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 Udemy.com. I abandoned this early in my journey as I felt it was too difficult too soon. However, I would like to revisit it.

nicki minaj wow GIF

FIRST OF MANY LESSONS…

Week one consisted of finding resources to help me along my journey. I came across Yamaha.com, 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 Udemy.com, 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.

WHY AM I COVERED IN SPIT?

I enrolled and embarked in my Udemy.com  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 Udemy.com 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 Udemy.com course did not provide.

READING IS HARD!

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 Udemy.com 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.

EXPERIENCING PROGRESS

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?

Every
Good
Boy
Deserves
Fudge

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.

ESTABLISHING AN END GOAL

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 Udemy.com 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 IS FALLING, MY FACE IS FALLING!

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.

SOUND ADVICE!

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.

DUET WITH TECHNOLOGY

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 Udemy.com? Of course, I was ready!

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

CAME UP SHORT

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

Duet with technology

This week has been another great progression of my clarinet confidence and overall skills. I feel comfortable holding the clarinet, fingering the left-hand notes fluently, and increasing my breathing and facial stamina. I practiced more this week than ever before.

Here is the progress that I made towards last week’s goals:

Continue to play more often in smaller time chunks.

I did this and it made a big difference. I hope to continue on the same path of how often I practiced this week.

Continue to play songs that incorporate all seven notes played by the left (correction from last week) hand (A, C-G) but try to play them twice in a row.

I continue to practice the left-hand notes and have become more capable of transitioning between all notes with songs that incorporate them. With regards to being to play them twice in a row, I haven’t been able to sustain this with all songs, but I am getting better.

Continue to practice labeling notes (A, C-G) on sheet music to build fluency in recognizing and reading.

Again, I haven’t done this as I feel that playing them and building my stamina is more important. I may have to adjust or replace this goal for this week.

Continue to use the metronome using 120 bpm.

Spot on. I prefer to use this level of beats per minute rather than the slow going rhythm of 60 beats per minute that I was using before. The thing that is difficult with this increased speed is transitioning between quarter notes, half notes, and full notes. However, with more practice, I am confident this will be less of an issue.

Continue to work on playing Beethoven’s Ninth without the use of labeled notes.

I continue to work on this and have made some advancements with it, but not as much as I would have liked. Having said that, I tend to practice it at the end of each of my sessions, for which I am exhausted and struggling. So, perhaps I should try to practice at the beginning of each session when I am rested and ready to go. Reading the unlabelled notes is a bit more of a challenge, but once I hear what it should sound like, I rely on that to help me memorize the song (as mentioned in a previous post).

Catherine had left me a comment on a previous post and suggested that I do a duet with my daughter. Because we share the same instrument, I didn’t think this was possible. However, I came across a few songs in my songbook that are meant to be done as a duet. I played each part and thought to myself, “I wonder if I can combine each part to make it sound like a duet?” Well, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce to you my attempt at a duet with technology (this is when you press the play button on the video below). I even jazzed it up with some fancy title pages and backgrounds to add to the music after I realized that the Napoleon Dynamite dance clip I had originally included may be against copyright.

To create this duet, I used WeVideo and added another audio layer to be able to play both audio clips at the same time. I matched them up as best as I could and I am darn proud of how it turned out. My niece (a.k.a. clarinet mentor) said I harmonized well (whatever that means). It was an uplifting experience to be able to create it.

As I have progressed through the songbook that I printed off and labeled with each note, I have come to the point where the B note is starting to get introduced. The thing about the scary B note is that it is played with the right hand. OMG! This is beyond what I had originally planned to play by semester’s end, but due to my positive progression, I feel that I am ready to take it on this coming week.

To add to this, the songbook also introduces a 2/4 time signature. I am still reliant on using my metronome app so it will be helpful with making this transition between time signatures. The video below gives a quick explanation of this difference.

Here are the things I’d like to focus on this week:

  1. Continue to play more often in smaller time chunks (same as this week).
  2. Start to play songs that incorporate the B note and other such notes using my right hand.
  3. Practice reading music by saying the notes verbally and practice fingering them as I read (this is to replace the labeling of notes goal that I had before).
  4. Continue to use the metronome using 120 bpm.
  5. Continue to work on playing Beethoven’s Ninth without the use of labeled notes (practice at the beginning of each session).

Sound advice!

I can’t say enough about having someone available to give me feedback as I practice and progress towards my goals. My niece has done it again for me this week. After sharing my recent recordings with her and expressing how I am still having difficulties maintaining enough breath and facial strength to sustain more than one song, she advised me to increase my metronome to more beats per minute. I thought that this would mean I would be playing outside of the 4/4 time signature that I was hoping to adhere to in order to keep things simple. However, I noticed on my Soundbrenner metronome app that I am able to increase the beats per minute (bpm). I was using 60 bpm this whole time. I decided to double that and try 120 bpm and what a difference it made. Not only do the songs sound better, but I find this now challenges me with my fingering speed from one note to the next (something I need to work on). In addition, I don’t have to stretch out my breathing and drag out notes like I was when I was playing 60 bpm. This slight adjustment made a big difference and I’m excited to continue with this simple change.

Here is a sample of the songs I was practicing this week. You’ll notice that the first two songs are the same but with an adjustment to the beats per minute.

Here are the goals I had set for last week as well as a reflection on how I noticed my progress towards them:

Play more often in smaller time chunks that are sliced to allow for my facial muscles to have a rest yet build stamina.
During each of my practice sessions, I played in 5 minute increments with a 2 minute rest in between. This, in conjunction, with my increased bpm allowed me to play more fluently.

Play songs that incorporate all eight notes played by the left hand (A-G).
The songs I practiced this week included notes E, D, C, G, & F, but not

Continue to practice labeling notes (A-G) on sheet music to build fluency in recognizing and reading.
I didn’t do this at all as I wanted to focus on building my stamina and playing fluency.

Attempt to play songs without the use of labeled notes using only notes C, D, & E.
I did attempt this. My daughter brought home a song, Beethoven’s Ninth, for which she will be playing at her first concert at the beginning of December. I was able to read and play the first line of the song (not sure if that’s how you would refer to it) without it having to be labeled. However, it helped that I knew how the song should sound and I feel that I was able to catch on quicker because of this.

Here are some things to I would like to work on this week:

  1. Continue to play more often in smaller time chunks.
  2. Continue to play songs that incorporate all seven notes played by the left (correction from last week) hand (A, C-G) but try to play them twice in a row.
  3. Continue to practice labeling notes (A, C-G) on sheet music to build fluency in recognizing and reading.
  4. Continue to use the metronome using 120 bpm.
  5. Continue to work on playing Beetohoven’s Ninth without the use of labeled notes.

My face is falling, my face is falling!

After only one session this week due to a busy schedule and being out of town for 4 days, I realized that I need to work on building my face muscles up to sustain a good embouchure. After about 20 minutes of practice, I start to struggle with my breathing, the air is escaping through the sides of my mouth, my cheeks are inflating like a blowfish, and there is inevitable squeaking. All of these are signs of poor embouchure due to my face falling or my face muscles weakening. The video below helped me realize that this is something that needs work and it can be done in slices. This means taking my practice time and slicing it into four manageable pieces with short breaks in between. This will allow me to give my face a rest but also build up my stamina and strength.

I also feel that I need to practice more often, but perhaps in shorter periods. I wonder if working in smaller chunks more often throughout the week would work better to help build my stamina and strength.

Aside from this realization, I’ve been very happy with my ability to label the notes on sheet music (however, I did notice an error during my practice session this week while playing). I had my daughter look over my work, for which she exclaimed, “This is weird. I’m the teacher correcting your work as a student. It seems backward.” I know that when I continue to practice labeling, it will help me eventually be able to read notes without them having to be identified. I actually tried this with my daughter’s music book, which isn’t labeled, but I struggled to be fluent while reading and playing. I’ll keep plugging along.

I have started to attempt playing several songs with minimal difficulties. I’m finding that I’m still needing to use my metronome app on my phone (courtesy of Soundbrenner) to keep the beat. I tend to be eager and speed up while playing, which results in more of a 4/8 time signature than 4/4. The songs demonstrated in the video below consists only of the notes E, D, & C but there is a mixture of whole and half notes, which takes some getting used to.

Again, I brought in my daughter as the expert to help give me feedback as I felt I wasn’t sounding right. She confirmed my progress and then showed me up by playing songs that not only consisted of the 8 notes used by the left hand, but she is starting to play note B with her right. After watching her play, I started to feel less progressive. It took me right back to Matteo‘s comment that in his experience, adults are slower learners. I’m going to hold that comment tight and use it to justify my progress compared to my daughter’s.

This week’s goals:

  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.

Establishing an End Goal

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”

Bill Copeland

I have started to realize this week that I need an end goal to work towards by the end of this semester with regard to my learning process with the clarinet. I feel I have experienced some highs and lows in my journey, but I know this is expected and is part of the whole process. However, what is it that I’m trying to work towards exactly? Matteo has me thinking based on his comment on last week’s post, “I had a few adult students, and I found that they really learned things sort of differently (lol, to be honest, they were slower learners compared to most kids)”. Learn differently and slower learners is what really popped out at me (no offense taken). So based on that, here is what I’ve concluded that I would like to be able to do by the end of this term:

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.
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.

I’m sure this may seem very basic for most people, but I feel that with my short time limit, these goals are realistic for me. I’ve come to realize that labeling notes is drastically different than being able to identify and play them at the same time. As I practiced (without labeling), I found that I was able to catch on to a song quicker by listening to the notes and tune rather than reading them as I learned. By taking out the step of reading notes and having them labeled, I was able to focus more on keeping the beat, especially with the incorporation of half notes, whole notes, and rests. Essentially, listening to a book over and over again is easier for me to learn and remember than reading individual words. I feel like I am a hypocrite in my own profession.

Insult Hypocrite GIF
Retrieved from Giphy

Moving on, here is a sample (Countdown) of my progress this week.

I sent this sample to my niece, my new teacher, to get her help with a few things I was having frustration with.

Please disregard our inconsistent use of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization throughout our conversation.

I know her advice on spending more time on learning theory is important, but time is of the essence and theory has to take a back seat to my goals listed above. So, I was able to find a pdf version of a Standard of Excellence Book, for which I printed off some pages and have been using to label notes on.

I’ve noticed that I’ve gone away from my Udemy.com course that I was very excited about. I think this is because it went way to fast for me and didn’t allow me enough time to practice the introductory notes like the Measures of Success book has that my daughter uses. Although it was exciting to think that I could go from beginner to pro in 5 hours, I only made it through three sections out of the ten offered before I became overwhelmed. I also don’t have the time to dedicate to this course as I feel you need to be following it regularly.

All in all, I feel better knowing I have an end goal and feel good about getting there!

Experiencing Progress

Well, I’ve brought in an expert this week, my talented 14-year-old niece. I couldn’t be more proud of her for not only setting aside time in her busy schedule to work with me (and my daughter) but having the patience to fine-tune some of the issues I have been experiencing. As Brooke identified in the comments of my last post, it is sometimes easier to have an “instructor present to help you through the struggles or to ask questions and receive immediate feedback.” I couldn’t agree more with this for my situation.

First off, she gave me praise for a number of things that I have been doing correctly, which helped build my confidence (proper fingering, posture, and rhythm). Then she gave me a few tips to help with my embouchure, breathing, and tonguing. However, the most useful tip was learning how to better breath into the instrument. I was trying to blow down into the reed rather than across it through the center of my lips. I also put a bit too much pressure on the reed which restricts the ability for the air to pass through, and in turn, forces me to have to work harder to blow air past the reed. What a relief!

Lastly, she became my ultimate musical hero when she explained to me how to read sheet music. I knew this had to take this on as there aren’t any tablatures (from what I could find) for clarinet as they are usually meant for stringed instruments. So alas, I had to dive into reading sheet music. To my amazement, there is a way to remember both the notes on the lines and notes in the spaces. For notes on the lines, the following acronym can be used:

Every
Good
Boy
Deserves
Fudge

Retrieved from Teaching Ideas

There are also other versions such as Every Good Boy Does Fine, or Every Good Boy Deserves Fun. I’ve chosen the first one as I instantly visualize a cute little chubby kid indulging in chocolate.

For notes within the spaces, it spells the word FACE.

Retrieved from Teaching Ideas

With these two ways to memorize reading notes, I just need to put in the time so that it becomes natural and easy. Therefore, I searched out some resources to help me practice. One resource I already had is the Standard of Excellence book that my daughter uses each day. I’m starting to understand it’s value in the step-by-step introduction and practice of specific notes in order. There are a number of small numbers that I can play and practice. My plan is to dive into this more this week.

With these two ways to memorize reading notes, I just need to put in the time so that it becomes natural and easy. Therefore, I searched out some resources to help me practice. One resource I already had is the Standard of Excellence book that my daughter uses each day. I’m starting to understand it’s value in the step-by-step introduction and practice of specific notes in order. There are a number of small numbers that I can play and practice. My plan is to dive into this more this week.

I also came across a note reading Mad Minute! How awesome is that!?! Several Mad Minute test competitions with my daughter and we’ll both come out victorious (hopefully).

Retrieved from Denise Gagne

Lastly, I came across this website for kids (or beginner adults) called Music Play I’ve set up an account and have found a few activities that allow me to practice more memorization of reading treble clef sheet music.

Well, with this week’s sessions focused on fixing a few flaws and finding some good resources to help me read music, I think I have my week of practicing set up for me.

Stay tuned!

Reading is hard!

This week I reviewed previous lessons I had learned last week.  This included practicing notes E, F, & G and combining them with and without the use of 4 count rests.  I feel that my fingering of each of these notes is relatively decent, but I’m still struggling with how to be comfortable with my articulation and breathing.  It’s amazing how a couple of days off in between sessions sets you back and makes me feel like I’m stuck in a rut.  

stuck rooster GIFCredit: Giphy

To get another explanation of how articulation works, I found a YouTube video series created by Sean Osborn.  He has created a set of 10 short videos to help beginners become familiar with the playing clarinet.  I watched both the video on breathing and articulation and learned some new things that I didn’t learn from my Udemy course.  One of these new learnings was understanding that one should use “the minimum amount of tongue, moving the minimum amount of distance, touching the minimum amount of reed.”  To demonstrate this more, he was able to use a medical camera to get a video of the inside of this mouth to demonstrate his incredible ability to articulate (tongue) while playing.  Check it out (start watching at 3:40 into the video clip below)!

Apparently while trying to achieve proper articulation, there is something called “anchor tongue”.  This means you tongue the reed with the middle of your tongue instead of the tip and then rest the remainder of your tongue on the back of your teeth.  I don’t know if I have this problem, but I would love a medical camera to assess the situation for me if anyone is willing to lend me theirs.

Back to my Udemy.com course.  After I reviewed some lessons, I moved on to learning intervals, also known as scale in thirds (according to my Udemy.com course instructor).  I was taught how to transition from the lowest note (C), skip a note (D) and play (E), go back to (D), skip a note (F) and play (G), and so on.  This was more difficult for me as I tried to read the sheet music provided as a reference.  I have not spent enough time becoming familiar with sheet music to be able to play six different notes on it in a musical fashion.  However, I was given some sound advice in our last class discussion about our projects from my dear friend Brad Raes, for which he suggested that I don’t spend too much time learning how to read music.  Because he’s a smart guy, this week I decided to simply watch my instructor as she placed her fingers on the instrument instead and mimicked her actions.  Going back and repeatedly practicing allowed me to memorize the fingering as well as the sounds as I put them into practice.  I know this isn’t proper, but I  much preferred it.  Rather than learning to read music, I may have to spend some time translating the notes to letters to make it easier for me to read and follow.  Does anyone know if there are tablatures for clarinet like there are for guitar?

Here is a recording of my attempt at doing intervals solo, without the use of a metrinome or my online Udemy.com instructor.  You can tell that I still struggle with keeping a good breathe as I advance from note to note, especially at the end.  

I tried moving on to Section Four – Slurring, but didn’t get very far. This section introduces three new notes (B, A, and G), which required me to use my right hand. I’m not sure I’m ready for this as I feel I still need more practice with the first six notes that I’ve been practicing using my left hand. I may have to look for other resources to help get me more practice, such as the “Measures of Success” book that my daughter uses in school or other YouTube tutorials. Does anyone know of any other options I could explore? Udemy.com is moving much too quickly for me.