Bass Clarinet – Basic Problems

I am a private clarinet teacher and a veteran clarinet player. This year for the first time I have 3 bass clarinet students in addition to my many regular clar. students. I did play bass for 1/2 in high school (30+years ago) but I have long since forgotten all I learned about the instrument.

Can you give me some help or is there a book that will help my students become proficient players. I especially need to know about embouchure and head position, any mouthpiece recommends would also be helpful. Please don’t tell me to find a bass player to help my students. There is not one they can take from.

I found your answers on the Clarinet Corner site to be helpful to me as a teacher. Thank you for taking the time to consider my question.

The most important points for you to consider are those you have mentioned: Embouchure, Head position, and Mouthpiece.

I had the good fortune to have been a student of the late Rosario Mazzeo, Bass Clarinetist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 or 40 years. He knew the bass thoroughlyand many composers wrote parts on the Bass especially with him in mind.

Now back to you and the problems you have mentioned.

Embouchure, and let me include reeds. The basic bass clarinet embouchure is different in the dynamism employed, much looser in all ways, more relaxed, yet firm, and a much less resistant reed. Hard reeds will produce nothing save horrible noises, and no upper register worth listening to. I have played Bass on big clarinet chamber works: Pierrot Lunaire, and the Hindemith Sextet and a concerto for clarinet and bass clarinet.

I used #1 1/2 reeds, and actually found that tenor saxophone reeds were much better in quality and much cheaper to buy, although only the name of instrument is changed many times. A less resistant reed.

And a flexible embouchure. The bass does not play the same as the regular clarinet especially in the upper register. Harmonic fingerings are frequently used especially above high C. The clarinet overblows easier than the soprano, there the upper register must be explored with tenderness.

In the school system the school will frequently provide instruments that are not adjusted properly, and not treated respectfully.

Position of the head. As natural as possible, straight, as when you play the regular Bb. That is the big problem because the neck of the usual Bass is not curved to allow this.

Mazzeo himself played and designed his mouthpiece pipe to go in a more straight line, rather than the curve, the awkward curve mostly seen.

The Bundy Resonite clarinet, (the cheap one) I believe incorporates this straightened curve somewhat, and that is what to look or to aim for.

As far as books are concerned, I really must admit that I do not know of a specific book that is good or even concentrates on Bass.

Once you accept what has been stated above, or better, make your peace with the instrument, you may proceed as you wish, playing any study or method book. And the horn must be kept in adjustment.

Believe it or not, I used to play on a Resonite Selmer on professional appearances, why? Because it was in one piece, a huge help in that 12th adjusmtent key.

As far as mouthpieces are concerned, the Selmer Bass Clarinet mouthpiece, labeled “C” is what I used, and what many players use (Paris).

Anyway, how proficient they get is up to the amount of time invested. I know players who have mastered all of the standard clarinet repertoire on the Bass, or so they say. In any event, that should be the goal.

Hopefully, the suggestions herein will aid you in aiding your students.*(Of course, one may find fine players of the bass who use exactly the opposite principles in learning the instrument than those suggested)


Sherman Friedland


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