Beginning Clarinet - advice needed

(26 Posts)
beezmum Thu 18-Oct-12 22:17:50

My dd's clarinet teacher seems a bit unreasonable but i am totally ignorant and may have it all wrong so would appreciate some wise advice. Dd is 8 and has just started clarinet lessons. She already has piano lessons and is doing fine but has wanted to do clarinet for quite some time. Her lessons are through school and after her first lesson the school emailed to say her teacher was concerned she lacked coordination and didn't have enough puff. This seemed odd to us as our dd is perfectly coordinated for piano and it seemed odd to be making these judgements after just one lesson. We then found out that dd kept asking to sit down. Her clarinet is a wooden one and another music teacher told us it would have been heavy as children often start with lighter plastic instruments so we got a nice neck strap. Now she has just had her third lesson and the teacher has said her hands are not yet big enough and she should do recorder. Dd is at least as big as the average 9 year old and her hands are by no means small... She has also been desperate to learn clarinet for some time.
This same other music teacher told us the clarinet teacher comes from a pushy London prep school and we wonder if she just doesn't want to be bothered with a total beginner.
I know it can be a problem having small hands but I'm really not convinced. I don't want to be so ignorant as to ignore the guidance of an expert though. Can one really say after 3 lessons that my dd is not suitable and how can one check about reach with hands? Thanks!

Lonecatwithkitten Thu 18-Oct-12 22:29:05

My DD at nearly 9 plays the clarinet. Three girls had trials for clarinet only DD had previously played the recorder for two years and passed grade 1. The clarinet teacher only accepted DD to play. Even after two years playing the recorder she finds it hard and is not to practice for any longer than 10 minutes less if she feels dizzy and this is with a plastic clarinet.
The director of music did tell me before DD went for the trial that it is unusual for a year 4 to be accepted for the clarinet.
I don't know how to tell about the hands, but the two years of recorder has really helped with the puff.

beezmum Fri 19-Oct-12 07:21:01

Thanks lonecat. In this case as my dd goes to a private school, anyone who wants to can do lessons - if you are happy to pay. So it is not an issue of working out who will learn quickly.
From my perspective if she is capable of making progress and remains keen I am OK about paying. I had never heard before that clarinet was such a challenge to learn compared with other instruments...

Lonecatwithkitten Fri 19-Oct-12 07:35:21

My DD is also at a private school, but director of music is very keen that they tackle an instrument they can succeed at hence the trials and turning down some children till later.
DD has really flown she only started at the beginning of term and as I say is already in the orchestra. I feel the director of music has really helped her choose the right instrument for her.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Fri 19-Oct-12 09:45:51

My DS started in the summer before Y3 aged 7.5. He is tall but by no means huge! He has never had any issues and I have never heard anything about challenges like that either, and DS had no problems.

I have heard of similar problems with oboes though, but I am not an expert either!

DD started sax just after 9, you do need big hands for that!

willyoulistentome Fri 19-Oct-12 09:58:28

I started at 11 or 12 (ish! - def early secondary school!) and found it heavy and very difficult to blow. ( plastic one!) You do have to blow pretty hard. It's not at all like recorder. I even passed out once trying to blow it. Well I went all woozy - got a red veil over my sight, and had to sit down.( It did turn out to be faulty however!) My 7 & 9 year olds have had a go at playing my old clarinet and they do find it very heavy and yes, I would have though you would need bigger than child's hands to reach all the keys. They would have to put their fingers very wide part and hold it at te same time. Your left thumb is anchored at the back.

I think your childs teacher is right. I would wait till secondary school myself. There are loads more holes/keys than on the recorder, because it's amuch longer instrument. You do have to be able to reach them, or you simply can't play.

BlueyDragon Fri 19-Oct-12 10:08:00

The puff issue will improve with practice, in fact I was advised to take up a wind instrument as a 7 year old to help with my asthma. Check the reed isn't too hard as that won't help. You can play sitting down (see every classical orchestra!) but you have to be careful of posture as if you slump you close up your lungs. Wooden instruments are heavier than plastic.

If your DD is struggling with the reach then talk to the teacher about switching to a smaller clarinet. The standard size is a B flat clarinet but there are differently tuned ones that are smaller but (I believe) have the same fingering. At an early stage the tuning difference won't matter, although if she wants to do grades then either the pieces will need transposing (if that's allowed) or she will have to wait until she can play the full size B flat version.

beezmum Sat 20-Oct-12 20:32:43

Thanks - that's useful. I've chatted to another music teacher. He seemed very surprised that you would be so negative about a child's aptitude after a few lessons and said reach shouldn't be an issue (he knows my dd). I've no ambition for my dd to be playing in an orchestra within a year or anything like that. I think I will just ask for her to change teacher as she is keen and it doesn't sound like she won't make progress - I'm happy for her to learn slowly.

TheFallenMadonna Sat 20-Oct-12 20:40:48

DS started in year 4. He is big for his age - don't know of it makes a difference. Never had any problems with running out of puff. However, it took him a good year before he started making anything resembling an acceptable sound!

mummytime Sat 20-Oct-12 20:50:33

The whole of year 5 at DCs school learn the Clarinet, and have done for the last 4 or more years. It seems to go pretty well.

Ghouljamaflip Sat 20-Oct-12 20:52:19

Hi my 9yr old was changed onto clarinet in Year 4 as he was really struggling with the flute - his arms simply weren't long enough to reach and he refused to use a flute with the bendy mouthpiece!

He's getting on fine (got a place in school orchestra and has auditioned to join the county one) - we did have to change the reeds he was using as they were too hard. He now uses a No2 if that means anything - all I know is that's the size I have to order

There are 3 clarinet players in school - 2 year 4s and 1 year 5 and they are all getting on fine and meeting at my house for practice every week hmm

teacherwith2kids Tue 23-Oct-12 16:39:58

Both my children started the clarinet in Year 3 - the only stipulation was that they had to have all their front teeth.

They are both tall children, though.

Reed hardness has done up gradually - DS is now 11 and uses a 'posher brand' 2.5 and DD (9) uses a 'cheaper brand' 2.

The quality of the teaching they have received through the county music peripatetic teachers has varied, as the service has been dismantled piece by piece. Both now go to private lessons after school - DS is flying, as his teacher is a jazz specialist and he LOVES jazz and plays in a county jazz group, DD is finding the intensity of 1 to 1 a little daunting (school lessons were in small groups) and is currently the less keen of the two.

We have intruments hired through the county music service - neither has ever compained about the weight, through DD sometimes complains that the reed makes her teeth buzz. Just beginning to think that after over 3 years the clarinet might be here to stay so we should buy at least one....

Wafflenose Wed 24-Oct-12 11:11:32

Hi, I'm a clarinet teacher and have taught many, many average sized 8 year olds. I will take anyone who's big enough, has their front teeth and wants to be taught - I don't 'select' in any way and all do just fine!! I would ignore the teacher's negativity, as if she's the size of a 9 year old she won't be too small. A beginner's plastic clarinet would be lighter, and she shouldn't really be out of breath. Ask the teacher to check the reed is fitted properly and isn't too hard (a 1.5 strength should be about right) and also that your dd isn't clamping her lips too hard around the mouthpiece, as this will shut the reed against the mouthpiece and stop it vibrating, so she will be holding her breath/ trying far too hard to blow!

morethanpotatoprints Thu 25-Oct-12 19:48:14

My dh is a musician, and sax, clar, flute educator. Likewise as long as they are big enough and have all second teeth through he will teach them, usually around age 9. However, I do agree that some dc don't suit particular instruments. I must have seen him turn down dozens wanting to play flute over the years. If the mouth is the wrong shape, size etc.
Dd is only average sized 8 year old and she manages alto sax so your dd's size shouldn't be an issue from what you have said.

AChickenCalledKorma Fri 26-Oct-12 22:39:08

DD1 started the clarinet in Yr 4, when every child in the year was offered the chance to learn for one year. I can't imagine they would offer free instruments to 60 children if there was a chance they were too small to learn!

She is still playing now (in year 6). She is very small for her age and has absolutely tiny hands, with very skinny fingers. She has to be very accurate with placing her fingers, so they cover the whole hole, but she can certainly manage all the notes she needs for Grade 1 (which she's sitting this term). No problems with the weight of the instrument or passing out through lack of puff.

beezmum Sat 03-Nov-12 11:40:50

I have just been to see the head of music at the school. She didn't talk about any issue but reach but said this was a problem as when dd reached for lower notes she had to twist the clarinet slightly. My dd is really really keen and has practised loads already, making noticeable progress - playing something one can recognise is 'ode to joy' after 3 lessons. So I think I just have to decide whether the size issue being raised is the teacher being finicky. I have talked to dd about doing recorder for a while and she was very upset. I know motivation at this stage is as much whim as anything but that doesn't mean I want to crush it. Hmm... Your comments are so useful - thank you.

Wafflenose Sat 03-Nov-12 14:37:47

Give her loads of encouragement to keep it up, and find another teacher if you're not happy. If she is the size of a 9 year old, she is not too small. I have just started teaching a rather small 8 year old and she is just fine! I had some problems reaching the low notes at 7 - and a few months later, it wasn't an issue any more. Children grow anyway!

Chopstheduck Sat 03-Nov-12 14:52:58

It might be her hand position that is making her twist the clarinet, rather than her actually not being able to reach, especially if she is getting tired holding it.

I never used a neck strap, but did learn on a plastic one. A clarinet is very heavy anyway with all the metal work, so I can imagine why your daughter is struggling a bit. A wooden one also needs warming up a bit really before playing, so it can be harder to get a nice sound from it immediately, especially with beginner lessons that might only last for 10-20 minutes.

Also, I used to suck on the reed for a bit (though I believe it's better to soak it in water) to soften it before playing. I'd go for a 1.5 and I always liked rico royals to start with.

The puff will build up with lessons and practice. It's stupid to say she doesn't have enough after a couple of lessons. The key is lots of short practice sessions.

I miss my clarinet sad It is years since I have played.

AChickenCalledKorma Sat 03-Nov-12 17:19:01

I would stick with it (and possibly consider finding a different teacher). I've been supervising DD1 doing her scales this week and I can see that she's finding reaching the low notes a lot easier than she used to. She hasn't grown all that much, so I'm assuming it's all in the hand position. Her bottom hand looks less contorted than it used to, and she isn't having to stretch so far. (And her fingers really are tiny for a 10yo!)

IslaValargeone Sat 03-Nov-12 17:30:27

My dc started clarinet lessons at the beginning of the year she is 10. She struggled with reach and found it quite heavy.
The teacher also suggested that she should leave it for a while until she was a bit bigger. I had no problem with that, as I thought it was quite honest and indicated that she wasn't just in it for the money.
Dc tried the piano with the same teacher and is flying with it.

FriendofDorothy Sat 03-Nov-12 17:38:31

I started playing the clarinet at aged 8. I have fairly small hands and it was a struggle for ages, I used to get thumb ache where the instrument rested on my right thumb. However, you get used to it, to the weigh and feel of the instrument and your hands and thumbs get stronger.

Find a new teacher - one who isn't so negative and will encourage your child to play a truly lovely instrument!

IslaValargeone Sat 03-Nov-12 17:43:54

I'm all for a bit of if at first you don't succeed and all that, but I'm wondering if learning an instrument is a chore, because it's heavy/painful etc then it might kill off a love of music?
I wouldn't see what the teacher has said as being negative necessarily, maybe it's just not right at this time?

beezmum Sat 03-Nov-12 18:20:08

Thanks everyone! I would be happy to view it as being not the 'right time' if that didn't mean telling a child who is excited and determined that she is not allowed to play anymore... She seems pretty determined to keep going.
Chops the duck dh and I thought hand position was likely to be the reql issue, more than reach, before reading your comment so thats interesting. The clarinet is heavy and it is all new so I'm not surprised if her hand position isn't yet ideal. I'd have thought muscle will build in time for her to reach more notes effectively as she needs to and we could borrow a plastic clarinet for a while I guess. My dd is the size of an average nine year old and her fingers are longish. Given her teacher's overall negativity I could well believe that the issue of reach is more surmountable than she suggests.
Just after i spoke to the head of music I didn't know what to do but this thread suggests there are two schools of thought on this and given my dd's determination its sensible to follow the advice of those that think it is worth persisting. There is another teacher that she could have that is apparently much more laid back so I will try and have her transferred.

IslaValargeone Sat 03-Nov-12 18:26:10

Ah well that's great, if she really is that determined then go for it. My dc was getting quite cheesed off by the whole thing, but is quite happy to have a go at a later date.
I think the fact that my dc has taken to the piano has softened the blow for her.

beezmum Tue 06-Nov-12 19:43:17

Dd had a lesson with her new teacher today. She tells us that he told her that her hands were a good size to play clarinet... Looks like it was right to persist! All went well and she was very happy - hooray.

Chopstheduck Tue 06-Nov-12 19:55:48

Aww that is brilliant news! I hope she gets lots of enjoyment from it!

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