A Student Direction, new instument?

June 25, 2004

> Dear Mr. Friedland,
>
> I am 15 years old, and have been playing the clarinet for 4 years. I
> am using a Vandoren B45 mouthpiece, Vandoren #3 reeds, with a Rovner
> Mark III ligature, all on an Artley 17S student clarinet which is about
> 4-5 years old. I can hit most notes with my current clarinet; I’m not
> experiencing any problems with it. I play 1st part in my high school
> concert band, as well as marching band. I was wondering: how long
> should I continue using a student model? Or to put it more aptly: what
> is the difference between a a student model and a “professional” model?
> Will a professional clarinet improve my sound? Most of the students in
> my school also use student clarinets, but I was wondering as to how
> long I should continue to do this, and when I should get a new one.
>
> Thanks,
> Sam
>

Hi SF:

We have the same initials and we seem to both love the clarinet.
So let me advise the following in the spirit a caring and experienced teacher.

Here should be your goals for the present and in a way ,always:

Practise on whatever instrument you have for the most beautiful sound you are able to make.

Always be self-critical, using sound and music as your two most important goals.

It really matters not as to what instument ; one can hear the most beautiful sounds coming from inexpensive “student-line” instruments.

Do not use the high register, high notes as a goal, and if you march , always use the most durable clarinet you can find.
Use a good standard mouthpiece, like the B45 you have. I played one for years. I met one of the Van Doren brothers at 56 rue Lepic in Paris one time.

I was having terrible reed problems. He brought down 5 mouthpieces, one on each finger of his right hand. I tried them all… they were terrific, and I have never forgotten that these people know reeds and mouthpieces, so you are definitely on the right track.

I hope I have been of help in your musical direction.

luck,myfriend.

sherman friedland

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Tight,tight new instrument, give it a nice rest

June 18, 2004

Hi…My name is Ty Price. I’m 61 and a retired band director/music teacher. I recently bought a new Leblanc Concerto II clarinet and it has developed a problem. No matter how much cork grease I apply, the upper and lower joint become “stuck” and require enormous effort to twist them apart. I’m afraid of doing damage so I’ve stopped assembling it until I get some advice. This was not a problem during the first three weeks…only during the past several days. Nothing has changed…the weather, the humidity, the temperature…nothing.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Ty Price

bebop1@localnet

Hi Ty:

You are playing the clarinet too much, much too much and not allowing it to dry out between playings, really that is all it is. Dry off all of the cork grease, place a light coating of it, and let it dry out.
That is what is called “breaking in” the clarinet. Take it apart and leave it apart for a while between playing.

Give it a rest, just like a new car. If you drive the car until it heats up , you are going to have trouble, but if you never go above a reasonable speed, you will keep the car for a long time, and no problems of this kind. I believe the analogy is very true.

good luck, and give that nice new Concerto a rest, and play it seldom.

Sincerely, sherman


Tonguing and Stuff, Vibrato Too

June 15, 2004

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I enjoy your website very much, and I think it is such a great help to all of us struggling clarinet players. I am 15 years old, playing on a Buffett E11, with a B45 VanDoren mouthpiece, using VanDoren V12 3 reeds. I have been playing the clarinet for about 5 years now, with private lessons. Now for my question: I feel that my tonguing is having trouble. I do not have any problems with the lower register, below the break, or with just the mouthpiece. Once I cross the break, though, it is an entirely different story. I struggle to get a nice clean staccato sound out on the middle B through G. Between B and G, it feels like I have to put a lot of effort of tongue on the reed, or else I get a half-sound, like a buzzing sound. Upwards of G, I have no problems.

This really gets on my nerves, because I know I can get a clean sound out of everything else but those few notes. With my old clarinet (that I occasionally play in school) I do not have this problem. My teacher says that I need to keep good breath support, but even so, I still get a half sound. If I press harder, than I would not be able to tongue fast. Any tips? Is it me, or the clarinet? Also, I’m playing around with vibrato, and any notes above the E, an octave about the top space, seems to get cut on and off. I’m using pressure on the reed to do my vibrato.

Thank you for your time and patience,

– Troubled Clarinet Player

Hi, and thank you for your note and your compliment, they are appreciated.

To answer your questions, first, my suggestion is to NOT make vibrato by moving or changing pressure on the reed with the lips. Not yet, anyway. It can be done, but it sounds to me that you have other more formative issues upon which to work. To answer very directly, some players do make vibrato that way, some do not, or use the diaphragm pressure to make a vibrato, others use the throat, believe it or not. John Wummer, former principal flute with the New York Philharmonic used a throat vibrato, which sounded more like a bleating sound, not very pleasant, but he was a wonderful player.

On string instruments, vibrato is one of the most sensitive and personal issues there are. They use a varying pressure of the finger(s), but of course, if that is done too much or widely, the pitch changes. Perhaps one rule for you might be, never change the pitch, no matter how you make the vibrato, and as I said, you can wait a while before undertaking that business.As to the unequal production of the staccato, it very well could be that your horn mayhave a leak on the middle B or third space C which will effect the notes you mention. But, these notes are always a bit more difficult to achieve because you simply have to fill up the instrument with air, or support.

You know, I once had a teacher who said to “feel as if there were a bag under the clarinet and you have to fill it completely with air”. Not actually, but the feeling will help you to evenly support the sound, something your teacher is mentioning.The clarinet like other wind instruments does not produce each note evenly; some come out more easily than others and some take a lot of support. I think that I spent months if not years perfecting the notes so that they apparently sound very even, a goal of every clarinetist, which historically was not always the case. When I was a youngster, there were many players who played the notes they way they came naturally. If the open g was too bright, so fine, if the middle B was stuffy, well that is the way that they played it and so-on, but nowadays it is the goal to make all notes sound even and clarinets are made in that manner and advertised as such, so all of that is something to keep in mind as you practise.

As far as staccato production is concerned, this comes always last on the clarinet, and takes the most work, and has the most varied methods. Some players play everything short, short, short, as if they are all written with dots or even points on the notes, and they take great pride in this method of production, but it is important to mention the actual meaning of the word staccato. It does not mean “short”. Let us say that again. Staccato doesn’t mean “short”. It means separate, and that is totally different in meaning, don’t you agree?

Here is a good way to practise: Practise all passages the opposite of how they are written. If it is a staccato passage, practise it totally connected and with the most lovely legato you can make.And of course ,practise the opposite as well. If you play notes too too short, the production will be difficult indeed and your ability to tongue rapidly will be limited since you stop the sound each time, and that takes reeds that are usually too hard and you will have all kinds of problems.

But remember this, when you are listening to your teacher play or some fine player, the more beautiful the staccato is, the more time and work it takes. Do’t approach tonguing too rapidly and do not stop the sound abruptly. The middle of the road is the best way of going about the study of staccato and it comes last on the clarinet, but worked on correctly and with patience it will turn out to be your best feature.

sincerely, sf


Tonal Contemporary Repertoire

June 11, 2004

Dear Sherman,
First of all I’d like to say thanks for creating such an amazing site for clarinet references. i have spent literally hours reading through all the articles….anyway back onto my query. I’m 16 and ive been playing the clarinet for a while. I’ve somehow gotten my way through most of the famous works like Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, as well as Webers and Finzis. But what I really enjoy is playing modern music such as Malcolm Arnold Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano which is very flashy and exciting, yet retains tonality unlike many other new modern pieces such as the Lutoslawski. I was wondering if you could recommend any other pieces such as this which are incredibly exciting yet pleasant on the ear. I’ve recently started playing the La Traviata Fantasia by Lovreglio which I find is an amazing showpiece. Do you agree?

I am more than happy to respond to your questions concerning repertoire that has been written during our time, and yet “are incredibly exciting yet pleasant on the ear Of course to answer this question one must realize that the ear ought to be a constantly changing and ever-inclusive , especially for a younger student, or for any clarinetist, or musician. There are many many clarinetists who play the instrument very well, yet are unaware of new repertoire or completely uninterested in anything save the learning of orchestral repertoire, rather than newer solo or chamber music. This they do at their detriment and their denial of the pleasure of playing new music.I am happy that you have started on a new piece for you, yet I must tell you that it is the duty of every clarinetist to seek out and to play new music, not necessarily reworked music, but inclusive of all periods especially music composed during our time and of our tonal acceptance.All of us listen to so many different types of music, even unconsciously on the radio, in the movies, on elevators, all of which becomes somehow part of the fabric of our sensibility, our taste, if you will The many works for the clarinet that form just a part of our 20th century musical fabric, and are pleasant to the ear might begin with the Four Pieces, by Alban Berg, composed in about 1905 or so. These pieces, incredibly short, of perhaps several dozen measures and five minutes or so in duration lay the foundation of our increasing awareness as clarinetists, living today. At first these pieces seem distant, yet as we study them they become less complicated, more familiar until we begin to listen for other influences in the work of this great 20th century composer. If we listen carefully to the very opening of the first piece, we are suddenly reminded of the major theme of Richard Strauss in his “Til Eulenspiegel”, the famous tone poem of the last years of the 19th century. The theme is the same, almost note for note. Accident? No. Brand new? No. The time honored tradition that “nothing springs forth full-blown”, every great work relies on the work(s) which precede. Accepting that premise is the foundation of learning about our music, and our so-called new music. When we learn about these short pieces by Berg, we discover more and more familiarity, and more and more fragments which, while deriving from historical sources seem brand new.A careful study of this early Opus by Berg will lay a wonderful foundation for your study of new music that yes, “pleasant to the ear” Our ears must always enlarge and if we try, even the strangest works, if they are conceived will be available to our sensibility and become part of our abilities, and be pleasant to the ear. Of course, this includes music which is dissonant, perhaps even harsh initially.But back to your particular question concerning new music, not necessarily as angular and “different” as Berg, perhaps a place to begin is with the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Paul Hindemith, a favorite, because of its lovely melody and its challenging rhythmic disparity. A piece in which the clarinet and the piano play in different rhythms is essential to understanding the music of our time. One might continue with the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Lenoard Bernstein, in many ways derivitive (as is all of Bernstein) of the Hindemith, yet certainly very different. Beautiful melody and really comprising themes and fragments of themes that go as far as to suggest “West Side Story”by Bernstein. There are so many other works for the clarinet that I cannot begin to enumerate them. There are several works of chamber music that I have analyzed for performance within this site and they certainly are works for your consideration. In any event, let me know if you have more questions. I have more than 40 works written or dedicated to me, many of which I have recorded and are availble.

Try the music of Aaron Copland. He has chamber music, and the Violin Sonata, which he transcribed and arranged for the clarinet is a very lovely work.

Good luck in all of your work.

Sincerely, sf


When Have I Mastered the Clarinet?

June 8, 2004

I’m 14 and I’ve played the clarinet for five years. But only in
the last year have I seriously studied. I want to play the alto
saxophone, but my mom says she won’t by me one until I master the
clarinet. My question is: When will I know when I master the
clarinet?? Will the clarinet help me in mastering the saxophone?

Hi and thank you for your question about the saxophone and the
clarinet. I could give you a very long and confusing answer to the
question because it can be answered in several different ways, so
let us be brief in this case, for your question was indeed very
brief in itself, and after all, I do not know as much as even your
name.

So, stay with the clarinet until you can play the clarinet well
and you have discovered whether or not the instrument holds true
interest for you. One never really masters an instrument, but
certainly one does determine after practise and the passage of
time if one has the interest and the commitment to continue.

That is what you need to determine. For your parent, that time
will come when you have demonstrated real progress on the
instrument; when your sound is mature, when you no longer make
ugly noises, and when you practise for several hours every day
with only yourself reminding you to practise.

That kind of interest is the beginning of mastery of an instrument
and it is you yourself who will determine at that time whether you
should also play the saxophone.

Finally, clarinet is the first instrument to play, fingerings and
embouchure being quite similar and as your clarinet playing
strengthens so will your ability to switch to the saxophone.

Good luck, and say hello to your parents for me. They sound really
interested in your musical progress.

Sincerely


Excessive Condensation

June 8, 2004

Dear Sherman,

I have just bought an E-13 Buffet Crampon which I have been
playing for over a month now. I am 1st Clarinet in a Symphony
Orchestra and often have to play for 2-3 hours rehearsals. I have
however experienced excessive condensation on all usual holes
(right hand Eb/Bb, C#/G#, …). I am aware that this a problem
expected with all clarinets (to a certain degree), that there has
to be a self discipline to keep the holes clear (special pads,
cigarette paper, …) but I have reached a point where I am
starting to wonder whether the way I hold my mouthpiece/clarinet
influences the amount of water logging. I have decided to try a
higher clarinet (RC, Yamaha pro range) but if it comes from my
playing I need to sort it out first. Any help will be valuable.

Thanks.

Sebastien

Dear Sebastien:

Please do not buy a more expensive clarinet because of excess
condensation in the side holes of the clarinet. There are several
ways of repairing this common and repetitive problem.

Replace the offending pads (over the holes you mentioned) with
cork pads. These are a bit more difficult to install, however once
in the clarinet and tight, they last much longer, AND they do not
draw condensation as much as a regular skin pad does. This should
solve the problem, along with always making sure the pads are dry
when you put it away.

HOWEVER there is one final precaution you may take, however it is
difficult to facilitate, however , once done, it is perfect and
you will never have the condensation again. You must install a
ridge of cork grease, (or like material) directly in the line of
the condensation which will divert it away from the tone hole.
Takes a while to get right, but once done, it will solve the
problem and it will put you at rest. In your mind, that is the
most important place to avoid the condensation …

Take care and good luck in all your “clarindeavors”.

Sincerely


Clarinet-Piano Pieces and a bit more …

June 8, 2004

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I have enjoyed following your responses to the many who have
written you asking for your advice. I have several questions that
I hope you may be able to help me with. I have played clarinet for
many, many years (over 40 now). At one time, I considered perhaps
making it my career, but have ended up playing primarily for
enjoyment. I play a Buffet R-13 which I have had since 1969 and
enjoy it very much. I recently acquired an older Selmer “Centered
Tone” horn in very nice shape which I play sometimes – it has a
very nice tone, a little bigger than the R-13 and I think probably
needs a mouthpiece with more resistance. Anyway, to my questions:

1. My wife plays piano very well (she is self-taught), but has
found many of the piano parts that accompany clarinet solos to be
very difficult – we have tried the Mozart Concerto, both Brahms
Sonatas, Stamitz, Rossini, and the Weber, but they are a little
too much for her at this point. My question is, are there some
good clarinet/piano pieces in the repertoire that would be
enjoyable/challenging for me to play but a bit easier on my poor
wife the piano player?

2. I was wondering if you could comment on barrels. I have seen
things written about, for example, the Moennig and Chadash
barrels and the difference that they can make in tone quality.
The “David Hite” website, for example, has a fair amount on the
Moennig barrels. What is your opinion of them? I use the standard
barrel which came with my R-13. I have never experimented with a
different barrel except in matters of tuning the horn.

3. Can you recommend a book or method for working on clarinet
reeds? After many years of playing, I still don’t feel that I
know very much about reeds, reed choice, reed/mouthpiece
combinations, etc. etc. It still seems to be something of a
mysterious art.

4. Do you have any recommendations on mouthpieces? I have an old
David Hite mouthpiece which has “sd” on it (I believe). I got it
from my teacher (Naomi Drucker) and it has been my mouthpiece
through the years. I have tried various others – the Vandoren
B-45, 5RV-Lyre, and some of the Selmer mouthpieces (like HS*, E,
and HS**) but have not found one that I like as much as the Hite.
However, the Hite is not perfect – it has a tendency to close off
because the tip opening is not very large – I usually use a
Vandoren “hard” reed and shave it down just a bit. Once I get the
tone about right, I’m back to the problem of “choking” off the
higher notes. This is where I get into the reed/mouthpiece
“search for the perfect reed and/or mouthpiece” that everyone
seems to go through. I have e-mailed the Hite address several
times asking for their advice but have never received an answer.
Any suggestions?

At any rate, I would appreciate any light you can shed on any of
these matters. Again, I have enjoyed very much your responses to
the other questions posed to you in the past and hope to hear
from you.

Thank you very much,

Sincerely,

Jim

Thanks very much for your provocative letter. It has lots of very
interesting points and will try to answer all your questions.

As far as Moennig barrels are concerned they are fine and will not
so much as change the tone but make the throat and “break”
registers a bit more stable. They cost more than an ordinary
barrel, but they have a rubber insert which aids in the stability
I’m told. But there are some R-13s that have Moennig barrels as
standard barrels that come with the instrument, although I think
that may have been after 1969. The barrel maelstrom is just that
in a teacup, but clarinetists being the obsessive-compulsive type
(that is the nature of the beast) love to piddle and paddle with
these things.

I have found the best barrel for me has been the one that you can
elongate or shorten for reasons of pitch, a terrific idea if you
play in many places, or just a good idea to have. They do not
really sound bad at all, and there is nothing like the feeling of
having some control in a cold or a hot hall, or piano. I have used
mine and changed it during concerts, and you can do it. The
intonational control is worth more than the perception of timbre
which varies more than is imaginable, so dependent it is on the
amount and quality of the neurosis of the player. The Selmer
clarinet always gave the perception of having a “bigger” tone, but
was always less stable in pitch than the R-13, and they tend to
spread sometimes. If you do not know the Selmer C-85 mouthpiece,
give them a shot because they provide viable resolutions to some
of the problems of the Selmer clarinets; indeed all clarinets.

Your poor dear of a wife! The pieces you list are amongst the most
difficult for the pianist, the Mozart and Brahms are impossible to
play and are much more difficult for the pianist than the
clarinetist. Any concerto should be careful scrutinized because
frequently the arrangement may be quite difficult. There are many,
many pieces that are very satisfactory, even great musically, and
playable for the pianist.

The Vaughan Williams Folk Songs are really beautiful. The Finzi
Bagatelles are the same. The English have a ton of pianistically
accessible pieces that are quite delightful. The Honneger Sonatine
is a bit difficult, but very pleasant to play. The sonatas of
Poulenc and Milhaud have their difficulties, but nowhere near that
of the Brahms. Gabriel Pierne has a “Canzonetta” that has always
been a favorite of mine, so very pretty it is. There are two
accessible Stamitz Sonatas, and of course the Saint Saens Sonata,
again some of which is a bit difficult, but again not like the
Brahms.

Well this has not meant to be a repertoire list, but at least
there are some around which your wife should be able to navigate.
Good luck and thanks again for your note.

Most sincerely