The Tooth Chronicles

The Struggle

“How long can I practice today?”

“What piece or etude is going to get nixed today because I can’t practice anymore?”

“I hope they don’t think I’m a bad musician…”

Why all these anxiety-ridden thoughts? No, I’m not some neurotic millennial. I have gum recession, caused by hereditary influences and over-practicing. You can see my super-attractive photo of my tooth at the bottom of this article, or be forewarned now. 🙂 Although I’m scheduled for a skin graft in December, there’s still over a month left in the semester, plus recovery time!


My go-to has always been hours of slow, steady practice, inching up the tempo until it’s perfect and fluid. Blocks and blocks of time, playing something until it lives in my fingers, memorized in my muscles. I could spend two to four hours on a few lines of music and not lose focus or truly tire. (My high school band friends probably remember this. Sorry…) This has always given me confidence in auditions and while playing in front of people. The knowledge that even if my brain freezes or anxiety hits, I’ve GOT this.

Nowadays I can practice for about 25 minutes before I begin to feel pain from the pressure against my thinned gums and exposed nerves. Band rehearsal is super difficult; although I use Ezo and soft reeds, the pain can become quite uncomfortable and I have to take frequent breaks. By the time band is over, there’s no more practicing that day. And non-band days require practicing for a short time, then reading a book/hating life for half and hour, repeated until I run out of time. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to go to school and spend a lot of money to play your clarinet, then NOT be able to play very much?

Silver Lining

Through research and chatting with other musicians, I have found out that more people are dealing with this than I was aware. I found much hope and relief that other clarinetists have gone through the same thing and had successful skin grafts. I decided to come out in the open about this because A) it might help someone find relief in the future, and B) because I realized it’s not something I have to be embarrassed about. Frustrated, yes, but not embarrassed. The days of playing through pain and hiding injuries because you’re afraid Maestro will kick you out have given way to empathetic and understanding peers who have been super supportive. I love you guys! You’ve kept me going on the days where my frustration tries to take over.

I will share my new practice routines and some tips that I’ve learned from peers and professors about non-instrumental practice. Even if not going through gum loss or other injury, I hope some of these strategies I share can help people practice in more healthy ways.

If you have any mental strategies or ideas of practicing without the clarinet touching the mouth, please send them my way!

Photo (this is your warning!)











Dun dun duuuuun!


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