Favorite blog posts, August 2014

From the woodwind blogs in August:

10 ideas for more focused practicing

It can be difficult to keep practice sessions focused and productive. Distractions, burnout, boredom, and bad habits get in the way of progress. Try some or all of these, see what works well for you, and make the most of your practice time.

Photo,  woodleywonderworks. (license)
Photo, woodleywonderworks. (license)
  1. Prepare yourself mentally. Before you start, take a few minutes for meditation, prayer, introspection, deep breathing, self-awareness, or whatever else helps you set aside the concerns of daily life and get in the zone.
  2. Prepare yourself physically. Stretch, hydrate, dress comfortably. Get enough sleep and exercise and eat a balanced diet. Protect yourself from repetitive-motion injuries and make sure your body can perform at its best.
  3. Embrace routine. Develop some habits around your practice schedule. A carefully-selected routine gets you into practice mode and reduces the chances of falling into procrastination. It also gives you a framework that can be fine-tuned when you have a new idea you would like to incorporate.
  4. Warm up. It doesn’t just mean bringing your instrument up to temperature. Do long tones, scales, articulation studies, or other things that get your instrument-playing muscles working together. Choose ones that demand your very best embouchure, voicing, breath support, finger technique, etc.
  5. Be goal-oriented. Know what you want to accomplish, as specifically as possible. Not “I’m going to practice my scales.” Try “I’m going to get my F-sharp major scale tempo up to sixteenth notes at 60 beats per minute with no wrong notes or hesitations.” Or even better: “I’m going to train my fingers to use that alternate D-sharp fingering in the top octave of the F-sharp major scale at 60 beats per minute with no incorrect or hestitant finger motions.” Goals shouldn’t only be technical; they can be expressive and interpretive, too. Make a list, and start checking things off.
  6. Seek variety. Don’t drive yourself crazy or die of boredom practicing one problem phrase for hours on end. Through experimentation, figure out how long you can really maintain focus and enthusiasm for a single practice task (10 minutes usually works well for me), and move to a new task when it gets less productive to work on the old one. You’ll come back to it later with fresh ears/eyes/fingers/lips.
  7. Take breaks. Take them frequently, but don’t leave them open-ended. Know exactly when you plan to get back to work, and what task you will be tackling next.
  8. Self-evaluate. You probably already have some kind of device you can use to record yourself. Listen back as though it’s somebody else playing. Make notes about what you hear. Pick the biggest-priority items and add them to your goal list.
  9. Escape distractions. You know what pulls you away from the task at hand. Hide it, silence it, power it down. How different would your practicing be if the only people or objects in sight were you, your instrument, and a music stand?
  10. Find inspiration. It’s hard to reach a performance goal if you aren’t sure what that goal sounds like. Don’t be afraid to listen to recordings or watch videos of your heroes—you will still sound like yourself, just a better-informed version of yourself. Listening to singers or players of instruments besides your can really open up your mind and ears, too.

Have additional tips? Leave a comment!

ClarinetFest 2014 presentation: The 21st-century woodwind doubler

I gave a presentation at the International Clarinet Association conference (“ClarinetFest”) last week on woodwind doubling, with a particular focus on the rising expectations on woodwind doublers to play more instruments at a higher level (including “world” and even electronic woodwinds). Here is the blurb from the program:

The typical working woodwind doubler in the 20th century was a strong player on one or two instruments, with a lesser level of achievement on one or two more. Woodwind doubling continues to be a marketable skill in live performance and studio work, but the expectations of woodwind doublers have changed with the music industry; 21st century “doublers” may be expected to play a much larger group of instruments (sometimes including “world” woodwinds and electronic instruments), and to play each of those at a more virtuosic level and in a variety of styles. This places increasingly high demands on woodwind players, but also offers a variety of rewards. This presentation profiles the modern woodwind doubler, and includes practical information for developing valuable doubling skills.

Here is the handout: The 21st century woodwind doubler

Victor Chavez from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville did a brief write-up on the ClarinetFest blog.

The crowd, as usual, was small but enthusiastic. I got to reconnect with some old doubler friends and meet some new ones. I was gratified to have many of them mention that they follow this blog (hello!) or make use of other resources on this site.

I understand there are several doubling-related events going on at the International Double Reed Society conference this week, as well!

Report: International Clarinet Association “ClarinetFest” 2014

I got to attend this year’s International Clarinet Association conference (“ClarinetFest”) on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge.

The conference started on a sad note, as a car accident claimed the lives of two clarinetists on their way to represent Baylor University, and injured two others. In their memory, many of the conference attendees wore ribbons in Baylor green during the week. Many of the conference events began with a moment of silence.


The conference was, as always, packed with events, sometimes with three or four venues active at the same time, starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing through Sunday afternoon. The first few days were unseasonably cool and pleasant, but the Louisiana heat and humidity came back in time for the weekend.

I went to more recitals than I can remember or do justice to here, with outstanding and varied performances by clarinetists from around the world. Many of the recitals were listed as “lagniappe” programs, featuring several soloists or groups each playing a work or two. (For more details, try the ClarinetFest blog, which has many reports on individual events.)

I also attended a number of lectures and workshops, opting mostly for those related to movement and health (an area I would like to improve in my teaching), but also a few based on the 2014 theme of “The Clarinetist as Entrepreneur.” Another particular highlight was a panel discussion featuring Stanley and Naomi Drucker, Lawrence Sobol, and Larry Combs telling stories from their careers. And I gave a presentation on woodwind doubling in the 21st century (more details in another blog post).

L-R: Stanley Drucker, Naomi Drucker, Lawrence Sobol, Larry Combs.

The exhibit halls were filled with the sounds of clarinetists trying out new instruments and accessories. I picked up a few items, at least one of which I hope to review here soon.

I participated in a clarinet choir made up of around 50 clarinet professors, which was a nice chance to meet some colleagues.

Each of the evening concerts was a highlight. Wednesday’s program was clarinet works with a chamber orchestra, Thursday featured jazz clarinetists, Friday was chamber music featuring the clarinet, and Saturday was concerti with a full orchestra.

Clarinetists (L-R) Gregory Agid, Harry Skoler, Felix Peikli, and Evan Christopher performing with the ClarinetFest rhythm section at the Thursday night jazz concert.

As expected, ClarinetFest 2014 was an excellent and inspiring experience, but also exhausting. It would be okay with me if in the future some of the evening concerts got trimmed a little for length—3+ hours is a lot of clarinet when it follows a full day of recitals and masterclasses, and the next day starts bright and early.

ClarinetFest 2015 will be held next July in Madrid, Spain.