Masterclass

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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Three New ClariNotes

Three New ClariNotes

I have added three new ClariNotes Newsletters to my website. This brings the newsletter up to 18 issues. I am pleased that Vandoren has also recently been linking to specific issues of ClariNotes for their new monthly WAVE Newsletter.

The three new issues are about:

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ClariNotes17
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I hope you will check out all 18 issues and find something that can help you improve your clarinet technique.

ReedGeek

reed geek

There is a new product out for adjusting reeds and it is called the “ReedGeek.” All of the edges can be used in place of a reed knife. It is safe enough to handle without cutting yourself, but sharp enough to adjust reeds precisely without ever needing to sharpen. Each of the long edges are perfect for flattening the reed table. Three smaller edges are useful in adjusting the rails and the tip. The very edge of the ReedGeek is like having an eraser to take off small particles of wood for balancing.

I have had mine for three months now and I love it. I can adjust reeds faster and more accurately than using sandpaper or my reed knife. I am interested to see if it stays sharp and truly doesn’t need sharpening.

I have updated my ClariNotes Newsletter to inlcude the ReedGeek.

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.

New ClariNotes Issue: SmartMusic Scales

GET SMART WITH SMARTMUSIC

SmartMusic is best known as accompaniment software, but I have found it useful for assessing scales. The following exercises may be downloaded from my website as SmartMusic Assessment Files. Students get instant feedback and teachers may assess their progress.

  • Baermann Scales (Scale, Broken Chords, Interrupted Scale, and Returning Scale)
  • Klose Scales
  • Klose Arpeggios
  • Klose Thirds

My ClariNotes Newsletter Issue Number 15 gives an overview for how I use this in my studio.

New ClariNotes Issue: Changing Registers

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I have a new ClariNotes issue that provides tips for changing registers. Changing registers, or “crossing the break,” is a dreaded aspect of clarinet playing for most beginners. If fundamentals of hand position, embouchure and air aren’t taught from the beginnning, then changing registers smoothly is problematic at best.

Here are some tips for changing registers:

  • Keep the Right Hand Down
  • Rock the Index Finger on the Left Hand
  • Practice Specific Exercises for “Crossing the Break”

Read in more detail about these techniques with my latest issue of ClariNotes.

New ClariNotes Issue: Étude Books

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I have a new ClariNotes Issue that focuses on Étude Books. Études are essential for all serious clarinetists and many students are familiar with names such as Rose and Klose. This issue outlines those standards as well as a few you may not be familiar with, including:

  • Cavallini
  • Uhl
  • Polatschek
  • Bitsch
  • Mandat

Knowing about lesser-known methods and new works can bring a new excitement to practicing études. Checkout more details about these books in this new ClariNotes Issue.

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.  ↩

New ClariNotes Issue #12: Clarinet Voicing

New ClariNotes Issue #12 - Clarinet Voicing

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Voicing refers to the shape inside the mouth while playing the clarinet. We refer to this space as the “Oral Cavity.” The shape created by the back of the tongue has a large impact on tone quality, intonation, register change, articulation, basically everything about playing the clarinet well. Many young teachers focus on the clarinet embouchure, but neglect teaching students about what needs to happen inside the mouth. Helping students play with proper voicing, right from the beginning, has a large impact on how successful they will be as clarinetists. Bad habits with tongue position are very difficult to overcome, but relatively easy to teach beginners.Check out [ClariNotes #12: Clarinet Voicing: Hee Haw!](http://www.adamballif.com/resources/Clarinet-Resource/ClariNotes/ClariNotes12.pdf)

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.  ↩