I always say that playing clarinet is simple once you are able to break it down into all of it's separate parts, but putting all those parts together can be a bit challenging!
I have found, however, that there is one piece of the puzzle that plays a bigger role in the process and will almost force all of the other piece to work together.
This piece of the puzzle is probably the most important thing to focus on to maximize your growth, so what is it?
Yeah, that's right, I didn't even say air, embouchure, or tongue!
What I mean by imagination is having a super clear image in your head about how you want things to go. How should your tone be in your long tones, what does it sound like to play scales evenly throughout the entire range of the instrument, what is a good staccato, how should this phrase be shaped, etc.
When you have a clear idea of what you want, it makes it really easy to know when you are deviating from the desired results.
From there, you can practice until you are able to consistently get what you want out of the instrument. This will also help you to increase the efficiency of your practicing because you will be highly aware of exactly what you need to improve.
The reason why the clarity of your intentions, or imagination of how things should go, is the biggest indicator of success is because it forces you to improve.
The more bothered you are by a poor articulation, the more likely you are to fix it!
Now this isn't to say that you have to be hyper-critical of your playing all the time. It is important to realize that you will probably never reach your imagined ideal, but the clearer that image is in your head the more motivated you will be to strive for it. Then it is just a matter of time for you to iron out all of the other pieces of the puzzle and start getting closer to that ideal everyday!
So what is your ideal clarinet sound? How exactly does whatever piece of music you are working on go?
The best way to improve your imagination and develop your ideal sound is to listen to other great players. Use recordings as a jumping off point for what great clarinet playing is!
P.S. My Clarinet Inspiration and Entertainment playlist is a great place to start listening: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLR5AmyeNGn59P67C1Ty8se9eIbwjxmX77