Learning or Relearning

Jim Snyder

On July 19, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. It paralyzed the left side of my body. It affected my ability to balance while sitting up and even my ability to swallow food properly. It also robbed me of my ability to make noise on the clarinet. Try using only your right hand when you play, and you’ll see what I mean.

Shortly thereafter I moved into a top-notch rehabilitation unit for about six weeks and observed other patients with various neurological and physical injuries due to many different circumstances. About halfway through my rehab residency, I realized that recovering from these situations was much like learning a musical instrument.

There Are Goals to Meet.

Usually my physical therapist (think teacher/coach) set the goals, and occasionally I did. There would be short-term goals (swallowing something tastier and more substantial than minced hospital food, in my case) and long-term goals (I wanna walk again!). Reaching these goals takes time, patience, and persistence as well as lots of repetition … just like learning a horn does.

Improvements Often Come in Small Increments.

Remember that small successes add up to big results over time. There will be plateaus. Ever feel like you’re just getting nowhere? Sometimes no matter how hard you work on a skill, it is elusive. Until it isn’t. Ya just gotta keep at it.

There Will Be Setbacks.

Setbacks are usually temporary, and their causes can often be identified and fixed. Is it a case of setting too lofty a goal for now? Did you forget a step in your process?

Other times you just hafta wing it. Read enough of these clarinet Sectional columns from the past decade, and you’ll know that I champion this approach: When the way you’re told to do it doesn’t work, just resort to some creative trial and error.

If you too are recovering from a setback such as mine or something a bit more temporary, remember how you learned to play the horn. As my recovery progresses, let’s see if I continue to follow my own advice.

Jim shares in this article how to work on pitch.

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 www.theclarinetguy.com.