Should you aim for quality or quantity in your clarinet playing?

21 May

 Should clarinet practice be about quality or quantity?
Last week’s posts plus this week’s Twitter activity have got me thinking more and more about quality versus quantity when it comes to learning or perfecting the clarinet.

While personal preference may well define our leanings, should we strive for a happy balance of quantity and quality? 

It all depends…

I have (sometimes) practiced a piece of music or musical phrase to death, in my quest for quality, partly because I want to try to get it right, and partly because I am filled with constant doubts about my ability.  I know that I am my own worst task master.

But personal challenges aside, just how far should you go to make each practice session reach that gold quality standard?  How do you identify and measure quality?  Is it a about fluency in playing, or is it more a question of correct musical expression, or perfect dynamics, or simply a matter of hitting the right notes every time and avoiding squeaks?

There really isn’t a set answer because it depends on your level, and where you want your musical skill to take you. 

If you are a complete beginner, some of the early hurdles to overcome and master – even before you start your practice session – will be second nature to a more experienced learner. 

For example, how to assemble your clarinet, – I found this video particularly useful when I first assembled my clarinet – how to take it apart and how to clean it.  Then, mastering how to handle, prepare and put on a reed, not to mention learning the correct embouchure.  Next there is the issue of how and where to hold the clarinet, which fingers cover which holes, what to do with the fingers that aren’t in use, and crucially, how to build up enough strength in your right thumb so it can bear the weight of the clarinet.

Tap into some sound clarinet playing advice

Getting back to the business of practice sessions/general playing, I believe that a middle ground is the best approach when considering quality versus quality.  Quality and quantity are two sides of the same coin and can not be seen in isolation because having or making the time to play goes hand in hand with using that time effectively.

Marion Harrington of Zero 2 Maestro provides lots of useful advice on this subject in her blog post: Time is money – efficient practice for busy musicians. In this detailed and solution-packed post, Marion, who trained as a classical clarinettist, generously shares her wealth of experience.

I keep a printed copy of Marion’s blog post near my clarinet stand so that I can refer to it regularly as I continue to work towards that delicate balance of quality and quantity.

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