Dear Mr. Friedland
I have a student who has been playing the clarinet in the school program for a few years and is now taking private lessons with me. Her teacher at school is a brass teacher and is tellng her to change her embouchure for each note in the upper register. I have been taught to keep the same embouchure all the time which is proper. Also I have a few problems with this student she has just bought a new clarinet, an Armstrong and when she plays now she has a fuzzing sound. I dont know how to fix it. I’ve tried changing reed size and brand and fixed her breathing. I dont know what to do next. Also she has tounging problems shes uses her throat sometime instead of her tongue and when she uses her tongue in the upper register she has a clicking sound happening. I dont know how to fix it. She also was taught when tonguing to say “ta” i have also been taught that this is wrong because it is really harsh and to say “la” or “da” as they are softer any help you can give me would be great thankyou.
Your note has the real basics of learning to play the clarinet correctly, and by that I mean according to the tradition of the learning of this instrument.
From the beginning of my study I was taught to play “correctly” and because I was young I copied what I was taught. Because I had a teacher with an excellent understanding of what playing “correctly”, and because he was also a superb player with a beautiful sound, I never ever questioned anything he told me. It was just so beautiful, I did not think to question. His name was Norman Carrel.
You see, I was very fortunate as you and your student well know from grappling with problems left over from well-meaning individuals who do not know the tradition of the clarinet or the sound of the instrument. They may know brass instrruments but clarinet is different, isn’t it?
Teachers of music in schools are supposed to know all of the basic traditions of playing the so-called band instruments, but usually they revert back to what their own instrument has been and will teach that way to all who come into their classroom.(Yes, I know , There are exceptions to this very general statement, but my experience has been that music education is not knowing the basic traditions of the various instruments) These teachers are overworked and underpaid and should know just about all there is to know, and unfortunately, they do not. (Getting by iin schools of music is just that. “Get the degree“, “get the job” and “go on”
I have found very little knowledge and even less true love of music in so-called music education. Nothing offensive is meant here, simply my experience of half a century of being “in the business”, (as they say), is speaking.
We learn to play the clarinet or any instrument according to the tradition of learning the instrument. Let us call it the “school”, or the tradition of the clarinet. The tradition includes composers and performers and what they wrote and what they played, and of course, how they played.
Here is what I think concerning moving the embouchure for each note in the upper register. I think it wrong because I was taught to play correctly, according to the tradition of the instrument. The same embouchure must be kept throughout the range of the instrument, as much as is possible.
Learning the tradition , the correct way of playing can take a long or a short time depending upon the student and the teacher. For myself and for many it was a short time, and I guess I just ate the whole thing up, and I never stopped practicing and playing, and again I had such a good teacher who knew what is was supposed to sound like and played it as well.
Mostly, I think that your student may be in need of a good or a better mouthpiece. Mouthpieces that come with new instruments are notoriously bad. And a decent mouthpiece can make all the difference.
Get a Van Doren or an excellent mouthpiece is the Clark Fobes “Debut” which really is nice and it is very inexpensive as well.
The syllable to use is da, never la, and make sure she puts her tongue on the reed when she tongues. This is a lot easier to say and to read than it may be to do. It can take years. And one must have a good sound ideal because so much of the learning process is listening. A good teacher can play for the student for the entire lesson, saying only a few words, and depending upon the student, and of course what takes place between the teacher and student, huge amounts can be learned in just a single lesson. Then of course, the time it takes for the student to adopt what the teacher has taught is not known. Much depends upon the importance of music and playing to the student. For myself, music and the clarinet was everything, and for every good and serious student it is usually this way.
Of course, an indifferent student or teacher is not good for the learning process.
I hope this will help. It is really just the beginning of the learning process of the tradition of the clarinet. Good luck.
best regards, sherman