Scale practice methods

This is both for learning a scale for the first time and for a scale you’ve been working on for years.

  1. Set metronome to 60
  2. Play whole notes with a quarter note equaling 60 bpm, then half notes, then quarter notes, then eighth notes, then 16th notes.

Listen to yourself.

Play the trickier speeds with different articulations. This also will improve your tonguing, especially with the faster speeds.

Breathe as much as you need to, and experiment with breathing – things like try using all your air in 8 beats, or 12.

Vary the volume, not only between runs but also between notes. For example, one way to build up breath control and embouchure is doing whole notes and then crescendo for one whole note and decrescendo for the next whole note. Make it as smooth as possible, and with consistently good tone.

Rhythms – use for difficult passages in general to increase finger control and speed. Start slow, speed up the quarter note as you improve. Practice with different articulations.

  • dotted eighth, sixteenth
  • sixteenth, dotted eighth
  • quarter, 3 triplet eighths
  • 3 triplet eighths, quarter
  • quarter, quarter, 2 eighths
  • 2 eighths, quarter, quarter
  • quarter, 2 eighths, quarter

And for your convenience, a printable version! Use it well. – C Major rhythms


Sectionals – things to do

  1. Remington’s. Start on a different note each sectional. Do different volumes. (tune)
  2. Two-octave major scale.
  3. Five minutes of talking about music theory. Teach something new, or review.
  4. Work on a specific excerpt and make it as good as possible
  5. At the end of the sectional, (on the way back to the band room), review what was practiced. Everyone contributes something. Decide a goal for what should be accomplished before the next sectional.

Advice, December 2015

Hey, so just a reminder that you are STRONGLY ENCOURAGED to email me a suggestion for what you’d like me to write about on here. Or use the contact page on this website.


General advice, based on what I saw at school on Friday.

  1. You’ve got to figure out what the right angle for holding your clarinet is. I saw a lot people tilting their clarinets out a bit too much. For marching band, the general saying is 45 degrees, but in real life… that often can be too much. Make sure it’s comfortable and doesn’t smash your lower lip into your mouthpiece, because you want your reed to vibrate.
  2. Pay attention to where your fingers rest. If you’ve acquired bad habits, it’s not too late to fix them, but it will require you to put in effort. You really should put in the effort because it will allow you to play faster passages. In general, you want to do the least work possible. When you lift up your fingers, they should stay pretty close to the hole they just left, and just hover over it slightly. You can work on improving your technique by slowly playing  a scale and either looking down at your fingers to see where they go or simply go slowly enough that you can think of where each finger goes as it moves.
  3. Pinky hopping. Do not pinky hop. Pinky hopping is when you move your pinky in order to play two consecutive notes. You know how there are two fingerings for B, C, and C#, because you can either use the right pinky or left pinky? So, in order to play faster passages, it’s really important to get into the good habit of using both sides whenever you can. Sometimes, yes, it is unavoidable to pinky hop. But most of the time it is avoidable, and you absolutely should avoid it. I did a quick search and saw this website, which can provide a bit more practical examples if you want them :
  4. Practice your scales and actually learn them! Be able to play them at least in 16th notes with a quarter note equal to 60 bpm.

About learning new pieces:

  1. When you are just beginning to learn a piece, go slowly and don’t get scared. Set aside enough time to thoroughly go through it, and take breaks if that helps you. When you come to a part you can’t play at all, step back and try to count, clap it and hum/sing it if you can. Isolate that section and play it slowly but steadily. If there’s a jump between two or three notes that you slow down on every time you try it, just work on that until you can get it up to speed with the rest of it. Basically, slow down and take your time. Check to make sure you are learning the correct rhythm from the start. Always keep your beat.
  2. If you are relatively new to playing clarinet, don’t waste your time trying to learn the highest notes on the clarinet. For Festive Overture, for example, take the notes the staff down an octave. Yes, that means taking the entire section down an octave, but it’s fine. Later, you can try to learn it as it is written, but it’s more important to get what you can first.
  3. Don’t come to rehearsal unprepared! If you run out of time to learn everything, know how the piece goes so that you can at least get the soli sections, and at minimum for fast complicated sections you need to get the downbeats.


Again, this is all general advice coming from a brief glimpse of you all. Please ask whatever questions you have.

Summer Schedule

Updated 6/3/15

I’ll be hosting music theory / general music classes on Mondays in June and July starting on June 15th. I’ll see if I have schedule conflicts or can add more weeks or days if it’s wanted. Though there will be a overarching lesson plan, the whole point is to teach you what you don’t know, so if you miss a week then I’ll do my best to find a way to catch you up. You’ll learn more based on how often you attend, though.

Please send me a message at least the day before if you’re planning on showing up.

Dates: 6/15, 6/22, 6/29, 7/6, 7/13, 7/20, 7/27

Time: Starting at 11 AM. Bring lunch if you need it, or money if you want to go to the restaurants around here, since that is around lunchtime.

Location: My house, which is very close to school. Send me an email for the address.

Materials: Bring paper, pencil, and your instrument. I’d suggest either a binder or notebook to put the paper in, but it’s up to you.

Key Signatures

The key signature is the number of sharps or flats in a key. Why should you know them? Well, uh, it’s kind of impossible to know a scale without knowing what notes to play, and knowing the key signature basically means you know what notes to play. Why should you know scales? Because scales appear all over in music, and because your technique will improve as a nice side effect.

Step Zero: Know the order of sharps and order of flats. If you click here, you can check out the  post about it.

Next, you’ll definitely need to memorize these three:

C Major has no sharps and no flats

G Major has 1 sharp

F Major has 1 flat

After this, there are two ways of going about it. So, when I was a little kid I memorized all of them, through trial and error and just being asked about them so many times that I finally remembered which one was which. I’m pretty sure if you put some effort into it, they shouldn’t be very difficult to memorize. I think it’s more difficult to remember which rule to use (subtract two sharps, add a flat) and then to take the time and use it, but if that’s what helps you remember, go right ahead. Honestly, the two methods aren’t that different if you can rattle off the order of sharps and flats super quickly, so I’d suggest spending time on getting the orders down.

Here’s a chart to help you, from the Piano Keyboard Guide

key signatures chart - major and relative minor

If you want the tricks, here they are. For sharps, you count up until you reach the letter you’re searching for, and then you subtract two. For example, what’s the key signature of A Major? F C G D A – okay, that’s the letter we’re searching for, and we’re at 5 sharps. Now, subtract two ~ 5 minus 2 is three, so A Major has three sharps, F# C# and G#.

For flats, you count up until you reach the letter you’re searching for and then add one. So, what’s the key signature of Db Major? B E A D – okay, that’s 4 flats. Now all one ~ 4 plus 1 is five, so Db Major has five flats, Bb Eb Ab Db and Gb.

Another suggestion: I’d say it’s more important to know the key signatures that come up the most. Usually, that means the key signatures with fewer sharps or flats. So I’d say to make sure you know which keys have two or three sharps or flats, and then work on remembering the rest of them.

Ways to learn them: Write them down! Find some manuscript paper, like, say from this site, and copy them over. Test yourself. There are also sites on the internet, like, that have exercises like this one:

I know this is kinda me saying you’ve just got to trust me, and I haven’t explained yet why scales work this way or anything. I’ll get to it soon, I promise. But even when you know how to construct a scale yourself, being able to call up the key signature from memory is a useful time-saving tool.

Order of Sharps, Order of Flats

When we say “A Major has 3 sharps”, how do we know what sharps they are?

Well, it’s pretty easy because there’s an order of sharps that scales always follow.

Order of Sharps: F C G D A E B

A mnemonic to remember this is Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bread.

How about Ab Major? If I tell you Ab Major has four flats, what flats are they? Just the first four flats in the order of flats.

Order of Flats: B E A D G C F

A mnemonic for the order of flats is bead (like a bead on a necklace) Greatest Common Factor. Or you can use bead Gum Candy Fruit.

Cool thing: The order of sharps is the order of flats, backwards.

Yeah. You should memorize these immediately. They will prove extremely useful when you’re learning your key signatures, and really they’re more than useful; they’re necessary.

Intervals – Perfect, Major, Minor, Diminished, Augmented

What exactly is a whole step? Since we’ve got all the time in the world, I’ll give you the long explanation here.

So, let’s talk about intervals.

The term “interval” basically means the same thing in music as it does in normal English. In music, it means the distance between two notes, or the space between them.

For all of these, we’re going to say the starting note of the interval is the “1”. This means that the very first interval you can have is a unison, which would be the same note repeated twice. For example, if we’re finding the interval between C to C, we would say it’s a unison.

The next interval would be… the number after 1… a second! If we’re finding the interval between C and D, we’d say that C is our “1” and D is our “2” because ABCDEFG.

And yes, it simply continues, all the way up to 8, which we call an octave. Other than unison and octave, all of the intervals are just called what number they are (second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh).

Okay, now here’s the slightly trickier part.

How would we show, in words, that it’s a different interval between C – Eb and C – E ?

If you play them, they don’t sound the same. And they’re also just not the same notes, right? So, we need to use more words to describe this. Hmm…

Let’s think about a C Major Scale. It goes

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

Now, due to historical reasons, we split the scale into two different parts, each with its own set of rules.

The first part is  1, 4, 5, 8.

The second part is 2, 3, 6, 7.

The first part (1, 4, 5, 8) is oh-so-special. If the second note is in the major scale of the first note, then we call it a “perfect” type of that interval. That sounds confusing, so here’s an example. What’s the interval between C and F?  If C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, and F is 4, so we know it’s some kind of fourth. What kind of fourth, though? Well, F is in the C Major scale, so this is a “perfect fourth.”

Other examples: C to G is a perfect fifth, G to C is a perfect fourth, A to E is a perfect fifth.

Now, to the second part (2, 3, 6, 7) – If the second note is in the major scale of the first note, then we call them “Major” (whatever number it is). So, what’s the interval from C to E? C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, so it’s some kind of third. E is in the C Major scale, so this is a major third.

Other examples: D to F# is a major third, F to D is a major sixth, B to C# is a major second.

Okay, now let’s go crazy. Remember that C to Eb question I asked earlier? I’m getting to it now. So, we know that it’s some type of third, right? C is 1, D is 2, E is 3. Eb is a version of E, so we pretend it’s E while we count up. So, Eb. Flats lower the pitch by a half step. When a major interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes a minor interval. That means that the interval between C and Eb is a minor third.

Other examples: C to Ab is a minor sixth, A to Bb is a minor second (also known as a half step), Eb to Db is a minor seventh, A to C is a minor third.

So one day you decide that’s just not enough – you really need to have a way to explain an interval where the second note is TWO half steps below where it would be in the major interval. That word you’re grasping for is diminished. C# to Eb would be a diminished third, because a major third up from C# is Eb, and Eb is two half steps below E#.

What about the interval from C to Gb ?

Well, we count up first. C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5. So it’s some kind of fifth. But wait – 5 is one of the perfect intervals! The thing about making things a half step lower “minor” only applies to major intervals. If a perfect interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes a diminished interval. Yes, this is the exact same word that we use to describe major intervals that are lowered by a two half steps. All I can say is that perfect intervals are just… too perfect… too good to have minors like the rest of them… yeah…

And to finish it off, what happens if you raise an interval by a half step? For example, what is the interval between C and A#? C to A is some kind of sixth, and the word you’re searching for to describe the quality of the interval is augmented. This is an augmented sixth. The nice thing about augmented intervals is that it doesn’t matter if the interval is originally perfect or not – every interval, when raised a half step, becomes augmented.

To answer the opening question: A whole step is a major second, which is the same thing as two half steps. A half step is the smallest difference between two notes that we can play on the clarinet and many other instruments (play legitimately, without just playing a note super flat or super sharp). For example, there is a half step between each consecutive note on a piano keyboard.

To conclude, I’d like to point out that what I’ve said here isn’t really correct in every case. I’ve assumed that you’re always starting with the lower note in the interval and going to the higher one, but that’s not always true. I said that you “lower” intervals by half steps in order to make it less confusing, but you’re really “decreasing the size of the interval” by a half step, and so I’m just going to ask that you keep that in mind.


  • When finding intervals, you say the first note is 1, and count up.
  • Perfect interval – some kind of 1, 4, 5, 8, on the major scale
  • Major interval – some kind of 2, 3, 6, or 7 on the major scale
  • minor interval – some kind of 2, 3, 6, or 7 and a half step less than a major interval
  • diminished interval for some kind of 2, 3, 6, or 7 – a half step less than a minor interval
  • diminished interval for some kind of 1, 4, 5, or 8 – a half step less than a perfect interval
  • Augmented interval – any interval one half step greater than the perfect or major interval

Transposition for Clarinet Players

Rule #1 of Clarinet Transposition –  Always transpose from the concert key to the key it is on clarinet before you do anything else!

This keeps you from getting really, really confused in the long run.

Transposing from a given concert pitch (a C instrument) to the pitch on clarinet (a Bb instrument) is simple. When you’re on clarinet, you play the note one whole step above the concert pitch.

The way I explained it to myself was that, well, what does a “Bb instrument” mean? It means that when a piano plays Bb, we play our C. When a piano plays C, we play our D. So I think of it as because we’re pitched one whole step lower, we need to compensate for that by always playing one whole step higher.

That’s all there is to it. Just make sure that you always transpose before playing, because while not every instrument is in Bb, all of the things you need to learn about music (scales, intervals, note names, anything really) apply to every single instrument. If you know how to transpose, you can work with people playing different instruments and be much less confused.