Many serious woodwind players reach a stage of finger development beyond which further progress - if any - becomes very difficult or an impossibility. Many years of practicing scales, arpeggios and difficult exercises reap little importance except of experience, and the player realizes that he has reached the end of the road as far as virtuosity is concerned. The tragedy of this situation is that the average player has not really developed half of his technical potential. One constantly hears about descriptions as "a fatigue in my hand," "a pain in my arm," "my fingers freeze-up," etc.
The importance of good hand position with attention paid to saving or waste of motion is overshadowed and outranked by the control of tension. This control is to allow muscles to function at their maximum effectiveness. Finger motion up an down or back an forth, is operated by two contradictory sets of muscles. One set is designed to raise the finger; the other set, to pull it down. A muscle can only pull - it cannot push. When a muscle contracts, it shortens itself by drawing itself into a ball and thereby pulling a tendon - which is attached - to a finger. To lower that finger again, the muscle that raised it relaxes and the opposed muscle then contracts and pulls the finger down.
If an excessive amount of tension is present, both sets of muscles are partially contracted. Under this condition, when one set of muscles pulls a finger up, it does so only by exerting more force or pull than the opposed set. This is like trying to ride a bicycle with the brake on. FOR MOST PLAYERS, IT IS PRECISELY THIS FRICTION THAT IS IN GREAT MEASURE RESPONSIBLE FOR BLOCKING THE FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF FINGER CONTROL AND SPEED. Under these conditions, what possible good can the endless repetition of difficult exercises and monotonous scales do?
The only solution to the problem is to maintain 'peace' between the two sets of muscles so that they work together rather than against each other. When the finger is inactive, both sets of muscles should be relaxed. We have all - at some point in our lives - been admonished to relax, but there is a world of difference between the wish and the deed. It is of no help to a person to be told to relax if he does not know how.
In order to reach our goal, we must achieve control of each muscle - or set of muscle - involved. The muscles that bring the little finger and thumb toward each other are in the palm of the hand; all the other muscles used for raising or lowering the fingers are in the forearm. All can be distinctly felt by the other free hand when they are contracted. There is an old and true saying that "technique is mental." By acquiring a mental control of the muscles in your hand and arm, you will be amazed at how much more relaxed and flowing clarinet technique can become.
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