. Warming up is for warming up. Warming up is not for making major improvements to your playing. This should take 20 minutes. Maybe 30.

Stay with me all you 90 minute warm-up aficionados! Here's the catch -- this 20 minute warm-up is always followed by skills practice. These are two distinct areas of practice and I believe they need to stay distinct for productive and efficient practice. The lines get blurred for many people and these two sections get combined into one long (LONG!) warm-up. To me this is less effective. The warm-up can actually be rushed by placing demands on your results too soon in the session. In other words you expect to sound too good too soon in the warm-up. Warming up for the goals listed above relieves us of this pressure, it allows for a more relaxed warm-up. On the other side, grouping warm-ups and skills practice together also leaves some people feeling that 60 minutes into their practice session they have done nothing but warm-up and now need to begin practicing. Equally damaging.

Let's take a step back and look at a typical two-hour practice session.
I Warm-up; 20 minutes
II Skills Practice; 40-60 minutes
III Etudes/Repertoire; 40-60 minutes

The proportions of these areas will vary depending on your needs at the time. For example, the time spent in Area II or III at the beginning of a new semester may differ from that spent the week or two before a recital. Nonetheless, all three areas should be present in one proportion or another - every day!

Back to the warm-up. It should always include: long tones to address embouchure, voicing and air; scales, arpeggios and other patterns to address hands/fingers; articulation exercises for the tongue.

We use the same items (long tones, scales, etc) in Area II of our practice session. We use these tools to focus concentrated energy toward improving one or more specific skills involved in clarinet playing. Perhaps improved tone, better hand position, clearer or faster articulation - the list goes on! To accomplish this we use these same tools but with a distinctly different goal in mind.

What I want for you to take away from this is the concept of a distinct and clear separation between warming up and skills practice. The most efficient and productive practice comes with this separation, with the goals clearly in mind. It allows for a relaxed warm-up followed by focused, concentrated attention to one or more specific goals.

To recap:
I Warm-up for approximately 20 minutes. Goal: Loosen and relax muscles, get the blood flowing. Use long tones, scales, arpeggios and other patterns as well as articulation exercises.

II Skills Practice 40 - 60 minutes. Goal: Improve one or more specific skills. Use long tones, scales, arpeggios and other patterns, articulation exercises, etc.

III Etudes/Repertoire 40 - 60 minutes. Goal: Improve specific elements of your etudes and repertoire.

Perhaps in the next couple months we can discuss specific exercises for warm-ups and skills practice. Another month we can discuss practice techniques for Area III, etudes/repertoire.

As always I welcome your feedback; questions about this or earlier blogs as well as suggestions for future topics.

Thanks for joining us for Clarinet Talk From Miami! Until next month good health and good reeds!

~ Dr D