Major Project – Coles Notes

As I looked back at all of my posts to help me summarize my major project, it has made me realize how far I have come with my knowledge, abilities, and confidence in playing the clarinet. I have not only impressed myself, but my two mentors (my daughter and my niece) are equally amazed at what I have accomplished. Although I haven’t reached all of the goals I have set throughout the process, I feel inclined to continue practicing using some of my online resources, such as I abandoned this early in my journey as I felt it was too difficult too soon. However, I would like to revisit it.

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Week one consisted of finding resources to help me along my journey. I came across, which helped familiarize me with how to put the clarinet together as well as how to hold it properly. I particularly liked the visual of the proper fingering for each note. I printed this off for both my daughter and I to use.

I also came across, which gave me a free glimpse at some videos related to their Learn to Play the Clarinet: Beginner to Pro in Under Five Hours course, for which I enrolled in within the week.

In addition to finding these two great resources, I had some help from my daughter to play my first two basics songs (Hot Crossed Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb) using the notes E, D, and C. Lastly, she taught me how to properly clean the instrument after use, which I didn’t even consider needed to be done, and correctly put it back in its case.


I enrolled and embarked in my  lessons. I started off with a review of things that my daughter had taught me such as the parts of the clarinet, how to put it together, take it apart, and clean it properly. I also started to learn the first few notes (E, F, & G) but struggled with my embouchure, breathing, tonguing (articulation), and refraining from showering myself and my instrument with spit.

season 4 episode 6 GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants
The struggle is real!

Through my course, my instructor was using a metronome to keep a beat. I decided to download my own app rather than replaying the lesson video. This was by far one of the best decisions I made as I found it difficult to do on my own, especially as I learned quarter, half, and whole notes in the weeks ahead.

Lastly, I continued to utilize the step-by-step guidance of my daughter’s Standard of Excellence book that she uses in band class as it allowed me to practice the first introductory notes and fingering techniques that my course did not provide.


Articulation continued to be a trouble spot for me during the third week. I did some more research and found a video on YouTube that helped me with this issue. This was very helpful and even provided me with a good visual of some of my tonguing difficulties and how to correct them.

I continued on with my course and learned intervals or scale in thirds. This was a challenge as I had not practiced at all with my music theory (reading notes) and that is what was used as a reference on the course for me to follow. Thanks to my rockstar classmate, Brad Raes for giving me permission to forgo learning the theory and simply find other ways to compensate for this, such as using tabs like a guitar. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as clarinet tabs, so I replayed the video lesson over and over again until I could watch the instructor’s fingering as well as listen to the notes being played until I memorized it. Not the fastest way to learn, but it worked for this lesson.


During the fourth week, I brought in another expert, my 14-year-old niece. This idea was brought on by another wonderful classmate, Brooke, who commented that it is sometimes easier to have an “instructor present to help you through the struggles or to ask questions and receive immediate feedback.” My niece gave me credit for the things I was doing well and then adjusted some of my embouchure techniques, specifically breathing across the reed rather than down into it. She also stressed the importance of music theory and gave me some tips on how to read notes. Although this contradicted what Brad had told me, I trusted her expertise and decided to focus on reading music.

I found a website that provided me with some acronyms for notes on the lines and notes between the lines. Who doesn’t love a good acronym to help imprint something on your brain?


Retrieved from Teaching Ideas

Retrieved from Teaching Ideas

I also found a printable musical Mad Minute worksheet as well as an interactive website that provided me with more practice on music theory.


This week I realized that I needed to have an end goal in place to know exactly what I was trying to achieve by the end of the semester. I started to admit to myself that the course was not the be-all and end-all that I was thinking it was going to be for me. It moved way too quickly for my amateur skills, and I was coming to terms with this. Matteo made mention in one of my posts that he has had a few adult students, and he found that they really learned things sort of differently; they were slower learners compared to most kids. Now that I had things put into perspective about adult learners, I set some goals.

Ultimate Goal
Be able to play at least 5 different songs using my labeled sheet music that incorporates only the notes A-F (notes played with the left hand only).

Steps to Achieve Ultimate Goal
1. Be able to fluently label notes A-F on sheet music to help learn music theory.
2. Be able to efficiently identify and play quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes in a 4/4 time signature
3. Be able to “master” my embouchure, articulation, and breathing.

With this in mind, I continued to plug away using my daughter’s Standard of Excellence book and recorded another song.


My face muscles just don’t have the stamina and strength that they need to allow me to play as much as I want in one session. I found a video describing some difficulties with maintaining a good embouchure and it was recommended to slice playing sessions into smaller chunks with short breaks incorporated throughout. This would allow face muscles to rest and recharge.

I also started to practice labeling sheet music and was starting to get better at recognizing notes. I would then use this labeled sheet music to practice and take away the stress of trying to read and play notes at the same time. What a lifesaver! This was meant to be a short term solution to music theory.

More songs were recorded and more feedback was given from my daughter, who was starting to get tired of “helping” me learn to play. The novelty was wearing off.

I set more goals since some progress was made:

  1. Play more often in smaller time chunks that are sliced to allow for my facial muscles to have a rest yet build stamina.
  2. Play songs that incorporate all eight notes played by the left hand (A-G).
  3. Continue to practice labeling notes (A-G) on sheet music to build fluency in recognizing and reading.
  4. Attempt to play songs without the use of labeled notes using only notes C, D, & E.


I sought out my niece again to get some specific feedback this week as my daughter had lost interest. Am I ever glad I did that as she recommended that I increase my metronome to be 120 beats per minute (bpm) instead of the 60 bpm that I had been practicing with all along. This would mean that I wouldn’t have to hold a note for as long, which would have a positive impact on my articulation, breathing, and embouchure difficulties. Don’t get me wrong, this didn’t fix everything, but it helped tremendously.

I reflected on my goals and realized that I was not going to make progress with my music theory and that labeled sheet music was the way to go. However, I still wanted to make one last-ditch effort but committing to playing the song that my daughter would be playing at her winter band concert, Beethoven’s Ninth, without it being labeled. A tall feat perhaps, but I was committed to the challenge.


As I continued to practice the step-by-step guidance using the Standards of Excellence book, I came across a song that could be played as a duet. The interesting thing about this is that Catherine had mentioned in a previous post that I should play a duet with my daughter. Due to her lack of interest and the fact that we both shared one clarinet, I decided that I would create a duet on my own. I recorded both parts and joined them together using WeVideo and voila! My very first duet!

In addition to this duet, I had progressed so far in my lessons that I was being introduced to the scary B note. This is a note that is played with the right hand. I had only been learning notes that are played using my left hand and that was my end goal. Do I continue on? Am I even ready? Should I go back and repeat lessons like I did for Of course, I was ready!

I adjusted and set more goals and was eager to make more progress.


Unfortunately, with preparing and facilitating 3-way conferences as well as planning three family birthday parties within two weeks, I came up short on my goals. That’s just the way things work sometimes. However, I am super impressed with the progress I made with learning to play the clarinet and I have so much more respect for all musicians.

I also have a lot of respect for band teachers. I attended my daughter’s band concert last week and they have over 100 grade 6 students to coordinate with over 10 different instruments. I was shocked by how well they played at this time of the year already. I’m excited to see how much more they improve by the end of the year. I’m also interested to see if my daughter will continue on with band next year.

Lastly, I have shared my journey with my family over the semester and they’ve been very supportive. Supportive in my family is making fun of someone who is going out of their comfort zone. However, my parents have invited all kids and grandkids to bring their instruments (three clarinets, one trombone, and one piano player) to their house during our Christmas gathering to have a family music jam sessions. This is going to be an interesting Christmas!

Family Band

One thought on “Major Project – Coles Notes

  1. I agree with you, being a band teacher would be an incredibly hard job! I love that your parents are going to be hosting a mini-symphony over the holidays. I hope to see video or hear audio of the performance. Reading notes is something that I remember struggling with way back when I was in grade six band. You did very well throughout this semester!


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