TIPS & FAQ'S
Your greatest questions have been heard, and been answered by our world-class instructor Adrian Cunningham. He has also added a few professional tips and tricks that he has learned over the years from extensive performing and practice, and has shared some knowledge he has picked up along the way from other clarinet masters!
Does playing jazz clarinet hurt my classical playing?
Absolutely not! As far as I’m concerned- good technique is good technique. Eddie Daniels, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, all performed and practiced both jazz and classical.
Having personally studied with Eddie Daniels (who is one of the only masters that performs at a world-class level in both styles) I can honestly say that playing jazz only helps your classical ‘chops’, and vice versa.
What reeds/mouthpiece should I use?
There is an over-abundance of information about mouthpiece and reed combinations out there. There is of course, not one universal answer (sorry!!), because everybody is different.
But, here’s a vital piece of information: playing a harder reed does NOT mean you’re a better clarinetist. This is not like going to the gym! Everybody’s physical make up is different, and there is no one formula to this.
It’s important to find a set up that is comfortable for you, and doesn’t feel like you have to struggle to get a sound. This should be your goal. As your playing develops, so may your need to change your setup- but maybe not. (When I was younger, I thought I needed to play a hard reed to get a good sound. I wish I knew what I know now!)
The honest truth is, over the years I've played a lot of different set ups, and I've always sounded like me! (for better or worse). If that just didn’t satisfy you and you want concrete answers (at least to get started) try a Vandoren B45 or a 5JB jazz mouthpiece. (The 5JB is a little more open than the B45)
How much should I practice?
There is no “correct” answer to this question. Like any pursuit in life- the more you put into it, the more you get out. Everybody has different priorities and different commitments. Some people may have hours free a day, others only 10 mins!
What I can tell you is what works for me: I find my best growth happens when I return to an exercise frequently. In other words- let’s say I’m practicing a new scale or jazz lick, and it’s tricky. I find I learn it better by coming back to it a multiple times for short intervals, rather than to play it over and over in one sitting.
No matter your schedule- practicing should be fun, inspiring and uninterrupted
(put your phone on airplane mode!)
Do I need a professional clarinet?
I can't lie, a professional clarinet does make a difference, however it's perfectly fine to play an entry level/student model clarinet, (made by a reputable maker). If you are starting out, a good student model clarinet will give you all you need to develop as a musician, and as you progress you may feel you will want to upgrade as you develop.
As mentioned above, finding a good mouthpiece and reed combination is perhaps the most important part of your clarinet set up. (This is like the engine to your car). It's also important to have your instrument inspected by a licensed instrument repairer on a regular basis, because a key slightly out of alignment of a leaky pad can give us all sorts of problems!
Is clarinet easy to learn? Is clarinet easier than saxophone?
Well, this is a tricky one to answer. Certainly, compared to saxophone, the clarinet is more difficult for the first time beginner because the embouchure (ie: the way the mouth and tongue is set up to play) is more strict than the saxophone. However, every musical instrument has it's own unique challenges, and like anything.. with some dedicated practice, you'll be making music in no time! In fact, good clarinet players who want to play saxophone often find the transition quite easy! (It is not the same the other way round..)
Can I learn clarinet on my own?
Honestly, and like anything in life- nothing can replace the effectiveness of having a one-on-one tutor who can keep you on track and make sure you don't pick up any bad habits. (Even some of the best musicians and athletes continue to have one-on-one coaching for this reason). However, we believe with the lesson programs on this website, plus the personal feedback you'll have during your time learning with us, we are confident you will make some wonderful musical strides and enjoy some great development (with some solid practice time on your part, of course!)
Is clarinet bad for your teeth?
Not at all! With the correct technique, you should have no problem with your teeth. (Students with braces may find some discomfort, but it should be very minimal, and clarinet playing will not cause damage to your teeth or braces. Poor trumpet players suffer more with braces than any of the other wind instruments!)
Can clarinets play jazz?
Actually, the clarinet is one of the most important instruments in the history of jazz! It was an important part of all of the early jazz bands (Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Seven, King Oliver, Original Dixieland Jazz Band), and it was one of the most important sounds of the Big Band era (Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller). It is true that the clarinet's popularity declined in the following eras, however it always held an important presence as the music evolved over the decades. You can find out more about many of the important clarinetists on the Listen, Listen, LISTEN page of this site.
Do I need to know my scales to play jazz clarinet?
I hate to say it, but your music teacher was right... scales (and arpeggios) are really important! This is true for many reasons: for developing technique, for helping to understand harmony, and also for improvising. If we think of jazz as a language, then our scales and arpeggios are like the words that make up the language.
But the good news is, you can improvise with knowing just one or two scales! In fact, some of my favorite jazz solos are based only on one scale, or even just a few notes! We can make great music even with a small amount of theory or technique. But don't forget, the more theory and knowledge we have at our fingertips, the more choices we can make when we improvise.