> Dear Mr. Friedland
> Your comments are very helpful. Mr. Wrights playing
> is an inspiration, indeed. I always thought that you
> needed to tense up to get a good sound out. The high
> notes still need some work–I think I may be using a
> reed that is too hard. I have been using a 3.5
> vandoren reed (on an m13lyre mouthpiece) and was
> pretty satisfied with my tone, but had trouble with
> upper register reponse (tounguing involved
> undertones). Faster airspeed helped, but I could only
> play fortissimo (and it was fatiguing). I had my
> friend listen to me and she noted that I am not very
> fluid in my playing. It sounded like I was struggling
> to get through–and I was. This reed strength,
> dispite its nice sound, gives me problems with air
> management, expression, and response in the upper
> register (above A). I (slightly) sanded the sides and
> tip–staying clear of the heart–of one reed and it
> seemed to have helped me get a clear focused tone and
> a better response and articulartion, but the high
> notes sound a bit thinner. I have tried recording my
> playing, but somehow it doesnt sound quite the same on
> the tape recorder. Anyway, do you think it is a good
> idea to modify a not-so-strong reed–will the reed
> (and my muscles) fast deteriorate (ie should I work on
> being fluid even without modifying the reed)? What do
> you suggest for getting a more fluid (seemingly
> effortless) sound?
> Than you very much for your advice and illuminating
Your latest note strikes several very important responses which I will
present as partially anecdotal:
I was very impressed with two great players of the clarinet because of their
effortless sound and felixibility. They were Harold Wright and Gino Cioffi,
and both of them played principal clarinet with the Boston Symphony, in
I first knew Wright when he had that position with the National Symphony in
Washington DC where I was stationed and attended the Naval School of Music.
The sound was the most beautiful thing I ever heard and it was truly
He played double-lip and I once played a mouthpiece of his and it
practically played by itself, it was that easy to blow through. Certainly
for both the reason of double-lip and the ease of resistance of the
mouthpiece would point only to an easy reed , one without too much
Cioffi had a different slighter “brighter in quality” sound, but just as
beautiful . When he first came over to this hemisphere from Italy I was told
by many that he played in the Italian custom, that is with the reed on TOP
of the mouthpiece. Yes, that is true.
Perhaps not pertinent but true.
Now, I did study with Gino and he used a crystal moutpiece, an Obrien I
think and it looked like he took a millimeter of mouthpiece into his mouth
when he played. I am serious, a tiny amount , and of course, he played
double-lip as well. That way of playing the clarinet is the most successful
for sound because it is simply impossible to bite for you will cause pain to
yourself, impossible to bang your fingers for the same reason and for many
many teachers is the most therapeutic embouchure. I used it in that manner
and it always helped my playing , and when I played in the orchestra, I
would use double-lip to play the unison passages.
Undertones mean in general that the air is not passing fast enough or soon
enough into the mouthpiece and causing the reed to vibrate; there is a lag,
hence the undertone. Practise all staccato passage legato and the opposite.
The staccato passage should sound the same as legato except for the fact
that the notes are separated, and you will have much more sound.
One more example: My last recording included the Copland Sonata, the violin
sonata of which he made a transcription for the clarinet. The last movement
is really staccato, or apparently so, and that is the way it is on the
recording and….it is for me horrible, perhaps my worst playing.(no, it is
Later I included it on a recital and when I came to that last movement, I
played it in the manner that I had developed while in school, very relaxed
and not so short, but separated. The performance was much more successful
than the concert. (I really can stand it)
Short short short staccato is not natural for music, even though many
clarinetists make a specialty of playing notes so short that one can insert
a small rest between the notes, a rest that is not written.
If a conductor asks for this type of short short attack, well, one has to
comply, however if the sound you make is beautiful enough he will not bug
you about it.
Remember, sound should be continuous, even when the sounds are separated,
the sound should come immediately after the attack and one can practise that
easily by played reverse : staccato /legato, and the reverse, or very
slowly, allowing the tongue to come off the reed and the air to enter and to
vibrate the reed immediately….right away, in any register.
Someplace in this large tome of articles there is an article on the slow
study of producing the notes with the tongue.
When in high school, I learned to play very quickly tonguing without
touching the reed, just from the roof of the mouth, however that is neither
correct or practical, so I had to learn it all over again, but I believe ,
like everything else, it became one of my strongest features, because it had
been my weakest.
Anyway…..not the point, but three months ago I ruptured my quadriceps
muscle and had to have an operation and have not been able to walk since May
1. Today, I started riding my exercise bike again and I am only ecstatic, so
I will take my wife out for a small celebration.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.
By the way, playing with a tape recorder is a whole other life and I have more experience with that that I think anyone for I recorded everything I played and it is an art almost unto itself and you cannot sound good until you learn all about recording, ….and the clarinet as well. (In reverse order)