Tonguing and Stuff, Vibrato Too

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

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