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How To Practice The Clarinet-Some Practice Guidelines

How To Practice the Clarinet-Some Practice Guidelines

All beginning and intermediate level clarinet students need to learn how to practice the clarinet in order to get the most out of the experience of playing music. Multiple times a year I take on a new student that is either self taught or coming over from another instructor. Without fail these students come with some “baggage”, either in the form of bad practice habits, bad playing techniques, or misconceptions about the clarinet. Regrettably I have to go back over all the fundamentals and often do some remedial work with these students before I can move them forward. To avoid this pitfall let’s discuss how you should practice, what you should practice and what stages of development look like for clarinet students ages 10 to 18.

Beginning Clarinetist:

In a perfect world I would begin clarinet lessons with a 4th or 5th grade student, age 9 or 10 years old. I don’t recommend starting kids before this age as their hands are just too small to properly cover the open holes on the clarinet. Ideally this student would have a couple years of piano training, and a big bonus would be a year of recorder training in 3rd grade. This student would have a serious leg up on all the beginning clarinet challenges by already knowing how to read music, have some finger dexterity, and a little experience breathing and blowing into an instrument. This model student would progress through the first two beginning band books (typical method pictured below) in a matter of 4-6 months, and be developing a good sound on their instrument.

He or she would be able to handle the basic keys of C, F, G, D and Bb major, navigating up to two sharps and flats with ease and could be ready for intermediate or advanced band upon entering middle or junior high school in 6th or 7th grade. With average or above average talent and some hard work they would find playing the clarinet to be fun, easy and natural. Their likely lesson duration would be a half hour weekly at this point and they would be practicing 20 to 30 minutes most days.

Intermediate Clarinetist:

Once this ideal model student gets to middle school they will have a variety of experiences in a good school music program, and progress in their private lessons with me to the keys of Eb, A, E and Ab, up to 4 sharps and flats. They would be able to play these scales in several different configurations, i.e. thirds and triads, with a variety of articulations, and they would also be working on a variety of variations I teach on the chromatic scale by ear.

This intermediate level student would read well, have a solid technique and sound, and be able to play various mid level repertoire, both classical and jazz. They would gain experience via their school band concerts, and certainly by 8th grade they would be ready to audition for both All County and All State Honor groups with my expertise in preparing and recording them when necessary. Their likely lesson duration would be a 45 minutes once a week at this point, and they should generally be practicing 45 minutes most days.

Their lesson routine would include my proprietary scale studies pictured above, the Progressing and Advancing Clarinetist books by Leon Lester, and some basic classical repertoire pieces found in books like the Rubank Concert and Contest Collection, as well as my Intermediate Etudes For The Aspiring Clarinetist pdf.

“Mark Sowlakis' new PDF texts improve on dated method books and bring clarinet pedagogy for young clarinetists into the new century. Highly recommended for intermediate level clarinetists that are serious about improving their playing.”

Clark W. Fobes

San Francisco CA

This stage typically can last a couple of years and will result in a young musician with significant training that is ready for any high school music challenges that might appear on their horizon.

Advanced Clarinetist:

This student would then be ready for some advanced work upon entering high school, including more detailed scale work in all 12 keys, scale merging from major to minor tonalities, and more challenging etudes and repertoire.

At this point we would embark on a college preparatory like program of Rose Etudes, more advanced scale studies similar to Baermann Scales, and some repertoire pieces such as the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, the Brahms Sonatas and the Weber works for clarinet, which are explained in detail here: This student would be a great candidate for the prestigious local youth orchestras like PYO ( and CYS (, and in the case of the very talented and motivated student, the SF Youth Orchestra ( At the mid high school level, say the beginning of their junior year, I like to see these students practicing an hour or more every day, and we should see significant progress on a monthly basis. This student would have an hour weekly lesson and show a level of musical maturity that would place them at the top of their high school music program. They would certainly be a candidate for All County and All State Honor groups.

The Result:

My goal when working with all students is to foster progress and skill that is natural, lasting and efficiently obtained. I refer to this natural learning process as “organic learning.” It is that process that allows the student to discover for themselves their own interests and objectives and lead to practicing that is enjoyable and not drudgery. The more fun students have with their instrument and their music the more likely they are to become deeply involved and attached to it, to see it as a lifelong pursuit with rewards at every juncture. I use college entrance requirements as my end goal for all students, not to pressure them to become music majors, but to use these requirements as a benchmark and goal for the students at the conclusion of their high school years. Certainly once they make it to the end of their high school years with me the most talented and motivated students will have developed a deep connection to their instrument that will last the a lifetime, allowing them to play music with their friends and in groups they may have access to for the rest of their lives. At that point they are “on their way” with their instrument and their music, and have obtained the skills and training to develop it in any way they may so choose. I like to say at this point, "The sky is the limit" as to what you can do with your music now, you have arrived at a very advanced level. Congratulations on a tremendous accomplishment.

Thanks again for stopping by my blog...Markos

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