Back in November 2009, I penned the Sectionals column, “You Run the Show,” proposing the notion that we’re all “self-taught” musicians. We teachers/pros/mentors can’t play it for you: you really have to figure out most of it on your own. We educators can define the technical rules of the game and make some course corrections; but you have to listen, analyze, imitate, critique.
Essentially, you’re improving your skills through trial and error … and hopefully trial and success!
Thus, I shall take this opportunity to encourage you to venture into the art of Noodling!!!
“Noodling” is nothing more than pulling out your clarinet and having fun playing—anything! Put on a recording you like and noodle along with it! Play silly stuff. Play pretty stuff. Make up stuff. Try to make sounds that the clarinet’s not s’posed to make. See how high you can play. See if you can figure out some extra fingerings for each note. Start on low G and figure out “Happy Birthday” for a friend.
Noodling can be fast finger wigglin’ or slow and mournful wails. You can imitate other musicians or the sounds you hear around you in the world. It can be inventive or experimental. Just let your imagination run wild!
As a matter of fact, I recommend to my students that they should spend at least 50% of the time on their horns noodling!
Of course, when we practice, we must make sure our embouchures are correct and hand positions are relaxed. We shall have perfect posture! Breathe from our diaphragms! Use our metronomes! Listen to our pitch and intonation! Yes, yes, blah, blah, blah …
But then let’s start Noodlin’! Yeeehaaaah!
Try “group noodling.” Have one player in your noodle-group play a melody, and you try to harmonize it. If you have a guitar or piano picker in your noodle-session, have ‘em play a simple chord progression while you come up with a melody. The beauty of noodling is that it can be as simple or complex as you choose.
I—and every professional player I’ve talked to—still noodle incessantly. It’s how we come up with things to play. Try it: You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn!