So here’s some background on why I decided to subject myself to this torture…by mid-April, it was pretty apparent that I wouldn’t be going back to “normal” work any time soon. All upcoming gigs were cancelled, and the audition that I was preparing for had been postponed with no hope of rescheduling any time soon. I literally had nothing to practice. I had been working on some woodwind quintet stuff, but it looked like that was beginning to be a lost cause as well. So I decided to go back to basics and focus on fundamentals for awhile. That’s when my Navy colleague Ashley clued me in to this “Baermann Bootcamp”, developed by Jenny Maclay. So I was like, why not? I have the time, lets do this! May 1st was day one of what ended up being a 49 day journey.
First of all, I’d like to talk about the things that I had hoped to get out of it from the beginning:
- Better technical facility. This is an obvious one. Isn’t this the reason we play scales anyway? But I still wanted to challenge myself, even with the easy exercises. One of my tendencies as a player is to settle into comfortable tempos, especially with scales. I wanted to push my comfort level with tempos, and explore the edge of control. Because we don’t always get to play things at a tempo that we’re comfortable with! I also explored taking away metronome beats and increasing the amount of time between clicks.
- Another pretty obvious one: endurance. The way the bootcamp was arranged, it gradually increased the time spent on it, and there’s even one day where you basically play the entire book. Having a structured practice plan would help me keep my endurance up and not get bored, even though I wasn’t really playing anything for work.
- Better focus. This goes hand in hand with the first goal. My mind tends to wander while playing. I lose focus on the immediate task at hand, and that’s when I make mistakes. This really shows up when I’m sight reading, but also rears its head when I’m playing something I know. My brain also tends to give up and check out when things get too hard. My goal here was to be 100% present, in the moment. (Its harder than it seems!)
I would also like to talk about the things that I didn’t like (beyond the scales themselves), or things that just didn’t work for my practice habits. I’m not trying to rag on the person who developed the bootcamp – it’s really awesome and most parts of it were really beneficial! But we’re different people, different clarinet players, so things that work for her, may not work for me.
- Length/pacing. For me, I need to incorporate rest days. I am not a seven day a week practicer, but I totally understand that some people are. I just need that time off both physically and mentally. When I was at the Naval School of Music after boot camp, I was literally forced through mandatory practice logs to practice at least 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was terrible and I got a little burned out. I was able to maintain a six day a week practice routine for a couple months one time while I was prepping for an audition. But that was before I had a kid. I’ve found a good balance of four or five day a week practice routine…I basically mirror my work schedule. Days off work also mean days off clarinet. So that’s how this month-long bootcamp became seven weeks long. UGH. Honestly, the last few weeks and especially the last week it got super old and all I wanted to do was get through it. I didn’t want to stop, because when I start something I like to finish, but I’m not sure how much I got from the last two weeks.
- Priority of the exercises. I thought it was interesting how the exercises were scheduled throughout the bootcamp. It seemed logical to group them the way they were, but it also resulted in disproportionate time spent spent on each one. I really felt like this on the last three exercises, (octave exercise, staccato and trill exercise, and triplet exercise), I wish the schedule allowed for more time with them. And the way they are organized is also very uneven. For example, with the octave exercise, I played the last section (measure 69-end) through only 3 times over the 7 weeks, while I played the first section (first 8 bars) every day the octave exercise was assigned. Didn’t seem right or useful, especially because the beginning is the easiest part. It might be better to arrange the schedule by exercise, not necessarily by key or type, and to take into account the difficulty of each one.
And of course I got a lot out of pushing through the challenge. Some were things that I had hoped to achieve from the beginning, but some of my weaknesses came to the forefront.
- I realized I need to slow down. And I’m not talking about tempo. I need to slow down my brain, and begin with intent and purpose. I have this tendency to start playing before I’m actually ready, and also to “go through the motions” just to get through something. This is where my focus tends to falter. I constantly had to remind myself that I’m doing this bootcamp in order to get better, not just to get through it.
- I was pushed out of my comfort zone. Especially the long days (12+ keys). Playing scales for 2+ hours is not exactly my cup of tea. I’m not going to lie, I did consider splitting the 24 key day into two days. But in the end, I didn’t. I pushed through, and I’m so glad I did.
- I gained some technical facility. Or at least I hope I did. I guess I won’t really know until I start playing other things again. I do wish that I had taken a little more time in the beginning, during the two-key-a-day period, to work out some of the technical issues. As the bootcamp wore on, the sheer volume of stuff to play made it almost impossible to woodshed. One thing that I struggled with over and over was the “turnarounds” at the top (or bottom) of the exercises. If there’s a next time, I will be isolating those sections and really try to perfect it.
Am I glad I pushed through and completed it? Yes. Will I ever do this again? Probably not. At least not this version of it. It was just too much towards the end. I don’t like that I was getting so tired of it so I would often just rush through…defeats the purpose. I’m thinking a 40-day challenge with rest days worked in would be much better for me. Maybe someday!
Now on to the next challenge! Stay tuned. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram (if you don’t already) at sandytheclarinerd!