The clarinet is one of the most challenging instruments to play and maintain in any marching band. You want the best sound and performance, but you need gear that is durable, can withstand harsh weather, and won’t break the bank.
Here’s 10 great tips to help you get the most out of your marching season, for both you and your instrument.
10. Avoid Wooden Clarinets
Playing a wooden clarinet in a marching band is a disaster waiting to happen. If the scorching sun doesn’t crack the wood and lead to costly repairs, the rain will make sure to do it! Not to mention the chance for devastating damage caused by dropping the instrument or colliding with a fellow band mates.
Don’t take the risk! Consider getting a quality student instrument and then adding a Clark Fobes Synthetic Barrel ($99) to get the best performance, tone, projection and response out of your instrument. If you play in a colder climate, get a barrel that’s a millimeter shorter than you normally use so that you can push in and still play in tune. Or, if you’re in a hot climate, get a longer one to help bring down your pitch in the blazing heat.
If you earn your living playing in a marching band and need a professional-quality horn to play outdoors, you may want to consider a Buffet Crampon R13 Green Line ($3363). According to Jamie Henderson of the King’s Own Calgary Regiment Band, these instruments make a great parade horn. They will not crack since they are made from a proprietary blend of recycled wood mixed with carbon fiber.
9. Look as good as you sound!
Your band’s colors give your group a sense of identity, unity, and add visual energy to the performance. Today’s vast product selection means that you don’t have to use boring black accessories to get great quality anymore.
Vientos Bambú’s hand-woven string ligatures (from $31) come in 12 gorgeous colors, and are an affordable, durable option that looks stunning even from a distance and are available for all clarinets and saxophones.
Whatever your band’s colors, you’re sure to find a great match. Military band players in particular will love the olive green to go with their camo outfits. And I’m sure that members of the Stampede Showband (shown above) would look even more stellar with matching red ligatures!
8. Use an Appropriate Mouthpiece
Choosing a mouthpiece is always very personal and subjective. But you need to use the right tool for the job. For marching, you’ll likely want a mouthpiece that lets you project easily and get a great tone, but with a softer reed to increase your stamina. It’s also important that it’s relatively affordable. This is because if disaster strikes you don’t want to be using an heirloom mouthpiece worth more than your instrument!
Try as many options as you can, but why not consider the brand new D’Addario X25E ($145)? This mouthpiece features a wide tip opening and long facing to improve projection at a great price. (In fact, you may want to grab two to have one around as a backup in case of an unfortunate marching accident!)
Of course, to prevent the mouthpiece from slipping around, protect it from scratches, and to take the edge off the vibrations, you should always use a quality mouthpiece patch.
7. Save Your Chops
Always make sure you’re prepared for rehearsal in advance so that you don’t have to spend valuable break time practicing and memorizing difficult passages. This kind of excessive playing during your scheduled breaks will make any long day feel like an eternity. It also will prevent you from having a good rehearsal and performance.
To help your chops stay their best, consider using Chop-Saver Lip Balm with SPF 15 sun protection ($3.86). In addition to soothing the muscles, this product has the added benefit of preventing painful sunburned lips. Just be sure to put it on well before playing so it has time to absorb and doesn’t get all over your reed!
If you find that your teeth are cutting through your bottom lip or causing pain after a long day, here’s a handy trick. Get a pack of 15 Ezo Dental Cushions ($4.77) and cut them into little pieces to put over your bottom teeth.
6. Upgrade your Thumb Rest
Clarinets are great, but the design of thumb rests are not. Increase your comfort with the Ridenour Thumb Saddle ($11.99). This handy product attaches easily to any existing thumb rest in seconds, adds cushioning, and allows the hand to play in a more relaxed, open position.
5. Use Synthetic Reeds
Nothing is worse for marching band clarinetists than the blazing heat. Just when you get a moment’s rest during the drum break on parade, it’s already “horn’s up” for the next tune and your reed is drier than a desert!
You can eliminate this problem entirely by giving Légère Reeds a try. The new European Signature model ($42.49) offers a symphonic quality product that won’t dry out and warp. It can even be washed to maintain good hygiene. Although these reeds cost about 10 times that of a normal cane reed, a single one should last all summer if you take care of it correctly.
4. Protect your Hearing
Did you know that, according to Etymotic Research, a Marching band can reach unsafe hearing levels that can permanently damage your hearing in less than 3 minutes? What’s worse is that hearing damage is cumulative. And you may not realize the damage that’s been done until it’s too late.
Etymotic’s ER20 XS Musicians’ Earplugs ($24.99) attenuate all sounds equally, but won’t break the bank in the process. They are discrete, include multiple sizes and styles of eartips, and include a handy carrying pouch and neck cord so you don’t lose them on the field. If you’d like to outfit your entire band contact us to ask about the Adopt-A-Band program for a bulk discount with savings of up to 40%.
If you need to hear soft sounds while wearing protection, like your drum major giving instructions from 200 yards away, you might want to consider the MusicPro Electronic Earplugs ($299). This innovative product attenuates only loud damaging sounds, and lets other sounds come through naturally. (Make sure to grab extra batteries!)
If you’re an instructor, section leader, or drum major in your marching band, you may want to consider purchasing a Personal Dosimeter ($149). This high-tech device performs complex calculations to determine when daily safe listening levels have been reached. This is a great way to know exactly when it’s time to tell the band to start wearing hearing protection!
3. Stay Hydrated during Marching Band Rehearsals
This might seem obvious, but far too many musicians forget to drink an ample amount of water while on the field. But of course, it’s almost impossible to play the clarinet and carry around a water bottle at the same time.
So why not use a Camelbak Hydration Backpack ($47.99)? These handy products were originally invented for bikers and climbers, but are perfect for marching band musicians of all types on the field during rehearsal. Carry up to 50 ounces of water completely hands-free, and even sneak a sip between phrases without breaking form with the handy drinking spout.
2. Take care of your body and mind
Marching days can easily be 12-14 hours long, and every moment you need to be at your best giving it your all. Take care of yourself! Eat well, catch a nap on the bus, lay down on a break and close your eyes, do some deep breathing exercises to relax, and make sure you get as much sleep as possible. It might be a good idea to toss some protein bars in your case so you’ve got something to eat in case you miss a meal or get hungry on a break.
Of course, if you’re looking for something to do on long bus rides, be sure to check out the Clarineat Podcast (Free)! Learn about the benefits of synthetic reeds, hearing protection, and get incredible insight from legendary players like Tom Puwalski, who was a member of the US Army Field band for over 20 years.
1. Have fun! Remember to take time to make friends and memories!
It’s hard to believe it’s almost 20 years ago now, but that’s me I’m in my marching band uniform before a show with the Calgary Round Up Band at age 12 back in 1998. Trust me, you’re having the time of your life out there. Make it count, make friends, make memories, and leave everything you’ve got on the field!
PS: And remember to thank your parents and family! Odds are they’ve been driving you around to practice, volunteering at fundraisers, and have been your biggest fan at shows for years. Be sure to show your appreciation because at the end of the day they help make it all possible!
Thanks for reading! Do you have any tried and true marching band tips you’d like to share? Please post them in the comments below!