Swimming and Clarinet Playing?

is swimming like playing clarinetI've taken up swimming again after decades of relapse. I had several good years, way back in the 80s, when I swam regularly. I was never a racer, but I became a pretty good swimmer. Luckily I grew up swimming as a kid, always at pools for the Summer, and I took lessons for a few years.

I have always loved the water. Swimming reminds me of flying. I like the feeling of it as I move through it. I enjoy the light as it ripples on the water.

And I like using the water to propel myself through it.

So how is swimming like playing clarinet?

The key to swimming well is to understand the benefits and effects of your own buoyancy. If you fight the water, you defeat yourself. In clarinet, it's the air which is our "buoyancy". Learn to use your air efficiently, and you are almost there. Fight or force your air, and you defeat yourself.

Since I have been swimming again, I have practiced becoming more efficient. I do a lap of crawl, using just my arms to propel myself. I reach as far as possible forward with each arm stroke, and I pull the water past my torso, as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Then I do a lap using just my legs, practicing the efficiency and strength of those motions. Then I add the two together, which may present yet more challenges, especially to coordinate the two motions.

In playing clarinet, I do the same thing. When practicing a particular passage, I may separate the articulation from the notes, playing each technique separately to focus on improving each more carefully. Then I join the two techniques together, hopefully with good results.

When swimming, I try to vary the strokes, switching from breast to crawl to side to back. Each one presents its own challenges. On clarinet, I vary my daily practice to keep fresh, practicing scales one day, long tones the next, tonguing the next.

Swimming requires that I stop regularly to catch my breath. But I will occasionally push myself to do several laps without stopping. This practice challenges both mental and physical bodies. When playing clarinet, I sometimes run through an entire piece (or etude) without stopping, just to test my endurance and focus.

Musicians are athletes, and must train systematically just like athletes. The same kind of analytical thinking and processing is used by both athletes and musicians to build their game, to push their limits, to learn the most efficient path to success.

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2 comments for “Swimming and Clarinet Playing?

  1. Darlene
    May 25, 2010 at

    that's interesting! I started swimming about 1 1/2 years ago, and I find it's great for overall body tone. I especially appreciate the rhythmic breathing; great for wind players (I'm an oboist). I hadn't thought about drawing parallels to the rest of playing.

    • May 25, 2010 at

      Yes, of course swimming is great for breathing, too. I should have mentioned that. My comparison is far from scientific. But the structured progression of improvements certainly fits.

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