Listen Up

Teaching at a music camp this summer, I asked my students who their favorite clarinet player was. No response. I asked if they’d ever heard anyone who plays professionally. No one had. So I asked why they were playing the clarinet if they’d never really heard what it was capable of.

The responses were, “It was my mom’s/uncle’s/neighbor’s”; “The case fit in my backpack”; “The band director said we needed more clarinets”; etc. Hmmm.

Logically, my next question would be, “How do you know what to practice if you don’t know what this instrument can do?”

Changes in Musical Experience

When I was a kid, listening to music was a family thing—whether we wanted it to be or not. The way we listened to music was through a stereo system with records or cassette tapes. Headphones weren’t readily available, so no matter how “un-cool” we thought our parents’ and grandparents’ music was, we heard it.

Nowadays, we have portable music devices that speak to us through ear buds. Now, you and I and our parents are listening alone, and we don’t seem to be sharing any of these musical experiences with each other.

Ideas for Today

It’s time to explore, to hear, to imitate! Or we may be relegated to thinking that just getting an “A” on scales and arpeggios in band class is what it means to play the clarinet. Some suggestions: Use YouTube. Here are some names of artists with great commercial success—Benny Goodman, Pete Fountain, Eddie Daniels, Buddy DeFranco, Kenny Davern, Stanley Drucker, Richard Stoltzman.

Go hear live symphonies, chamber groups, jazz bands, ethnic music festivals, etc.

Parents/grandparents: Get some speakers and blare that music! The clarinet is a remarkably expressive instrument with an incredible tonal range. As you discover how it’s used in various forms of music from all over the world, you’ll discover that different musical styles require different sounds from the horn.

Then you’ll know why you’re playing the clarinet!

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

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