Like all woodwind instruments, learning to play the clarinet involves a lot of practice to master notes and techniques. Just how much practice is required to become a proficient clarinetist?
While 10-15 minutes of clarinet practice per day is a good start, you should increase your practice time gradually and build endurance over time to eventually practice at least an hour each day. Break up the practice time into intervals of playing and rest in order to maximize productivity.
There are actually quite of few schools of thought on how often to practice, how to break up practice, and how to ensure quality practice time.
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How many hours per day and days per week to practice?
A question many beginning players ponder is exactly how much time per day or per week should a clarinet player be spending practicing. There’s not an exact number that will fit everyone’s needs, but there are a few guidelines.
A beginner will not be capable of practicing nearly as much as a professional player, so they should practice in smaller increments. 10-15 minutes per day is a great place to start.
As your mouth and fingers build endurance, increase your practice time by 10 minute increments every few weeks.
Practicing an hour per day is a great milestone to achieve, but take your time getting there and only increase practice time when your body is ready for it.
It is best to practice everyday and perhaps take one day off per week. Consecutive days off will not aid in retention of muscle memory or materials.
Cramming all of the week’s practice time into one or two days is unhealthy and not an efficient way to learn. Just like studying, the skills and technique will have longevity when reviewed regularly, even if in smaller intervals.
An experienced clarinet player who wishes to get serious about playing should extend their practice beyond 1 hour per day at some point. Many professionals practice 3 hours or more per day.
How often and how long should you take breaks?
Practice breaks are an essential part of learning to play the clarinet. There are both physical and mental benefits to taking breaks within your practice session.
On clarinet, the embouchure requires a firm grip from the mouth, which will grow tired, and practicing with a loosened embouchure is a bad habit you don’t want to form. This can happen when the mouth muscles give out after practicing for too long.
Your fingers may also become fatigued after playing long passages and start to make more mistakes rather than progress. Playing requires energy, and breaks are an opportunity for a quick recharge.
Breaks are also beneficial to your focus and mentality.
Short intervals of break will also allow time for the brain to process and for the information to sink into the mind and body.
Breaks may be longer if needed for certain players or on particular days, so don’t hesitate to take 20-30 minute breaks when appropriate.
The frequency of your breaks ultimately depends on your endurance. A beginner clarinetist will take more breaks often, whereas a more experienced clarinet player will be able to play for a longer duration without interruption.
|Clarinet skills||Breaks frequency|
|Beginner player||5 – 10 minutes|
|Intermediate player||20 – 30 minutes|
|Advanced player||30 – 35 minutes|
A beginner might find it best to take a break every 5-10 minutes, an intermediate player can go for 20-30 minutes, and a professional can make it 30-35 minutes comfortably before taking a break.
Regardless of your experience, breaks in practice will help your mind process and memorize the material you are practicing.
You can divide your practice throughout the day so that repetition is occurring after being away from the clarinet for a while.
How to break up your clarinet practice time
Establishing a well-balanced practice routine is one of the best things you can do for your clarinet playing. Below is an example of how to break down an hour long practice session.
|Clarinet practice activity||Suggested time spent|
|Breathing Exercises||3 minutes|
|Long tones||5 minutes|
|Etudes/method book work||15 minutes|
Warm up and tuning
The first practice session of the day should begin with a few simple stretches to prepare the body for playing. Arm, wrist, and finger stretches are great for preparing to play clarinet.
Because the clarinet is a wind instrument, breathing exercises should also be included to build breath support and improve sound and projection.
There are various breathing techniques e.g. the popular “In and Out”, in which you inhale for “X” amount of beats, hold for 5 seconds, and exhale for “X” amount of beats.
Next is long tones, which are sustained notes that move slowly so the player can focus on breath control, support, and overall sound.
After a few long tones, it is a good time to tune your clarinet using an electronic tuner or a piano.
Clarinet fundamentals: 13 minutes
The fundamentals portion of your practice includes scales, arpeggios, articulation exercises, finger exercises, register exercises, and dynamic exercises. Sight reading is considered fundamental and can be practiced here as well.
Scales, arpeggios, and finger exercises are all patterns of notes that will improve your finger and eye coordination.
Most music is based on major or minor scales, so you should spend at least 7 minutes working on scales and scale-related patterns such as arpeggios.
The other 6 minutes of fundamentals time should alternate between the remaining tasks. You don’t need to necessarily work on sight reading, registers, dynamics, or articulations all in the same day.
For example, you could spend 3 minutes on dynamics and 3 minutes on articulations. Dynamics are the louds and softs and music, and articulation is how the note is tongued or slurred.
The clarinet has 3 registers to play, and switching between them with good tone and volume takes practice. Register exercises may be done for about 3-4 minutes and can also be balanced with one of the other fundamentals.
Sight reading is playing music for the first time by sight without stopping. This may only takes 2-3 minutes depending on the length of the piece.
Within your practice routine, it is helpful to keep things fresh and switch up the exercises within your fundamentals time.
Etudes and repertoire: 15 minutes
Etude or method books are often a part of private lessons or ensemble rehearsals and may be rehearsed at this point. They will feature music selections that put together the fundamentals and technique you are building.
After practicing the necessary exercises that build your playing, you should definitely reward yourself with practicing a piece you enjoy. This might be a piece of serious repertoire, or something light and fun.
Can you learn the clarinet if you can’t put in the hours?
You might worry that you can’t put in the hours to learn the clarinet.
If you can’t put in the time, your playing will eventually hit a plateau. For hobbyists, this might not be an issue, while those who aspire to play well will need to find time to commit.
Oftentimes, it is a matter of finding a routine that works for you. First, take into account how much time you have to budget for practicing clarinet, and start there.
Nearly everyone has at least 15 minutes of their day maybe three times per week that they can set aside.
For many people, finding a time of day to regularly practice works best. This could be in the morning, after school, before dinner, or even before bed.
Clarinet practice time vs quality
Putting in the time for clarinet practice is pertinent, but how that time is spent should also be examined. How you practice takes precedent over the amount of time spent practicing, or quality over quantity.
An example would be to play a passage ten times without error, or to nail down a particular transition, or to learn a new note.
If you’ve had a tough day, practicing extensively could be a total waste of time. Your mindset plays a role in how you practice clarinet, so it is best to practice for a short duration or delay the session for a better time or day.
Those who practice efficiently for 20 minutes might achieve as much, if not more than, those who grind for an hour and make minimal progress due to poor routine or lack of focus.
Overall, work toward accuracy and consistency in your playing rather than solely the amount of time you sit playing the clarinet.
Can you overpractice clarinet?
It is certainly possible to overpractice. Not only will your body physically wear out, so will your focus.
Never practice clarinet to the point that you injure yourself. Due to the pressure of the lips and jaw along with rapid finger movement, injury can occur if pushing yourself to practice beyond your limitations.
Every player hits a point where focus and patience begin to wane. If you find that your practice starts to become unproductive, it’s time to take a break.
Practicing too much can also cause burnout. Don’t deter your passion for playing the clarinet by going overboard.
Remember to increase your practice time gradually, and not all at once. This helps build physical and mental endurance so that you can extend your practice in a healthy manner.