7 tips for clarinetists from David Campbell

Dec 16, 2015

David Campbell is one of today’s greatest clarinetists and teachers...and for a good reason. David Campbell is internationally recognised as one of Britain's finest musicians and was described by the doyen of British clarinetists, Jack Brymer, as "the finest player of his generation". His teaching technique focuses on details and on breaking clarinet pieces into smaller bricks to make the learning process more accessible to students. Here at Play with a Pro, we aim to bring the right tools to clarinet students and to help them find their own “voice”. So, if you feel a bit stuck, then maybe Campbell’s advice and experience can help you out with new and fresh perspective.  

You can watch the full interview here.


1.How would you advise students to practice?

I think that in general you must practice in a very efficient way and an hour well spent is actually much better than 3 or 4 hours with the television on, for example. I think using your time very wisely is the key to it. Obviously if you are learning new things like changing your embouchure, your tonguing technique or you are learning a new piece of repertoire, it will take much more than an hour a day. It’s dependent on forward planning, because if you are asked to play a concerto next year, you don’t leave it until 2 weeks before the event to start learning it. I think that with the average requirements, most people should practice around two hours a day and if they can do 3, that is even better.

“There is a necessity to keep the body trained”

There is a necessity to keep the body trained. I think we are very reluctant as players to keep the technical side up together. We sort of mature as musicians, then we might have much more serious thoughts about the Brahms sonata or something, but actually the physical thing of keeping your fingers active is very,very important so whatever amount you have to allocate in a day, half should be on technique and the other half should be on enjoying the music.

2.What is a good sound for you?

For the sound to carry, you have to have the upper partials in order for it to project enough and yet you have to have, in  my opinion, a sort of fruity resonance as well. I suppose that is the easiest way to describe it. I don’t agree with the idea that all should try and sound the same, or that you should become a clone of your teacher, or anything like that. I think the best thing about the sound is that it should reflect your personality. It was very nice that my colleague, last night, just said “Ohh you are playing just like you”. That’s the nicest thing anyone can say to me. I am doing my job right if it reflects my personality.  

3.How should students best use their time to prepare for “real world”?

I would say try and keep your options opened. Make your education as diverse and as rich as possible. Don’t limit yourself to things that have to do only with the clarinet. Go and listen to big symphony orchestras. Also go to string quartet concerts, go to song recital or to a singing masterclass. Get different insights into how great musicians are thinking and what are they looking for in the music. That’s one thing. Also make sure you are not too much of a nerd doing a million hours of practice, that you ignore your friends, because the people from your college or university are going to be the people who end up either running symphony orchestras, running festivals or great musicians and you never know what kind of opportunities might come your way.

4.How should one deal with nerves?

It can hit you at any time and sometimes it can be much worse to play to 20 people in a room compared with playing in a big hall. It’s a very bizarre thing when it hits you. I think the first thing is to be as prepared as possible and to know the pieces as well as possible. You can also try all sorts of light exercises to help you relax. (see them in the video starting with minute 28:00 )  


5. What are you looking for when you pick an instrument?

I think the main thing is an even sound and a good intonation. I would also probably not choose a clarinet that blew very freely. I would choose something with a little bit of resistance, its sound is mellow, but again it’s on the promise. It’s like choosing a wine. You don’t want one which tastes sort of fulsome and wonderful when it’s a new wine, because it will taste horrible in a few years. The same with the clarinet. You want something that has a sort of promise of what is about to come. At the moment, maybe it’s a stuffy feeling, but in a year probably it will open up. There are also instruments which are more accessible, price wise. Some of them are really good indeed, even the plastic ones can sound so much better if you are prepared to invest maybe up to 200 dollars on a reed or an amazing mouth piece.

6.How can people who don’t have access to teachers continue learning and playing music?

People should be a little more careful with Youtube for example, because there are some pretty crazy performances out there and already I have come across some of my students who were playing too fast, for example, because they saw someone on Youtube doing that. It’s very easy to pick up the wrong information. Generally I think you need to have some advice on what to listen to and what to influence yourself with.

7.What makes a good musician?

I think it’s having the ability to not only act as a conduit between the composer’s wishes and the audience, and turn the notes that the composer has written down into sound which the audience can appreciate, but also add a discreet bit of your own personality. If you have the power to move an audience, I think that counts a lot. It’s no good to play incredibly beautifully and in tune, but if no one is crying by the end of it, then you are not quite doing the job properly. There are people who sometimes come and tell me that they haven’t realised before how beautiful a piece was, and then I think that I have done my job right.  

Check more free advice from our top clarinet players and teachers: Charles Neidich - How to begin a note Lee Morgan - La Traviata (orchestral study) Lee Morgan - Life in the opera orchestra  






Sunni Henley | at Oct. 2, 2017, 3:57 p.m.

I am 15 years old and I want to be a clarinettist in the BBC Concert orchestra. Is there any advice you could give me on succeeding my dream and becoming a professional clarinettist? thanks for reading and hope you answer and give me some advice. Sunni

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