If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. ~ Marty McFly
Today was indeed a red letter date for me. I completed a practice goal that I had set for myself over a year ago. That goal was to complete an intensive study in clarinet technique. It began I believe 2/19/2010, and ended today 4/8/2011. Over 140 hours of practice, on a very regimented schedule. I had completed a very similar process on the saxophone during my college years. So similar in fact, both the saxophone and clarinet technique books have Jack Snavely in common.
When you are out of college and are no longer taking lessons, practicing changes. It all has to be self driven. There is no jury or recital on the horizon. No teacher to impress. Very often, space can be an issue as well. I'm sure many college grads find themselves hopping from apartment complex to apartment complex. While I don't like making excuses, practicing woodwind instruments in a complex isn't the ideal environment as you may be surrounded by people in the living quarters. Much different than the iso-booth practice rooms in college. So while I did continue to practice after college, I always wanted to go back to the way things were. Moving to a duplex with a basement helped. I did some transcriptions, purchased a bassoon, played flute etudes. As a woodwind artist, it can be hard to find balance and direction with so many things to practice and so many routes to go.
The idea as a "doubler" is to make whatever instrument is in your hand not feel like a foreign object. One should really study the instrument as if it is the only instrument you play. Practice the same method books, etudes, solos, as a clarinetist in a symphony once did. Jump through the same hoops and walk the same path traditional clarinetists do.
In college under Curt Hanrahan, we study saxophone technique out of Jack Snavely's book Basic Technique for All Saxophones. It is literally 82 pages of sixteenth notes of almost every conceivable pattern and interval in all 12 major and minor keys (enharmonics inclusive, F#, Gb, Cb, etc. are all represented). And it was apart of the lessons that Curt gave; he would listen (and sometimes play along) to you play each pattern with a metronome at selected tempos, quarter note =120 was the max, 4 times each with various articulations (slurred, tongued, a slur/tongue variation, and jazz articulation). It took four years of hard work, but I played through the whole book. Curt said I was one of only a dozen or more of his students to complete the book, and I was pretty proud of myself that day. I had made it a priority in my regular practice, and while four years might seem like a long time I was working on many other musical projects as well.
At some point in my life I heard that Jack Snavely did an arrangement of Carl Baermann's Complete Method for Clarinet: Third Division. While I did study out of the Baermann book, it never really sunk in. Mostly likely because of how it is organized. Instead of organizing all patterns by key (like the Snavely sax book), it is organized by patterns with all keys represented. So the first page or two is every scale, the next might be thirds in all keys, then chords in all keys and so on. What Snavely's arrangement does is organize Baermann's content into keys. I knew this kind of organization would be good for the fingers, and so on February 19th, 2010, I received Carl Baermann's Celebrated Method for Clarinet Part 3, arranged by Snavely. Armed with a metronome and four reeds, I went to town.
I knew that studying out of the organized technique book would play to my strengths. I find it easy to sit with a technique book and metronome and play nothing but patterns for an hour. Having the goal of making clarinet technique my main focus, I was able to craft a program around that and still practice other instruments. Often I am asked what my practice routine is, so here is what my ideal week would look like. I say ideal, because honestly the only part I really stuck to was clarinet.
Mondays - flute/clarinet mornings, sax in the afternoon
Tuesdays - clarinet/bassoon mornings, sax in the afternoon
Wednesdays - flute/bassoon mornings, sax in the afternoon
Thursdays - clarinet/bassoon mornings, sax in the afternoon
Fridays - flute/clarinet mornings, sax in the afternoon
So while it looks like the sax receieved priority, very often I didn't stick to this schedule, but I made certain to practice clarinet Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Looking at the how the Baermann/Snavely book is layed out, I decided the best way to practice was to think of each key as a chapter, so each week I tackled about half a chapter. So it took two weeks for a major key, and another two weeks for it's relative minor, so four weeks for a key signature. For sanity's sake, I took a week off every four weeks.
Some weeks were easier than others. Though I split the keys up where it made logical sense, the difficulty wasn't evenly split. Some weeks I would have to spend an hour or more each day on clarinet, but other weeks only 30-40 minutes was necessary. Here is a breakdown of how I tackled each session.
Mondays - play each exercise 5x, double the value (so sixteenth notes are played as eighths) at 80, 100, 120, 140, and 160 BPM, slurred only.
Tuesdays - play each exercise 4x, as written, at 80, 90, 100 BPM (so 12x total), slurred, tongued, a slur/tongue variation, and jazz articulation
Thursdays - same as Tuesdays except at 100, 110, and 120 BPM
Fridays - repeat Thursday
I can say after all of that, I really do feel like I've taken my technique game up several notches on clarinet. It may be hard to believe, but about half way through the book I felt more connected to the instrument. Even though I was in more difficult keys, larger interval jumps became easier than when I started. By the end of it, I didn't have to think much about playing 4ths in the key of D# harmonic minor.
For starters, my clarinet is in dire need of a repair, given the beating I've applied to it over the past year. Some corks are missing, others almost shred, the regulation for 1+1 Eb/Bb has been off for sometime. Plus I may look into getting a Ton Kooiman thumb rest added on. I'm not done with the clarinet by any means. The end of this book is really the beginning to larger projects. First and foremost, I want to get fine tune my setup (mouthpieces, ligatures, reeds) and really focus on the sound I'm trying to achieve, both classically and in jazz. I'd like to work on both classical repertoire and jazz transcriptions, as well as practice the jazz material I practice on sax on clarinet.
I'm hoping I can apply what I've learned playing strict technique to practicing jazz saxophone. I've never found a strict regimine to follow when practicing improvisiation, which is part of my playing I'd certainly like to improve. It's so much easier when the notes are in front of you.
Bassoon will probably take the place of my main double I practice, because well, it's difficult. And I lost a couple of years between college and when I purchased my own bassoon. I'm hoping there's a scale pattern book out there much like the Baermann/Snavely books. Flute will always be there too, of course.
So that's my tale. While I may have completed the goal I set for myself, it doesn't feel like the end of a journey. The journey has just begun.