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B-Flat clarinet lesson

Learn about the B-flat clarinet from an expert musician with the U.S. Marine Band. Includes daily exercises for long-tones, intonation, and scales, plus practical advice on how to build up speed in technically difficult passages of music.

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Video transcript

("When Jesus Wept, New England Triptych" by William Schuman) - The clarinet is the violin of the band, it's the largest section. And there are a lot of us in a concert. There's usually 14 clarinet players in the section, B-flat clarinet players. And then we have E-flat and bass, and sometimes alto clarinet, sometimes contrabass. ("Lisbon, Lincolnshire Posy" by Percy Grainger) Playing clarinet in a band setting is very different from playing in an orchestral setting. You can't project like you need to as an orchestral clarinetist. You always are listening to your fellow clarinetists and trying to blend into each other's sounds, and listening to each other's pitch. And every person I share a stand with and sit next to in the section, it's slightly different. And with so many different players, everyone plays a little bit different, everybody's sound is a little different, everybody's pitch tendencies are different. So you get to know who you work with best. And we rotate in the section, which is kind of, it's nice to play with different people. ("Chester, New England Triptych" by William Schuman) When I'm just practicing at home I have always done a lot of long tones. Mostly to hear myself, I use the metronome, I use a tuner. So I am in tune with myself. I basically just set the tuner on my stand and I play any note on any range of the clarinet. And just listen to my sound. I watch the tuner. It's absolutely boring but it's very important to any wind player. Because in the band, or in the clarinet section in the band, any band, you're not gonna be able to hear yourself always as an individual. And you need that time by yourself. You need to have a concept of what your sound is going to be. And that can be a favorite clarinetist that you like to listen to from recordings. I grew up in the '80s and I didn't have, I didn't have a lot of access (laughs) to listening to various clarinetists, professional musicians, and professional clarinetists as you can now. And it's so easy to just go online and listen to someone playing clarinet in the Cleveland Orchestra. Or Ricardo Morales, or just anyone! You can find anything and listen to them and you can decide, I really like what they sound like. And you can try to make that sound. Sound is very important. And with the long tones, you can concentrate on your sound and nothing else. You can concentrate on your air, which is how you get a beautiful sound. It's one of the building blocks. The clarinet can play really nice and low, and then can also play high. So this is just an example of what I might practice when I'm practicing my long tones. (slow clarinet music) So that's just basically the low to middle range. And then I can do long tones on just regular scales. And I can work on high notes that way very easily. So something like. (high clarinet music ascending) And I would use the tuner throughout all of that, just to see where I am. Am I in tune with myself, are my high notes a little weird? And I can adjust and see what my tendencies are. ("Above and Beyond" by Gerard Schwarz) For a clarinetist, no matter what repertoire you're playing, playing technical music, fast notes, getting those notes under your fingers is very important. When you are at home and you're relaxed and there's no pressure, it's very easy to play technical passages. But when you get into rehearsal or into a concert setting or a recording session, you get nervous, and then all of a sudden, you can't play it as well (laughs) because you're thinking about it too much. So what I like to do and what I've always done when I'm learning technical passages is I start everything incredibly slow. And I play it very slow, that way I'm working on not just the notes, the correct notes, the correct rhythm, but I'm also thinking about articulation, pitch. So it's slow enough so my mind can take everything in. So I play it once, and if I can play it well, I kick up the metronome a couple of notches and then I play it again, and then if it goes well, I kick up the metronome again. And I keep doing that. It's not a short process, it takes time. Especially depending on how difficult the passage is. I've done this, hundreds and thousands of times with various passages. And I break down each technical passage, depending on its difficulty, to maybe four measures, eight measures, never more than 16 bars. And just really working a section at a time, very slow, eventually getting the technical passage to performance tempo. So when you do get into a performance it's solid because (laughs) you've played it so many times! And you've played it correctly so many times. That's the great thing about playing it slowly is you are more likely to play it correctly. Whereas if you try to start it too fast, you start to practice your mistakes and then it's harder to fix it later. So I am a big fan of practicing very slow. Even if it's an excerpt or a piece that I know very well, but maybe I haven't played it in a little while. I will slow it way down, just to get it back under my fingers. This is the beginning of the 12/8 section in the second movement of the Hindemith. And I'm gonna slow it way down to 60. So I set my metronome. (beeping) (medium slow clarinet music) So that's just one section, one example of what I would do. And then if I played that well, I would kick it up just a little bit and play it again, and then kick it up just a little bit. Just depending on how generous I feel like being with the metronome and the tempo. (faster beeping) (rapid clarinet music) ("Symphony in B-Flat for Concert Band" by Paul Hindemith)