The Modified Box Breath

Clarinet, Teaching

I was taught this wind version of the Box Breath by Laura Dwyer, a fabulous flutist in the St. Louis area. Also known as the Navy Seal breathing technique, the Box Breath is calming and energizing at the same time. Students who try it find it effective in calming nerves before tests or auditions. Practice the Box Breath as part of a daily practice routine for 10-15 minutes. It really works!

The wind version includes a quick inhale followed by a slower exhale. It may take a while to learn to pace the exhale. Be sure to visualize the rectangle. Unlike the original box breath, I go immediately from inhale to exhale without a pause or ‘catch’ in the throat.


Tips For Better Performances

Clarinet, Clarinet Reeds, Recital Prep, Teaching

No one can take away our musicality. Reeds may fail. Technical slip-ups are common. We might trip. Distractions are everywhere! 

But musicality is internal. So focus on musicality. No one can mess with musicality. Pour over and study harmony. Practice shaping every phrase. Be concerned with beauty and artistry.


1) preparation – Be thorough and wise in preparation. Leave no stone unturned.

2) air leak – Just don’t.

3) excessive bell motion – Keep bell motion to a minimum. Too much leads to distortion in sound and pitch.

4) stage presence – Even if it’s an act, be confident. It helps us play with more conviction.

5) warm up onstage – Keep warmups soft and slow – not loud, fast, and high.

6) good rhythm – ‘Nuff said.

7) realistic self talk – Be accepting of performance and of self in the moment. Repeat TRUTHS. “I’m doing the best I can. My desire is to share music with the audience rather than playing perfectly. Excellence in artistry is my goal. I’m trusting in the work I have done and am letting go of the rest. I’m focused on excellence, not perfection. I’m focused on serving the music, not me.”

8) caffeine and sugar consumption – Limit stimulants, especially beginning three days prior to performance.

9) what we listen to while waiting to perform – Choose inspiring or calming music.

10) sleep/water consumption/healthy eating/exercise.


1) good reed prep – Have different types of reeds on hand that are well broken-in to allow for more options. Reeds must be worked daily.

2) technical playing – Prepare well by utilizing practice patterns, intelligent slow practice, and by recording often.

3) nervousness – Try the Box Breath for five minutes before practice every day. Repeat before performance. (But not while onstage-this might lead to passing out!) Studies show that accepting nerves, rather than fighting them, may also reduce anxiety. Reframe the word ‘nerves’ into the word ‘excitement’. Be sure to incorporate mock performances into any preparation.


1) reeds in the moment – Diligent students will have several reeds ready to go. But ultimately we must work with what we have – the show must go on.

2) what others think – Focus instead on excellence, artistry and process. Play for your audience, not critics.

Practice intelligently, perform often, and on the day of the audition, play with peace and joy!


Vandoren Optimum Switcheroo 2


imageSo a billion years ago I wrote a blog post about trying the Vandoren gold Optimum alto sax ligature on my Bb M13Lyre mouthpiece. It fit very well with a mouthpiece patch on the back. Here’s an update:

I have switched to a Vandoren BD-5 mouthpiece. The gold alto sax ligature is a nice match. I use the gold Optimum more often in the winter when reeds sound brittle in the low humidity. The gold Optimum definitely has more warmth and allows for a nice color spectrum. The differences are subtle but useful on Powell Hall stage. I keep a gold Optimum in my case now along with my Vandoren silver Optimum Bb clarinet ligature. 

Clarinerd question: which of the three Optimum pressure plates do you use? 


Imagination and Singing


Take seven minutes to sit at the feet of these musical giants who process music at a very deep level….far beyond the pedantic mechanics of playing an instrument.

I am inspired…. are you?

I’m grateful to Pianist/Teacher Emma Leiuman for posting this recorded ensemble of inspired voices. Leon Fleisher, Daniel Barenboim, Gyorgy Sebok and Arthur Rubinstein share an approach to music-making that is devoid of mechanics, didactics, and methodology. They speak about a cosmos of internally imagined tonal images, emotions, colors, and orchestration that spring from the keyboard’s […]

via “Great pianists speak about imagination and the singing approach” — Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Vandoren Optimum Switcheroo part 1


I’m not an equipment junkie, but I like to experiment with ligatures. My favorites are the Vandoren Leather (sometimes without an insert and sometimes with the black leather insert) or the Vandoren Optimum ligature. I’ve never understood why Vandoren only makes a silver plated Optimum ligature for clarinet. On a whim I called my favorite store, Saxquest, and asked Jon to see if the alto saxophone gold Optimum ligature fits a Bb M13Lyre mouthpiece. It does!


Hint: I do add a mouthpiece patch on the back of the mouthpiece, which gives me a bit of wiggle room for adjusting the firmness of the ligature.

The results have been pleasing to my ears and to those of Scott Andrews and Tzuying Huang, with whom I had the pleasure of playing with this past weekend on Symphony No. 4 by Mahler. I found the sound warmer and deeper with the gold Optimum. As I was playing 2nd clarinet (it has Eb clarinet in the second part), it was important to me that I could blend well with Scott. Success! Pitch was also very stable.

For all fellow clarinerds, next experiments will include:

  • using a gold plate on the silver Optimum and vise versa
  • adding cork to one of the plates (something that always helped my old reverse Bonade ligatures, at the suggestion of my teacher, Stanley Hasty)

Stay tuned for more geeky fun.