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Getting Back to Practicing

Happy July! June has come and gone, which silently marked the two year anniversary of the E-flat Clarinet Project. Thank you to all of you that have been supportive of this crazy project, and to the clarinetists that form our wonderful community of E-flat clarinet enthusiasts.

For those of you that follow the blog, you may have noticed a lack of posts over the past few months. Luckily, it was for a wonderful reason - my husband and I welcomed our first child to the world several weeks ago!

I was definitely one of the crazy people playing concerts less than a month before the due date and even practicing a bit the day before going to the hospital! I thought that playing all through the pregnancy would make it easier to get back to practicing after having the baby. I’m not sure that plan really worked… Playing is a challenge. Some days I still don’t feel great, my posture needs some serious work, and my air support isn’t what it was even at 40 weeks pregnant.

So, maybe you haven’t had a baby, but you may find yourself in a situation where you have to take time off of playing for physical or mental recovery. Most of us have taken time off for various reasons, although I admit that for me, having to deal with physical issues in recovery has made this more difficult than simply taking a week off for a trip.

What do you do when you know you need to play in a recovery situation? I will be premiering an E-flat clarinet solo at ClarinetFest in less than a month, as well as moving across the country for a new job. Practicing multiple clarinets between packing boxes and changing diapers has meant that my practice looks a bit different than it used to. Here’s what I’ve learned - hopefully you will find it helpful! If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, please share what helped you get back to playing in the comments!


Things I learned about playing clarinet in recovery/after time off

1. Be kind to yourself

This can mean several things. Maybe you sit instead of stand. Or you only play for five minutes. Its okay. Standards from the past might not make sense for a while - know that you will probably get back to them eventually.

2. Play things you like

I actually learned this in graduate school. Sometimes pulling out old, well-loved pieces is a better use of your practice time, especially if you’ve been really frustrated or in a practice rut. I’m still playing through my favorite etudes for most of my practice time - because if you’re already uncomfortable, you don’t need to be frustrated with things that would challenge you when you’re at your best.

3. Every day will be different

Did you play for an hour yesterday? That’s fantastic! Today you might only be able to make it through ten minutes. I’ve found that if my posture and fundamentals start to get sloppy, it is time to stop! But shouldn’t I try to overcome that? Well...

4. This is not the time to push through discomfort

This was an important lesson for me to learn. I figured that if British royalty can make public appearances a few days after birth, I can practice two weeks after having a baby. So the day I decided I was going to keep practicing and correct all my out-of-shape technique? I paid for it the next day. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. There will be time later to start building endurance.

5. Start on Bb first!

Even though my next performance is on E-flat clarinet, I started with only B-flat (and occasionally A) for a week. Having that ‘home base’ of a standard clarinet embouchure is important - even though I consider myself somewhat specialized when it comes to E-flat clarinet, I still relate my proper playing fundamentals to how I play B-flat clarinet.

6. Keep track of what you did, instead of planning what you need to get done

This has been one of the most helpful things I have done over the past couple months. Instead of making a to-do list for each practice, I write down each thing I did once I’m finished. Looking back on my notebook, I can see progress in several areas - progress that has happened naturally as I’ve started to heal. This has also helped me cut down on the potential guilt of not practicing enough.

I hope these thoughts help you if you find yourself taking some time off! I’m going to get back to practicing…

Hope to see many of you at ClarinetFest at the end of the month - stay tuned for more ClarinetFest related E-flat clarinet news in a few weeks!

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