High Notes

Dear Sir,

I am a 15 year old student who has been playing the clarinet for a
short period of three years, mostly self-taught. I have run into a
serious problem. My high notes sound awful. Any note that is
higher than G one octave above the open G (I’m not too sure what
the technical name is) sounds shrill and unsupported. Especially
the A. I have no idea where the problem lies. Is it because of
lack of air support, or am I biting down too hard? I’ve tried
double-lipping, but my notes still sound pretty bad. Please help
before I die of frustration.

The clarinet I’m using is a RC Buffet, the reed is a Vandoren 3
and the mouthpiece is Vandoren B45 Just in case this would be
helpful: I’ve been playing the first clarinet part in my school
band since the first year I started on the clarinet. So, I wonder
if this affected the development of my tone because I often had to
‘squeeze’ out my high notes. When I play my higher notes, I don’t
feel the much vibrations of the instrument as compared to playing
without the register key. The notes just feel “floaty” and not
grounded. They don’t carry far when I play in the band too.

Thank you.


Dear Jane:

Thanks for your information. It was helpful.

On the face of it, after reading it once, my instinct says to me
that the VD mouthpiece, a famous one of the VD facings is either a
bit too easy to play, and that you are using a slightly soft (too
soft) reed. Combined with the RC clarinet corroborates my feeling.
Without getting too technical, all of those setup factors, AT
CERTAIN STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT could lead to your difficulties with
thinness of quality.

While here is always the possibility that I am wrong … well, I
am not.

You have to repair this but FIRST, do not get upset. Just go
slowly in the thoughts and definitely your actions on this. You
are also improving … yes, because you sense thin quality. That
means that you are becoming more discerning, and more discernment
means improvement, because you are criticizing yourself. Here is a
simple list of things to begin with.

1. Use a slightly more resistant reed. Is it less thin?
Can you produce the A with a fuller tone? PLEASE remember it
MUST be a good reed.

2. The reed must be clear-sounding, keep the same
supported quality, and not make you become “out of breath”.
More resistance will keep the good quality up to high D or E
with no thinning out. It must be a good unwarped unsqeakable
reed. Play only for a short time.

3. Be very patient and do not reject any reed until you
have given it several tries. (Play it for a few minutes–dry
it , put it away, then repeat the process, or try another

Anymore than three or fours reeds tried at the same session
becomes confusing.

Try to write some identifying aspect of the reed, and replace in
the reedholder. Dry the reed for twice the length of time that you
played the reed. Do not get impatient. If you do, cease the
process and have a short break. Keep thinking of what it is you
are lacking, and how you are going about a solution. Concentration
on your part is as important as a new instrument. Do not lose or
forget the things you have learned.

Now that is enough for today. Try to remember exactly what you
have done. Do not expect immediate progress.

You are now beginning to learn your reed discipline. It will
determine your rate of improvement and its speed. Be patient!

Give me a report in a week, and I will continue to lend you a
hand. Note down for yourself your rate of improvement and

Best Regards


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