A Recital of Clarinet Duets

I recently had the pleasure of giving a recital full of clarinet duets with my friend, Laura Reynolds.  These duets were fun and flashy.  We performed Poulenc’s Sonata for Two Clarinets, Mendelssohn’s Konzerstucke Nr. 1, The Clarinet Polka, and Ponchielli’s Il Covegno.  Take a look below!  (I’m the one on the left).


Using Web-Based Tools To Excite Your Music Students

While the idea of incorporating Web-based tools into your band, orchestra, or private studio may sound entirely overwhelming to you, I am here to say that it’s both rewarding and enjoyable. My students have become more engaged and excited about performing sine I have integrated the internet into my teaching. Here are four simple tools that will excite your students: incorporating social media, starting a YouTube account, writing a bog, and hosting a virtual masterclass.

Let’s start with the least intimidating tool first: incorporating social media into your ensemble or private studio. Simply set up a Facebook page and encourage your students to “like” your group. Parents, alumni, and community members can get involved too. This is a great space to “toot your own horn”. Make updates about upcoming concerts, recitals, parades, fundraisers, etc… and people will be instantly reminded! Use Facebook to brag about awards and achievements of your groups. Maybe your band just got a first place in a marching competition – write a status update! Did some performers make the All-State Orchestra? – Write a status update! Did a practice go particularly well? Congratulate your group via Facebook. Students will thrive with the positive feedback and will find they can relate to you. A student who may feel shy at school might have more courage to reach out to you through Facebook as well. You can also use a Twitter account to keep students, parents, and alumni up to date with upcoming events, achievements, and even inspirational quotes to motivate students to practice. One cautionary note, be sure to moderate the comments in case a potentially hurtful comment is posted.

A second web-based tool to reinvigorate your program is to start a YouTube account. YouTube is a very user-friendly service that allows people to upload videos and post them for people to view. This is a great way for students to view performances and enjoy watching the fruits of their labor. You can adjust privacy settings if that is a concern so that only students and family members can view it. Viewing performances is a valuable resource because it allows students to really hear what their group sounds like. Sometimes things can sound very different from the 3rd clarinet section than they do out in the middle of an auditorium. In addition to recording concerts, directors can even record rehearsals and have students evaluate them that very evening! When students view rehearsals, they are able to see what they really look like when they perform. Does the ensemble look engaged? Is horn position correct? Furthermore, students themselves can discern what needs to be improved. Hearing a practice first hand is sometimes more effective than hearing a teacher say “more dynamics” over and over again.

A third web-based tool available for directors is to start a blog. Now, I know you are probably thinking, “You want me to what???” What exactly is a blog? Blogs are internet spaces where you can write an online journal of sorts for people to read. Writing a blog may sound like an intimidating adventure, but it has been very rewarding to me. My blog focuses on practice tips, inspirational quotes, links to great performances, and repertoire reviews. Free blog hosting sites like WordPress.com and Blogger.com are easy to navigate and very user friendly. All you really need is an email account and a name for the blog and you are ready to go. Blogs can be updated daily, weekly, sporadically – it’s really up to you. The general rule is: the more you update, the more people will want to read. You can even have links to your program’s Facebook page and YouTube account on your blog page so that visitors can become fans of your program. Get students involved as well. Directors can choose students that wish to write a guest post on the blog. Perhaps a student wants to share what marching camp is like, his/her experience with music contests, or how to juggle practicing with homework. This is a “win-win” situation because it allows a student to be part of the writing process and it creates a blog post that is fun, relevant, and from a unique perspective.

A fourth tool to get students excited is to host a “virtual masterclass”. Masterclasses always seem to inspire my students. It’s fun to hear musical suggestions from someone else that has different ways of stating things. But where is a director going to find the time and the money to bring in a special conductor and/or performer to motivate students? It’s not easy with the time and financial constraints that most directors face today. Why not hold a masterclass using Skype technology? Skype is a free program that is easily downloaded onto a computer. It is often used for video-chatting or conference calls. Directors can use the classroom computer and place the video image on a large screen so that the entire ensemble can view the guest artist. This eliminates the complications of travel, room, and boarding. Many university professors would be willing to perform a “virtual masterclass” free of charge because it is a public service that looks really good on résumés. Students can individually perform solos or excerpts for the artists to critique or the whole ensemble could perform for the artist. The options are endless!

Using these four tools can get your students excited about music. Directors that embrace current technology are connecting with students in a meaningful way because technology is a huge part of students’ lives today. Impress your students with your technological savvy and showcase your music program on the internet.

Useful Tips!

Has your clarinet ever needed a quick repair?  Sometimes repairs need to be brought in to a highly qualified instrument repair technician.  But, there are some things that can easily be repaired at home.  I came across this video today that is full of wonderful (and unique) tips that you can use to repair your clarinet’s corks and rings.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!



What’s in Your Bag?

musicbackground5Have you seen the blog posts where people discuss what is in their purse, gym bag, or backpack?  I love those!  It’s entertaining to see what people carry around.  I thought it would be fun to discuss what I keep in my clarinet bag.  I have an Altieri Double Clarinet Gig Bag.  I love this bag!  It is padded, comfortable to carry, and offers a lot of space for music and other items you want to carry around.  Here is a list of the things I found in my bag today:

1.  Music:  This is a no brainer!  I have a concert this Saturday with a clarinet choir and clarinet quartet, so my music is in my bag for the rehearsals and concert.

2.  Reeds in my reed case.  I always carry my reeds in a reed case that holds 10 reeds.  Let’s hope one of them works great!  Ha Ha!  In all seriousness, I try to have a few “thicker” reeds and a few “softer” reeds so that I am prepared for whatever the acoustics and weather throw my way.

3.  Small screwdriver.  This is a great tool to have on hand in case there are any “key emergencies” in rehearsals and/or concerts.

4.  Pencils.  I like to be prepared to mark alternate fingerings or directors comments.  What can I say?  Once a band nerd, always a band nerd!

5.  Cigarette Paper.  No, I don’t smoke!  But, cigarette paper is a wonderful tool to dry clarinet pads in whenever you get that gurgle sound that water trapped in a pad makes.

7.  Kleenex.  You never know when you are going to need one!

8.  Pictures from my children.  I love when my kids make me special pictures to put in my gig bag!  They are a sweet reminder of my special ones.

9.  Chapstick.  Playing under stage lights can be very drying to my lips, so I usually use chapstick at the end of rehearsal to keep my lips hydrated.

10.  Duet book.  You never know when time permits to play a fun duet!  I love playing duets with people, it’s a great way to build a musical friendship.

What’s in your bag?

Scales, Scales, and More Scales!

Scales:  they are the vegetables of clarinet playing!  You don’t necessarily like them, but you know they are good for you.  I stress the importance of scales early on with my students.  Knowing scales throughout the range of the clarinet will help in so many areas of clarinet playing:  finger dexterity, familiarity of all the keys on the clarinet, musical theory knowledge, just to name a few.  Here are some ways that I use scales in my lessons:

1.  Beginning students:  I usually take simple scales (C, F, and G) and play these one octave with my students.  I use a variety of rhythms:  whole notes, half notes, 4 repeated quarter notes, etc..  Another fun variation is to play these scales in a round with the student.  This makes the scales sound interesting and more like “real music”.  Honestly, my students love to do these!

2.  Intermediate students:  Once my students have become comfortable with the break on the clarinet and have a good sense of fingerings I like to add a scale book into their practice routine.  Most of my students use the Rubank Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced method books.  While these books use scales within them, it’s a good idea to supplement as well.  I like the Albert Scale Book a lot for intermediate students (jr. high/ high school age).  This book takes the student through each key with scales, thirds, and a variety of other common passages.  I also work on scale sheets with my students (on the link, scroll down to see the clarinet page).  In Illinois where I live and teach, there is a required scale sheet for the All-District and All-State Bands.  The scale sheet is rather difficult for the typical jr.high and high school player because it covers the extended range of the clarinet and travels through all the major and minor keys.

3.  Advanced students:  When a student reaches a high level of clarinet mastery, it is time to use the “hard hitting” scale books!  There are a lot of scale books out there, but my favorites are:  Karl Baermann’s Celebrated Method for Clarinet andRudolph Jettel’s Clarinet School.  These really push students to learn the extended range.  They are not easy!  I have students first learn these at a slow tempo and then gradually speed up the tempo.  Another fun approach to these books is to practice with a variety of articulations.

What are your favorite scales or scale books that you use?

Motivating Students When “Spring Fever” Hits

spring 15It’s that time of year again!  Spring has finally sprung around these parts.  It is a really late spring for us, too.  The winter dragged on long after the calendar declared it was spring.  The weather is finally warming up, leaves are coming out, and the great outdoors is calling.  Sounds great! The only problem is getting students to practice when the outdoors is so tempting.  I have found that changing up lessons a bit during this time of year really seems to help.  For my college aged students, I try to get out a solo that is fun but not overwhelming.  In essence, a fairly easy solo that the student can get the grasp of in just a few weeks.  This makes practice time more enjoyable.  A few solos that work great for this are:  Rhapsody for solo clarinet by Wilson Osbourne, Six Studies in English Folk Song by Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Dance Preludes by Witold Lutoslawski.

Another great thing to do in lessons is to hold “group lessons” for a week or two.  A lot of piano studios do this, but for some reason not many wind studios do this.  We should do it more!  Schedule 2-4 students of similar skill levels and assign them a “group lesson” time.  During this lesson, students can perform for each other, sight read duets and/or chamber music, and give positive feedback to fellow students.  Nothing gets students motivated to practice more than knowing they will have to perform for peers.  An added bonus to group lessons is that it builds friendships and pride within the studio.

For my younger students (beginner – high school), I encourage them to pick out a “fun” book for the spring and summer.  This book is used in addition to the usual scale, method, and etude books we usually use.  “Fun” books are usually books of contemporary music with CD accompaniment.  Hal Leonard publishes a lot of great collections like:  movie music, rock and roll, pop hits, and many more.  On my list to purchase this summer for my studio:  music from Twilight and music from Glee.  I know my students will love these!

What tips do you have for getting students to practice even when spring fever hits?

Nobody’s Perfect!

We all know the saying, “Nobody’s Perfect”.  It’s true, although I have to admit that sometimes I feel like there are some performers who never seem to make a mistake.  In this day of digital editing, the recordings we hear are not always representative of reality.  Making mistakes in performances used to really bother me.  A squeak would send my pulse rushing!  But, as I matured I realized that mistakes are going to happen and part of being a great performer is to not let those errors bother you.  Case in point – I was watching performances of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on YouTube this morning.  The piece begins with a very famous clarinet solo.  This solo is notoriously difficult to play.  It has a large glissando and it requires the performer to play notes that are very high.  It is also completely exposed so there is nowhere to hide.  I found a recording of Benny Goodman performing this solo.  His gliss is perfect!  But, guess what?  He squeaks just a little bit later during the solo!  In all honesty, I was overjoyed when I heard the squeak.  It made him seem more human!  Most importantly, it is a wonderful example of someone who can put a mistake behind and keep going.  Take a listen, enjoy, and remember “Nobody’s Perfect”!