Holding the Clarinet and Repertoire


I have been playing the clarinet for about four years now
(although not very often). I have two questions:

First, I cannot seem to find a natural position for my right hand
when playing. I find that sometimes my index finger becomes
straight and is prone to touching one of the side keys and causing
a generally awful noise.

The second is more of a general question. I absolutely love music,
and have been playing the piano for five years now. The problem
is, I just don’t seem to be able to get the same amount of
enjoyment out of the Clarinet. Consequently, I find that I rarely
practice, and am still working towards my grade 5 (although I am
determined to practice more now that I have a two-month break
after my GCSE’s). This is probably partly because of my tone
production, and I have spent so much time on my embouchure without
actually getting anywhere (which I hope to rectify after finding
heaps of useful information on the Internet), my technique leaving
it behind somewhat. However, I think that it is mostly due to my
repertoire. I love the works of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ravel, and I
find it frustrating that their Clarinet out-put was almost
insignificant next to that pf the piano. I managed to find today
some interesting stuff adapted from Rachmaninov, including graded
studies based on his Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini (which
happens to be a favourite). I was wondering if perhaps you could
suggest anything else along these lines. I also quite like Jazz,
but am put off by the really old corny stuff my teacher gives me;
perhaps you could suggest an introduction to some more modern
Jazz. Please remember that I am only of Grade 5 standard

I read your letter with increasing interest, mostly because it is
so very interconnected. All the problems you speak are mostly a
case of poor physical training, at least from the standpoint of
playing the clarinet. Your right hand position is obviously
incorrect … as you say.

This is most probably a case of poor right thumb positioning. The
right thumb holds the clarinet ; obviously the thumbrest sits on
the right thumb. But HOW is quite crucial or else you will have
problems holding the instrument, such as holding the instrument by
having to use your right index finger; as you say, incorrect.

The thumb holds the clarinet exactly away from the thumbnail
toward your wrist; however NO further than the first joint on the
thumb! Absolutely crucial. Some students get a thumb support which
kind of holds the thumb there, however if you will remember the
explicit place to place the clarinet, you will soon be “over” the
thumb problem.

Actually you will be beginning to develop and strengthen the
muscle between the thumb and index finger and if you will place
your other hand there you will feel the strengthening taking
place, for it is simply a matter of time.

As far as feeling the clarinet moves ahead too slowly to get
interested in the instrument for want of a beautiful sound, the
squeaks, the reeds, the whole “business, this is partially
associated with your thumb problem which , of course, goes to the
lack of development of embouchure which you indicated. Fix the
thumb position and everything will begin to straighten itself out,
your embouchure and your sound will become more consistent . THAT
is the most difficult thing on the clarinet: sound consistent and
noticing improvement in this sound.

The physical developments of which I speak are exactly as I said

Your preference for certain composers will begin to increase its
breadth if you will acquaint yourself with the very large body of
clarinet material available. Learn the repertoire of the
instrument first, for you have not even scratched the surface.

No, Rachmaninov did not write for the clarinet as such, however
there are many arrangement for clarinet and piano by this composer
and all of the others you mention. While I have never been a fan
of transcriptions, forget about my narrow preferences and spend a
little time and, of course money at music stores and you will see
tone of transcription of lovely melodies for the instrument, but,
and this may be your biggest difficulty, they are all written for
clarinet with at least piano accompaniment. When you play ONLY the
clarinet part, combines with your difficulties as you mentioned
them, you are not going to hear what you want to, especially not
the sound of the piano, which makes the piece complete.

The clarinet is first and foremost an ensemble instrument. It will
be a while before you are ready to move to solo works, within
which you control the entire context. Most clarinetists do not do
that very well, if even they immerse themselves within the realm
of unaccompanied clarinet.

Thank you for your letter. I hope that perhaps I have assisted you
in some way. And good luck in all of your endeavours.

Most sincerely and cordially


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