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 Rightly confused
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2006-01-03 21:13

Tyler wrote in another thread:

>>...all this mess is getting me a little frustrated. I feel like I'm always going back to basics, correcting bad habits, trying to decide between pedagogical theories, etc. Seems like I'm 'stuck' sometimes.>>

Something that strikes me about this board, exemplified perhaps by what Tyler writes above, is that it tends to be about what to do when we play the clarinet.

I think the board would be a much better resource if it were more about what's so when we play the clarinet. We don't have to be able to be explicit about what we do, even if the pedagogues want to tell us we should.

In the end, we want to make music when we play the clarinet. We want to make the clarinet do what we want -- or rather, what the music wants.

Those of us who play the clarinet on a professional level know that there are different solutions to the problem of making the clarinet do what we want. For example, if we understand that the embouchure both holds the reed against the mouthpiece in loud dynamics, and controls the upper partials by subtle damping, we may find our own way to do that subtle damping, because we apply an exquisitely controllable muscle to the reed -- and yet still are not able to describe exactly what we do in detail.

I spent some time here trying to say 'what's so' about the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm. And, if you understand what I said, you have some leverage on what other people say you 'should' do. You don't take them too seriously as a result.

There are equally factual things you can say about what the tongue does in staccato. These facts don't tell you in detail how you should do those things. They leave that up to you -- but they don't stop you from trying out all the dogmatic pronouncements to see if any of them work.

I have to say that I don't try to control what my tongue actually does when I play staccato. I just know about what it needs to do in general -- in detail.

Tongue position -- I have to say that I know that my tongue takes up many different positions as I play, just as it takes up many different positions as I talk. See:

http://test.woodwind.org/Databases/Klarinet/2003/10/000046.txt

...which was a surprise to me.

But when I play, I know that if my mouth shape is such as to 'catch' the resonance of a given note -- open G on the A clarinet is a good example -- then that note will stick out. I know that altering my mouth shape by raising my tongue around where the note occurs gets rid of the problem. So I allow my tongue to learn the positions that will work when I play. But I don't have an experience of what it actually does.

Notice that the very characterisation 'will stick out' puts the problem in a context that isn't just about your sound on one note. What we do mostly is to play melodies. And if not that, certainly intervals.

In fact, because our sound is judged not just on one note, the whole concept of 'a clarinet sound' is suspect. Some notes need to be resonant, some not.

What constitutes 'your' sound, given that?

What's 'the' sound of your voice, come to that?

I'd say, we have to understand what lies behind what we do, without necessarily understanding exactly what we do in detail. So, we're rightly confused on that lower level.

Tony



Post Edited (2006-01-03 21:37)

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: BobD 
Date:   2006-01-03 22:35

Thanks, Tony, for something to think about. It's been so long since I began to play clarinet that it's easy for me to forget the problems I faced, how I resolved them, and that today's beginners have the same problems. It is easy to get confused when one reads so many opinions both here and in books.

Bob Draznik

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Bob A 
Date:   2006-01-03 22:45

Tony said, in part."I'd say, we have to understand what lies behind what we do, without necessarily understanding exactly what we do in detail....."
Too True. Thanks for the 'Christmas Cracker' Tony and Have a very Happy New Year.
Bob A

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: clarinetwife 
Date:   2006-01-03 23:37

What I found interesting in the quote by Tyler that Tony pulled out is how he says, "I feel like I'm always going back to basics, correcting bad habits".

After one of Tommy Moe's Olympic victories there was an interview that just made me shake my head. He said he won by keeping hs hands forward and his weight on his downhill ski -- well, my coaches were drumming those things into me at age 8, yet they were still important for Tommy Moe.

You never do leave the basics, you just see them and understand them at different levels along the way.

Thanks, Tony



Post Edited (2006-01-03 23:39)

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Tyler 
Date:   2006-01-04 02:05

I think that's a good perspective, clarinetwife. Kinda eases some of the frustration. So does going to double lip for a while :)

-Tyler

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Sylvain 
Date:   2006-01-04 15:14

Tony,

Although I find your post enlightning and appreciate the fact that it would be quite interesting to investigate what happens in our body and mind as we play, I wonder if there are some basic rules that one can teach to most students.

If someone comes to you with a clarinet and goes: "I want to play this instrument. How do I do it?".

Setting aside the musical training and focusing solely on the technical aspects of clarinet playing (if it is possible at all) do you think there is a set of rules or concepts that can be applied to most students on embouchure, tongue position, breathing, finger technique; or is there absolutely no rule and only one on one teaching can be done.

Is teaching figuring out what works for me and trying to communicate it to the student or helping the student figure out what works for him. Maybe, a combination of both?
In other words, if somebody comes and asks what should he do. Do I tell him what he should do or do I tell him what I do?

Of course as you have discussed here, communicating what we do is challenging enough. Nevertheless, I would like to think that a few basic concepts could be written in a book that one coudl use that start learning how to play. I am trying to figure out if that is at all possible.

--
Sylvain Bouix <sbouix@gmail.com>

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: tictactux 2017
Date:   2006-01-04 15:28

> Nevertheless, I would like to think that a few basic concepts could be
> written in a book that one coudl use that start learning how to play. I am
> trying to figure out if that is at all possible.

FWIW I did my first clarinet squeaks before I had a teacher. I bought a book. It taught me some about the embouchure, about breathing, about basic fingering. I was able to play simple folk tunes within a week or two. (I recorded an .mp3 these days, it sounds horrible today ;) )

I chose to take a teacher for two reasons: regular class requires regular practicing. And I didn't want to develop "bad manners" that would later be more difficult to get rid of.

--
Ben

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Tom Puwalski 
Date:   2006-01-05 13:08

I had the luck back in 1977 to have a chance to study photography with ansel Adams at one of his workshops in Yosemite. When a student would ask one of those, "What would happen if...... questions," Ansel would say, " I don't know let's find out." He would then put a piece of Polaroid film in his camera and TRY an experiment that related to the question. He would then pass around the poloroid with information as to what he had done or changed. He would then always say, " I can't stress enough, you have to TRY IT, don't take anyone's word on what works, how to do it, or what the exposure should be, nothing. Only use information that you gather through exhaustive testing, and that means a lot of direct observation and experimentation." He would then go on to say that few people ever go on to do the experimentation, they just do what photo writers in magazines tell them works.

I suspect the same thing is true on clarinet, and it's complicated by the fact this is an equipment oriented activity. It's easy to go buy what ever mouthpiece that Larry combs is using, you can't buy the knowledge of his approach or mid set when performing.

Tony in the UK and Europe, are clarinetists as hung up on getting the "super" mouthpiece? Do you and they spend all this time worrying about barrels, bells and G-d forbid ligatures? American clarinetists seem to have reduced clarinet playing to collecting all the write "parts" and then after having done that, start thinking about how to use them. I watched, in Oklahoma last summer, Iggy Gennusa's clarinet was sort of elivated to "Holy relic" status, and somehow put before an audience as the reason he sounded so good. His Chedevile, mentioned as the "soul" of his gear. Non of that crap could be as far from the truth. He was a great musician, he could pick up any students clarinet and sound great, sometimes better than on his stuff.
Eachtime I play I always go back to basics, what's my hand position, how am I breathing, how does my embouchure need to react to this music, this reed, the pitch of the piano. I can truthfully say that anything that has gone wrong in a public performance has never been because I had chosen the wrong ligature.


Tom Puwalski, former soloist with the US Army Field Band, Clarinetist with Lox&Vodka, and Author of "The Clarinetist's Guide to Klezmer"and most recently by the order of the wizard of Oz, for supreme intelligence, a Masters in Clarinet performance

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: vjoet 
Date:   2006-01-05 14:25

Sylvain,

A good teacher teaches the student in the most effective way for that student. Prerequisite to that is the teacher's evaluation of where the student is.

Beginners need direct instruction. This is how you hold the clarinet. This is how to form your embouchure.

In the masterclasses that Mr Pay teaches, it is my belief that he seeks to develop the artistry of his students by having them find solutions for themselves, for as he states there are many solutions, and the player often is not consciously aware of what it is he is doing to overcome the problem.

For example, in descending from the upper clarion to the lower, eg, A down to B, that B, with its greater resistance, will tend to be preceeded with a gutteral noise. You can occasionally hear this in recordings of even renouned clarinetists. If you pay attention to eradicating it, you will, though your solution may not be identical to mine (which I only partially understand mentally --as Mr. Pay suggests -- for it more of a mind-body connection with the instrument, than an intellectual 'knowing'.): It seems I raise the back portion of the tongue on the descent, while simultaneously slackening the force of the air stream.

In teaching advanced students, I think Mr Pay's approach--self-discovery of what works--is totally correct. For beginners through intermediate, I'd say if a teacher can't make suggestions and tell how the student might be able to achieve what the music needs, then that teacher is too frigid to be of much benefit to that level of player.

vJoe

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2006-01-05 19:21

Some reactions:

Sylvain wrote:

>>Setting aside the musical training and focusing solely on the technical aspects of clarinet playing (if it is possible at all) do you think there is a set of rules or concepts that can be applied to most students on embouchure, tongue position, breathing, finger technique; or is there absolutely no rule and only one on one teaching can be done?>>

So, here's a sort of answer to that.

I've spent a lot of time over the years writing some 2000 posts to the Klarinet list, and quite a few here, so I don't exactly think that nothing can be written.

But if I may quote what I actually wrote at the beginning of this thread:

>>Something that strikes me about THIS BOARD....is that it tends to be about what to do when we play the clarinet.

I think THE BOARD would be a much better resource if it were MORE about what's so when we play the clarinet.>>

So what I'm on about is changing the balance of what happens in a medium like the internet -- hence the capitalisations 'BOARD' and 'MORE' which weren't there in the original.

Now, there's lots of stuff here that is fun, amusing, lighthearted, opinionated, argumentative and so on.

But if you're concerned to help people, to set them right where they're having trouble, then what you can do most easily here is to provide INFORMATION. That information can be more or less detailed, of course.

But I say the best information is the information that refers to the area of the problem, but is independent of the actual problem being faced.

Because we don't really know what the actual problem is! We know what the player wants to say -- one of them said, her throat was too tight -- but that doesn't tell us how to go about helping.

What we can do, though, is to tell someone how the diaphragm works, we can tell them how the embouchure works; we can outline how embouchures can fail -- because they don't do what embouchures need to do, and how 'biting' may be a part of that failure; we can say what is absolutely true about the action of the tongue -- not, notice, that you 'should always touch the tip of the reed with the tip of your tongue', because what if the person has a very long tongue? -- and beyond that, what playing music consists of, which involves responding to the various contexts -- other players, what you've just played, how what you play relates to all that ....and so on.

I can tell you a strategy to find out about 'grunts' that applies to many other aspects of playing -- namely try PLAYING the grunt! Play it loudly! You find out by experience what you need to do to play it, and thereby what you need to do not to play it. And you find it out confidently, not wussily.

I explained the reason why you don't pull your abdomen in. But, try playing with your abdomen pulled in! You may find that you can do the opposite more consistently if you give yourself the freedom to experiment, and you'll have a direct experience of it being better.

The characteristic of all these tips is that you have to be able to recognise that they are helpful. Why? Well, because I'm not there to tell you that they are helpful! How could I be?

They're quite specific, though. They don't have the laissez-faire quality that vjoet implies:

>>In teaching advanced students, I think Mr Pay's approach--self-discovery of what works--is totally correct. For beginners through intermediate, I'd say if a teacher can't make suggestions and tell how the student might be able to achieve what the music needs, then that teacher is too frigid to be of much benefit to that level of player.>>

Who said this frigid teacher was talking about teaching?

I WAS TALKING ABOUT POSTING ON THE INTERNET. There, 'self-discovery of what works' in the suggestions made is the only possible route. And THAT FACT NEEDS TO BE MADE EXPLICIT. Otherwise, we have people thinking that the purpose of playing the clarinet is to have a flat chin, or have a high tongue position that makes them want to puke, or other nonsense that people put about.

>>In the masterclasses that Mr Pay teaches, it is my belief that he seeks to develop the artistry of his students by having them find solutions for themselves, for as he states there are many solutions, and the player often is not consciously aware of what it is he is doing to overcome the problem.>>

I suggest that NOBODY here knows ANYTHING about the masterclasses I teach. They don't know the extent to which I demand that some students show that they are able to follow my instructions exactly. I do sometimes do that, in detail, both technically and musically. How else are they to grow beyond what they currently can do?

They don't know that after many years of helping students towards their idea of the Mozart concerto, I now rather show them another way to look at it, that they have to develop a technique in order to find expressive. Some find that quite hard.

They don't know that sometimes I interfere with the instrumental setup that students have, because I can hear -- yes, that's right, unlike on the internet -- that they will be better off changing.

In one-on-one teaching, you're much freer to intervene, of course. (It's possible to tell someone not to play anything staccato for a month, say, if you judge that that will benefit them. I heard that Deinzer sometimes did that.)

Tom wrote:

>>Tony in the UK and Europe, are clarinetists as hung up on getting the "super" mouthpiece?>>

Yes, we like to play with ourselves, just like everybody else:-) I always say it all depends where you want your problems. Sometimes a change is nice.

>>Eachtime I play I always go back to basics, what's my hand position, how am I breathing, how does my embouchure need to react to this music, this reed, the pitch of the piano. I can truthfully say that anything that has gone wrong in a public performance has never been because I had chosen the wrong ligature.>>

Sounds like good wisdom to end on.

Tony

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Sylvain 
Date:   2006-01-05 20:19

>>I WAS TALKING ABOUT POSTING ON THE INTERNET. There, 'self-discovery of what works' in the suggestions made is the only possible route. And THAT FACT NEEDS TO BE MADE EXPLICIT. Otherwise, we have people thinking that the purpose of playing the clarinet is to have a flat chin, or have a high tongue position that makes them want to puke, or other nonsense that people put about.>>

Thanks for the clarifications Tony and the many other enlightning posts.
-S

--
Sylvain Bouix <sbouix@gmail.com>

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Don Poulsen 
Date:   2006-01-05 21:52

My philosophy, which I believe is in line with what Tony says, but defends the pedagogues a bit is:

If someone has a problem or isn't doing something quite as well as they like, a teacher or message-board poster would be correct in saying "Try doing such and such..." so as to give the questioner a place to begin experimenting. The student or questioner should then try what is suggested but be free to experiment to find what works best for him/her. For example, once the suggestion is made to "try holding your tongue in this position," the poster would be wise to try holding his/her tongue in that position, but would be wiser still to try some variations/deviations to see if he/she can find something that works even better. The teacher helps the student get to his/her optimal point faster by suggesting where that optimal point is likely to be found. (Some people might not get anywhere near that optimal point without some advice. For example, someone who has never seen a clarinet being played might try it with the mouthpiece upside down and never think to turn it over until the pedagogue tells them to.)

There are no hard and fast rules, only things that have worked well for others in the past. To give an extreme example, everyone is going to tell me to put my left hand on top and I would be wise to try it. But if I want to try playing with my right hand on top, I should be free to try that as well and, on the miniscule chance I can play better with my right hand on top, who is to say that that isn't the correct way. It wasn't the way Mssrs. Sax or Boehm or whomever designed the instrument to be used, but no law disallows it.

A more realistic example would be the angle at which one holds a bass clarinet mouthpiece in one's mouth. I find that, for me, a highly angled neck and tilting the bell of the instrument under the chair to make the mouthpiece even more vertically angled works best. But I have no room to tell someone who plays with the mouthpiece horizontal, as is typically done with saxophones, that they are wrong. I may be able to suggest that they try making it more vertical, especially if it might solve a problem they are having, but they need to decide what works best for them--and it may very well be holding the mouthpiece horizontal.

Considering that I am a primarily self-trained amateur, what room do I have to be giving this advice? I have the room provided by the fact that this works well with most any endeavor in life and is not just an approach for playing the clarinet. And maybe by the fact that I AM primarily self-taught and have learned a lot (maybe more slowly than others) through this process. (Being amateur means that I simply haven't devoted nearly the time and effort to clarinet study and practice that many other have, not that I'm doing things the wrong way.)

So, the only hard and fast rule of clarinet playing is: Listen to and consider the advice of others, but consider nothing to be a hard and fast rule. Experiment.

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Lelia Loban 2017
Date:   2006-01-06 15:25

Tom Puwalski wrote,
>>
I had the luck back in 1977 to have a chance to study photography with ansel Adams at one of his workshops in Yosemite. When a student would ask one of those, "What would happen if...... questions," Ansel would say, " I don't know let's find out." He would then put a piece of Polaroid film in his camera and TRY an experiment that related to the question. He would then pass around the poloroid with information as to what he had done or changed.
>>

Interesting how this professional photographer's teaching technique resembles that of excellent teaching professionals in other fields. Tiger Woods's coach encourages him to try new ways of holding his golf clubs and to alter his stance. One might assume that such a brilliant golfer obviously doesn't need to change a thing; but there's some value in changing for the sake of change, I think, no matter whether we're beginners or experienced, or amateur or professional.


Tony Pay wrote,
>>>I always say it all depends where you want your problems. Sometimes a change is nice.
>>>

Changing something sharpens my alertness. Changing something (it almost doesn't matter *what*--just *something*--although naturally, I prefer to find a good reason to do something differently) encourages me to listen--really listen, with concentration. When I fall into too much of a routine (with clarinet practice or anything else), at some point, some unusual event will wake me up to the fact that I haven't really been doing what I assumed I was doing. I've slipped into some sloppy habit without noticing it. *Creating* an unusual event now and then seems to be a good strategy for me to continue learning.

That's one reason why I think that when a teacher suggests a student do something new, even if the instruction seems counter-intuitive, it's a good idea to follow the teacher's advice. It's not our last chance. We're not ruined for life if the advice doesn't lead to improvement, so why not give it a try?

Lelia
http://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/Lelia_Loban
To hear the audio, click on the "Scorch Plug-In" box above the score.

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Tyler 
Date:   2006-01-07 04:19

Good stuff, people. Reading several other clarinet books besides Ridenour, and reading updates on this thread, my perspective has been shifted more towards finding what works best for ME, since there is not enough objective evidence to write THE method for clarinet in a single book.

At least I've conditioned myself against equipment-hype. I tried a K11 mpc. of a friend's and didn't care for it. I will certainly still try more Grabner Kaspar mouthpieces, but I definitely am only going to search for MY ideal setups/learning methods, etc.

-Tyler

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2006-01-07 04:34

Tyler wrote:

>> Good stuff, people. Reading several other clarinet books besides Ridenour, and reading updates on this thread, my perspective has been shifted more towards finding what works best for ME, since there is not enough objective evidence to write THE method for clarinet in a single book...I definitely am only going to search for MY ideal setups/learning methods, etc.>>

Good for you. But don't let it stop you consulting a teacher whose playing you admire. Clarinet books, or the internet, are no substitute for a trained pair of ears and experience of the instrument.

Tony

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 Re: Rightly confused
Author: Tyler 
Date:   2006-01-07 04:47

Yes, Tony; thank you. But what's interesting is that I've studied with a private teacher for several years now whose tone and phrasing were not often to my personal liking. I even questioned her playing advice at times. As I've grown musically, though, I've come to realize that nearly everything she's told me is correct, or at least, it works. And what's more interesting, without even modifying my basic concept of tone or my preferred phrasing style, I have come to realize that my teacher is really a very very good player. I now enjoy her tone very much (maybe it's her different mpc... you never know) and I have just generally learned to appreciate her more and more.

Between private lessons, practicing, and my own diligent study in books/online/etc., I feel like I have been relatively very successful in my high school stage of studying clarinet..........well, I have one 'final project' for this stage: the High School ICA Competition. But anyway, I think the above three aspects of clarinet study each carry significant weight toward success.

Thank you all again!

-Tyler



Post Edited (2006-01-07 04:47)

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