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Ricardo Morales on Practicing Clarinet Scales

AW: How should students practice clarinet scales on a daily basis, as well as on a weekly basis?

Ricardo: Clarinet scales must be practiced a great deal and often, because just about everything in Western music is based on scales and arpeggios. It only takes a few seconds to look at any piece of music to find how integral scales and arpeggios are to how melodies are constructed.

The trick to practicing clarinet scales is to have "music" in mind when practicing scales. If one does not, while it may be helpful in a technical sense, it will not be as useful as we need them to be. Practicing clarinet scales in an abstract way is about as useful as learning vocabulary randomly from the dictionary - it may be good for a spelling bee contest, but when it comes to music, we should learn the words for writing, or singing poetry through music.

The chromatic scale should be practiced daily, as it comprises of all the half steps in our instruments. It is also used in a great deal of passage work that requires speed, so familiarity with it is of great importance.

Weekly study of our "challenging" key scales will keep our fingers nimble and getting used to the finger patterns that are hard. Familiarity with the difficult finger combinations is the best way to eliminate or ease our use of those keys.

AW:  Which clarinet scales should they practice, and when (including chromatic)?

Ricardo: While we should practice all the clarinet scales weekly and daily, we all know that it is easier said than done! The most efficient way to keep us in shape is to concentrate on the keys of the pieces we are currently playing. That way we are improving technically and easing our technique for the pieces at hand.  After we are finished with the preliminary work of scales, then we can practice our pieces. Since the scale and arpeggio work will smooth out our technical work on the piece, we can then spend more time thinking about phrasing, color and dynamics, everything that makes a piece of music art, not just notes.

AW: What about articulation, speed, and volume - is there a good method to practice these during clarinet scales?

Ricardo: To keep scale work interesting, we have to keep mixing it up! Like I have suggested in the Fundamentals section of my online clarinet lessons at ArtistWorks, different articulations can be used. They are always helpful with the coordination challenges, plus they are good for discipline of the fingers.

In terms of speed, we should always start at a tempo that we can manage well without making mistakes. The brain is always learning, and unfortunately, bad habits and mistakes are easier to do, and our brains learn those much more quickly! Practicing scales slowly and with total accuracy also will encourage us, as we are getting to the challenging tempos from a place of accomplishment, therefore we tend to rise up to the challenge much more willingly.

AW:  Should they be playing clarinet scales over the full range of the instrument, or only on selected octaves?

Ricardo: We should concentrate first on the most used range of the instrument, check with the repertoire that we are playing to give us a guide. However, it is always important to challenge ourselves with the extreme range for familiarity, and in particular for dealing with newer pieces that tend to use the extreme registers for color. It is important to always prioritize, and smooth out the basic range (low E to altissimo G) first.



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