Taming The Demon Bass Clarinet

Subject: Clarinet Corner Query: Bass Clarinet
Bass clarinet–I am an adult who played soprano clarinet through 9th grade and I was very good for my age then. Now I am trying to learn the bass. I have squeaks alot and can’t always cross the break. My high notes come out low (sometimes) even though the register key is completely open. Sometimes when I first try to play it, either nothing comes out or squeaks come out. Sometimes squeaks come out when I first hit any note. Sometimes I can hit the high notes well, but then sometimes also I tongue them and the sound goes away. What am I doing wrong???? I had one lesson today but he did not help much with these types of problems. I am a) looking for another instructor, and b) going to switch from a 2.5 reed to a 1.5 reed. Do you have any suggestions? What do I have to do different because it is bass? I think I am puting more of the mouthpiece in my mouth. Please help!! Thanks!!!
Regarding the Bass Clarinet and learning it as an adult, this instrument has different problems than those of the soprano clarinet and those problems are mostly concerned with reeds, mouthpiece, and instrument.

You are most probably tonguing too hard and with too much tongue on the reed and not enough support.

In general, I always suggest softer reeds on the Bass clarinet. As a matter of record, I used to use #1 1/2 myself, and I purchased tenor saxophone reeds at that, having been advised of this by my teacher at the time, who was an escellent Bass clarinetist and teacher.

I also chose a mouthpiece, a good Selmer Bass Clarinet mouthpiece, with a medium facing. This is crucial.

The instrument must always be in top mechanical condition, or else you are going to have problems, although unlike the mouthpiece, the instrument may be of not the highest quality. I myself played on a Bundy plastic, one-piece bass clarinet in Carnegie Hall for Pierrot Lunaire, but it was in perfect adjustment and I had my good Selmer Paris C Bass Clarinet mouthpiece.

You most properly use eith a neck strap or a bass clarinet peg that helps support the weight of the instrument. Some players use both.

The instrument should be held directly in front of you, not to the side.

Practising on the bass should first and foremost include playing from a to c and then from a , Bb, c, all throat reister problems, and here the mechanism must be perfect or you will get the squeaks you talk about.

Passage of air should be steady and minimal finger movement must also be employed.

Slowly, even more slowly until you can cross the break easily and with great mechanical precision and clarity, and perfect legato.

Going up from there requires a constant stream of air, no biting and with precision and continuance of the regularity of the air column. F on the staff can be a precipice.

Always play easily, though support well the sound.

Above high c use all alternate harmonic fingering never those of the regular soprano Bb, or else you will be in real tiger country.

Read my article on Bass Clarinet reeds.

Good luck in all your work. Slowly, is much better .



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