Character Traits of Great Clarinet Students…and Musings On Ego

Clarinet, Clarinet Tips, Clarinet Wholistic, Classical clarinetists-female, Classical clarinetists-male, Practicing, Teaching, Uncategorized

One of the greatest teachers of young clarinetists today, and someone I greatly admire, Eva Wasserman-Margolis,  recently wrote a profound statement: ‘The quality of music is of utmost importance …. but it is really about the human being behind the music that is most important to me’. I have maintained that in teaching, the heart of a student is more important than their playing ability. In a very real sense we educate hearts in lessons, instilling compassion for music, for others, and for ourselves.

After reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, I decided to create a document for college and high school students. My ‘Characteristics of A Great Musician’ is given to all of my students. You will find the document at the end of this post or it may be downloaded from my website here.

I asked several students to expand upon my ‘Character Traits’ definitions. It will come as no surprise that they gave terrific answers. What you read in the document below, then, is a list of character traits developed from my own experience, from information online, and partly defined by students.

Note: Students are most curious about humbleness as it applies to music. I find humility is often thought of as a negative concept. Students think it means lack of ego, self-deprecation, shaming self or others, low self-esteem….or worse, that it means allowing others to abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like to use this quote to define humbleness: ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.’

Indeed, that quote might lead to a fun discussion. What is ego, and is ego good, bad, or neither? What part does ego play in performing?  Is it possible to play in humbleness? What might that look like? How might humility help or hurt performance? Hmmmm…….

Enjoy!

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Preventing Injury In Clarinet Students – Five Guidelines For Private Teachers and School Conductors

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Several high school students recently came to me with tension, muscle weakness, pain, numbness or tingling. This was largely due to overuse, poor muscle tone and poor body positioning. The students were afraid to tell anyone, and they thought it was ok to continue playing through the pain. Mostly they didn’t want to let their band director down, whom they adore. This is not uncommon, but as a teacher it is difficult and time-consuming to unravel the problems.

Dr. Lynnette Khoo-Summers , Associate Professor in Physical Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis (and my own physical therapist) says, “Some injuries for young teen clarinetists happen when changing from a plastic to wood clarinet. There is an inability to hold the added weight, especially if thumbs and wrists are weak. Older teen players often have poor posture and muscle tone in general. This can translate to playing issues over time. Finally, students these days have a lot of homework in addition to band/orchestra rehearsals and practicing. It’s a lot to expect! Getting seven to eight hours of sleep becomes important to muscle recovery and maintaining good health.”

With all we must accomplish in our jobs, how can we as teachers and conductors work with students to prevent injury?

Here are five simple guidelines:

1) Remind students to tell you if they are experiencing pain, numbness or tingling. Instruct them to stop playing if in pain and come to you for assistance. I highly recommend that suffering students see their physician and ask for a referral to a good physical therapist.

Once a month I ask students, “are you feeling any pain, numbness or tingling in your neck, arms, jaw, wrists, fingers, and back?” and “Are you getting enough sleep?”

2) Check that students are physically set up well, with proper posture in relaxed and supported fashion. Make sure chairs are the correct size. Encourage students to live an active lifestyle. If you are a teacher who uses neck straps, try fitting your student carefully to take pressure off the right hand, thumb and wrist. If there are weaknesses in muscles or if finger joints are collapsing, do not hesitate to reach out for help from sports or arts physicians and physical therapists. Teachers and band/orchestra directors cannot specialize in everything! It truly takes a village.

3) Allow increases of practice time by 10% per week ONLY. If students are practicing 60 minutes and the teacher wishes to increase the total to 120 minutes, it will take approximately eight weeks to reach the goal. Sudden increases in practice time cause stress on muscles and joints. Bodies need time to adjust!

4) Cell phone and computer usage can contribute to overuse injuries on the clarinet. Encourage students to straighten their arms often to offset hours of bending the elbows. When you see students sitting at a computer, ask them if their neck is thrust too far forward and if they are maintaining good back posture.

5) Backpacks should weigh no more than 10% to 15% of child’s body weight. I had a 17-year old female student complain of neck pain, only to find out her backpack weighed over 30 pounds! With the lack of physical conditioning prevalent today, heavy backpacks are a recipe for disaster. Be sure to encourage students to leave unnecessary materials in the band room or locker. Remind students to distribute backpack weight by using BOTH straps.

Injuries in young music students are on the rise. Simple preventative measures can help prevent serious problems later on. Students will enjoy playing more if they are not in pain.

Questions or comments? Respond below.

PRACTICE TIME IN PERCENTAGES FORMAT

Clarinet, Classical clarinetists-female, Practicing, Teaching, Uncategorized

In practicing, students usually fall into one of two groups. Using highly technical terms (not), I call these groups:

1) those who get lost in details (detail-ers)

2) those who run through material without much attention (runners)

‘Detailers’ enjoy the process and can get lost in musical minutiae, forgetting that time exists. An hour later they may have completed work on two measures.

‘Runners enjoy playing music from start to finish without stopping. They rarely listen well or fix issues. Then they go walk their dog or text their friends.b

Truth is, we need a balance between being a Detailer and a Runner in our daily practice.

Below is a formula for practicing that includes time for detail work and time for performance. I’ve put everything in percentages that can easily be changed into number of minutes. Use a timer. Note: there is no magic in this formula. As I always say, make my ideas work for YOU. I have shown two options only as a starting point. Be creative!

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