After completing the Baermann Bootcamp, I found myself still motivated to keep working on fundamentals, but I was very “scaled out”. I was recently re-introduced to the Jeanjean Vade-Mecum during the Virtual Clarinet Warmups, and decided it would be a good option for another challenge.
Vade-Mecum (noun): a handbook or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation.
The Vade-Mecum has been with me for a long time. It is pretty clear by the condition of my book, that it has been well loved and used (although not as much in the last few years). I remember when I was in college (undergrad) my teacher had mentioned in passing to someone else that in order to become a professional clarinet player, you’d have to master the exercises in this book. And me, a young and aspiring clarinet player thought, “well, I HAVE to get that book then!” So I did. And of course, the book is published by Leduc, so it was crazy expensive for a poor college student. But I bought it because dang it, I wanted to be a professional clarinet player. I’ve been playing through it off and on since. Is it a requirement to become a professional clarinet player? Well, no. Does it help? Yes, most definitely.
I decided that my challenge would be playing through the entire book every day as my warm up routine. The book itself isn’t that long, and it only consists of 6 exercises. It felt completely doable. I did spend a week re-familiarizing myself with the exercises before I “officially” jumped into the challenge. I spent most of my time working up numbers 4, 5, and 6 since I haven’t practiced those as often. In fact, I usually completely avoided most of no. 6 in the past, so a lot of it was completely new (number 6, if you aren’t familiar with the book, is a slow “etude”, focusing on musicality, tone, and dynamics).
It obviously takes a little bit of time to play through the entire book (about an hour? I’m not 100% sure, I never timed myself or paid attention), so if I was short on time, I allowed myself the option of only doing numbers 4 and 5 (articulation and scales). I am proud to say that I have done 14 days of this challenge, and 12 of those days I did all six exercises! Sometimes I would start with numbers 4 and 5 just in case I ran out of time, but most of the time I ended up playing through the rest. I think after 14 days I’m ready to move on to something else, but I want to stop and reflect on what I feel I have gained throughout this process. Three major things:
Endurance. Like I said earlier, it only took me about an hour to get through the book. But it was an intense hour of solid playing! Its especially tough if you play it through in order, and save no. 6 for last (I didn’t always do that – I varied the order).
Better finger dexterity and relaxation. I had forgotten how much the first three exercises help with that, especially with particularly awkward movements.
The last big take-away: I realized I need to slow down my brain. AGAIN. I’ve done no. 1, 2, and 3 so many times I can almost do it in my sleep. But that’s not always a good thing, because my brain tends to just go through the motions of something like that, instead of being deliberate and having purpose. I often had to remind myself of this. Its not just about the finger motions! Its about doing it 100% clean, with a full tone, perfect rhythm, and complete mental attention. It’s easy to let that stuff slide when you don’t have to think about it too hard.
This challenge was great for me. I will definitely be doing it again at some point in the future! I would recommend anyone who is looking to improve their endurance and technique to take it on. But unlike the Baermann Bootcamp, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead and move on to something else. On to the next thing! Stay tuned, and follow me on Instagram (@sandytheclarinerd) to keep up with what I’m doing!