Monday, March 25, 2013

Pedagogy 2.0: An Exploration of 21st-Century Innovations in Clarinet Teaching (March 2013 Column)

Through our research over the past four years for this column and blog, we have been on the forefront of developments in online clarinet resources, and we have encountered countless examples of innovative uses for the Internet and mobile technology to teach clarinet. This column is based on our presentation at ClarinetFest 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska and in it we explore a variety of resources and techniques for integrating technology into clarinet instruction.  Most of these require only internet access and can be immediately implemented by teachers looking to augment their traditional teaching style.  

Sheet Music Sharing Sites
The Internet is a continually expanding repository of valuable resources for clarinetists. It is now easier and cheaper for both teachers and students to explore scores through public-domain sheet music sharing sites, with access to print music from any computer. In our Sept. 2009 column, we went in depth on the one of the largest sheet music resources, International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).  Since our first report on the site, IMSLP has reorganized their instrumentation listing of works, making it easier to navigate. The site lists around 150 solo clarinet works with piano and 52 unaccompanied pieces. The increase in chamber music entries is difficult to calculate due to the nearly 500 listings of ensembles involving the clarinet.  
While many websites offer a general collection of sheet music, The Clarinet Institute of Los Angeles is specifically tailored for the clarinetist.  Managed by David Shorr, this website has numerous videos, MIDI files, and recordings. The site currently offers a DVD containing over 840 PDF files of clarinet music for only $13.50-- an unbeatable price for that amount of music! It has recently widened its instrumental spectrum to include similar discs with sheet music for wind quintet, all band instruments, recorder, and stringed instruments.

Oliver’s (mostly) Clarinet Music Page is also a great source for sheet music. Here, Oliver Seely has formatted chamber music parts into MIDI and MUS files, allowing you to print the music and download parts into music software programs such as Finale or Smart Music for accompanimental playback. The downside to using these types of files is the lack of articulation and dynamic markings. If you don’t have Finale, try visiting Mark Charette’s “mirror” of Seely’s page. Charette, who is also the webmaster of, has translated the Finale notation files into PDF format, allowing more viewers access to the music.

As a teacher, it can be frustrating when students continually turn to random YouTube videos for reference recordings of works. Several services can help you to provide better audio resources to your students, making it easy for teacher and student alike to research new repertoire and compare interpretations.  
Many colleges and universities pay to subscribe to the Naxos Music Library, which can be a valuable tool in the classroom or applied lesson setting.  With a wide variety of recordings from the Naxos label and many other labels, it is easy to create playlists of repertoire for study.  Students can even listen to playlists from their mobile device with the Naxos Music Library mobile application.
Sound Cloud is a web platform for streaming and sharing audio.  One possible use for this website would be to post recordings of student performances and use the “timed comments” feature to provide commentary at specific moments during the recording.  
Spotify is a streaming subscription service that can be downloaded for free, with upgrades available for mobile access and premium content.  It is easy to create and share playlists; find a sampling of the clarinet recordings available by checking out our ClarinetFest 2012 playlist. Spotify is recommended here with reservations, as the low artist royalties they pay have been a contention with many whose record labels allowed the service to have access to their music.  

Instant Encore is a source for streaming video and audio uploaded by artists themselves.  It is primarily a promotional tool for artists, but the quality and depth of information provided about the works and artists make this a place to be sure to search when looking for reference recordings. See our Sept. 2011 column on streaming video for more information about InstantEncore.

We wrote in our previous column about the Rico Reeds website, but we’d like to add a few more details from our presentation. Rico has a wonderfully produced website with numerous videos of their sponsored artists presenting mini-master classes and interviews both on the homepage and in “The Lesson Room” section.

Several videos of the late David Etheridge show him teaching and demonstrating a sampling of fundamental concepts from his book “A Practical Approach to the Clarinet.” These videos are excellent tools for learning about hand position and other basic concepts.  Michele Gingras is another featured Rico artist with 23 videos available on their site. Gingras offers performance strategies and tips for more advanced players in her video series that accompanies her book 52 Clarinet Secrets.  Here you will see her demonstrate exercises on how to increase tongue speed, how to form an embouchure, and other tips found in her book. Lawrie Bloom’s instructional videos on bass clarinet are geared to the beginner player and cover fundamental topics such as instrument assembly, breaking in reeds, and articulation.  
YouTube is a mega-platform that has countless videos of note for clarinetists. While we’ve mentioned them before in our columns, we’d like to put the spotlight on two clarinetists who have produced high-quality instructional videos that stand out. Tom Ridenour has over 96 videos on his YouTube channel and on them he shares his philosophies on playing double-lip, reed finishing, and other various topics. Peruvian clarinetist Marco Mazzini’s channel has several instructional videos in both English and Spanish, as well as footage of live performances of modern and standard pieces for both soprano and bass clarinets.

We blogged about Kyle Coughlin’s Clarinet Space in a post from 2009, and it still stands out as a multimedia resource for clarinet teachers.  The Flash-based “Pitch Name Game” is a fun way for younger students to learn to recognize pitches on a staff, and the interactive fingering charts with sound help students to hear if they are playing the notes correctly.  Music Teacher’s Helper has become a popular tool for private instructors; for a low monthly fee it handles scheduling, does automatic invoicing, accepts credit card payments, and allows students and parents to log in to their accounts from home. Online metronomes have been in existence for many years, but several now have additional rhythmic training options. Students without an electronic metronome or mobile app can always use or other online metronomes to keep time when practicing at home.

Social Networking
Social networking is not only useful for establishing professional connections, but can also serve as a platform for open educational or pedagogical discussions. On Facebook many group pages are dedicated to the clarinet.  You may remember our interview with James Zimmerman back in Sept. 2008 about his Facebook group “Clarinet Jobs,” which serves as a sounding board for orchestral and band vacancies, audition tips, and discussion of audition repertoire.  Many university teachers are now utilizing Facebook to share information with students through studio pages, stay connected with individual students, and even recruit new students.
The Clarinet BBoard on has been mentioned in several of our blog posts and our March 2009 column, but it is worth mentioning again as it continues to be one of the largest and most popular forums for sharing clarinet information. Twitter is another previously mentioned web application that we want to highlight because of its capacity to reach large audiences and its nature of immediacy. In 140 characters or less, a person can use their cell phone to tweet about upcoming events, performances, or to ask other people questions in real time. Two clarinetists who have secured a large following on Twitter include Anthony McGill and Michael Lowenstern. Of course, we also tweet about ClarinetFest and new blog posts on Twitter as @ClarinetCache.
The last web site listed,, is geared toward younger musicians and contains not only social network forums, but also free sheet music and numerous music theory lessons.  The site offers free music and lessons on almost every instrument; however, the musical content consists mainly of simple folk tunes and popular music.  Members can register and upload any kind of music to share with others, or make request for scores.  

Live Online Instruction
As bandwidth increases and video quality improves, many instructors have begun offering lessons online via Skype or Google+.  Online instruction has many benefits, allowing teachers and students to make connections across the world with no time or gas used to travel.  It has drawbacks, such as audio and video lag and sound quality concerns, but teachers like Laurel Hall and Thomas J. West are making it work (and making money doing it).  Their personal websites, in addition to general websites like and can give teachers an idea of the process for teaching online and equipment needed.  Some new startups like and are aiming to improve on the Skype model by offering their own specialized platforms through which student and teacher can meet, combining scheduling, payment, and live videoconferencing in one place.

** An additional online instruction site discovered after our presentation at ClarinetFest 2012, ClariSkye Studio, is another great source for online instruction via Skype. The site, recently created by clarinetist Michele Gingras and violinist Harvey Thurmer, offers students 30-minute lessons with both Gingras and Thurmer, as well as other participating music faculty from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio).

Mobile Applications
These days, smartphones and other mobile devices have an increasing impact on our day-to-day lives, and teaching is no exception.  Mobile applications can turn a phone into a metronome, tuner, handheld recording device, decibel meter, spectrometer, and audio/video player.  Using these functions during lessons can provide instant feedback (often in visual form) for students, and can save time by allowing a teacher to instantly make recordings and send them to students via email.  
There can be drawbacks to using mobile apps in teaching: the input and output sound quality can be poor unless using an external microphone and speakers, for example.  Also, not everyone can afford the devices and expensive data plans.  However, once the device is purchased, tuner and metronome applications are incredibly inexpensive compared to their hardware counterparts.
Our favorite application for integration with clarinet pedagogy is TonalEnergy Tuner. Released in early 2012 by Sonosaurus, its most basic function is as an easy-to-use-tuner with a great interface.  It allows you to select from a variety of tuning systems (equal, just, Pythagorean, etc.) and timbres (just about any instrument) for the tone generator.  Much more than just a tuner, though, TonalEnergy can show the change in dynamics over time with its “waveform” function.  This is highly effective for working with students on dynamic shaping or even articulation.  It also can function as a spectrogram, showing the levels of overtones in the sound -- an opportunity for a great lesson about the reason for resonance fingerings.
We blogged in 2011 about the best metronome apps, so check here for more details about Tempo and other great metronomes to use on your phone.  Our favorite tuners include iStrobosoft (a strobe tuner by Peterson) and ClearTune (a needle tuner by Bitcount).  We will be sure to keep you informed when we hear about other great apps in the future!
In addition to the resources listed above, we have also compiled a list of recommended readings that discuss both specific resources and larger trends for technology in education.  Visit our August 2012 post to find the list of supplementary articles and our powerpoint presentation from ClarinetFest.