Sunday, July 4, 2010

Practice, Practice, Practice: Favorite Exercises

I’ve been back to practicing after a long break. It’s always difficult to motivate myself to play the clarinet to prepare for something immediate, but these less busy times are also some of the best times to read new repertoire and practice more thoughtfully. 

I am a firm believer in scales and exercises and spending at least twenty minutes (usually more) at the beginning of every day’s practice doing this. This is not always popular with my students, but those who do it build a solid foundation of sound production and technical skills. I tell my students that if you only have time to practice one thing on a busy day, make it warm up exercises. Biting embouchures, messy finger technique, and overactive tongues tend to reappear if you don’t do daily, thoughtful practice in this area. 

To vary my routine, I use many different materials, but I do have a few favorites: Some days when I really need to work on my sound, I spend the entire first 30 minutes on Klose low register exercises just focusing on maintaining a round embouchure and strong air. If I need to get my fingers moving and have limited time to warm up, I play the Klose scale etude (all majors and minors in one etude). This is memorized, so I don’t have to find the music. See this IMSLP link to download a public domain version of the complete Klose. The scale etude is on page 97 and the low register exercises starts on page 177. 

My favorite Klose exercise is a progressive interval study I found in an obscure French edition that I will share with you if you would like to email me. It’s definitely advanced reading - with all the accidentals, double flats, and such, but it’s well worth learning to build up your ability to keep the embouchure steady and air going through large intervals. Another essential that I carry with me everywhere is Paul Jeanjean’s “Vade-Mecum” du Clarinettiste. I play the first three exercises at least twice a week. The first exercise is for isolating finger technique and it’s easily memorized. The second exercise concentrates on the left hand and the third exercise concentrates on the right. I promise you that if you do these with great care to keep your fingers close to the clarinet and moving economically (from the back knuckle), you won’t find anything better to improve your finger technique. Warning: this book also includes a lot of accidentals, and you’ve got to do some French translation. See to find the Jeanjean. It is not public domain, so you need to purchase it. I’ve bought two myself, since the first got so worn from use. 

The photo above shows my practice desk at home. It’s originally a child’s desk, but it works great for my purposes. The roll top allows me to protect my reed water from becoming a cat water bowl!

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