Meri’s Musical Musings

  1. Attend lessons regularly, especially if you are a beginner, whether or not you practiced.
  2. Practice ALL of your assigned material, at least 5 out of 7 days per week, for the amount of time total per day your teacher recommends, based on your learning speed and lesson length
  3. Assuming you have a good teacher, trust the teacher’s opinion when they say you are doing well. Most good teachers have been doing it long enough to know what slow, normal, and fast progress look like in students of a variety of ages.
  4. Pay on time, and disclose any potential financial difficulties you may have.
  5. If possible, take an unconventional but reasonable time for lessons like when most students are in school. I regularly took my lessons starting at either 11 am or 1 pm, but was flexible because of the types of work I usually did.
  6. Learn and master at least the rudiments of music theory, and apply them to the music you are learning.
  7. Assuming you have a good teacher, be open to the teacher’s ideas on things on changing your way of playing or minor equipment changes, because most instruments are set up with far from good equipment and the seemingly natural way to play certain instruments is often incorrect.
  8. Get the best quality instrument you can afford, ideally picked out with a teacher if you are a beginner.
  9. Consider doing an exam or two once you’re around the early intermediate stage or slightly above that. Although I initially didn’t want to when I first took lessons, after receiving my first Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) certificate in the mail which I did well on despite some nerves, it became a real source of joy and pleasure to see my progress in theory, piano, and clarinet, and displaying them marked me as a serious teacher to potential students and parents.
  10. Take advantage of performance opportunities, even if you’re the only adult performing. You might inspire other adults to take lessons and perform on stage.
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It can and does work, sometimes spectacularly.

I’m an example of that, picking up clarinet at 12 and piano at 15.

Within the first year or so of piano, when on clarinet I was approaching Level 6 RCM on clarinet according to a copy of a syllabus I had acquired in my third year of playing clarinet  by the solos and studies I was learning at the time, on the piano by the end of the first year I was learning pieces on the piano that most piano students take at least 4-6 years of study to get to comfortably and with mastery. Not only that, I picked up the basic piano scales, chords, and arpeggios on the piano in part from my acquaintance with them from my clarinet study, and already knew the theory and rhythm concepts.

The reasons I think learning a single note instrument before piano works, especially for younger students, is that they get acquainted with theory, rhythm, and technical patterns long before they would start learning them on the piano, they have some to a lot of previously developed finger coordination, they may have already developed good practice habits, they know at least one clef, they may have good theory skills, and good concentration.

When writing in the concert key of one sharp: if in G major, use the B flat clarinet; if in E minor, use the A clarinet. See the note below.

If your piece or arrangement is in concert E minor, especially if an intermediate or advanced piece, either transpose the piece, put the clarinet parts on the A clarinet, or make sure you avoid the tricky combination at the top of the second octave of the melodic minor version of the written F sharp minor on the B flat clarinet if you are going up to the top line F sharp and immediately back down.

Try to get your clarinet parts tested by a person who plays the instrument well for intermediate and advanced works.

Avoid or at least minimize sliding of the little fingers at fast tempos involving the little finger keys, especially the key that is not duplicated on most clarinets (low A flat/clarion E flat and the enharmonic)

Keep trills on the little and ring fingers short, especially the right one, particularly in beginning and intermediate level music.

Trills and tremolos to avoid:

  • low B flat to low C# (and twelfth F-G sharp)
  • low B to C sharp ( and twelfth F sharp-G sharp)
  • first space F sharp-G sharp
  • second space A flat to A
  • second space A flat to B flat
  • clarion high B flat to altissimo C sharp
  • clarion high B to altissimo C sharp
  • clarion high C to altissimo C sharp
  •  clarion high C to altissimo D
  •  clarion high C to altissimo D sharp.

Also applies to enharmonic notes.

  1. Ziploc bags of various sizes, to protect your instrument from damage from items dangling in the case
  2. A quality pencil sharpener, ideally with a container that can store the shaved pieces until you can empty the container.
  3. Pencils without rubber ends, ideally the ones that don’t need sharpening.
  4. A 6 inch ruler, for writing straight lines on notes or improvising staff paper
  5. Q-tips, for cleaning tone holes and under small parts on other instruments
  6. Clothespins, to secure your music from wind or a fan blowing, or someone opening a door and it’s windy or there’s a draft.
  7. Non-rubber pencil case, the long thin ones are ideal because they will usually fit in a standard double clarinet case or some single cases, or if they can be rolled up in a compact manner.
  1. Not practicing enough. A reasonable guideline is that if you take private lessons, your amount of practice time per day should be at least the same as your lesson length. The only exceptions are young beginners in the first few months of lessons, who can usually complete their assignments with a short amount of practice, and advanced students who are at or near professional level, typically aiming for at least 90 min a day, usually at least 2-3 hours per day.
  2. Letting your accessories for your instrument dangle in your case. Put them in ziploc bags or non-rubberized pencil cases.
  3. Depending on fancy equipment to help you sound your best. About 20 years ago, I knew a fellow clarinet player in a city wide symphony orchestra who had a professional model clarinet, and most of the rest of the orchestra was playing on student or intermediate level instruments, often borrowed from school. However, it was clear to at least the wind section that she didn’t sound good with a fancy instrument. Whereas good players who don’t have a lot of money depend on good technique to produce a fine and pleasing tone quality.
  4. Not getting your instrument maintained by professional instrument repairers at least 2-3 times a year, more often if you play a lot.
  5. Not learning how to do basic maitenance on your instrument, eg: adjusting screws, tuning the instrument, cleaning tone holes, applying rosin, key or valve oil.
  6. Keeping pencils and erasers in your case without protecting the instrument itself, especially instruments that contain metal or lacquer, because the rubber reacts and tarnishes or corrodes those parts. This is especially true of woodwinds and brass. Keep the pencils and erasers in a tightly sealed non-rubber pencil case or ziploc bag.
  7. Playing what you think is on the page compared to what is actually written. While there are very occasionally errors in parts, often times it’s the composer trying to “trick” you, such as the last movement of Saint-Saens’ Clarinet Sonata, in many of the chromatic scale passages, which he breaks up the chromatic scale with a minor third often written as an augmented second. Even in tunes you think you know by ear, and are given the sheet music anyway, it’s important to be mindful of and play the differences in the arrangement you are playing.
  8. Disrespect of musicians who play by ear of musicians mostly play from notation, and vice versa. In fact, you need both skills and strong skills in both enhance your playing, composing, and arranging.
  9. Thinking that you can teach yourself everything on an instrument, and that you don’t need a teacher. A good teacher can fix your technique and make your playing at least 10x better in only a few lessons, and there are many shortcuts that are known by the top teachers, but are rarely or never printed.
  10. Not using a metronome in your practicing, especially of technical elements or difficult rhythms.
  1. Dress up for the occasion—especially the soloist, a nice but not uncomfortable or flashy dress that doesn’t block your instrument for women, with low or flat shoes in matching colour, both men and women can wear a nice dressy-type shirt with black dress pants and black shoes. Moderately bright, well made, and well patterned clothing films well.
  2. Upon the start of the piece or pieces, the soloist gives the breath or bow cue to the pianist, looking at each other at that point and at major entrances.
  3. At the end of the piece, first make eye contact with the pianist, then with the audience.
  4. After your performance is finished, shake your pianist’s hand (particularly if you know them well) and take a full waist-bow with the head down, then acknowledge your pianist again with an extended arm towards them.

I think yes.

It’s a case where first impressions count, even if first impressions are only correct about 30% of the time. In the case of an audition to get into a competitive group, it can mean the difference between getting accepted and not getting accepted; in the case of an exam it can make a difference in what classification your final mark falls (eg: first class honours or first class honours with distinction); and can mean the difference between the size of the scholarship, or whether you get one at all for music study.

Plus you’ll likely have many other concerts that you’ll be using those dress clothes white and/or black shirt/black dress pants/black dress shoes in which it’s required and that you CANNOT dress down, especially if you are taking music in school which there are regular to frequent performances. Plus there are many ways to save on all or part of the outfits, even some dollar/discount stores carry decent to high quality shirts and pants for low cost that are perfect, especially for children up to about 10 years old; thrift stores often have them for older children and adults, and increasingly you can even find decent dress shoes for cheap for kids and adults.


  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea