You Run the Show

I’m a self-taught clarinet player. You are, too. We’ve all heard the tale of the self-taught virtuoso/ star/genius, but the story is about you, too. I think your band director and your clarinet instructor would agree with me.

Put Wisdom to Use

As your teachers, we can assign you four pages in the book for next week, but we don’t practice ’em for you. We can show you five fingerings for B-flat above the staff, but you have to decide which to use and when. We can recommend artists and recordings, but you have to critically listen to them. You have to maintain your instrument, map out your practice time and blow the air through the horn. We share our pearls of wisdom, but you have to put them into use.

You are the most important part of this process. Without your curiosity and initiative and exploration, there’s no progress.

Initiative to Explore

Two weeks ago, one of my students arrived for her third clarinet lesson ever. Though I had only taught her four notes, she began the half-hour session by assembling her clarinet and ripping off a boisterous run from open G to the bottom E and back up again.

“Eeew, I don’t like this reed!,” she said calmly in response to my obvious look of shock and awe (eyebrows up, jaw on floor).

Third lesson!!!

While I had only shown her four notes, she sat with the thing and figured out seven more. She had discovered that all reeds play a bit differently and that changing it might produce better results. She had obviously studied the embouchures of her more experienced band mates because her sound was big and open and beautiful. Here was a student who was curious and took the initiative to explore. By the fourth lesson, she was proudly playing for me an exercise that was several pages beyond what I had assigned, but that she had figured out. This is what it takes to succeed. And it is your curiosity and initiative and exploration that advance the art of the clarinet.

About the Author

Jim Snyder has been the busiest jazz clarinetist of the last 30 years, performing in clubs, concert halls and jazz festivals in the United States and abroad. Jim played for many years in New Orleans, where he was also a member of trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt’s band. He is regularly featured as a guest artist in concerts and recordings and is a staff musician for the Walt Disney Company. His solo CD, “Coliseum Square,” was released on the Apple Jazz label. For more information about Jim, visit

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