Practice and Performance Tips

from Professor Estrin





from studio members

Have a Single Goal in Mind

The Embouchure



  1. Choose reeds that are appropriate for your mouthpiece and blowing pressure.
  2. Soak your reeds in water. The enzymes and acids in saliva are detrimental to the cane.
  3. Don’t try too many reeds at one time.  Your lip will desensitize and you will not get  an accurate impression of the reeds.
  4. Break in new reeds slowly.  Play them for a few minutes each day.  Playing on a new reed for too long before it has been broken in properly will shorten its useful life.
  5. Avoid playing excessively in the altissimo register on a reed that is not broken in.  Allow the reed to “set” first.
  6. Rinse reeds in water when you are finished playing on them.
  7. Dry reeds with a clean, soft cloth before putting them away.
  8. Store reeds on glass.  This will help to prevent warping.
  9. Always have several playable reeds ready to go.
  10. Keep an ample supply of unopened boxes of reeds on hand.  You never know when you might need them! 
  11. Work regularly on reeds for the best results.  Make it part of your weekly routine.
  12.  The best way to learn how to adjust reeds is through trial and error.  Work on all of the apparent “unusable” reeds in every box.  See if you can make them more playable. 
  13. Invest in the proper tools for reed adjustment. This is a minimal monetary investment that will reap you large rewards.


  1. Reed knife (beveled edge or double hollow ground.)  This is a must.  (If you are left-handed, you must order a left-handed knife.)

  2. Reed rush (sometimes called Dutch rush)

  3. Waterproof silicon carbide paper, wet/dry finishing grades 320, 400, & 600

  4. Beveled piece of glass (approx. 3” long x 1”wide)

  5. Reed clipper (Cordier)

  6. Water

  7. A large wastebasket

  8. Patience!


You have been practicing your college audition repertoire for many weeks now and it is really starting to sound good.  Then that fateful day arrives and although you feel ready, you are a bit nervous.  You realize that how you perform during those difficult few minutes will probably determine the course of your life for the next few years.   This is the school you want to attend.   

This is the scenario facing hundreds of music students each year, as they prepare to audition for the colleges on their short list.  Many will be successful and be accepted into their first choice school, but many others will endure the disappointment of a rejection.  Although discouraged, one must remember that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and went on to become the greatest  player in basketball history.    

Here are ten tips for preparing your audition material and on how to decide which school is the right choice for you:

1. KNOW YOUR SCALES!!  Major, minor and chromatic.  Be prepared to play them from memory at the auditions.

2. SELECT YOUR AUDITION REPERTOIRE CAREFULLY.  Review the audition repertoire requirements of your targeted schools.   Play as close to the same program as is feasible at each school.  Pick two or three pieces and focus in on them.  Do the same for your etudes.   Standard pieces are always good choices. (Mozart Concerto, Weber Concertino or Concerti, Rose etudes, etc.)  

3. START PREPARING A YEAR IN ADVANCE.  Make a planning calendar with attainable goals.  (I'll have the first movement learned by this date,  I'll complete and send in my applications by this date,  etc.)

4. VISIT EACH PROSPECTIVE SCHOOL to meet and take a lesson with the professor.  Try to get to know the professor before making your decision as to where to attend.  Contact them by email and see if you receive a timely response with good information.  Talk to their students about the course of study and about day to day life at the school. 

5. MAKE A LIST OF QUESTIONS to ask each professor.  Ask the same questions at each school.

6. AUDITION FOR SEVERAL SCHOOLS.  Don't limit your options exclusively to your number one choice.  You never know how many openings a particular school will have in a given year.

7. DON'T BE AFRAID TO AUDITION FOR A PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL.  Again,  you never know how many openings a particular school will have that year.  Each professor listens for different things when hearing auditions by prospective students.  Example: You may have exactly the tone or style that is most desirable to that professor, even though your technique is not as fast as some of the other auditionees.

8. PLAY MOCK AUDITIONS in front of other people before going to your auditions.  Try to choose people to play for whose opinions you respect (your teacher, band director, local professionals, fellow students, etc.) and ask them for feedback. 

9. TAPE YOURSELF regularly during the entire preparation process. Listen for your progress.  Ask yourself:  Is my rhythm accurate?  Am I playing with contrasting dynamics? Is my interpretation musical and stylistically appropriate?  What can I do to sound better?

10. RELAX!  Once you have learned your repertoire, the hardest part is over.  Remember that everyone  is nervous at the auditions and you can expect to feel those butterflies in your stomach.  Sometimes that extra adrenaline rush can actually make you play better!


One of the most frequently asked questions that I encounter from my students is " how can I do better on my sightreading?".    

In reflecting back on my own musical development, there were many factors that contributed to my learning to excel at sightreading.   As with any other aspect of musical performance, in order to become successful at sightreading it must be practiced .   My high school band in Chicago was one of the best in the state, and we constantly sightread all different kinds of music.  This included transcriptions of the "old warhorses", a great deal of contemporary wind ensemble literature, show tunes, and chamber music.   I also played in a woodwind quintet, and often played duets with other clarinet players.  At Juilliard, the students who sightread well would often place highest in the auditions for the school's performing ensembles. Everyone played their prepared repertoire well!  I knew that if I honed my sightreading skills further, I would have a big advantage at the auditions.   

Hoping to graduate soon...

This lesson paid great dividends for me in the years that followed.  In addition to my orchestral playing with the New York Philharmonic, I was in demand as a studio musician in New York City.  Studio musicians must be expert sightreaders.  Whether recording a motion picture soundtrack or a television commercial, the musicians never see the music before the recording session.  Often times, the music is written and/or finished at the very last minute.  Therefore, excellent sightreading ability is paramount to the success of a studio musician.  Stop to consider your favorite motion picture soundtrack, and how exceptional the musicians sound.   They were all sightreading!     

Here is the key to being able to sightread well: STAY WITH THE BASICS! 
Look at the time signature, key signature and tempo indications first.   Then quickly look over the music you are about to play.  Ask yourself these questions:

Are there any repeats, D.C. or D.S.? 
Are there any tempo changes?
Are there any modulations? (key changes)
Are there any patterns, either rhythmic or melodic?
What are the difficulties, if any?
Do I need to employ any alternate fingerings? (left C, right B, etc.)
What are the dynamic indications?
What is the style of the piece?
What is the mood/character of the piece?

Other factors to consider:

If the piece is fast, take a conservative tempo!  (unless being conducted)
Keep your place no matter what,
even if it means missing notes and/or rhythms. Go for an overall effect.
Don't have unrealistic expectations.
Don't be tentative. Play convincingly, like you know what you're doing (even if you don't!).
Stay calm!

Etudes are particularly useful as sightreading practice material.  Select an etude and play it through from beginning to end without stopping (No matter what happens!).  Read duets and other chamber music as often as possible.  Play duets with your teacher and other musicians whose abilities are above yours.  Remember, experience is the best teacher!


The most basic and perhaps most important part of practicing is warming up.  How you go about doing this is essential to your success on the clarinet.   Use your time wisely to achieve the maximum results in the minimum amount of time.  Structure your warm-up carefully and follow these three steps to a great warm-up:

1)     Long tones- Start out your practice with five to ten minutes of long tones.   Start in the chalumeau register and gradually work your way up to the middle register.  Pay careful attention to your tone quality, especially when playing at a soft dynamic level.   Take full breaths and always use maximum breath support.

2)     Scales- Scales are the single most important musical element for a clarinetist to practice.  One should strive for a thorough knowledge, understanding and flawless execution of all scales.  This means major scales, minor scales, chromatic scales, whole tone scales, thirds, dominant sevenths, diminished sevenths, and all related arpeggios. The Baermann Third Division is an excellent book to use for scale practice.  I also like the Stievenard Practical Study of the Scales for Clarinet.

3)     Articulation- The third part if your warm-up should focus on articulation practice.  The Kell 17 Staccato Studies is my favorite book to use for both teaching and practicing.   Strive for symmetry of your articulation, particularly on repeated notes.  Don’t only focus on increasing the speed of your articulation, but on the quality of your sound while articulating.  Tape yourself and compare your tone quality when playing both legato and staccato at all dynamic levels. Make sure they are the same.

If you follow these three steps when warming up, you should notice a big improvement in your playing.  Good luck!

-- Professor Estrin

from members of the studio


Have a Single Goal in Mind

Strive to improve from today’s baseline

It’s rare that you pick up where you left off the day before.  It may take anywhere from five to twenty minutes to get yourself warmed up and back in touch with your previous practice session.  There will come days when your most diligent efforts will fail to elevate you to the level of the previous day’s accomplishments.  Your achievements won’t always follow a straight line and your improvements won’t always come at a steady rate.  Simply strive to improve from your starting point—your baseline.

Warm Up on Technique

As you practice a piece of music, your attention span gets spread over several tasks:  reading notes, interpreting the timing, trying to play at a steady pace, creating good tone, playing in tune, accenting, and the list goes on…

In the process, you’re likely to lose track of your technique (the details of how you control your instrument, including posture, hand position, and relaxation).  It’s essential that you practice on technique during your warm-up period, otherwise, you may fail to get the most out of your practice.  However, if you practice technique first, there’s a good chance that some of the accomplishments will carry throughout the rest of your practice session.  If the proper techniques are applied then you will see a large improvement in your playing.

---Geoff Gilliand

"My embouchure is perfect for this!"


The Embouchure

The clarinet embouchure is a critical, and often overlooked, aspect of performing.  The proper technique involves coordination between the upper lip, lower lip, teeth, and chin.  To start out, the jaw must be slightly dropped in order to create a streamlined look at the chin;  and this is where the coordination begins.  As the jaw slightly drops, the lower lip MUST come up and tuck over the teeth.  These two actions combined cause the skin along the chin to conform to the bone structure; the resulted tautness helps to amplify the clarinetist’s sound.  If the skin is left loose, or the lower lip has a tendency to unfold, the clarinet’s timbre becomes more closed and pinched rather than the desired open and clear sound.  (There is, however, a limit to how taut the skin should become.  If the skin is stretched too tightly, it has the same disastrous effects as loose skin.)   From here, the upper lip now joins the group.   This lip’s primary goal is to seal the lips around the mouthpiece, or to keep air from escaping.  About 3/8 of an inch of the mouthpiece should actually be inserted into the mouth, and the upper teeth should have a firm grasp on the mouthpiece.

---Erin Willette

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