The Rubank Methods describe themselves as “a fundamental course for individual or like-instrument class instruction.” Unlike many other method books, each book is tailored to each instrument. In a band method book, they often start in the key of Bb, and on the same starting pitch. While this allows everyone to play the same thing, this does not always offer the best pedagogical approach to every instrument in the band. This is what makes the Rubank methods a great resource for every instrument. However, just like every method book, the Rubank still lacks in some areas. I often find that regardless of the book I use, I often supplement lessons with my own material and exercises, as well as different books.
This is one aspect where the Rubank completely falls down on. Many beginner method books have the first few pages devoted to instructing the student on how to put the instrument together, sit, hold the instrument, form the basic embouchure, tongue, clean, and breathe properly. These pages are entirely absent from the Rubank.
The first notes that are introduced in the first lesson are E, D, C, F, G, and A. Using these as the first notes is fairly common, even in the band methods, seeing as that makes up most of the concert Bb scale. These also happen to be the notes that are often easiest for students to learn first. Each new notes is accompanied by a small illustration underneath if displaying the fingering chart. However, these fingering charts are not always very clear without the help of an instructor.
Again, this is completely lacking in the Rubank. Many method books will have explanations, definitions, etc. when new concepts are introduced. The Rubank does not explain basic music notation when the first exercises are given. This is how it is throughout the entire book. New notes, rhythms, time signatures, key signatures, etc. are all progressively studied without explanation. For an absolute beginner, it is a must to have a qualified music instructor teaching you everything in the book seeing as there are no explanations given.
Again, this isn’t exactly a strength of the book. Especially when teaching children, this may be a considerable drawback. Each page of the book is considered one lesson. Each lesson is really just numerous exercises without title or explanation before each. When you open the book, all you see are pages and pages of music. There isn’t a whole lot to break it up. In band methods, new concepts are usually set aside in a box, new notes are set aside from the music with the fingerings, and the music itself is usually in larger print. Most of the Rubank lacks this. For young students, it may be hard for them to keep track of the music sometimes.
There are many different ways to sequence the learning of rhythmic values. Each sequencing has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and often it is instructor preference that decides in what order they will learn their rhythmic values. The Rubank starts with the whole note/rest, and then moves onto the half note/rest, and then the quarter note/rest. This often allows the student to focus on tone production, getting the right fingering, covering the holes, and proper breathing. However, I find the drawback is that it’s harder to adequately exercise the tongue when only playing whole notes and half notes to start.
After the first 4 lessons work on the whole/half/quarter, lesson 5 introduces the tie and dotted half note. This isn’t too much of a stretch for most students since we’re just adding a rhythm that’s worth 3 beats. However, the very next lesson goes right into eighth notes, and the book devotes lessons 6-8 using various eighth note patterns. After that it already starts to introduce the dotted quarter/eighth. There may be some students that will be able to handle this, but I feel that many students would struggle with this pacing.
After this initial shock of rhythm mania, the new rhythmic values slow down a bit, and instead the book introduces new time signatures (cut time on lesson 16, and 6/8 on lesson 19). Once you get to the 6/8 time, the rhythmic pacing then goes a bit fast again. The book gets into most every 6/8 rhythm you would encounter, which can be daunting to an elementary level player.
On lesson 26, sixteenth notes are introduced, and over the course of 5 lessons, it takes you through the basic sixteenth note patterns.
The sequencing of the rhythmic concepts is done in a well thought out manner. However, the pace at which the book goes through all of them may be a bit of a challenge. If you are starting a student in this book, then at some point it will probably be necessary to slow down the pace of the lessons, and/or supplement with an additional book to reinforce the concepts before moving on.
As I stated previously, the first notes introduced are fairly common. The book then works it’s way down the clarinet range introducing low B, A, G, F, and E all by the 6th lesson. Again, the sequencing progresses nicely, it’s just the pace that goes a bit quick. This is especially true when we start looking at multiple ledger lines, and pinky keys. So again it may be beneficial to use material outside of the Rubank, and slow the pace of it down. By lesson 7 and 8, it introduces both high and low Bb.
And then came the break. Going over the break is introduced in lesson 11, and is done by taking the lower notes, and adding the register key to give the new note (ex. Low C, add the register key, you have high G). The six notes, from G-B, are all introduced in lesson 11. From there on out in the book, going over the break is found in nearly every exercise. While this may be difficult, it is necessary, and it ensures the student will get plenty of practice.
Every so often, the book introduces a new note, (sometimes another sharp/flat note), and the pacing of the new notes slows down overall after that. The D above the staff is introduced on lesson 25, but the pace of that range is far slower than that found on the first few pages, or even after the break.
Again, true beginning students may find this method a bit quick, and will likely need another book to supplement before moving ahead in the Rubank.
The Rubank Method is chock full of great exercises that help build technique, tone, endurance, counting ability, and flexibility. While these are important, it is also important to develop a concept of a melodic line, and just keep the interest of the student. The book does not have any titled song until lesson 12, and not again until 21. It can be hard to keep a young student’s interest when they don’t think they’re playing any “music” yet. Again, this is another point at which supplemental material may be needed.
Articulations and dynamics are really not given a lot of mind in this book. Many exercises are left without any articulation markings, but this can leave it open to the teacher writing in his/her own. Even after a particular articulation or dynamic marking is introduced, it is not thoroughly reinforced in the book. Although, it is worth noting that the intermediate level books of the Rubank series hits on these areas quite effectively.
The Rubank Elementary Clarinet Method is a solid method book for clarinet instruction. It has well thought out sequencing, and the exercises help to build strong players. However, it may be a bit fast paced for many, and supplementary material would probably work best with this book. In addition, having a qualified teacher is a must with this book seeing as any new concept introduced is left entirely to the instructor to explain.