Three Pillars of Practice

Jim Snyder

Two class projects are due. Exams are coming up. Then there’s soccer practice, band rehearsals, track meets. And homework … mounds of homework. Now you want me to work on that clarinet thing?!! Aaaauuuughgh!!!

To the rescue comes (drum roll):

Uncle Jim’s Three Pillars of Practice!
Guaranteed to make small amounts of horn time more efficient and stress-free!

Play Something You Know

Maybe it’s an exercise in a method book you nailed a while back. Or a part in your folder from the last concert you played. Or last year’s contest solo.

In fact, keeping these solo pieces alive at your fingertips is a great way to build your repertoire. They’ll become part of your portfolio, so that you always have some songs ready for an audition or seating challenge. Playing some things you know is a great way to warm up and build your confidence for the next task.

Play Something You Hafta

It could be that upcoming scale test (concentrate on only one scale a day, and you’ll have seven down by Sunday night). Work on that difficult piece the band director just handed out for next week’s concert: slooooowly at first ’cause once it’s solidly under your fingers, velocity comes easily.

If you’re studying privately, perfect at least a small portion of what you’re assigned. There’s not a private teacher out there who doesn’t understand time constraints and wouldn’t be thrilled with small amounts of success.

Play Something You Don’t Know

Jump ahead a few pages in the method or etude book you’re using. This part of your practice will help your sight-reading skills, and you might find a piece you really like. Play along by ear with a favorite recording and see what you get. Try that third octave for the concert E scale (or if you’re really adventurous, the third octave of a concert C!).

You can do these three things in 30 minutes or less. And if you’re a multitasker, break out that new box of reeds and swap out three or four of them during this daily practice, and you’ll be breaking them in at the same time.

Now hurry up, lacrosse practice starts at 4.

About author

Jim Snyder

Jim Snyder is a clarinetist from Orlando, Fla. Though primarily known as a jazz musician, his extensive career has put him in every musical place you’d expect to hear a clarinet—and in some you wouldn’t! Jim played for many years in New Orleans with trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt and is currently a staff musician at Walt Disney World. A Yamaha Performing Artist, he travels the United States as a soloist and clinician. Visit his website at

The Skinny on Reeds

Advice for reed players from Jim Snyder. From Halftime Magazine, a print and online publication about the marching arts.