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 Practice techniques
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2018-08-04 23:38

There is a body of standard advice that is usually repeated, and it works. However, things are not really simple. Another poster here, Dave Blumberg - a very accomplished professional player and teacher - once posted words to the effect that "there are a lot of ways to practice." I agree. It's much about forging a deeply intimate connection between you and your individual muscles, a process wherein music is most often a million miles away. Here's some occasionally contrarian techniques that have benefited me.

1. Start slow and gradually add speed / Start fast and gradually add control. The latter embodies the idea that if you can nail it once, however fast, then you only need to learn to reliably repeat it. I've used both methods, but temperamentally I prefer the latter. Some people are gratified by slow steady improvement however long it takes, but others are energized by the reality of "sounding good", even if that isn't initially repeatable. Some can't bring themselves to practice the patient gradual way, and they get disappointing results if they try - or they quit. The right mix of these techniques is the one that keeps you avidly pursuing the goal. (Note that neurological adaptations are not gradual: understanding, comprehension, realization, etc. are typically immediate in generation.)

2. Alter rhythms / Alter articulations. If a stubborn fingering passage is slurred, try it tongued - it can reveal where your timing problem is. If the passage is tongued, try it slurred - it can reveal where your fingering problem is. This has repeatedly helped me with fingering. If you can play it at speed with various articulations, you can be sure your fingers "know" it.

3. Focus on short bits, then stitch them together. Don't keep repeating a whole line sounding crappy, find a single interval that isn't right and lock in an improvement of that.

4. Practice similar things together. If the same issue arises in different places, practice the pertaining contexts one after another. Very importantly, devise similar short sequences that employ the same combination; you can distill the essence of the difficulty and work directly on that.

5. Practice scale patterns / Practice individual fingers and finger combinations. Devise your own exercises for each finger to exercise all the specific motions the finger will ever do. Aim for single finger efficiency, speed and independence, and also multiple finger coordination. Note that the "up" position of each finger is as defined and needing deliberate actuation as the down positions that close keys or cover holes. While scales are valuable, in a sense they're chunks that are too large. Individual finger operations are the minimal sized chunks. The best mix of pattern sizes to practice is another thing that partly depends on individual temperament. Important: if any repetitive exercise causes pain, leave off, practice something else, and return to it later - you don't want repetitive stress injury.

6. Focus your attention while practicing / Unfocus your attention while practicing. Much of what we do in playing is unconscious, and the goal of conscious practice is admitted to be the attainment of unconscious mastery. You can work on that goal directly, at least in some areas. Finger a troublesome passage or a pattern that you can remember, but don't blow into the clarinet, don't sound tones. Just feel the keys and hear them as you finger. Turn on the tv and watch something (something long and boring seems best, like baseball), and as you follow the broadcast keep repeating the fingering sequence. Feedback from touch and sound conduction will alert you when you misfinger, much as a touch typist can tell when they mistype. You adjust without thought. It's like automatic pilot. Let time go by. The neuromuscular mechanism will learn the sequence without direct conscious application.

Caveat, I lack credentials or training. Others' results will vary; I hope there's benefit.

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 Re: Practice techniques
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2018-08-05 03:06

Dear Mr. Caron,

I cannot disagree with you more !!!!!!

baseball is not boring........it's America's pastime : -)

(I agree with everything else)

..................Paul Aviles

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 Re: Practice techniques
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2018-08-22 08:37

This is some of the best readings I've seen on practice techniques. Bravo!

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/ Amazon, Sheet Music Plus, Sheet Music Direct.
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus.

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 Re: Practice techniques
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2018-08-22 17:00

As I contemplate this again...........a quite thorough synopsis of what to do for improvement, there are a few things that we take for granted that may be up for re-examination.

Someone recently posted an Earspasm offering of Michael Lowenstein where he goes over various perturbations of rhythm for running passages. In it, he states that "we are training our EARS to HEAR where the notes fall because the fingers just flop around." I spent years with a casual remark from a teacher rattling around in my head about "muscle memory" or "spinal memory," however, the key (no pun intended) seems more that our brain must actively coordinate the our movement with the sound being produced. And that is different from what a lot of us do.

There is also a different way to look at practice speed. There is the ALWAYS practice slow. You then try it at tempo, or faster, then go back to practicing really really slowly. There is no substitute for nailing that passage over and over and over again........instead of 'sorta getting it.'

.................Paul Aviles

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 Re: Practice techniques
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2018-08-22 18:25

Remember: The Brain does not care about speed, only where the fingers go - slowly and controlled.

The Muscles care about speed - after making sure that slow is correct, speed up in various ways to get the coordination and neuromuscular control needed to RIP IT!  :)

Blend the 2

and thanks for the mention!!  :)


Post Edited (2018-08-22 18:26)

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 Re: Practice techniques
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2018-08-23 01:16


I think we are on to something here. You say "muscles care about speed." Of course we also had Tony Pay some time ago speak poignantly about there really being no such thing as speed per se (unless you are executing a trill) since in a scale (or notey passage) a single finger makes a move.......then the next finger.....and the next.......etc. Speed of finger movement is really an "illusion." What we grapple with (and you rightly refer to this) is COORDINATION. And perhaps coordination itself really has more to do with the auditory aspect of what is happening rather than just the physical.

Here is a gross example of what I think is the wrong path: I once witnessed a student practicing scales while listing to his favorite beats on his IPhone. Now, if the scales he played sounded ok, I'd be a little less offended, but the scales where rough (as one might expect) and the sound was less than stellar. What was being accomplished moving fingers like that without auditory feedback? I'll just go ahead and answer that.......nothing.

.................Paul Aviles

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