Harri Mäki , Professor of Woodwinds at the Sibelius Academy and former Solo Clarinet of Tapiola Sinfonietta, gave this interview on 18th of February 2017 in Zurich. The transcription is supplemented with notes from the masterclasses given at 16th and 17thth of November 2019 in the Lucerne University of applied sciences, and has been edited by Heinrich Mätzener.
- 1 Harri Mäki’s teachers
- 2 Didactic canon
- 3 Sound production
- 4 The embouchure as base of articulation
- 5 Voicing
- 6 Articulation
- 7 Practicing staccato
- 8 Finger technique
- 9 Breathing
- 10 Posture
- 11 Intonation
- 12 Learning and practicing rules
- 13 Audition
- 14 References
Harri Mäki’s teachers
HM: What were the most important stages in your training as a clarinettist? Which were your teachers and which clarinettist traditions did you learn?
HMäki: I started my studies in Helsinki with Kari Krikku
HM: He played French clarinet. Did anybody in Finland play German clarinet?
HMäki: Not since 1930’s.
HM: Oh, before they had some?
HMäki: Yes, before in Finland were even German people, playing German clarinet. But it very quickly became French. Basically, Finland has been very in between French and German always. But then, many people, all the generation students from Finland came to Switzerland to study with Hans-Rudolf Stalder. So, it’s a very Swiss approach, already a long, long time ago, so it’s kind of in between the two styles: little bit French, little bit German. But more French. Then I went to the Swiss clarinettist Thomas Friedli, and then, when I already had a job, I had a chance to study with Charly Neidich, he became like my intellectual mentor, in a way. Also, about teaching. Friedli, although he was a great teacher, he was not methodical that way. But I would learn a lot about by his teaching itself. Although many people say I teach exactly like Friedli. I was just not aware of it, at that time. At least, twenty years ago, I did, when many of them came from Switzerland to Helsinki. But now I think that I am much more my own. But also, to Charles Neidich, I believe in analysing things, also musically. Analysing is not the opposite of expression, it’s enhancing expression. But yes, I would think that I am very much a Swiss player! (laughs).
HM: I mean we are between German, France and Vienna’s style, also by being student of Stalder, I love the contact with periodical instruments.
HMäki: To this, I have no time now. I also took some lessons with Anthony Morf He was very good for me with articulation. I had big articulation problems, but he basically solved them. He helped me a lot with them.
HM: Toni Morf was laureat of the Geneva Competition. Unfortunately, though Toni was my colleague at the University of Applied Sciences in Lucerne, he died before I started this project and, I couldn’t do the interview with him, neither with my teacher in Basel, Hans-Rudolf.
HM: Which didactic canon do you follow? I suppose that you follow different strategies if you stay during several years with a student to build up a good clarinet technique, or if you work with students in a masterclass.
Change teacher after three years
HMäki: First of all, I think that three years is the maximum a student should stay with one teacher. I have discovered, that after three years the relationship becomes strained, we start to say the same things to each other over and over again. Also, the students start to end your sentences, they know what you are going to say. And this is time to change. What I usually do, is take master students for 2 1/2 years and I if I take a Bachelor, I make sure that he changes the teacher for the masters. So, I never teach anybody more than three years. And I don’t believe in having only one teacher. I think one should have several teachers, but one person takes full responsibility. Someone is really in charge, but I am not worried about people who are going to other teachers. I try to make sure that the student doesn’t think that there is a fast lane or a short cut by going to some teachers. So, 3 years is the maximum!
The importance of a horizontal feeling while playing
And the keys are: everything is better in a good legato, even staccato, behind a good staccato is always a good legato. The horizontal feeling of playing is very important. Very few of the good musical gestures are vertical. So, even the shortest of gestures, the most fragmentary things, I think should always be leaving in a horizontal playing. When things are horizontal, they have continuity. And when they have continuity, they have flow. So, it always comes to me with a feeling of ease, things are flowing. I don’t want anything in music to sound forced. And everything technical is based on that too.
Analyse the music, find the phrasing
I introduce students in many different ways of analysing pieces. Either harmony or general what to emphasize, if it’s the height of the phrase, the depth of the left hand of the piano, there are so many different parameters in music that you can analyse but I give the student an option to choose which one of these he or she will follow. I always try to explain the motivation behind every suggestion. So it applies to any and not just for one passage.
HM: Do you follow a warm-up, I mean you tell your students to start they practice session with sound studies, then scales, études and finally then literature? Or do you mix literature with sound- and other exercises?
Warm up with intervals, not only with long notes
HMäki: It depends! Usually I keep them separate, but I always try to play everything musically and beautifully. I never want to treat the clarinet only as a tool, but as something to respect and to cherish and take seriously. My personal feeling about long notes, they did not teach me much, especially the cresc-dim type. So, I don’t really want the students to play long notes as such, but I want them to play some kind of a pattern with a long note at the end of it. So that to me creates the same effect but you are also learning how to connect notes, because that’s where the quality of the sound is, it’s how to go from note to note. So, I play Vade-Mecumand I have my own exercises that are to find on my webpage, about legato or breaks. But always about intervals, not about notes alone! And I also use physical tools, like breath builder with a ball just to wake up people to make their “machine” work and for them to have a visual image of the air to create a memory imprint.
The art of playing a pianissimo is the core of the sound
HM: This afternoon you showed an exercise: You wanted the student to play very, very soft, first of all without sound and then coming in, starting the crescendo from dal niente, on a piano pianissimo.
HMäki: The pianisissimo is the core of the sound.
HM: And with this concept, the forte will not grow by pushing air, much more the piano grows from his inside. HMäki: Yes, and also creating this kind of a back support. So that the sound is also increasing this way, like singers do. Crescendo projection should be symmetrical, also behind you, to avoid tension.
HM: There is way working on the sound quality and on the technique of crescendo by imagination. Another way would be, as you said, to know and explain how we use our proper body, (our “machine” as you called it) to create the acoustic result we have in our mind. How do you create this resonance room, where a sound can increase, without losing its quality?
Use the middle of the tongue to shape the resonance chamber of your mouth
HMäki: If you think about the singers, I really believe we can do the same to create a [chamber of] resonance. It is about creating a lot of space inside your mouth but then adjusting [the volume – and the air stream] with the middle of the tongue; not in the back of the tongue, because that’s throat, and not in the front because that’s tonguing.
The embouchure as base of articulation
Because I teach very different nationalities, [I see, that] some people have easier time with articulations than others. I discovered that Italian, Spanish people are often very quick, and Scandinavian are slow. You have to figure out different ways of solving those problems and I’m using a lot of metaphors for this, to make the articulation lighter, because light means faster! That seems to be the biggest problem: the variation of articulation and the speed of articulation with the clarinet students. Because of the embouchure being so invasive.
Embouchure building and training
Exercise facial expressions
- The correct embouchure building can be depicted well with different facial expressions: the facial expression of an astonished "Oh!" is combined with a chin that is pulled down flat. The "tip" of the chin should be directed downwards, the rounded chin should not be pressed upwards, towards the leaf. The facial expression of a thoughtful, critical "hmm" will connect with a chin rounded upwards. Building the embouchure like that, air will escape laterally at the corners of the mouth. This is an indication, that the lip muscles are not sufficiently involved in the attachment formation, but the jaw muscles compensate for this. In addition to the disturbing noise, in this constellation intonation corrections can also be performed less well.
Exercise Vade-Mecum by Paul JeanJean 
- Play the 1st exercise, with very strong sf, without air escaping sideways.
Exercise with double lip approach
- Play a few minutes a day of selected areas or tone exercises with double lip embouchure.
Exercise working with gymnastics equipment
- Work with gymnastics equipment. Strengthen the lip muscles with a gymnastics apparatus. The device strengthens the two corners of the mouth apart. As isometric muscle training center the corners of the mouth towards the middle against this tension force. Hold the corners of the mouth cantered towards the middle for six seconds, relax for 4 seconds. Repeat eight times. Other exercises to build up lip muscles: facial exercises, 
Exercise strengthening the upper lip
- The practice principle of this exercise is based on the isolation of individual technical playing parameters. Here, the use of the upper lip during the embouchure formation is specifically trained.
- Choose a note of the middle register (e.g. e’) in a phrase of the music you are working and hold it as a long note.
- Observe the embouchure, consciously snuggle the upper lip against the upper row of teeth, feel it with the right index finger.
- Then take the instrument away from the embouchure, keep the embouchure formation more upright and "mime" the music you are playing execute the fingerings, imitate the phrasing with the air, vocalize and articulate with the tongue, but without the instrument in the embouchure.
- Play the passage again with the instrument, remember the embouchure building.
Flexibility of the embouchure line
HM: Do you use the possibility to change the embouchure line on the reed by holding the instrument, by pushing upward against the embouchure to take more mouthpiece in the mouth in order to have more surface of the reed vibrating? And the embouchure line can be changed in function of the register and the dynamic you are playing (see also Interview with John Moses).
HMäki: Yes, it’s much easier to control your embouchure [line] from your right thumb than try to do move the jaw [a little bit for- and downward]. First, I demonstrate this movement too big, but if you can master it, it will be much less. I do it very little when playing.
HM: I think on the beginning, for everything we learn, the movements are to big in the beginning. When we compare with a child learning to eat with a spoon, in the beginning it makes much to big movements and then it learns a bit at a time to refine its motoric sense. Concerning the embouchure, we have to combine movements and positions of the jaw, the lips, but also of the tongue and the breathing - everything is connected.
HMäki: Yes. And also, the angle holding the instrument, the air flow and the air pressure in relation to the embouchure building...
HM: Embouchure building is more than forming the lips, it continues inside the mouth. It involves the tongue, its form and its position. This skill is described as voicing. Playing the clarinet, the combination by forming the lips to embouchure, putting the tongue in a specific position and form differs from the use of lips and tongue while using our language. As an example: while forming the lips similar to the vowel “o”, our tongue more or less should take the position similar to “ee”.
Finding the optimal voicing
H.Mäki: In order to make a sound vibrate optimally, it is necessary to find the appropriate vocalization for each pitch. Vocalization means to modify the tongues shape and position according to the current pitch, while the embouchure building remains unchanged. Suitable vowels are i, y, ü, ö, to o. The tongue must act like a robot and must be able to find the right position even in fast passages and register changes. It is a fast process controlled by hearing, motion memory and muscle memory.
Optimal vocalization enhances the projection of the sound and enables us to play with a correct, but flexible intonation.
HM: Maybe we can talk about some specific clarinet difficulties like articulation, response on high notes and making to speak them really with pure sound, without under blowing. Just now I saw how you were teaching, it was very good. Could you describe how to get there?
Learn to over-blow without the register key
HMäki: My first thing, what I do is: I try to make the sounds [of the clarion register] without the register key, so they find the right cavity and the right voicing for the middle of the tongue and when that works, usually, it works the normal fingering, using the register key. The other thing, there are fingerings that make those things easier and for example, you can do little tricks, like make the register key very close to the hole, so those things don’t happen. But if you have excerpt like Respighi, Pini di Roma, that doesn’t have a B-flat so you can actually have extremely narrow opening in register key and you can make legatos much easier. So, it’s just practical musicianship that you learn over the years.
Exercise for the clarion register
- Example: Play Brahms, Sonata in F minor, firs bars: The legato from g' to b’’ and from c’’-to eb’’’
- Realize the jump in each case without using the register key. The upper note responds if the following is observed:
- Adjust the tongue shape and position according to the pitch: point the front part of the tongue forward/up, very close to the palate and the tip of the leaf. When changing from g to b: change vowel from “ö” to ü. Jump c - eb from i to ü.
- Strengthen the base from the sides towards the middle, close the corners of the mouth well at the sides.
- the cheeks left and right tightly against the lateral rows of teeth
- The upper lip nestles up against the upper row of teeth
Brahms, sonata f- minor op 120. Bar 6, g-b‘‘, bar 8 c -es‘‘
Exercise for the throat notes and chalumeau register
- Without the instrument
In the middle and lower register do not lower the tongue, in its front part, form the vowel "ü" and consonant "ch" (like german: “Küche”). This results in a better tone. Become aware of the position of the tongue by playing a note, taking the instrument away from the embouchure, continuing the air flow. Depending on the dynamic level, piano to forte, a more or less energetic "wind-hissing sound" is produced.
- With the instrument
- Choose a good sounding tone, e.g. f
- Play at a slow tempo and pay attention to balanced timbre:
Think of the middle of the tongue position
HM: The position and the form of the tongue is flexible; do you change these also according to the register?
HMäki: Yes. I also think of my “middle of the tongue position”. While inhaling chose different positions of the tongue preparing the response in each register!
HM: And how would you describe the difference concerning the tongue position when playing an f’ (throat note) and a high c’’ (in the upper clarion register)? What is the difference in the vocalisation playing an a in the chalumeau compared to the e’’ in the clarion register? And just for didactic reasons: do you let the students find by themselves how to change the vocalisation between the two notes?
HMäki: Yes! It is almost impossible to describe, but my feeling that what would happen is, that the middle of the tongue goes up (when playing a not in the clarion register) and starts to push the air in front of the teeth . And when the middle of the tongue goes up, the back of the tongue goes down, so the throat opens (imitates it by making an increasing hissing sound by changing the tongue position, imitation the difference between chalumeau and clarion register). And then you also move a bit the lower lip towards front when you play higher register, because there are three different positions [of the embouchure line om the reed] at least: low, middle and high register. So, you do all of the three things together, too much at the beginning to make a point; but very, very little in the end.
Finding the best resonance fingerings
The use of special fingerings aims to amplify the overtone component of a sound, and thus its projection in a larger hall.
The fingering of these resonating fingerings can vary from instrument to instrument. If, through appropriate vocalization, the twelfth, played above the fingered note without using the register key, they are pure, rather too low or too high, depending on the fingering. The aim is to achieve a pure twelfth this gives the best tonal result, the best projection of the sound.
Fingering for b': if possible, play with the a' key open, this gives a rounder, freer sound.
A Table of fingerings is supposed to be inserted here.
HM: Can you describe the position, the form and point, where the tongue touches the reed? between tongue and reed. In which way do you think it is good to make it? Does it for you depend on the register? And also on the instrument? Bass clarinet and E-flat clarinet is different.
HMäki: Yes, of course! I had some students who play anchor tonguing. They’re so good that I didn’t dare to change it.
HM: I know the teachers in Linz, Gerald Kraxsberger, he plays anchor tonguing with a lot of easiness.
HMäki: So, [if somebody plays a good staccato with anchor tonguing and feels comfortable], I never want to change that.
HMäki: In order to be able to play a staccato passage quickly, it must first be mastered in legato. Start - as always - practicing in slow tempo. Only when the legato is mastered can the staccato be practiced successfully, i.e. to work out the combination of tongue and finger technique
But if I would recommend, I would say that you should touch the reed the same place in each register. And I have exercises for that you are, that you don’t change the place of the tongue. Like Charly Neidich changes his tongue position depending on which register he’s playing. I have it always this:
Put the tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed, then release. I learnt this with Antony Morf.
HM: I know Toni Morf had a very pure in sound and clear articulation. He did teach to put the tip of the tongue to the tip of the reed.
HMäkk: Yes, and then release. It’s a lot about release for him.
HM: Never pushing.
HMäki: He made me play lots of Bach, so that I would learn to enjoy the articulation because Bach is so much about articulation. We are often so afraid about our own [….?] sound of articulation, we don’t dare to really use it. First, he made me do it really hard, then little by little he made me lighter and lighter. I was there for three months or something, but I came back knowing that I could articulate so much better. These were very useful lessons!
Practice double tonguing with the mouthpiece only
HMäki: And I teach a lot of double tonguing because I noticed that people get much faster with their normal tonguing if they are learning double tonguing. So, you can stop double tonguing after a while.
- Practice only on the mouthpiece at first Watch the response of the sound carefully, the tone should sound directly in the correct intonation.
- "Ga" with metronome, first practice slowly in the offbeat. In this way the quality can be controlled and heard exactly, because the tone does not sound simultaneously with the metronome. Pay attention to the regularity of the articulation.
- increase tempo
- combine the articulations "da" and "ga", extend tone groups step by step from 2 notes to any number
- start again with small tone groups, increase tempo
HM: What is important to get a good double tonguing in the higher register?
HMäki: You have to practice with the mouthpiece only and then you minimize the “quakquak” due to the tongue position of a bad consonant. You try to make a bad consonant and a good consonant sounding exactly the same. (demonstrates it) It usually works better also.
Holding the clarinet
HM: Specially for young students it is difficult to hold all the weight of the instrument only with the right thumb. What do you think is the best position for the thumb rest, and what is the best way to form the right hand? I think that the position of the thumb should be between the index and the middle finger. Quite a lot of people think the position should be lower. Does it depend on each person? What do you recommend?
HMäki: For me, what I do, I change it: so, my patterns don’t get stuck. But my best way to find the best position is to let your right arm down, the hand and fingers are relaxed. Then put the clarinet horizontally in your hand, like if you would play the flute: your thumb takes automatically the right place, then you bring up the instrument, don’t move anything: it’s perfect. The ideal position of the thumb would even be on the upper side of the thumb rest. So, to find the right position for the fingers, as if you play the flute and it’s completely correctly. It’s worth a try but it’s really amazing!
HM: Good Idea!
Take your “best” finger as role model
Exercise "finger comparison"
But what I’m looking for is the symmetry seats still. So, I make the students compare each finger and I tell them: “which one is easier? Which one is more lose?” And Then I try to make them change that, to move that relaxation to the other finger. And that goes to the whole thing, and back and forth. Once they learn that, I make them play Vade Mecum. But this is before Vade-Mecum: the comparison, the fingers, and then Vade-Mecum.
And Always play with slightly bent fingers, especially in the right hand, 4th and 5th fingers pay attention. Especially shape the inside of the hand as if you were holding a tennis ball in your hand. In this way, make the inside of the hand more stable and at the same time allow the fingers to make loose movements. It is more difficult to control the movements with stretched fingers.
HM: And you take the index moving, first, it’s the easiest.
HMäki: Yes, but what usually is, is one of the hands is better than the other. On each finger: so, if this finger is better (e.g. index of the right hand), then you try to move it here (e.g. 4th finger of the left hand). And if this finger is better (e.g. index of the left hand), then you try to move it here (e.g. 4th finger of the right hand). In this way you transfer the flowing movement from one hand to the other, from one finger to the other. Good feeling! And I think originally, these exercises are from Hans Rudolf Stalder.
HM: Ah!!! He never showed to me!
HMäki: Yes. Reino Simola was his student and he taught this to me, so it’s a finger comparison exercise, so you make comparisons and develop.
Example to be inserted
Distribute the weight of the clarinet between both hands
HM: Do you help with your left hand holding the weight or is it only the right thumb?
HMäki: It should help a little bit. You need to have a good position here [a good angle between your head position and the clarinet].
HM: Yes, so you don’t put your head too much down.
HMäki: Exactly, of course this would be the easiest, but this is bad for the sound. So, it doesn’t really help.
HM: It’s too open.
HMäki: But I try to have some weight here (on the fourth finger of the right hand?)
HM: Do you use, we call it “Stützfinger” in German? I ti is like playing a historic instruments, when you play the high c3, you can put the the little finger of the right hand und the c-key
HMäki: Yes, to help, you can use this fingering: Fingering of c3
HM: Oh, with this fingering you have a very good balance. It’s like the “resonance” fingering for the throat notes, you told further up about. The throat notes, playing them with a special fingering, allow an overblowing to the perfect 12th. Maybe it has two functions: giving the harmonics and also helping to hold the instrument?
HMäki: Exactly, that’s a very good concept!
HM: Do you use the same kind of finger motion, playing a virtuoso piece and playing a slow, lyric piece?
HMäki: I use definitely different finger motions. The fingers are following the character. So, if you have a legato you use beautiful fingers, you have opposite gestures before you put them down. Or when I release, I put down first and then release. So, I am aware of the type of the fingers.
HM: You put first your fingers “into the clarinet”, and then release?
HMäki: Yes. If I have to play legato D to G, I press / release the right-hand fingers. If I have to play G to D, down way, I first move the fingers in the opposite direction. This is from a teacher in Curtis Institute . So, they call it Curtis Institute legato in America: press, release, golf! Some kind of opposite force, so you are aware of your fingers. And it really honestly helps for a legato.
HM: You showed us some very good exercises finding the best finger motion. Do you make exercises without instruments to find the good support or do you always practice with the instrument and using your ears?
HMäki: Breathing when playing the clarinet is in no way similar respiration at rest. The exhalation phase must be extended many times over for the purpose of musical interpretation, and the inhalation must be all the faster during short pauses. The entire lung volume should be used. This is basically unnatural and has to be learned, practiced and trained.
As a good basic exercise to learn the support technique, it is recommended to use the entire lung volume to the limit when inhaling. This is combined with a "liberating" exhalation without active tensing of the exhalation muscles or even forced exhalation.
First, exhale heartily. Breathe in in three steps:
- begin to blow the air in several steps, first on vowel, o-o-o-o-o,
- then to a-a-a-a-a
- then a few more small breaths, as many as possible, inhaling on vowel ee-ee-ee-ee until the lung volume is finally exploited to its full capacity.
This exercise, which is aimed at achieving large lung volume, can also be used in practice at the beginning of a piece or during longer pauses in the clarinet part. In the Brahms F minor Sonata, for example, one can inhale during two bars of the four-bar piano prelude. The inhalation must then be performed independently of an upbeat movement.
For playing practice, it is also necessary to practice filling the entire lung volume in short pauses.
Further notes on breathing
- When breathing out, activate the back muscles, support them with your back
- Keep shoulders low when inhaling.
HM: A lot of teachers speak about support: I think it’s difficult to teach, because it’s a cool body feeling, supporting a sound and directing the air. How would you say is a good definition of the word support? Can you describe, the group of muscles working together, during sound production?
HMäki: It is something here, It is not physiological: It’s a feeling that I have that I try to be as big as possible.
HM: You show the distance between chest and diaphragm [in its inhaling position].
HMäki: And then, this of course: the back.
Air volume and sound level
HMäki: The following experiment shows that the volume (dynamic level) as nothing to do with the amount of air that we blow through the instrument. The student plays a low e at full volume, in forte. The clarinet is raised, and a person holds a piece of paper in front of the bell. The paper does not react, as expected, to air escaping from the bell, but remains motionless. This means that at high volume there is practically no air flowing through the instrument. It is therefore not necessary to force a large amount of air into the instrument.
HM: We talked about embouchure, about hands, about breathing, you talked about head position but the whole-body position, I’m sure is important. Do you give some directions to your students?
HMäki: Yes, I think the symmetry is important, that you play with your both feet on the ground. Because if you are not symmetrical, you cannot support, you cannot use the full amount of your energy. You can do it if you are in a good physical shape but it’s much easier if you are symmetrical this way. Then I try to make people imagine that I am holding them from a straw or like a string.
HM: That’s Stalder (laughs) still in mind, of course.
HMäki: Yes. But it’s almost about physiology of the students. They all have different kinds of things. But those two things, I can be sure that I don’t make any harm. If they are symmetrical, it will always be good.
Angle clarinet / body
When playing crescendo, the clarinet and the bell are naturally raised, which seems to have an end positive effect on the performance quality. Physically, however, the sound quality is impaired; the sound projected from the bell produces a rather sharp sound impression. (As required in many passages of Mahler's symphonies as playing instructions). A rounded sound image is achieved by projecting directly from the tone holes. Better results are achieved if the clarinet is brought closer to the body at crescendos and phrase climaxes and the instrument is brought closer to the embouchure at the same time.
HM: Which concept of intonation do you follow? Do you always listen to the harmonic context? With piano, of course, we have to follow the well-tempered intonation.
HM: But are you making specific exercises for the students to have the skills of good intonation?
HMäki: Yes, I have this exercise called: “my favorite things” from “Sound of Music” that you play a F,C,G,F,C. You hear the combination note. If you have a drone note C, you play an F, and you start to hear this combination note inside your head that is below. So, I teach them to learn and to hear that and find it automatically. I don’t believe in teaching intonation only through tuning box, because you have to learn by muscle memory.
Change chromatically up– and downwards
You make the sound machine player low C or your colleague. And on top of it you play (sings) And you make sure that each interval is in tune. But you don’t correct it during the process, you do it once through and then all over again. I learned this from Frank Morelli who is a Bassoon teacher in Juilliard. He learned it from the saxophone class. And when I get a new instrument, I always go through my whole instrument, chromatically through with this exercise, so I learn its particularities.
HM: Where to go, where you have to do some corrections…
HMäki: Where to go, which are the sure note, which are a little bit ambivalent, and all my students, hopefully! I tell them to do this all the time. So, they train their ears to hear in tunes, they know what it feels like!
Orientation in the harmonic context
HM: Yes, it’s really a skill that, not everybody is conscious, how important it is!
HMäki: it’s usually people who don’t play in orchestra, are not aware how crucial it is. You have these teachers, who hadn’t really played in orchestra, so their discipline of intonation is very different from ours. And when I teach excerpts, I think usually melodically intonation, but I always flirt a little bit with the harmonic intonation. So, the student is always aware when he plays (sings first mvt. form Beethoven’s 6th symphony): so, he knows which part of the chord he is playing. So, it has to be horizontally correct, but it has to have also some aspects of vertical intonation.
HM: And then, you’re working with fitting to the harmonics? For example, there is the bassoon player playing the basic, so you hear the fifth and the third, so you’re fitting in.
HMäki: Up to a point! So, I don’t go, so that I am five cents always flat on the major third, but I am thinking a little bit on the lower side. And it’s also good for the jury to realize: Oh! He is hearing the whole part, when he is playing so, he is not just playing his way.
HM: So, it’s like an inner singing that you have during playing.
HMäki: If I make the fifth a bit wide, then I have a bit more room to play with the nice major third, that I have to think bit lower. Everybody who plays in the orchestra knows this. But it’s surprisingly new for some students.
HM: It’s a bit specialized: but what about the seventh? Their different opinions: for example, the introduction to Beethoven septet? I think when it’s on the top of the texture, it’s good to play really low, but sometimes when it’s on the middle of the chord, same experience?
HMäki: It’s like when you play Debussy or Ravel, where you have those chords, you can do all kind of things: But with Beethoven, especially this passage, I am thinking it low but I would never dare to play a seventh too low, like it’s supposed to be I’m more thinking that it’s like major second but I have a nice distance between the C and the B-flat. Not so much about building from below. But it depends so much.. and this problem is totally different than with the piano. If you play Beethoven piano quintet, then just play “wohltemperiert”, and it’s no problem. But with the strings its different.
HM: Just recently we did second movement of Beethoven Septet. It’s in A-flat major, the clarinet plays the third. The concert c’’ it’s difficult on Buffet clarinets to get low enough, already in well-tempered intonation. It’s nearly impossible, when the strings play the b-flats to low.
HMäki: No! it’s a terrible idea! Like this a very classical example the slow movement of Beethoven septet, and the other one is Beethoven first piano concerto second movement: it also has a D all the time in the melody and you have a lot of string players playing 442: you have to bring the D a little bit down but then the piano is coming and is playing the same D sounding concert C : it’s A-flat major, so it’s like you are to make so many choices in micro seconds all the time: so which intonation to follow? Where is it? And the strings can start a note like this (shows) but we have to play, we have no negotiation time. We have to just put it somewhere! So, it’s, especially for clarinet, because D [concert C] is very difficult to bring down.
Learning and practicing rules
Make a break after 25 minutes of practicing
HM: When I was in your lesson yesterday, you introduced the method to work regularly only for 25 minutes, and then make a short break and again. This is necessary to keep concentration, during every moment of practicing. You introduced the app pomodoro.
HMäki: Just because I know from my own experience that after ½ hour, the concentration level is very much lower, and you are just not making real progress. I really believe that 25 minutes is an absolute maximum. The studies are saying 20 min is the maximum, but I feel that musicians being able to concentrate significantly better than normal people, so 25 is ok. You recognize it also with musicians who have changed the profession, to study something else. They have so much more concentration than their peers. They mention it always! They are so surprised! One of my students went to study law, another one went to study to get actor, how much better they can concentrate that the range group.
Learning during the rests
The muscle memory learns (or myalin develops)only in rest. So, 25 minutes works and then you need a 5 min break to also, so that the things that you learned go into the muscle memory. Because the muscle memory learns only in rest.
HM: Yes, that’s a medicine research. And then you make plans, one day, one week, one month and one semester???
HM: But it must be individually different.
HMäki: The main job of the students is: practice, practice, practise! And the fourth one is may be lessons. But the first one must be practice, practice, practice. And that’s easily the one which gets forgotten. Because we have this very structured studies environment now, there are all these demands from all kinds of teachers, teaching all kinds of auxiliary things, taking your time, so the student has to be very careful to concentrate on his own practicing, alone.
It is absolutely necessary to avoid repeating mistakes. If something is not mastered when an error occurs, reduce the tempo immediately, repeat at a slower tempo.
- Take a regular break after 25 minutes of practice (timer is best)
- You must be able to play an excerpt 10 times without errors in order to master it. But don’t over repeat. When you are tired and unconcentrated, the quality suffers.
- Accept that even working on a small group of notes can take 25 minutes.
Hints for the practice technique
Exercise from slow to fast
- Define a practice unit, e.g. a group of four to 12 notes
- Repeat the unit three times at a slow pace.
- Increase the tempo afterwards, repeat 3 times in the new tempo.
- Repeat 3 times again in a slightly faster tempo
- Repeat this procedure.
- Select three objects in the room, e.g. windows. picture, table - play the three repetitions for each of the objects.
Each object is assigned a tempo in three repetitions.
From first to last note, from last to first note
Determine the sound group to be worked, then repeat the individual groups of sounds 20 times in this way, so the place can be anchored in the movement memory.
- Play and repeat the first two notes
- Play and repeat the first three notes
- Etc: always add a tone to the sound group
- Play and repeat the last two notes
- Play and repeat the last three notes
- Etc: always add a tone to the sound group
- Play the repetitions with air-sound mixture
- Play the repetitions as staccato
- Play the F-Major scale with the range upwards as far as it can be played, at a very fast tempo.
- Transfer the type of air flow to the places to be practiced.
Tune with the piano in the following steps: listen, play, compare, tune if necessary. Do not play simultaneously with the piano.
Tempo stability is one of the most important qualities when playing Mozart concerto and the orchestra parts. It is one of the most important criteria the jury listens to.
Show the pianist clearly your own tempo before she starts playing, then reproduce the same tempo as the piano plays
Take the tempo from the piano
Practice with subdivisions
Use the following practicing models.
Subdivisions serve to:
- Maintain the tempo
- Create the correct proportions between longer and subsequent short notes (not playing fast notes too late and too fast)
- Keep the support and to dynamically enliven the notes.
Practice combinations of long and short notes in rhythmic subdivisions
- Subdivide half and following quarter notes into eighths
- Play dotted eighths + semiquavers as eighths + 2 semiquavers
- In the case of dotted quarters and eighths subdivide analogously into eighths and semiquavers respectively.
- Striking with the tongue
- Think the subdivisions you practiced, play original text.
Count the music in off-beat while playing.
HM: Thank you very very much for this interview plenty of practical advice and exercises, drawn from extensive teaching experience.!
HMäki: (laughs) Was this useful?
HM: It was great.
HMäki: You have a lot to do.
HM: It’s my job
HMäki: I really appreciated this. You should tell me the link.
HMäki: I give you my card
HM: Thank you very much! You should come to Luzern for a stage.
HMäki : We’ve been talking about this with Paolo many times!
- Janjean, Paul. 1927. "Vade-Mecum" du clarinettiste six etudes speciales. Paris: Leduc.