Roll out the Barrels … the Ligatures, too

Dear Mr. Friedland ,
I started playing the clarinet again after a two year interruption, and am at the intermediate level. I am presently playing a Normandy with a B45 mouthpiece. Your very informative answers to the many questions listed on the web site were a great help. But I do have two or three others >
A. I did not know there were different types of ligatures. How important is it to have a “good” one, and what do you recommend?
B. In one of your answers, you commented about “key layouts”. Is there a big difference on different clarinets?
C. I have also read about different types of barrels. What effect, if any, does this have on tone, or ease of playing?Thank you for your time, Larry

Hi Larry , I have called your questions A, B, and C, but I would advise that you re-read the other articles pertaining to ligatures and mouthpieces, etc. in my “Corner”.
A. A different ligature can makes an apparent huge difference in the sound that a player makes on his instrument … or can it?
My feeling is that it is important that a ligature not damage the reed that it is holding on the mouthpiece. It must never be tight enough to impede the vibration on the sides of the reed. It also must not be loose enough to allow leakage of air. If this happens, you may have a warped reed, or a warped or incorrect table on the mouthpiece. Thinking that through, you will find that sometimes it is important that the reed be tight. I have always preferred reeds that embrace the flat of the mouthpiece, those that seem that they would play with no ligature and must be kind of helped off the mouthpiece. However, this is not always the case. If you sand under the reed, trim the sides, sand the sides and you still have a reed that has something attractive about it, you may have to “batten” it down a bit tighter … which may help a bit.
I recommend any ligature that allows freedom of vibration, yet securely holds the reed, and also allows you to change clarinets without the whole thing coming off in your hands. Never happened to me, however, get your criteria right. What is most important comes first. If the reed is on the floor you cannot play the solo, etc
I also do NOT favor the ligatures that come with a huge amount of rubber and caps that do not fit in your case. That I find amusing. Keep in mind that ligatures were first pieces of string … and a lot of the people playing today have gone back to string.
B. Key layouts is a strange term. What I meant is that certain clarinets seem perfect for your hand and fingers. That varies, of course, from player to player. I have always loved the feeling of the layout of the Leblanc clarinet, but I have not always loved the particular Leblanc I was playing. I always slightly disliked Selmer key layouts, yet the sound ideal was terrific in many cases, especially in the “Recital” which unfortunately needed a different mouthpiece because the bore was smaller … you have to have a C85/(105, 115, or 120). These had the correct bore for best pitch on the Recital. I changed because I got sick of these three facings, and finally said: “For me, one plays the instruments, the mouthpiece, the reeds, the ligatures, that afford the most choice for any particular piece, evening, temperature and playing situation”. That statement may be criticized, however flexibility has to be the simple answer for these complicated musical times and repertoire in and with which we live.
C. Please read the above for barrels as well. But, let me tell you that barrels are very controversial. Everyone talks about them. My most successful barrel, no question is that one which is adjustable by 10mm for pitch.
This ability to change the pitch for a soloist is absolutely essential. The idea of voicing notes differently in order to change pitch or letting the embouchure simply go slack is no way because it alters tone quality most disastrously. For instance, it is a cool night and you are going to play the Weber Clarinet Quintet. No matter how much you warm up, you have to wait those measures while the strings play the introduction, and then you have to come in on a high “C” pianissimo, then crescendo. If your clarinet is cold, you can shorten the barrel just for the entrance , then flick the little trigger which elongates or shortens the barrel in the correct direction. The pitch of the instrument is far more important than the supposed timbral change that one may think the barrel may change. You cannot play on them all at once, but you can buy yourself an adjustable one and feel a bit safer, especially in a solo or unusual temperature situation. Thanks for your questions. They were interesting to answer.

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