The Practice Log

For this week’s blog, I made a practice log to describe how much I usually practice, and what I work on when I practice. I had no rehearsals and not many engagements this week, so I was able to really focus on practicing the clarinet. Since I do not have so much repertoire to learn at the moment, I spent a lot of time working on basic techniques in the hope of improving my overall standard of playing. As the year gets underway, and I have more and more music to learn, I will be spending less time on long tones and articulation exercises, and more time learning notes. Hopefully the work I am doing now will make it easier to learn music later in the year. My logic goes something like this: ‘If I can already play in tune at piano and forte and play crisp staccato in slow and fast tempos, then I don’t have to practice these things when they show up in orchestral, chamber or solo music.’

The following is log of what I did when I practiced this week. In future posts, I will elucidate how I practiced some of these techniques.

 

Monday

 

10.50 – 12.40 Practice

             10.50-11.30 Support exercises (see previous blog post)

             11.30-11.50 Vade Mecum exercise no. 2 (for the left hand)

             11.50-12.05 Legato tongued scales in all tempos, C major

            12.05-12.25 Opperman Master Study no. 12

            12.25-12.40 Long tones, chromatic, two octaves, pp<ff>pp

 

16.30 – 17.45 Practice

            16.30-16.40 Played about 6 reeds until I found a good one :(

            16.40-16.55 Slow staccato exercise, p and f

            16.55-17.45 Repertoire: Chausson, Andante and Allegro, technical passages

 

18.45 – 19.50 Practice

            18.45-19.10 Double tonguing practice

            19.10-19.30 Repertoire: Denisov, mov’t. 1 Played through whole movement and recorded

            19.30-19.50 Repertoire: Denisov, mov’t. 2 (mostly slow practice)

 

Notes: Chausson practice not effective. The challenge is playing tongued arpeggios with sixteenth notes at quarter note = 140. Try something different tomorrow. When warming up tomorrow and doing the legato tonguing exercise, try to tongue the tricky arpeggios from the Chausson as part of the exercise.

The Denisov first movement recording sounded great. I had a really good reed on and I got many gradations of dynamics from ppp to ff. Next step: keep the rhythmic integrity, but make it sound like I am not constantly counting and subdividing.

I usually don’t practice for one hour and 50 minutes as I did this morning, but everything was going well so I decided to keep going until I got tired.

 

Tuesday

 

09.30 – 11.05 Practice

            09.30-10.00 Support exercises and breaking in reeds

            10.00-10.20 Vade Mecum l.h. exercise

            10.20-10.50 Legato tonguing exercise in C major scales and then Chausson arpeggios

            10.50-11.05 Long tones pp<ff>pp

 

15.30 – 18.50 Practice

                15.30-16.00 Double tonguing

16.00-16.30 BREAK

16.30-18.30 Listen to an old lesson on the Chausson and practice the things we worked on in the lesson.

18.30-18.50 Repertoire: Denisov, mov’t. 2, only middle part with very difficult leaps

Notes: Todays legato exercise using the difficult arpeggios from the Chausson was also ineffective. The problem, I can now hear, is evenness of the fingers. So, from now on, when I practice the arpeggios in the Chausson, I will practice them only legato and strive for evenness in the movement of the fingers. In several days, I can add the tongue, and see if the passages sound better.

I did not practice the whole time from 16.30-18.30. I practiced about half of that time and listened to the lesson for the other half.

 

Wednesday

 

11.30 – 13.00 Practice

           11.30-11.45 Support exercises

           11.45-11.55 Vade Mecum l.h. exercise

           11.50-12.40 Repertoire: Chausson

           12.40-13.00 Repertoire: Denisov, mov’t. 2

 

14.30-15.45 Practice

            14.30-15.00 Double tonguing on A clarinet

            15.00-15.15 BREAK

            15.15-15.45 Vade Mecum l.h and long tones pp<ff>pp on A clarinet

 

17.30 – 18.30 Practice

            17.30-18.05 Repertoire: Chausson

            18.05-18.30 Repertoire: Denisov, mov’t. 2

 

Thursday

 

09.30-10.00 Practice

            Support exercises and Vade Mecum l.h. exercise

 

16.40-17.45 Practice

            Yehuda Gilad exercises

 

18.00 – 19.00 Practice

            18.00-18.20 Double tonguing

            18.20-18.45 Slow staccato exercise

            18.45-19.00 Repertoire: Chausson, last page slow and legato

 

Notes: Today my old teacher Yehuda Gilad gave a masterclass at my school. He taught for 6 hours, and I took copious notes and came away with some great new sound concepts and practice techniques. After the class, I tried to practice a number of the things he talked about. The practice was not particularly focused, but that’s ok. Some practices are about achieving greater stability on the instrument, and others are about trying new things to achieve greater flexibility and creativity. Today’s practice was definitely of the latter sort.

 

Friday

 

12.00 – 13.00 Practice

            Support exercises

            Legato tonguing exercises

            Long tones pp<ff>pp

            Yehuda Gilad exercises

 

16.20 – 17.30 Practice

            16.20-16.40 Support exercises and f sharp minor scales

            16.40-16.55 Slow staccato exercise

            16.55-17.30 Repertoire: Prokofiev’s 5th symphony, 2nd clarinet part

 

19.00 – 20.15 Practice

            19.00-19.20 Double tonguing

            19.20-20.00 Repertoire: Prokofiev 5

            20.00-20.15 Repertoire: Denisov, mvm’t. 2

 

Saturday

 

10.30 – 12.05 Practice

            10.30-10.55 Support exercises and f sharp minor scales

            10.55-11.15 Legato tonguing, C major and f sharp minor

            11.15-11.25 Vade Mecum l.h.

            11.25-12.05 Repertoire: Prokofiev 5

 

13.00 – 13.35 Practice

            Slow Staccato exercise

            Repertoire: Prokofiev 5

After this, I had to run to a concert, and then I had meetings for the rest of the day, so it was not possible to do any more practice

 

Sunday

 

FREE DAY!!!! Spoil yourself!

 

Reflections:

Things that got better throughout the week: double tonguing and the short staccato exercise yielded real and noticeable improvement over the course of the week.

Things that did not really yield much improvement: The clarity of the articulation and the cleanness of the leaps in the middle section of the Denisov Solo Sonata, second movement got a little better, but I am still not devoting enough time to it. I need to just sit down with the music and conduct it and get all the rhythms in my body. Then maybe the fingers will fall quicker into place.

 

I followed a similar schedule last week and I found that my tone and support and ease of playing were better in the beginning of the week. I think that too much practicing throughout the week causes me to build up tension and reduces the suppleness of the embouchure. After taking Sundays off, though, these problems seem to evaporate.

Air support and the Francaix concerto

I spent a good part of this summer learning the Francaix clarinet concerto. I was looking for a challenge, and I sure found it. But, what I failed to appreciate was that the challenge in the concerto was not only for the fingers and tongue. After a month or so of practicing the first movement, my tongue and fingers were humming along smoothly, but my tone was not as beautiful as it had been, and I was having a lot of trouble finding suitable reeds to play on. It turns that since beginning studying the concerto my air support had become worse and worse. Some pieces are better at encouraging air support than others. The Francaix concerto, with so many high notes and soft dynamics, is probably the worst at forcing you to support. A Brahms sonata encourages you to dig into the instrument and blow a lot of focused air; the Francaix concerto encourages you to use little air pressure and take shallow breaths. Thankfully Andreas Sunden pointed this out to me, and so I have recently begun practicing to improve my support (after several months of having neglected it). Listen to these two audio clips, the first from the 5th August, and the second only a day later, after working on improving my air support.

The second recording is better in a number of ways. The sound has more resonance, so it does not sound as thin as in the first recording. The high E is in tune, the low notes sound deeper and richer, and the tonguing sounds less hard and more delicate. The room I was recording in was different, but I think the differences in my playing are still apparent. The support is even better here:

What did I do between the first and second recordings? I spent several hours practicing exercises that help me 'feel my support,' meaning that I could identify and activate the muscles which enable better air control. Air support is a nebulous and hard-to-define concept. There is no real support in your abdomen: the support comes from the floor and your bone structure. But, there are muscles in the abdomen which enable the clarinetist to more precisely regulate the outflow of air. Air support is not something that is easy to 'turn on' in the middle of a phrase. It is more of a skill that improves or deteriorates slowly, over the course of many days. For example, if I have been working on my air support for a week, then I might not have to practice it today and I will probably still support well. But, if I have neglected it for a week, I can practice it today, but I should not expect that my air support will be fantastic by the end of the day. My air support improved in the day between the first and second recording, but it improved much more over the course of the following week.

An important principle to remember when working on air support is that every good inbreath starts with a good outbreath. It is essential to fully empty the lungs with the minimum of tension so you can take an inbreath that is quick, silent, and effortless. The inbreath should feel like it expands the abdomen and ribcage in every direction.

Here are some exercises I used to improve my support:

1) Low notes played at a forte dynamic are best! Practice the Vade Mecum trill exercise or any other low note exercise and blow as much air as possible maintaining a centered tone without tightening the embouchure.

2) Practice lying on the ground. This helps you breathe deeper and feel the muscles of the lower back.

3) Practice a decrescendo from forte to niente on any note (but probably the most difficult is the second octave B). As you approach p, pp, and ppp, you will feel the muscles of the abdomen activate to control the outflow of air. This activation is what it means to support in a soft dynamic, but they should also be active in forte. This activation of the muscles is not unwanted tension. Tension in the chest is the wrong kind of tension which will restrict breathing and freedom of movement. But the tension felt during this exercise is your support, so find it and remember how it feels!

4) Find a way of elongating the instrument. Put something on the bell to make the low E more resistant or even to change its pitch. The more resistance at the bell, the better you will support. (Basset clarinet forces you to support very well). The same is not true with resistance in the reed. Resistance in the reed does not improve support. The more you think of blowing air through the bell of the instrument, the better the support will be.

That's all for now!