I. Getting Started:
• Give yourself 15 minutes to prepare to practice: • Assemble instrument.
• Select/soak reeds.
• Make sure you have: music, metronome, pencil, notebook.
• Decide what you will practice, and for how long. Use a practice notebook to organize your time and make notes on progress, including metronome markings. Here is a suggestion for format:
March 1, 2009 5 hours
8:30-9:30am long tones/Kroepsch, Baermann Scales 9:30-10&12:30-1pm Rose Etudes 32 No.s 6&7
1pm-2pm Mozart Concerto
3pm-4pm Brahms Sonata
scales and arpeggios: E-flat/c min scales
Rose etude 7:under tempo 5x, 1x up to tempo quarter note=120 Mozart concerto- concentrate on coda of expo. also mvt II. Excerpts today: Beeth 4 mvt IV at quarter note= 120. Rach 2. Brahms: watch legato mvt I!! stacatto needs more ping.
• Routine is essential. It will be helpful if you are able to practice at the same time of day and same place every day.
• The hardest part of practicing is taking the instrument out of the case. Therefore it is good to start as early as possible, even if you do not have enough time to do anything besides long tones before a 9AM class.
• Do not let others to distract you from practicing. Make your practice room a socialization-free zone.
• Encourage each other to practice...don’t distract others!
• Plan out your breaks. This will help you stay on track with your schedule. In general, take five minutes every hour. For example, practice 8:00-8:55AM, then take a break till 9AM. If you are practicing a number of hours straight (six or seven), take a couple of fifteen minute breaks.
• Set an alarm (maybe on your cell phone) for the exact time you plan to stop to take a break, so that you don’t cheat and start rounding up, or practicing from 8:00-8:52AM instead of 8:55- a surprising amount of progress can be made in three minutes!
II. Long tones
• Select a harder reed than you plan to use for the majority of your practice.
• Metronome quarter note= 60. Hold each note for eight beats.
• Play your long tones with lots of air, and a full sound. At both soft and strong dynamics.
• Concentrate on correct air support including the way you are breathing and embouchure.
• Practice these double lip and without register key.
• Use breath builder before and in between groups of four long tones.
• FOR THE REST OF THE PRACTICE DAY, PRACTICE LONG TONES FOR TWO MINUTES (time it) AT THE TOP OF EVERY HOUR. This gives your brain and lungs a “fresh palate.”
• Articulation practice is in the same category as long tones, as proper air use is imperative for excellent staccato. Alternate a few long tones with some articulation practice. A very effective technique for working on staccato speed is at the end of the book; however, remember that quality is paramount to speed.
III. Scales and Etudes: Your Meat and Potatoes
• Practice these slow, slow slow!
• Concentrate on finger movement, air support, sound.
• Accept nothing less than perfection even for scales. Imagine that your scales are the most beautiful piece you have ever heard. Same thing goes for studies/etudes.
• Practice slowly!
• Even slower than you think is enough.
• Over, and over, and over...
• Is it perfectly smooth from note to note?
• Can I hear any sloppiness in the fingers?
• Is the tone uniform from note to note?
• Any grunting or cracking over intervals in arpeggios? Stop! Fix it! Don’t accept less than perfect!
• Is it completely rhythmically even? (Always practice scales with metronome.)
• First, sort out the rhythms and notes. Mark your music if needed to figure out the rhythms.
• Calibrate your metronome so you can increase the speed one notch at a time (eg. 40, 41, 42 etc. instead of 40, 44, 46...)
• Now set your metronome to a speed as slow as you need to go to play the piece perfectly.
• Play the movement through at that speed. Are there any particularly tricky spots? Go back and sort them out by practicing small sections very slowly and repeating them twenty times.
• Now play the whole thing again at the same speed.
• If it is perfect, set the metronome two notches higher, and repeat.
• If you can play it perfectly at that speed, then set the metronome two notches higher, and repeat.
• If you can’t play through the movement perfectly at any point in this progression of speed, set the metronome back three clicks and repeat.
• Repeat, turning up the metronome one click at a time until you have reached the speed that at first was too fast.
• For especially tricky fast spots, a good rule is to start with the metronome as slow as you need to go to play it perfectly. Increase the speed by one notch until you have played it twenty times. Then try playing it at tempo. Then slow it back down to the tempo you started at, and play it five times. Then play it at tempo. Then slow it down again to a few notches higher than the tempo you started at, and play it five times. Then up to tempo. Et cetera. Keep in mind that sometimes it takes more than twenty times, perhaps up to two hundred, to get it exactly right.
• If you can’t play something, it is just because you haven’t practiced it enough yet, or haven’t practiced it slowly enough, or haven’t practiced it slowly enough enough. Simply follow the above directions, with patience and discipline, and you will be able to play anything!
• Practice every part of each piece every day, but rotate the order in which you practice them so that you don’t practice the same piece at the end of the day when you are more tired. Rotate, as well, spending extra time on each movement.
• Slow practice of pieces is essential, even when you have learned the piece well, as it allows you to hear the contours, make musical decisions and note the phrasing.
•Play a phrase at a time. Reflect on it. What should it sound like? Where is it going? What did your teacher say about the passage in your lesson or studio class? Then apply your reflection, make markings if needed, and repeat.
V. Reality Checks
Once you have practiced a piece for several hours over a few days, and you feel that you have made significant improvement and are ready to move on to other things because you are happy with how it sounds, then record yourself, and listen back with a critical ear. Parts of it that you thought were fantastic are probably so-so and could still use a lot of work. On the other hand, sections that you thought were sounding horrible really might be pretty darn good. Determine exactly what needs more work, reflect, and repeat.
There is no canyon of disconnect between “quality time” and “quantity time” in practicing. Practice from five to seven hours a day, and you will hear improvement.
Think of your practice sessions as lessons that you are giving yourself. Be very deliberate with every repetition, with every note that you play.
VI. Additional Recommendations:
• Get in shape. Exercise will help with your playing in many ways.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Get enough sleep!
• Eat well, but eat small amounts at a time while you are practicing hard for hours upon end. It is hard to concentrate while you are hungry, but you don’t want all your blood going to your stomach while you are working.
• Record your clarinet lessons, then find a way to put them on your iPod. Listen to your lessons at least once a week.
• Take frequent 30-second breaks during your practice session.
To the Practicing Musician:
This little book focuses on practicing the clarinet. However, most of its recommendations can be adapted and applied to the practice of any wind instrument. It is simply a layout of a meticulous practice technique. The story of where this practicing technique starts in 1994...
I was fortunate enough to have a teacher as a freshman in high school who gave me the big wake up call: “You think you are so great? You want to play with the Boston Pops when you grow up? Then you’ve got to practice a lot more than two hours a day. You don’t even know all your scales! I don’t know if you are talented enough to think about a career like that anyways.” I responded with the attitude, “Well, I’ll show him!!!”
However, when I realized that I had to fit in four or five hours of practicing a day with a busy high school schedule, I felt incredibly overwhelmed, until my mother (who, by the way, played clarinet herself in high school!) calmly sat down with me to help me figure out how to fit in and organize my time with the same arrangement as I suggested in part I.
What are the results of following a practice routine so intense? First, let’s define “results.” “Results” are not winning auditions. “Results” are not getting into Juilliard, although these are often good consequences of “results.” “Results,” when we are talking about practicing, include slow, steady, personal progress, and growth as a musician.
This is just one perspective on how to approach practicing. I think it is effective, but it might not work for everyone. Also, your professor may have additional or alternate suggestions, which is why I left blank space on some of the pages, to write down these other (perhaps even better) ideas and approaches to practicing.
Daniel Bonade is one of the foundational clarinet teachers and players of the twentieth century. Heed his words!