Practice Techniques for Beginners

STEP #1: Sight-read the music.

  1. Look at your key signature. How many sharps? How many flats?
  2. Look at your time signature? ¾ Time? 4/4 Time?
  3. Look ahead for any challenging rhythms: triplets, sixteenths, etc.
  4. If you have the time: go through and clap and count the rhythms that appear to be a bit tricky. Check out this counting chart that uses a variation on the Eastman Counting System. Rhythm Chart for Beginners
  5. Look for any notes in the music that you might not be familiar with. Are there ledger lines? How many? Above or below the staff?
  6. Now set a metronome much slower than the tempo marked. Play through the piece.
  7. Were there any trouble spots?

STEP #2: Work out the difficulties.

For fast passages or any measures that gives you difficulty, start by taking one measure at a time. Work on the second measure then add it to the first. Work on the third measure then add it to the first and second, etc. Follow the exercises below:

  1. Take one measure and play it twice as slow. If it is marked quarter note=100 then take the passage at quarter note=50. Play it 4 times perfectly, in a row. If you mess up then you have to try again.
  2. Move the tempo up by 4 clicks and play it 4 times in a row again. You might get anxious and want to move the metronome back up to the original tempo but fight the urge to do that.
    1. Take passage twice as slow. Play 4 times.
    2. At the same slow tempo, tongue each note twice. Play 4 times. For triplets, turn each triplet into a measure of 3/4 time and tongue each note twice. See example.
    3. For eighth notes change the rhythm to dotted quarters and eighth notes. For sixteenths change the rhythm to dotted eighth-sixteenths. 1st 16th note is the dotted eighth, 2nd 16th note is the sixteenth.
    4. Flip the rhythm so that it becomes an eighth-dotted quarter OR sixteenth-dotted eighth.
    5. Finally bump the tempo up about 2-4 clicks on the metronome. Keep working on this until you arrive at the tempo.
  4. Finally play the passage at the tempo and play it in context. You will find that you have greatly improved. You may need to repeat this exercise every day until the performance day but it’s well worth it! Click on the link below to see the examples for each of these exercises!

Examples for Practice Techniques for Beginners

STEP #3: Endurance

  1. Only take one day off per week.
  2. After making your first sounds on the horn and learning a few fingerings, see how long you can play without stopping for more than a minute. REMEMBER TO MAINTAIN THE CORRECT EMBOUCHURE!!!
  3. Try to increase the amount of time you practice every day by 1-2 minutes. This will help you build up endurance.
  4. If you become fatigued right away, it is best to go over your fundamentals of playing again. The following is a checklist to go through during your practice sessions:
    • Does your bottom lip hurt?
      • You may be biting too hard. Do you get a really pinched sound and chirp a lot when you play? You may be biting. Remember to bring the corners in. This should make you drop your jaw and relieve some of the pressure on your poor lip.
      • Are your bottom teeth a little jagged? Mine are. Sometimes I have to put an Ezo denture cushion on my bottom teeth to relieve the pressure. You can find this product at Walgreens or any drug store.
    • Do you begin to blackout while playing?
      • Are your reeds very resistant? You may need to go down a strength.
      • You may also be playing too loudly. Although most band directors will constantly harp on using more air, keep in mind that they may be talking to someone else in the band.
    • Does your right wrist begin to hurt from holding up the clarinet?
      • With time this should go away however, double check that your right elbow is tucked in and that you’re holding the horn correctly.
      • If it’s the skin by the thumb nail that hurts, don’t forget to buy a thumb rest cushion to help ease the pain.
    • Does your left wrist hurt?
      • Check your elbows. Make sure that your elbows are tucked in at your sides. Then go back to the Hand Position page on this site and check that the elbow to the wrist forms a straight line. You do not want your hand to be bent back.
    • Does your tongue hurt from articulating on a rough reed?
      • The tongue heals very quickly. You’ll start getting used to feeling the reed after a couple of weeks. Double check the articulation page on this site to make sure that you’re tonguing correctly!
    • Is your tongue sore from voicing and saying “eeee” for the entire practice session?
      • This is good. Eventually this should go away. The soreness you feel will be on the sides of the tongue and underneath the tongue. Keep saying “eee”!
    • Do the corners of your mouth and your facial muscles hurt a little?
      • The pain that you should feel the most is a pain below your cheeks and by the corners of your mouth. Give yourself about a week to be able to play 5 minutes without that pain. The more you practice, the more the pain goes away!

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