Clarinet Challenge 2.0

Well, unfortunately, the end of the challenge kind of fizzled out for me.  I just ran out of time and had no motivation to finish it out.  But it’s OK though, I learned a lot about audition preparation over the last 14 weeks despite being unable to finish it out.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I have been struggling with audition day nerves and being able to come through when it counted.  I think I’ve finally figured out some of the missing pieces.

Technical preparation, while a large part, is only just part of it.

In my mind I have always known this, but had always been a little bit in denial.  Yes, while being able to execute each excerpt effectively is very, very important, I found that recording a weekly video in one take with no re-dos for all the world to see brought one aspect to the preparation that I had been missing.  Before, I didn’t do any sort of mock auditions until only a couple weeks prior to the audition, but now I understand the benefit of doing mock performances throughout the preparation process, even when the technique isn’t quite there yet.

I learned how to visualize.  And it wasn’t how I thought it would be!

This challenge forced me to visualize, and to make visualization work for me.  I learned pretty quickly that visualizing in a sequential way (like watching a movie in my head) really didn’t work for me.  And that’s why I had always given up on visualizations before now.  It was REALLY hard, and it didn’t seem to work very well.  Or I would visualize, and my brain would literally skip over the hard parts.  What ended up working for me was visualizing only certain aspects.  For example, if I often flubbed a certain note in a certain passage, I would take a moment to visualize myself playing that note perfectly prior to actually playing the passage.  Worked every time!  It helped to make a small list of things to visualize for each excerpt, so I wouldn’t waste time trying to remember what the weak areas were.

Fundamentals are key.

OK, I didn’t actually learn this, because I’ve known this for a while now.  But this challenge proved just how important fundamentals are.  You can get away with a lot if you just go through your fundamental skills every day.  I can’t tell you how many practice sessions in this challenge were spent only playing my fundamentals.  And yet I was somehow able to get away with recording the excerpts without ever falling on my face!  Honestly, I didn’t put all that much time into practicing excerpts.

What’s next now?  Well, honestly I have the next two weeks to get through for work.  It is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, and there are so many ceremonies and memorials!  Its weeks like this that make me feel needed in the Navy!  I’m in charge of the woodwind quintet so I have a lot of work to do.  Despite that, I’m going to attempt to start the challenge again after Thanksgiving.  I have decided (for now) to audition for Navy Band in February.  I might change my mind, there’s a lot of factors that could keep me from going.  But its easier to quit preparation already in progress than to get an audition ready at the last minute.  I’m already a little behind, if I start after Thanksgiving weekend, it only gives me 11 weeks to prepare.  But the excerpt list is short (click here to see) and not too crazy.

I’ve already created the whole plan of action.  I freaking love spreadsheets, so I created one to organize it all:


There it is, week 11-0.  And I’ve already separated the excerpts into practice groups, and I have a video assignment planned for each week.  I’ve also separated the whole thing into phases: phase 1 is wood-shedding/technical practice (orange), phase 2 is polishing (green), and final preparation/taper (blue).  You might notice the two and a half weeks in the middle of phase 1 that is grayed out.  We’re coming home to Colorado for Christmas, and I’m not planning on taking my instrument home with me.  I need the break.  Plus, with all the crap we will be traveling with (see: traveling with a baby), I don’t want to be lugging a clarinet case along.  And whenever I bring my horn on visits home, I never really play.  So I decided to really work on visualizing and listening during that time.  I’ve never devoted that much time to mental practice, so it should be interesting.  And coming back to playing in January should be a fun time.  Heyoooo endurance.  But, I have about six weeks from when I get back home to Hawaii to the audition, so I should be alright.

I would have started the challenge this week (give myself 12 weeks instead of 11), but I know better.  With the holiday and everything, I’m not going to be able to commit the time I want, so I’m just skipping it.  I’m only committing to practice on my work days, and only have a two day work week.  Not a lot that can get done in those two days.

I’m also not going to be as strict with posting videos this time around.  Again, I know better.  I will still be recording videos (because they help!), and they will eventually be posted, but I’m not going to stress about blogging about it.  I’ll get to it when I get to it!

My son will also be turning one in a couple weeks…it is hard to believe how fast this year has gone.  It seems like it was just the other day that he was born.  Now he’s walking, talking (sort of), and developing into his own little person.  Its amazing.

So happy Thanksgiving!  The next few weeks are going to be pretty insane, so I will probably see you on the other side!

Week 2 Epiphany!

I was fairly successful in getting back on the practice train this week, after completely falling off the last couple weeks.  My week was busy, but it really came down to making it a priority and making the time.  It can be done!

I really focused on practicing visualizations prior to playing each excerpt this week.  And I realized something…I was having a hard time with visualizing because I was focused on “singing” the melody in my head, undisturbed.  I discovered that its more effective for me if I visualize myself executing certain parts, even just certain individual notes.  I was trying too hard to keep the music intact in my head; but my weakness isn’t performing the music, its the technical execution.  So instead of imagining myself playing the melody of say, Mozart Concerto, I imagined myself playing the rhythm perfectly in a certain measure, or having perfect fingers in a certain spot where I tend to flub.  Once I stopped trying to be so cumulative in my visualizations, that’s when it started working for me.

What I need to do now is write down my weakness in each excerpt so that I remember what to visualize prior to playing an excerpt.  I found I spent most of my 20 seconds this week trying to identify what to visualize.  If I know what I need to visualize before I start, I can be more focused and efficient!

And now my video…I had a total derp moment where I forgot to change from A to Bb clarinet after the Mozart.  Whoops.  Forgive me.

Considering I haven’t even played the concerto in a couple weeks, I think it went pretty good.  I also recorded my video right after listening to my friend Deanna do a mock audition using the same excerpt list!  But she is way more prepared than me because she’s actually taking the audition.  And she’s gonna kill it!

Week 1

So close to the end!  This week’s assignment is going to be exactly like last weeks, except I’m reducing the visualization time from 20 seconds to 10 seconds.  Time to get efficient!  In case you need it, here’s a reminder of what the assignment is:

  • Mozart Concerto, exposition
  • 5 excerpts, chosen at random right before recording the video

Alrighty.  We’re almost done.  Next week is the last week of the challenge!

There’s another DC Navy Band audition coming up in February.  I haven’t decided whether or not to take it.  It all kind of depends on my son and how much he’s still nursing.  I have a feeling he’s gonna be a “night nurser” for awhile, but if I can get him to wean a little during the day I think I’ll be able to make the trip OK.  The constant breast pumping was the hardest part of my trip the last time!  I’ll start working on the list, and then make a final decision closer to the audition, probably in January.

But till then, gotta finish the challenge! (If only to start right back up again!)

Getting back on the train…

Oof.  So I definitely fell off the practice train.  Week 4 and 3 of the challenge kinda went down the toilet!  Work and life really got in the way.  I didn’t even get a chance to practice during week 4, so now my endurance is completely shot.  But its ok, the best thing I can do now is try to get back on the train.

I think if I were actually taking a real audition at the end of this challenge, I would seriously consider NOT taking the audition.  I would not be 100% prepared (like I should be for auditions, especially when I have to travel so far).  But since I’m not taking an actual audition, I’m going to just jump back on the challenge as if I never got side tracked…

Week 2

This week is the start of our “taper” into the audition.  The focus now is to visualize and practice performing.  During week 5, I practiced a little visualization with the Mozart Concerto.  Wow, I realized how terrible I am at it!  This may be the root of my problem.  I can hardly get through the first phrase without losing focus!  So the assignment this week will involve a lot of timed visualization, with the intention of incorporating it into the audition itself.

So the video this week should be a mock audition for the camera.  But instead of just playing through each excerpt, set a timer for 20 seconds and do a 20 second visualization prior to playing each excerpt.  Its important to be disciplined here…20 seconds of focus before putting the horn to your face each time, no more, no less.  The eventual goal is to reduce this time to 10 seconds, and make it part of playing the excerpt for the audition.  So here’s the assignment:

  • Mozart Concerto, beginning of solo to measure 98.
  • Choose 5 excerpts at random, selected just prior to recording video.

Hokay…so lets hope I can hit the restart button successfully this week!  Happy practicing!





Thanks to Facebook’s fun little memories feature, a note that I wrote after I almost won a job in the Coast Guard Band in 2008 popped up the other day.  I thought I would share it, since I wrote it before I started this little blog!  Really interesting to read this and remember that day and what went right.  Too bad they didn’t pick anyone that day!  Haha, I wonder what things would be like if I had actually won the job…

CG Audition, 9/28/08

So I’m writing this blog sitting in my hotel room in New London, CT. I just got back from my audition for the Coast Guard band. It was a loooooooong ass day.

I got to the academy at about 9:20 (I had to be there at 9:30) and I checked in. My prelim time was tentatively at 10:55. Sweet. I even got a nice little piece of real estate in the common warm-up room between some lockers. It was really nice not having a clarinet honking away right next to me.

They ended up falling so far behind that I didn’t actually go until about an hour after my originally scheduled time. That was fine though, I usually expect those things to happen in an audition. I got into the audition area, which was their concert hall, and tried to settle down. I was really nervous. I took some deep breaths and tried to relax. Then I thought, “who cares, lets Weber this place up!” (the solo for the preliminary round was the Weber concerto no. 2, the 3rd movement) Luckily, I didn’t have to play the whole thing. And no sextuplets, woohoo!

Now for the excerpts. It was Brahms 3 2nd movement, Mendelssohn scherzo, and *scary music* Hindemith symphony in Bb. Exactly the same as it was in April. I played them, they were going pretty well. I even played the Hindemith ok. They of course asked me to play the first phrase of the Hindemith again, I had kind of flubbed some of the notes….

The last audition, the audition committee asked me to play the Hindemith again, and I totally dropped the ball and I couldn’t do it. This time, I maintained my focus and I totally nailed it the second time!!!!! Freakin sweet. Prelims are done.

I ended up having to wait almost an hour for them to come back with the results of our group. For those of you who don’t know, the basic protocol for professional auditions is they separate the applicants into groups, and once each person in a certain group has auditioned, they let the group know who has advanced. This is so that people don’t have to wait all day to know whether or not they have advanced to the next round of auditions. Anyways, I was in the third and final group of the day. At around 1pm, we found out that I and another girl had been advanced to the semifinal round! I was so excited!!!! I’ve never made it past the prelims in any audition, it was my goal for this audition.

They ended up only advancing 4 out of about 30ish in total. How exciting! We kept the same order for the semis, which were also screened (the committee cannot see the person playing) just like the prelims, so I was third. I got my own warm-up room, and we each got 5 minutes to practice in the hall, where the audition was taking place. I was excited for that, because my reed sounded really grainy during the prelims, so I wanted to pick something better. Here was the lineup….Mozart 1st movement, Shostakovich 9, Mendelssohn scherzo again, and Dahl Sinfonietta. Ok, so I’m going to be honest…I knew about a week ago that the preliminary round was only Bb…so therefore I did not practice my A clarinet stuff very much at all. Soooooo I was pretty nervous for the Mozart and the shostakovich. It went ok, they had me play the shostakovich again slower, and they requested that I not “clip” the ends of my phrases. Oops. Well I think I did pretty well. The nice thing about the later rounds is that you don’t really have to be a “robot”, and you can take more risks musically and I did.

It paid off, because I advanced again to the 3rd and final round. This time, it was the entire Mozart exposition and every excerpt on the list. I ended up going third and last, because the girl that was after me got cut. By this time it was almost 2:30 and I was freaking out. I might actually win this thing. Holy crap. I didn’t end up playing until almost 4:00, because they gave us each as much time as they wanted to give us. So I went in with the attitude that I have exceeded my own expectations already, anything more would be just icing on the cake. So I was much more relaxed, although still anxious, mostly because the screen was down now. Its weird playing when you can see the faces of the people judging you. I think I did ok, more flubs than I probably would have liked though. They had me play the stupid Hindemith twice, of couse they wanted it faster. Jerks. But I was able to do it. Whew!

So I was done. We weren’t sure if they were going to ask us back for the quintet round (we were given a woodwind quintet as part of our excerpts) or not. We waited for a good half hour or so before the committee came back with their decision. They decided to skip the quintet round and go ahead and hire someone. Except that they didn’t. That’s right, the committee couldn’t decide on someone to hire, they were completely divided between the three of us. They are going to give us comments on stuff that they think we need to work on for next time, and they invited us to come back and audition. I was really happy with what I did today and how much I accomplished in my own playing. I am exhausted. Playing three rounds spread out all day really took it out of me. But it was completely worth it! I had so much fun and I am so proud of myself. You can bet that I’m going to be back for the next audition!!!!

This has been the confidence boost that I really needed. I am actually good at this stupid instrument, and today proved it. I really don’t think that it was luck that I made it as far as I did. Maybe third time’s a charm? We’ll see in a few months I guess!

And I took a few pictures that day too, haha…

Week 5…

This past week was not as productive as I would have hoped.  While the rest of my co workers were in San Francisco playing gigs for Fleet Week SF, I was hanging back here in Hawaii, so you would think that I would have gotten a lot done!  Nope.

I had plenty of desk work, and when you throw in the temptation to go home early everyday and hang out with my little bambino, things did not go well in the practice department.  Ha.  It ended up being a nice break though.

Oh…I forgot to post my week 7 assignment video!  Well, here it is!  As I promised, I recorded it on Monday.  Its actually been on YouTube all week, I just never got around to posting a blog about it.

I did the same thing as last time and I doubled up my recording with a Zoom audio recorder.  The sound is just so much better!  Its a little more work to put the video together, but overall I think its worth it.  Its a good reminder that my sound isn’t as wacky as I was thinking it was.  I am also starting to hear more little subtle things in my sound that I want to improve.  Unfortunately, I have really come down with a case of the lazies and haven’t put in effort to work on it at all.  Perhaps it would be different if I were taking a real audition at the end of this challenge.  Its so easy to let things go when there’s really nothing at stake…

I am still frustrated that I keep making little mental errors that result in technical flubs.  Ugh.  I think it might be prudent to start doing these little mock-audition recordings every day or every other day.

Week 5:

I definitely took an unscheduled break in the challenge this past week.  And that’s ok!  Sometimes its good to take a minute and balance yourself.  So for that reason, I am going to repeat the previous assignment.  Here it is again, if you need a reminder:

  • Revisit group 3 excerpts, and keep polishing all excerpts (mental practice counts!).
  • Choose a favorite recording of the Mozart Concerto.  Focus on the first thirty seconds of the solo entrance, and write down a few words that you think of when you listen to it.  Listen a few times, and finalize these key words.
  • Practice visualizing those first thirty seconds.  For more details on how to do this, read Nathan Cole’s Audition challenge week 5 blog entry.  This should be hard, it will probably take multiple tries over several days.  Come up with some key words for your visualization once you get the hang of it.
  • The final assignment is to compare your key words from the favorite recording to key words that you come up with.

I hope I can have a more productive week in the practice room.  I will also share my word assignments from week 7 in my next blog post (I forgot my stuff at work, hahaha).  Happy practicing (and visualizing)!

Sometimes we forget…

I’ll be honest.  I completely forgot to do my video yesterday!  Well that’s not entirely true.  I remembered on my way home from work, but then it was definitely too late.  I definitely wasn’t going to turn around and go back.  And seeing since I don’t ever practice on the weekends (weekends=family time) that means I won’t be getting my video recorded until Monday.  So yeah.  Whoops.

Although I totally suck and I don’t have a video ready, I did want to write a post about next week’s assignment.  This week will be kind of a break from recording videos.  I was going to wait until next week for the visualization assignment, but because my friend and colleague Deanna who is doing the challenge with me, will be with the rest of my coworkers in San Francisco for Fleet week, and there just isn’t time for much practice or video recording!  Of course, I am staying behind, so I will have all the time in the world!  But I figured it would be a good opportunity for this type of assignment.

Week 6:

By now you should be able to execute all the excerpts at or close to the final tempo.  The next phase of preparation is going to work to polish up all that technique work that we’ve been doing the last two months and really focus in on playing the excerpts vs. executing them.


  • Revisit group 3 excerpts, and keep polishing all excerpts (mental practice counts!).
  • Choose a favorite recording of the Mozart Concerto.  Focus on the first thirty seconds of the solo entrance, and write down a few words that you think of when you listen to it.  Listen a few times, and finalize these key words.
  • Practice visualizing those first thirty seconds.  For more details on how to do this, read Nathan Cole’s Audition challenge week 5 blog entry.  This should be hard, it will probably take multiple tries over several days.  Come up with some key words for your visualization once you get the hang of it.
  • The final assignment is to compare your key words from the favorite recording to key words that you come up with.

In reality, you don’t even need to pick up your instrument this week to finish the assignment.  We’ve spent the last 8 weeks concentrating on technique and execution, now its time to transition to a more artistic and musical approach up to the end of the challenge.  I guarantee everyone who shows up for these auditions can execute the excerpts.  But the person who stands out and wins auditions have that extra something, and that extra something is what we need to work towards for the next 6 weeks.

And I promise I will post my week 7 assignment results/video on Monday!  To make up for it, here’s a cute pic of my son:

See, doesn’t his face make everything better?  Well I think so.

I’ll report back on Monday!

Make sure you empty your SD cards, folks.

Before I say anything, this week turned out much better than last week.  I felt much more organized, and I really felt like I got something accomplished!  I went into my recording session feeling much more prepared.  Unfortunately, I neglected to empty my SD card and I ran out of space about 3 ½ minutes in to my recording.  Whoops.  Luckily, I had decided to also record an audio track with a decent recorder (aka not a phone or a GoPro), so I had a Zoom recorder going at the same time!  So it wasn’t a total loss.  If I were preparing this video for an actual audition submission, I would be screwed and I would probably have had to re-do it.  But for my purposes here, I just did some editing to add the audio track to what I did get on video.  The audio keeps going in my video even when the picture cuts out (I just dubbed the audio track over the video, Voila!)

Obviously, I’m still struggling with focus and keeping the mistakes at bay.  I’ve actually been doing a really good job in my practice sessions to be extremely deliberate in my execution, and I never “practice” the mistakes I make in my videos.  It is so frustrating when I make stupid mental errors when it comes to the actual performance.  Ugh.  I guess this is why I’m doing this challenge!  Practice, practice, practice.

I am much happier with my sound though.  Not sure if its actually better, or the recorded audio is better.  As I said before, the audio is from a Zoom recorder, so its actually decent, even though the room kinda sucks.

Week 7:

The assignment for next week (week 7) is pretty much the same as last week.  We are still focusing and working on technique, but all group 1 and 2 excerpts should be played as close to the final tempo for the video this week.

  • Mozart concerto, entire exposition. Play with metronome set on half note = 58 (or whatever your final tempo is)
  • Three group 1 excerpts chosen at random
  • Two group 2 excerpts chosen at random

After this week, we start “Phase 2” of our preparation, in which we polish our technique and start to focus on more musical ideas rather than technical.  To prepare for this transition, I am also assigning some listening.  Find at least one example recording for each excerpt, preferably more than one, though that can be difficult with some of the band excerpts.  I want you to come up with a word or phrase that comes to mind for each excerpt when you listen to it.  Write it on a sticky note and put it on the music, so that you see it when you play it.  This is meant to help you get “in the mood” musically.  Do this for all excerpts, including our group 3 excerpts and the Mozart Concerto.

Have a great week!  I would say see you Friday, but lets be honest…its gonna be Saturday or Sunday.  Ha!