More Tonguing Troubles


I’ve been reading your articles on Sherman Friedland’s Corner and they sure come in handy, and it has to be said that you’re doing a swell job. I hope you don’t mind if I bring to you MY problem(s). Some of them, or rather, most of them are in your articles, but I still have some questions.

Well, first I’ll get my statistics straight – I’m 15 and have been playing the clarinet (Bb) in my school band for the last three years. I’m using a Buffet RC, a B-45 mouthpiece, a Vandoren 4 reed and a Buffet Traditional ligature. I try to make time to practise at least two hours a day (though sometimes that can be very trying).

OK, now here are my problems:

First of all, like several of your articles, I am beginning to suspect that I’m tonguing incorrectly. I found that out well teaching the new clarinetists, in a beginner’s technique book. The book said that the tip of the tongue had to touch the reed. And (I’m sure you’ve heard this before) my tongue has never come in contact with the reed. I found this out a few months ago, and have been trying to correct it. But every time I try the correct tonguing, the sound comes out sickeningly. I’ve stopped trying for a while and reverted back to my old method. But what’s continuing to bug me is that I’m worried that the juniors I had taught are using the wrong method too. Also, the way I tongue inhibits me from playing fast rhythms clearly.

On to another subject. This one isn’t really a problem ’cause I’ve solved it. But it’s really curious. I had this full sound, really nice to listen to, but a few weeks ago, it started to get really thin and tight, like eeeeeeeee! I got really discouraged and tried every way to change my embouchure. In the end, I tried my senior’s instrument (a Buffet DG) with my mouthpiece and the sound came out the same way. Then I decided to try a new approach: I changed my mouthpiece to a newer one, and my old tone was back! Straight away. I also noticed it had less resistance on my air stream. This is sure baffling.

One last thing, or rather two things concerning my playing. Whenever I try to switch from the low register to the high register (e.g. from A to B) I will always get this space in between. This space has diminished quite a lot now, but I can’t seem to get the transition smooth like the professionals. Please advise.

Lastly, when I play my higher register notes, every note sounds all right until E and F. After that (A onwards) they sound supported and full. But my E , F and F# sound thin and weak. It’s a bit worrying. Thanks for reading my email until here. I think I’ll end of here.

Thanks (again),


Hello Angel:

Thanks for the compliment and your letter which, it is true, has already been written about by SF in other letters, however I will always answer for there are always other ways in which to answer which may bring new insight to the student.

For instance, “tonguing incorrectly”. There is NO incorrect way of tonguing, but there is a correct way given traditionally: that of placing the “tip of the tongue” on the tip of the reed. Actually, it goes directly under the reed in most cases. BUT, when it is time to be in the spotlight and you have to come in on the high Bb in the Weber Concertino really quietly, the correct way is to play the beginning attack almost without an attack, and that may require no tongue at all or very very little … so what was wrong is right … sometimes.

For anecdotal purposes and because it actually happened to me, I will tell you about The clarinet entrance at the end of the first movement of the Mendelssohn “Italian” Symphony, (#4). Richard Burgin , the Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony was conducting. He said to me … claaahrnet (his pronunciation), try to think of the most beautiful sound you ever heard, and play that (piano) with a beautiful inaudible attack” … needless to say I SQUEAKED mightily!!!! Hardly the way to make a beautiful sound, right? But the lesson here is to always play within your ability and your means. By “means” I mean the next subject and that, my dear, is your reed!!!!

They are all completely different, Mazzeo used to tell us all: “You do not learn to play on a good reed, but on a bad one!!!!!” Which is right. All of the reeds are different and of course, play differently, and it is you who must get used to the reed. What we do as students is to learn the parameters of what we will accept in that good reed.

That is what you found out by trying different mouthpieces and clarinets … when finally you found a reed with the correct amount of resistance for your particular embouchure at that particular time.

You know, this can change all day long. Try to:
1. Practise reed choosing at the same time everyday, and

2. Limit this to a short time, for it is best to allow new reeds time to dry out between trying them.

3. Do NOT allow yourself to be boxed into a corner with no good reed to play on. I can and will tell you all hysterically funny stories of having a concert (solo concert) in an hour, with perhaps 1,000 reeds on the floor and not knowing which one to play … if it happens, it usually only happens once, for the clarinetist usually:

◦ Quits the clarinet and
◦ Changes to oboe or flute
◦ Is never heard from again.
◦ Joins the foreign legion.

Reeds can cause pain … remember that, and only intelligence and orderly thinking can save you, and if you really wait and “step back a second” you will never get into the above-mentioned difficulty again.

As I have said on these pages before, I myself learned to tongue incorrectly and I could tongue fast, really fast, but if you really listen, you can hear the incorrectness. However I do like it when students utilize different ways of articulation.

You build a palette of ways, ways that you use as an artists uses different shades of color, however the correct way is probably the best place to start.

Good luck in all of your studies and endeavors


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