Meri’s Musical Musings

Explore your instrument!

Posted on: June 18, 2016

One of the reasons I became quite a good player despite a lack of private lessons while in high school to the present day, was because I was exploring new ways of playing and new ways of playing various notes and combinations, especially in the altissimo register of the clarinet, but to some extent, alternate ways of playing different passages on the piano because of my somewhat smaller than average hands. (an octave in my right and a ninth in my left, plus certain types of four note chords are very difficult if not impossible to play, which limits my choices of pieces in the early advanced level and beyond on piano.

Some of my earliest discoveries were actually when I was only in my second year of playing clarinet, in grade 8, at a middle school with a first rate music program then and still now. I was trying to pick out the opening theme of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony, which helped me learn a bunch of notes, only later learning that symphony is for clarinets in A. I used to play a tape of that almost every night on my radio I had at the time, which the tape was my first classical recording I had ever bought in my life, which I originally bought for the 1812 Overture which our school band was playing an arrangement that was more challenging than what many high school bands in my area currently playing—and this was a middle school band!

My next set of discoveries were the fingerings for the notes beyond high C two lines above the staff in Grade 9, from a book I borrowed from the library, which I decided to purchase in the end. Not only did I learn those notes up to G four lines above the staff, I figured out some fingerings that were not only not listed in the fingering charts, but sometimes not even in the comprehensive clarinet fingering guides, like a high C to D trill that on my instrument was much more reliable than the standard trill fingering for that trill.

My third set of discoveries was around the time I finally started taking clarinet lessons from a fun, amazing, but demanding teacher. One day in my own practicing I cut up some pencil grips to put over the thumb rest of the clarinet. Seeing it wasn’t quite fitting my instrument, I made a slit on some of the pencil grips. However, I had cut a couple of them all the way by mistake. Then, I don’t know how this happened, but a good sized wad of sticky tack got on the pencil grips that were cut all the way through, and then I saw a possible use for it, as a pad for the thumb to ease the tension I was having on the palm side of my thumb at the time because I was practicing about 2 hours a day total. The next lesson with my teacher, I showed it to him, he thought it was a great idea, so I continued work on it making other modifications, to the point that one of the music stores in the city, a woodwind specialty shop, decided to stock them, which sold completely within the first month. The following September, I joined a community band in addition to a college band I was also a part of, and several clarinet players bought one for themselves plus a couple of oboists. I even had requests from the flute section to make a version for them, which wasn’t spectacular looking, but did the job, and increased my sales. However, despite the decent money I was making from this product, I could not afford to get a patent on it, and pretty soon the product was discontinued except for my clarinet students and a few close clarinet friends and colleagues because I couldn’t keep up with demand.

My final set of discoveries is reminding myself of things my teachers told me the last time I took clarinet lessons, which was 12-15 years ago, and piano lessons about 7 years ago. I have recently begum working seriously on my Level 10 RCM clarinet exam, and one of the required orchestral excerpts often gave me problems trying to play it beyond a moderate tempo. The coordination between fingers and tongue is difficult in this passage. Then, a few weeks ago, I discovered that the passages I was consistently having problems with, my little fingers were in the wrong place, since it involved the little finger keys on the clarinet! After working for about 20 minutes a day on that passage for several days, I can finally play it at about a fairly standard tempo of most recordings of this piece.

Moral of the stories: don’t be afraid to try things beyond what your teachers tell you, even if those teachers are good ones.

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  • 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
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