Unison Work

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Let me begin by saying that you have not answered my last couple
of emails. But knowing that you might be busy performing and
because of my infinite compassion (bleah!), I have forgiven you

Actually, I do have another problem which I hope you will answer.
A few days ago my band had a rehearsal with our director. We were
playing through this piece which had quite a few sections of
low-register clarinet solis. Unfortunately, the clarinets happened
to be really out of tune that day (I think it’s the weather), and
our director got hopping mad (forgive the guy, he’s usually quite
patient but we were really, really out of tune that day.),

But the thing is, we had already tuned with an electric meter
earlier. That note (I think it’s called a Clarion C) is in tune
along with most of the other notes. However, most of the throat
notes (F, G, A) were pretty out of tune among the section. So as
the section leader, I was asked to solve the problem by a very
disgruntled director.,

Another thing: I notice that the tone of the clarinetists in my
band all have completely different tones. Some sound really nice,
round and full tones, some sound really thin and others, well,
sound like ducks. I suspected it could be the instruments at first
but we recently got new ones, so everyone has the same clarinet
(and mouthpiece too) now. But everyone managed to retain their old
sound (which is good for some and terrible for others). So,

I heard a professional local clarinet choir the other day and when
they played a unison passage, they sounded like only one player
was playing. In my section’ case, we sound like, well, many people
playing (any pun is > NOT intended). I’m aiming for that “one
player” sound.

Any of your advice will be treated like diamonds, I guarantee
that. Besides, all of your advice has helped us in the past
(thanks for that). And I’ll continue visiting your ever-so
informative website.

With a well-in-advance “Thanks!”,


Dear Angel:

Thanks for your forgiveness. I am busy with other letters and I
must complete them for they consider their’s as important as you
do yours. And thank you for the compliment. To know that I help is
really great.

Now listen, the biggest mistake I hear you making is that you are
tuning the clarinets on the wrong note. If, and you are correct,
the clarion C is in tune on most clarinets, whatever is the point
of tuning on IT? What you get is an in tune C and all the others
sound like “unprintable”. Tune on an open G because every open G
on every student and student’s clarinet is different.Get them
together on that note. If it doesn’t take the whole period, well,
it will. But THAT is a good choice to tune because it will get
them to listen. Then go up in chromatice steps, slowly to the
clarion C. That is a better way to tune. Tune to the clarinet with
the best sound. You will have to discern and you will have to
teach them to discern as well. That will imporve the choir sound.
When they get in the choir, they are there to match each others
pitches perfectly; anything else is unacceptable. Let them hear
that loud and clear. And be nice!!

You cannot expect a student clarinet choir to sound like they are
playing one note in a unison unless you can tune them, but even
more, they have to have the committment that (at least) you do.
And they have to be putting in the time, and they have to have
good instruments, mouthpieces and reeds. They should all take
private lessons, and they should care about what they do and more
importantly before they play. How do they warm up? How much do
they practise before choir practise? When is the last time they
played their instrument? How cold or hot is it in the practise
room? All these questions are very important to know and to teach.

Remember, be nice.

Good luck, best of the New Year.



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