Practicing

Using MIDI Files for Clarinet Practicing

MIDI files have been around since the 1980s for creating synthesized music. Technology changes so often, yet it is remarkable how MIDI files are still around and useful today. For clarinetists, MIDI files can be a wonderful practice tool for working with accompaniments. SmartMusic is great, but requires a subscription and doesn't always have the clarinet literature needed. I recently found a wonderful website, MUSIX4ME, containing a significant collection of MIDI files of clarinet accompaniments. They are all free to download. Here is how to use them with GarageBand for practicing and memorizing music.

MIDI File Workflow:

  • Download the complete collection via Google Drive
  • Open GarageBand and choose a Blank Session
  • Simply drag the MIDI file into the GarageBand window. It will ask you if you want to import the tempo. You do want to import the tempo.
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Many of the MIDI tracks include the clarinet part as well as the piano part. Here some advantages of doing this with GarageBand.

  • You can mute or solo any track.
  • You can change the tempo without affecting the pitch.
  • You can set loop points for practicing specific sections of music. GarageBand will automatically return to the beginning of the loop for playback with you having to interact with the computer.
  • You can also bounce the MIDI file to an audio file, for import to your iPhone for mobile playback and practicing.
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If you want a more simple approach from using GarageBand, you can download a small MIDI Player app. One nice option is MIDIPlayer X available on the Mac App Store. It is a lightweight app that does a few things well:

  • Drag any Standard MIDI File onto the App Window for Playback
  • Mute channels
  • Change Tempo

It doesn't allow for specific looped areas of playback like you can with GarageBand, or saving out audio file versions.

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New Ballif Beats: Double Life, Eric Mandat

New Ballif Beats Added: Double Life, Eric Mandat

My custom metronomes allow me to practice complex pieces with assymetrical meters. I create these mp3 files in Pro Tools, where I have a lot of control over how the metronome performs. These audio files include:

  • accents on the downbeat of each measure
  • 8th note subdivision on simple meters
  • 16th note subdivision on complex meters

I can save each tempo as a new mp3 file and sync them to my phone for practicing. The third movement of Double Life by Eric Mandat, titled To Be Continued…, is a perfect piece for practicing with a custom metronome.

Feel free to download the files on my Ballif Beats page.

Liked: Work Ethic

Talent is important and plays a role in musical success, but in my opinion, work ethic plays a larger role. Without a consistent work ethic even the most talented student won’t succeed. There will be a place in the world of music for a student who has a “fire in the belly” and the work ethic to back it up.

I love the following quote by Tchaikosvsky:

We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.

The quote is specifically about composition but could applied to any worthy endeavor. Read more in the full article.

Liked: Top 20 Reasons for Using A Metronome

Here is an article giving the The Top 20 Reasons to use a Metronome. I didn’t really know how to practice until I learned how to practice with a metronome. Here are some of the points from the article that I agree with most:

  • It improves your rhythm
  • It makes your practicing more consistent
  • It forces you to listen to something other than your own playing
  • It’s a qualitative way to track your improvement over time
  • It makes you aware of timing issues throughout the song
  • It simplifies challenging rhythms
  • It keeps you from slowing down when you play quiet sections in your song
  • It keeps you from speeding up during loud sections in your song
  • It makes you confident

I love the Dr. Beat metronome. It is loud enough for group practice sessions and easy to add subdivisions, which is vital to practicing with a metronome. I used mine so much that the play/pause button no longer works. I now use an app on my iPhone for all of my metronome practice. It isn’t as loud as my Dr. Beat, but it is loud enough for personal practice. It has subdivisions and also playlists, so I can setup my warmup routine playlist and my favorite tempos are just a finger tap away. The app is Tempo Advance by Frozen Ape software. Many iPhone app metronomes do not keep a steady pulse. I tried many of them and found Tempo Advance to be the most reliable.

Liked: Is Slow Practice Really Necessary

Learning how to practice is even more important than putting in long practice sessions. Practicing consistently, at least two hours per day, is important, but how we use those hours is even more important. Many of us are impatient and resist practicing slowly. Performance psychologist and Juilliard faculty member, Dr. Noa Kageyama, addresses the importance of practicing slowly.

So why don’t we do more slow practice? It’s not because we’re lazy; I think it’s just a big misunderstanding. 1. We are too concerned with the outcome, not the process. 2. We don’t practice slowly enough.

Check out the full article for ways to make your practicing even more effective.

Baermann and Klose SmartMusic Assessments

Baermann’s Celebrated Method For Clarinet is in many ways the bible for developing clarinet technique.[1] In my clarinet studio, the clarinet majors are required to work out of this method each semester and achieve specific skills and tempos.[2] In hopes to help my students to practice these patterns more effectively I have created SmartMusic Assessment files for the Freshman levels in the Baermann Method. These scale requirements include the following patterns in all major and minor keys:

  • full-range scales
  • broken chords
  • interrupted scales
  • returning scales

In creating these SmartMusic Assessment files, I decided to add breaks in the scales for breathing. In this way, a student should be able to record themselves through SmartMusic for an entire key without having to stop the exercise in between patterns. These files will give the student immediate feedback on the percentage of correct notes and the student can then send the recording to the teacher as an assignment.

In addition to the Baermann Method, I also use the Klose scales, arpeggios, and thirds in my daily routine. I have also prepared SmartMusic Assessments for these patterns. I have two versions of the Klose scales: one is broken up with breath marks and another without breaks for practicing circular breathing.

The Baermann files are accessible through my clarinet studio page or direct download links are below.

Baermann SmartMusic Files

Baermann Finale Files

Klose Scales, Arpeggios, Thirds SmartMusic File


  1. Carl Baermann’s Celebrated Method For Clarinet, Part 3 by Carl Baermann (1810–1885). Arranged by Jack Snavely. Published by Kendor Music Inc (KN.21045)  ↩

  2. Click here for the clarinet foundation requirements at Brigham Young University - Idaho.  ↩

Clarinet Tech: Performing with iPad and iPhone

Clarinet Tech: Performing with iPad and iPhone

Having an iPad since its launch in 2010 has changed many things about the way that I work.[1] From the way that I take attendance in class, notes in meetings, reading on the go, and leaving my MacBook behind, the iPad has become an integral part of my work. Many of these tasks are administrative related, but the iPad has also influenced the way that I practice and perform.

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ForScore

ForScore

Soon after getting the iPad, I realized its potential as a sheet music storage device. I spent the next several months scanning all of my clarinet repertoire so that I could have all of my music with me, all of the time. ForScore was one of the first sheet music apps for the iPad and luckily it has been continually updated with great features. I still think that it is the best sheet music reader for the iPad for classical musicians.[2] I have all of my clarinet solo parts saved as PDF documents in ForScore. I can make markings as annotations, create set lists, email, print, and the page turns are faster than other readers that I have tried.

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AirTurn

AirTurn Bluetooth Foot Pedal

Following the popularity of using an iPad for sheet music, a Colorado-based company came out with a wireless foot pedal for turning pages handsfree. AirTurn foot pedals are small devices that fit in my backpack, and can be quickly paired with my iPad for turning pages. Since the iPad screen is only big enough to show one page at a time, have a wireless foot pedal becomes critical for certain pieces. After having used this in practice and performance, I purchased a second foot pedal, and a small dock to house the two foot pedals and the wireless receiver. The second foot pedal is used for turning pages backward, which is useful for when the piece has a DC or DS repeat. It takes some practice to coordinate turning pages with your foot while playing, but once you get used to it, it is very slick. w

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Bose SoundLink

Bose SoundLink - Bluetooth Speaker

The most recent addition to my clarinet tech arsenal is the Bose SoundLink. This compact speaker connects wireless to my iPhone over Bluetooth and I am able to perform with accompaniments or play-along recordings.[3] The SoundLink sounds great for its size; it is plenty loud and rich. With this connection in place, I can perform with anything that is loaded into the iPod app on my iPhone.

Paperless Clarinet Performance

With the above three devices, the pieces have fallen into place for me to perform with accompaniment with very little setup and equipment. A couple of months back, I was invited to give a clarinet presentation for some middle school students. I took my clarinet, iPad, iPhone, and Bose speaker. I had all of my sheet music on hand. I performed movements from the following pieces with accompaniment: Brahms Second Sonata, Poulenc Sonata, Guisganderie by JeanJean, and Gershwin’s American in Paris. The sheet music and accompaniments worked flawlessly and the students were genuinely interested in the setup. Later that same week, my wife and I performed for a wedding reception using the same setup.

At first, I only viewed these options as wonderful practice tools, but over time they have evolved into viable performance tools. It has been three short years since iPad 1 came out. I can’t wait to see what the tech future holds for the next three years.

  1. I still have a 1st generation iPad. It works fine, but is showing its age. It feels slow sometimes, but the battery life is still amazing. I plan on finally upgrading to an iPad 5 when it is announced this Fall.  ↩
  2. Another sheet music reader that I have used is GigBook. GigBook is better suited for jazz musicians because of its design for quickly creating set lists for gigs.  ↩
  3. I create some of the accompaniments using Sibelius and others I record out of SmartMusic. With SmartMusic and MIDI files, most of the piano parts are accessible for the clarinet masterworks.  ↩

Liked: Never Mind Talent: Practice, Practice, Practice

Karen Rile, University of Pennsylvania, writes the following about the value of learning how to practice.



In our culture, we have romantic notions of the artist as a formidable, congenital genius. Obsessive focus on talent alone creates a hobbling anxiety of failure. How many of us are discouraged from trying because we were told we are “tone deaf” or “can’t draw a straight line”? So forget about talent. If I had a nickel for every parent who told me her own kid was a “natural” at music, dance, or whatever, but never got anywhere because he didn’t like to practice, I could take everybody out for lunch. Teach your kids to practice. Practice something difficult and complex, where the rewards come slowly over time. And it doesn’t matter if they’re naturals; the lesson’s more profound when they are not.



I have always said that I would rather teach a student who knows how to work and is disciplined than another student who has a lot of talent but is lazy. Read more in the full article.

New Ballif Beats: Leonard Bernstein Sonata

I have added a new Ballif Beats Custom Metronome: The final movement from Leonard Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata. This is the fast 5/8 section that has mixed meter and can be tricky to line up with the accompaniment. There are two sets of files. The "BernsteinA" files are for the 5/8 section preceding the Lento Molto (Rehearsal Marking A to J). The "BernsteinB" files are for after the Lento Molto (Rehearsal Marking P to the end). You may demo the metronome on the Ballif Beats page, as well as download the .zip file containing all of the .mp3 files at the following tempos: 112, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 152.

Click here to access my Ballif Beats.

ClariNotes Issue Nine: Metronome Work

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I find that practicing with a metronome is challenging at first for most students. It seems like a simple and easy task: simply play with the click. For some reason, as hard as people try, that darn metronome seems to speed up and slow down. “Why can’t it stay steady?!?”

When it gets frustrating to play with your metronome, don’t succumb to the temptation of turning it off. Practicing effectively with a metronome is a mark of a true musician and in some ways will be one of the most important skills you develop.

Here are some principles to follow for effective metronome work:

Have Specific Tempos for Everything

  • Use a metronome for each part of your warmup
    • Long Tones (Quarter Note = 60)
    • Scales, Arpeggios, Thirds (Quarter Note = 88, 126)
    • Articulation, Langenus Pg. 22 (Quarter Note = 104, 112, 120, 132, 144, etc…)

Use Sudivisions

  • Use an 8th-note subdivision instead of a quarter-note pulse only. This will help you develop very even fingers and prevent you from rushing in between the beats.

Go Up 4 Clicks At A Time

  • Using a metronome is the key to speeding up technical passages. Don’t try to go too fast too soon. Increase the tempo by multiples of four. Each increase in tempo will not seem much faster than the one previous. Before you know it, you will be playing the passage at tempo.

Practicing Asymmetrical Meters (5/8, 7/8)

  • In order to practice asymmetrical meters, you need to use a constant subdivision. Put the metronome on 8th notes, or 16th notes if necessary. Don’t give up by turning the metronome off.

I am also a believer in foot tapping. The metronome can help you internalize the pulse. Tapping your foot correctly, in time, and with a metronome will help later when it is time to perform without the constant click.

Make sure you purchase a metronome that is loud enough to hear and has options for subdivisions, like the Dr. Beat above.

Remember, Don’t Keep The Doctor Away!

Download ClariNotes Issue Nine: Metronome Work