Clarinet, wooden or not?

June 27, 2007

Dear Sir,
I am researching a clarinet purchase for my daughter and looking for
independent opinion in this matter. My daughter (finished 6th grade)
has been playing clarinet Vito 7212 rental for about 10 months. It
looks like she is into it and we wanted to buy her one instead of
On the beginning we wanted to buy her what she rents (i.e. Vito 7212)
– she thought that since she is familiar with it it would be the best
After however doing some research I realized that this may not be the
best option:
Firstly, the rental company wants more money for piece used for a
year, than I would pay from any other store (for brand new instrument,
adjusted, ready to play)
Secondly, the teacher I spoke with suggested to buy wooden piece one
step upgrade if it does not cost a fortune. Also, similar suggestion
has been made by rental comp. and they have a wooden Selmer “on sale”
that would not be much more money to buy then Vito. BTW,I would have
to pay for Vito 510$ (after rental is applied (full price was 680$)

I read your comments about cheap wood clarinets and that one should
avoid one and that the plastic is better than lower end wood models.
Would Selmer inexpensive wood model be something worth consideration?
I would appreciate if you would send me your comments. I am a complete
ignorant about clarinets, but would like to make a good decision, so
my daughter can enjoy playing the instrument.

E Z , Ph.D.
Department of Pharmacology
University of Vermont
Hello Ela:
Thank you for your inquiry. It is a question that must be on the minds of many many parents of children who play instruments at this time of the year.
It is a stimulating question because the answer is perhaps not the one you may receive by most anyone.
The first response is that wood is not the best thing to use for the making of a clarinet. It is the prettiest, that is for sure. The grain of wood, the place of wood in our entire societal structure is one of great respect, even more so within the clarinet fraternity for the very same reasons with one addition, certainly not true: that wood simply sounds better than anything else in the making of a clarinet.
This is not true and has not been true for many years. For a rising student to contemplate anything but wood for an instrument is simply unacceptable.
Yet wood is basically unstable compared to other materials. This means that wood shrinks and swells depending upon where you live and the ambient temerature, and that this instability makes for problems of adjustment and problems of tuning as well. This means that as you play your clarinet, the pitch actually changes as the temperature changes, and the warmer you are, the higher the pitch of the instrument will be, and with this goes the swelling and shrinkage of the wood as well, making for more problems of adjustment.
Plastic is more stable than is wood, but thusfar plastic has not been chosen by large maker for a fine instrument except in the case of Buffet, which makes a “Greenline” clarinet made of mostly carbon fibres with some grenadilla dust added. It is however carefully made, bored and the result is a better playing more stable instrument. But at the price of more than 3 thousand dollars making it prohibitive to most buyers.
There is however a material which is more stable than any wood or plastic . That material is rubber, or hard rubber, or ebonite, which has been proven to be one of the most stable of materials with which to make a clarinet. Not only that, but the material is plentiful, especially in Asia, where, “it grows on trees”, as the saying goes.
Machining it is far easier, and once made, the clarinet is stable. It is basically the most affordable material from which to make a clarinet or other instruments as well.
Obtaining one with the blessings of your band director will be difficult because very few know anything about ebonite and they have been heavily indoctrinated into the mythology of wood.
I have always looked for other materials that might be more stable than wood, and just a year or so past I came upon hard rubber, or ebonite used for the manufacture of the clarinet, and in such a way that purchase of the instrument if an absolute must for anyone, especially a parent looking to purchase an instrument for a child.
Sherman Friedland.

The Thumb Saddle, a crucial piece of equipment from TR.

June 19, 2007

One of the more or most important aspects of learning the clarinet, and even performing after learning it is the position of the right thumb. This is the thumb which bears most of the weight of the instrument, and its positioning is crucial to success. Typically the thumb should rest directly on the lower half of the thumbnail and partially on the knuckle under. There can be minor differences but that is the generally accepted position and the results of bad positioning can be ruinous to the development of both technic and embouchure. Holding the clarinet further toward the joint will lead to very poor placement for fingering and can impede embouchure development. Many students experience discomfort in the right thumb and contrivances which help one hold the instrument are in fashion, consisting of a sling,looking like a saxophone neck strap but holding the weight of the clarinet. While one supposes that can be helpful, my clarinet study was always based on correct holding of the instrument. Nowadays, many are into ergonomic positioning of the clarinet through the use of a sling or strap, however my personal opinion is that this is not necessary.
For many years I have covered the thumbreat with a piece of pliable material such as leather or sometime a sleeve which can be cut from a commercial milk container and works very well.
Now, there is a whole array of different gadgets that ameliorate the holding of the clarinet while ameliorating the weight of your pocketbook at the same time.
The particular thumb rest which I find the finest is also the leat expensive to buy: the Ridenour Thumbsaddle, which will set you back all of 10 dollars. Made of a soft piece of rubber which hugs the clarinet and slips directly over your current thumbrest, it is very comfortable. Not only that, it help to open the hand, allowing for a better technical facility. Since receiving mine a couple of days ago I find many passages much easier to negotiate consistantly and in general, more comfort in the entire hand and wrist and embouchure.
I cannot recommend it more highly. It does an important job, assisting the player in every way without costing a fortune.
It is possible to learn to play and to perform without stopping at the bank first.Of course, it follows the Ridenour principle: Play correctly on acoustically correct equipment and you will learn correctly and much more quickly

Good luck.

Sherman Friedland

On choosing your equipment, whom to ask

June 10, 2007

There is so much advertisement available for clarinets, mouthpieces and their various setups, I wonder how a student makes the choice.
It must be quite difficult, what with so many opinions out there allpushed to the background by the recommendation of a teacher, your teacher, or someone who would like to sell you something upon which he can make some money. This is why so many students end up picking equipment that will not benefit them all that much and in some cases with to them damage or keep them from improving as they might.
You must know or determine how much there is to pay for a clarinet in your budget or whomever is responsible for your musical finances.
Here are some opinions I make after more than a half century of professional playing and teaching.
The best clarinet need not necessarily be the most expensive clarinet, or the one with the exotic wood barrel or bell, and these days it need not be made of wood, for there are other materials that at least suffice if not perform better than wood. Carbo fibres and grenadilla dust make up the Buffet Greenline clarinet, and it is more stable than wood, but at a price of three thousand dollars, what are you saving? More amd more as the grenadilla reserves run out Hard rubber is being used in the manufacture ofquality instruments and their price is really quite cmpetitive with wood. The instrument does tune better, is voiced more correctly and has a better service policy, if you go to the right seller.
Beware the mouthpiece that costs rally big dollars, like more than two or three hundred dollars, and for me the vintage mouthpiece is simply more hype than anything else.
If you wish for a Kaspar mouthpiece, it is like wearing and wantng a Rolex, a watch that can be bested for accuracy by a watch costing a couple of dollars.
I find that Van Doren mouthpieces are acceptable, but only that, nothing special. Better and best if the Hawkins mouthpiece. He is a professor at Oberlin, does a lot of great playing and sells a reasonably priced mouthpiece that wil help you to improve.
There are so many makers and refacers out there. Don’t waste your money. As Tom Ridenour knows the design of a clarinet better than most, he always can provide you with a reasonably priced good mouthpiece.
I play a set of Hard rubber instruments made by Ridenour which are superb, mouthpieces by Hawkins and Redwine and I recommend Legerereeds, but you must try a few to get the strength that is correct for you. This is the most crucial part of reed selection. On finding the right strength, you will find an astounding consistancy between reeds of the same strength.
No, don’t go with the flow as it is not the correct way the flow goes in many cases but only the waves made by the people manning the oars.

good luck, sherman friedland

Developing a better sound

June 5, 2007

Dear Sherman –
I attended the Philadelphia Orchestra concert here in Eugene last week. The “big” piece was supposedly Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” with Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” as the first half warm-up act. But I found myself more delighted and entranced by the Mozart. I was particularly taken by the exquisite tone and phrasing of the clarinetist. I’d never heard a clarinet sound so lyrical and delicious before! I looked in my program when I got home, and then researched his name on the internet. Oh, I see – Ricardo Morales is one of the gods of clarinet, that’s all!
I played clarinet in elementary school and junior high before switching to piano and choral music in college, and never looked back. Currently I get my musical pleasure singing in the Eugene Concert Choir. But his playing struck something deep inside, and I’ve been thinking about re-learning the clarinet all week. I listen to Bach Cello Suites and wonder if there are some good transcriptions for clarinet, and wonder how
long it would take to be able to make satisfying music on a clarinet again and play this kind of music beautifully.
To get to my question: I’m pretty familiar with music fundamentals and mostly I want to develop a beautiful tone and enough technique to play good music that’s not overly technical – Bach transcriptions, duets and trios for clarinet and cello and/or oboe (my wife plays both), and trios for the same instruments with bassoon thrown in (a friend). Would it be reasonable to think I could develop a beautiful tone and the ability to “sing” a melody pretty well within a year if I practiced 45 minutes a day? I don’t need to sound like Mr. Morales, but I don’t want to sound
like the plain, rather dreary clarinetist I remember sounding like in my youth. And I don’t have the time to work at it like a music major.
What do you think? Is it a reasonable goal, or should wait until I retire and can practice 4 hours a day? (or just buy a pile of CD’s?)

Hello Paul:
Thank you for your note . It is interesting for me to hear you speak of achieving a better sound rather than that of the dreary clarinetist you remember in your youth. That and the fact that you were impressed with the sound of Morales is kind of step 1 and 2.
I do not think it is a matter of spending several hours on practice each day. But I do know that you can begin to achieve the sound you want or the soud you hear with very careful practice .
You should develop a series of exercises that you play each time you
practice having to do with first, the playing of long tones in the low register of the clarinet. Nothing superhuman, just long full tones in the bottom octave of the instrument, say mezzo-forte or forte for ten or 15 seconds for each note, being careful that you make a clean attack with the
tongue on the reed and the sound commencing more toward immediately rather than with a noise or some kind of sound you find unattractive.
I would begin to look for cleanliness in the sound immediately and if it doesn’t come, which it will not, do not continue until you can get a reasonable sound ing clear tone. Then the next note of the scale; same thing clean attack, long forte sound, though not overblowing. You should begin to feel some fatigue in your lips probably around the corners. This is good. If you feel pain in your lip, you are playing incorrctly, perhaps biting, or perhaps a reed that is too resistant.
Actually as I think about it, if your are talking about Eugene Oregon, you may have the answer right there. You need to have another pair of ears, or plainly a teacher who plays with a nice sound approaching that which you
desire will do a world of good toward producing the sounds you wish to hear.If there is a professional orchestra there, there should be a good clarinetist to help you.
If not, you must proceed in the manner I have mentioned.
To answer your qution, yes, it is possible to achieve a good sound
reasonably quickly. You have already got it in your head. Copy what you hear there. Or, do not accept less or close to less.
There is a good book compiled by Hymie Voxman of Bach transcriptions of solo violin and cello works. I found it terribly beneficial. (publisher used to
be Rubank)As far as duos and trios, if you can transpose you will have no problem, but
there are even many transcriptions of Baroque music arranged for several wind players.
Do not wait until you retire.
Start now.

best always,
sherman friedland