“I am having intense difficulty crossing the break with the
octave key. I am playing a Normandy “Reso-Tone” (ca. 1940s, more
on that later) with a Vandoren B45 mouthpiece and a Rico Royal 2
reed. I am using a ligature whose screws face on the front of the
clarinet. I can get a fairly good tone out of the clarinet all the
way up and down the scale, but when I try to roll up, I just get
a squeak or a very high pitch that isn’t very good sounding. I
don’t believe this to be the clarinet’s fault; I played it when I
was in grade school and didn’t have near this much trouble with
it. I’m pretty sure it’s me, but I’m not sure what to try next.
Help? On the clarinet: I inherited it when I was in grade school,
my grandfather played it in the 40s. Normandy was the Leblanc
company in France early in the century (as I understand it); by
the 40s it was a line in the Leblanc company’s line (after the
company moved). The “Reso-Tone” series was their first attempt at
a plastic clarinet that would sound as good as a wood one. It was
made here in the US, but I’m pretty sure the original “Noblet”
wood mouthpiece that I got with it wasn’t.
Thank you for your help.”
Crossing the “break” as you say it, has nothing to do with the
“octave key”, or very little; a significant hint in the direction
in which we want to go concerning this misunderstood problem.
First, of course it is not an octave key, for it does not go up an
octave but a twelfth; the proper terminology is “register key”,
for certainly it changes the register up an interval of a twelfth.
There are many facts concerning aspects of the bore, etc., which
are pertinent, but not in the actual changing of the registers.
The action of the thumb on the register key is a very easy one,
for there is no coordination, merely a leaning of the thumb
upwards, and only slightly at that.
The difficult motions are the ones having to do with the movement
of the left hand index finger, the motion being the one of
rocking off the “A” key to the first ring, the F# ring. This
coordination is done along with bringing down all the rest of the
fingers at the same time in the case of “A” to “B”. But the most
important motion is the one having to do with the first or index
REMEMBER, this movement must occur slightly before the rest of
the fingers come down. If it doesn’t, there is no connection:
either you get nothing or that all-too-familiar squawk! Or, that
“lumpy” thud as the fingers come crashing down in a panic. The
movement must be absolutely smooth and perfect.
1. Practise rocking the ball of the index finger off the
“A” key to the “F#” ring, just A to F# very slowly,
considering the actual touching and moving that you are doing.
Move nothing else, not your shoulders, nor your eyebrows, nor
your body in any way. Isolate that single finger movement!.
2. Very slowly, keeping the aforementioned motion in mind,
attempt the “A” to “B” keeping in mind that the index finger
moves before all the others, making the connection and sealing
off squeaking possibilities, but slightly before, not a lot,
not a lot.
3. Repeat the number one, many times, isolating that
4. Repeat number 2 the same way.
5. REMEMBER that going from “A” to “B” requires support,
much support because you are blowing into just the top of the
instrument with the “A” and through the entire instrument on
the “B”, and going to a mostly stuffy note on many clarinets.
6. In conclusion, I might mention that I play on the
Leblanc “Opus” clarinets, surely one of the finer instruments
made, a real professional’s instrument. That Normandy you are
playing on has to be in perfect adjustment and the overhaul
that it most probably needs will cost , perhaps, more than the
worth of the instrument.
It is most probably “you”; the mouthpiece equipment you mention
is fine, but the clarinet is really old and way past its prime.
It is a wonder that it is still playing at all. These plastic
instruments, Leblanc’s Normandy, Selmer’s Bundy, etc., were
wonderful. Does anyone remember the pieces of the Bundy Resonite
resting under the 47 Studebaker? I do. It was supposed to be that
strong. However the clarinets were all mass-produced, the holes
drilled by machine, no undercutting, and the keys taken out of
baskets and baskets of the same keys and just screwed on, that is
all. Certain tones were stuffy, certain others out-of-tune,
mostly super-sharp. But they all played and they were CHEAP. They
were student instruments, plain and simple and never meant to be
I hope that I have been of some help. The instructive material
above is instinctive to some players; others need to see it
written out and to practise it. For this problem, many
professionals take it onstage with them, and one can actually
hear the register change. Rosario Mazzeo was one of the finest
solvers of this particular problem, and certainly the above is
remembered from his instruction to me. It makes me think of him
with considerable nostalgic fondness, and love.
Best of all good luck!