My daily routine, part one: Long tones, long tones, long tones!!!

I can’t tell you how important it is to have a daily routine.  Three years ago, after I graduated from Eastman and started working a 9-5 desk job, I created a daily routine (not just a warm-up, although it is used as such.) to keep my playing in check.  I knew I wanted clarinet to be my career, but I only had a couple hours each day to devote to practicing (if that!) so I had to find a way to more efficiently practice than I did in school.  So I developed a routine of fundamentals that I would practice daily that would take less than an hour, but still hit on every aspect of my playing.

My routine has four basic parts: Long tones, technique, articulation, and agility/sight reading.  As long as each one is touched on in a consistent manner, your playing and endurance will improve.  It did for me, I am a better player than I was when I left Eastman more than three years ago.  Today I want to discuss the first part: long tones!

Long tones is by far the most important part of my routine.  This is where I mentally and physically warm myself up to playing clarinet.  It is also where I concentrate on my air speed, tone, tongue position, and hand/finger position.  Without those things, one cannot hope to play at a competitive level.  I tell my students all the time, “it doesn’t matter how fast your fingers move, if you sound like crap no one will want to listen.”

I usually do three long tone exercises, and I always do them with the metronome set to 60.  Its VERY important to do your long tones with the metronome.  It keeps you from cheating and speeding up the tempo.  I have a whole arsenal of long tone exercises, so I change it up every once in awhile just to keep things fresh.  But I ALWAYS start with a slow, slurred chromatic scale.  I’m sure some of you will recognize it from this video of Robert Spring’s warm up routine, and that’s exactly where I got it from!

Play at quarter=60, and take a breath on the rests only.

And yes, I do go all the way up to the C, but you certainly don’t have to.  But it is a really great way to expand your range!  I don’t go that high when I am playing it on Eb clarinet…I don’t hate my neighbors that much!  I will usually stop at A or Bb depending on my reed (but sometimes I’ll try to play B just to see if I can get it out, ha!)

For the next two exercises, I choose from these: (I didn’t write them in but everything is slurred!).

Long tones in 4ths and 5ths. This one is good for concentrating on air flow over the registers and eliminating so-called “finger pops”. Take a breath every four measures.

I repeat this one several times. I have this written out on C, but that’s just for example purposes. I start this one down low (on E, F, F#, G, or G# – I rotate it daily) and move up the fundamental note by P4 for each repeat, so I end up doing the exercise in all registers. You can do any scale you want, but I like doing major scales, because I don’t have to think about it. For example, on one day I will start on low E, then repeat the exercise on A, D, G, C, and F, going up each time. This one is also good for eliminating those “finger pops”, and changing registers smoothly (Including the altissimo!) This is also a good one to tune to a drone (set your drone to the V of the starting note). Breathe only on the rests.

This is one that’s great for kids learning how to play in the altissimo register. I hardly ever use this one, but its great for learning/relearning voicing!

This study is known as the “Abato” study, because it was created by Vincent “Jimmy” Abato, who , among other things, played bass clarinet in the Metropolitan Opera in the mid-20th century.  You can start this one on any note, I just have it starting on low E for example purposes. This is good for air flow across the registers and also smoothness, aim at  getting rid of the “finger pops”.  Breathe only on the rests.

This one was developed by David Weber.  This is a good one for developing dynamic contrast. I try to start with a steady tone as soft as I can play, crescendo to as loud as I can play, then decrescendo back down to nothing.  Be sure to start and stop the tone with the tongue.  Also be aware of finger movements in this one!  I do the same thing as in the above scale exercise: I start on a low note, then repeat the exercise a P4 higher every time so that I can play the exercise in every register (which is different than what Weber actually wrote, for you who are familiar with this exercise)

Currently in my routine I’m playing the 4ths and 5ths, and the Weber study (along with the chromatic study).  I particularly like the Weber study because it amplifies air flow and reed issues that usually go unnoticed because of the extreme dynamics used, and it forces you to play at an uncomfortable dynamic (which you should ONLY do in the practice room!  One of my professors at CSU once told me, “never play your softest or loudest note in public”…he’s very right!)

I can spend up to 20 minutes on just long tones on some days.  I always make sure to strive for perfection, and if I do an exercise that I’m not happy with I will do it again until I’m satisfied.  Be picky with yourself!

So that’s part one of my daily routine.  Stay tuned for part two: Technique!

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