Clarinets, mouthpieces, and reeds do not come with sounds.

January 29, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland:

Dear Mr Friedland:
I imagine that sometimes you are deluged with email and that a response to all of them may be difficult.
I am not at all opposed to a private response that is not to be posted, even if it is only your consistently graceful expression of gratitude, something like, “I really don’t have anything particular to add that may be useful to you in response to your query, but I thank you for writing.” Or, “I believe I’ve answered your questions in other postings, so you may want to conduct a search for them.” Or, whatever you want to say.

In any case, you are doing a wonderful thing for all us clarinet players at various levels of development and with an assortment of questions. And for that I am among the grateful beneficiaries of your shared knowledge and experience. I have been considerably enriched by reading your “clarinet corner.”
Hello C:
I am sorry that I did not answer your last letter. I was simply swamped with responses to write. I do respond to all .

As far as mouthpieces are concerned it is not my belief that any mouthpiece has a particular sound, nor does any clarinet, regardless if it was played by Benny Goodman or Richard Muhlield.

As you may have read I knew Benny, rehearsed his Concerto parts with the orchestra and later checked balance for him at a concert he played with his daughter, Rachel at the Gardener Museum in Boston.
I didn’t ask him what mouthpiece he played , but someone else did and he seemed not to know or was indifferent in his reply.

My reasoning and (perhaps his)is simply that these are inanimate objects, reeds, mouthpieces and clarinets, though reeds by their very function do indeed vibrate, however the sound is always made by the player through his intelligence, sensitivity, education and chosen metier.

Benny Goodman played the way he did because that sound was in his head , his ear,education and desire to play. His playing can be emulated to a certain extent, but that too is done by listening and absorbing. If the reed, mouthpiece, instrument doesn’t give you the sound you hear or desire, you change whatever aspect you need to change.It is after all, a process, sometimes a long process.

The conventional wisdom on reeds is exactly what you have found: most play on softer rather than harder reeds. I myself usually play a medium number 3 reed, but am usually not happy with it until it breaks in and plays quite easily for me. Too much resistance gets in the way of flexibility.

The same results from a mouthpiece that requires a hard resistant reed.

As far as particular names of mouthpieces, reeds and clarinets, there are none that make a sound despite what wonderful player happened to like them, for their travels took them on the same paths that all of us take in order to reach our goal.

Good luck in all your endeavors.
sincerely, sherman


What to listen for and strive toward with clarinet sound

January 29, 2008

Dear Dr. Friedland:

What a wonderful web site. I have gained much insight about clarinet playing and technique just by reading the questions and responses. My question refers to a response to “Jennifer’s” concerns about returning to playing the clarinet after many years. You advised her to begin by playing long tones for 10 to 15 minutes or so, rest,and then play something melodic legato. I too am rediscovering my old friend the clarinet after many years. I have recently joined a community band. Most of the members are brand new to music, a few are like me, returning to music instrument playing after a number of years. The music is fairly basic at this point and I feel able and would like to take on more challenging music.
When I am at home practicing, and I practice every day, I spend a great deal of time hitting the scales before turning to my assigned music to play with the orchestra. I am trying to begin my return to the clarinet by “teaching” myself by progressing from whole notes, to half, quarter, eight, and sixteenth notes, and so on. Any problems with going on to scales like this and working on my dexterity and fingering? Am I getting ahead of myself. It is amazing how much of music in general and clairnet playing comes back after so many years. thank you for your time and response.
Hello and thank you for writing, and for the compliment,
For me, dexterity is not the final solution but simply a part . Perhaps legato is a more important part of the equation for it is a part of the sound, the single most important aspect of the clarinet.Sound is the reason we play this instrument and not another woodwind.
Combined with its ability to play legato so beautifully and in general to make sounds which are as close to being vocal production is the ultimate goal of the clarinetist.
I think all else comes after.
At an audition, the sensitive listener will always pick up the most human sound of all the players.
The ability to convey vocal quality is perhaps a more concise way to phrase it.
The voice is the most beautiful of musical instruments. Yes, because of course it can convey words, however the range of emotions, different emotional qualities cannot be approached by others of the orchestra.
All of the aspects of the instrument you mention are important, however your ability to convey musicality, the listener raising his or her eyes when they hear you express that “certain” quality will always win out over; speed or dexterity, tonguing or velocity are all by products.
Try the Hamelin book of scales following directions. The Steivenard scale book will assist you with rhytmic problems in scales, and the simple melodies to be found in the Rose,Book I will aid you considerably.
Think free-blowing for choosing a mouthpiece.Avoid many or most Selmer and Van Doren mouthpiece because though good, they tend to be a bit sharp. Clark Fobes makes many very decent mouthpieces which are easily avalable.
There is no such thing as a “step-up”mouthpiece. Some very inexpensive mouthpieces play as well as one costing 500 dollars. There are many other fine mouthpiece makers with products as well. Richard Hawkins is one of the most respected.
All of this is of course subject to many opinions, but always let your ear be the judge.
You will only be able to play to the amount of sensitivity with which you are blessed, as we are all.

good luck, Sherman

Purchased a Prestige, now how to treat it?

January 27, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Hi, my name is T. and I’ve been playing clarinet for four years. I recently got a new Buffet R13 Prestige and I was wondering if you have any suggestions for me because I’ve been reading about the infamous plastic dowels, intonation problems, and cork versus fish pads. I haven’t played it much and I was also wondering what your technique is for breaking in a new wood clarinet (I live in central Missouri if that’s of any help). I would really appreciate your suggestions and possible answers.
Hello T.
Well, like most wooden clarinets Buffet is inconsistent and frequently players have to choose several and then buy the best of those. The key plating does flake off, I’m told. The plastic dowels are truly an accident waiting to happen. However my biggest problem with this instrument is that the price is really criminally high.

But, you’ve already purchased the instrument, and I do hope you have very good luck with it.

If you live in a cold climate keep your clarinet out of extreme cold,and never put it in the trunk of your car. When you begin to play, open the case first and allow the clarinet to get used to the ambient temperature and breathe into the horn without sound for a few moments. As far as the dowels ae concerned I have had students who broke them and then you are simply in “tiger country” for they are difficult and time consuming to repair.
More than anything though is the price and the unfortunate tuning on some and the uneven quality of tone of the instrument.

An excellent repair craftsman once told me not to play a new horn too much, but he never told me how much. I think that he meant not to just play the clarinet all day long with no stops whatsoever, which is the way I would frequently try a new instrument. It is really not like a car, and that “gradually getting faster” in a car is frequently a matter of disagreement Always make sure you have taken as much of the condensation and moisture from the clarinet before putting it away.

Perhaps it is best to avoid the “extreme” in playing a new clarinet.

Good luck with your clarinet and your music.
sinceely, Sherman Friedland

All technical problems are rhythmic in origin

January 27, 2008

I recently wrote a response to a clarinetist having problems with staccato, specifically problems having to do with speed of staccato, a frequently discussed topic among most clarinet students. It is not usually discussed among clarinetists who are let us say, fiscally secure. (i.e. they have playing jobs). The reason for this is simply that it is a problem mostly of perception more imagined than real, and easily soluble.

When a very young student I was given “Reverie” by Debussy for a lesson. The triplet in quarter notes spread over two beats confounded me for years, really years, mostyl because my teacher sang it to me and I repeated it by rote. It was only years later that I learned that briefly, a common denominator must be found , in 3 and 2, that number is 6, and dividing either three or two into six is really easy.

This common denominator is the same one used to divide 11 notes among five beats, or in any run at all, specifically for this entry the runs in “Scheherazade”, the scale in Eb that diminishes up to the high C in the Debussy “Rhapsody”, the Cadenza in the “Contrasts” of Bartok and any number of specifically rhythmic problems couched in technical terms.

There is another example in playing certain articulations on the clarinet or in any instrumental part.

Staccato is a mater of rhythmic understanding and execution of that rhythm, execution means playing staccato of understanding of the actual rhythm, and definitely not the speed.

Speed becomes inconsequential wih understanding of the rhythm, where those precious beats fall and how frequently the occur.

Luckily, I was able to study these things in a practical way with Fernand Gillet, Principal Oboe of the Boston Symphony, who was my practical solfeggio teacher at the New England Conservatory. By practical I mean that we played the usual solfeggio book exercises but were also drilled in executing rhythms in actually orchestral situations.
Gillet told me one time in a rehearsal of the Beethoven Quintet, “I like zat staccato”. I have never ever forgotten the comment,uttered by Gillet more than 50 years ago. When a fellow with his experience and understanding says that to you, you do remember it. He could figure out any rhythm usuing simple means.
I once performed a work by Carlos Chavez, the prominent Mexican composer, who came to NEC to actually conduct the rehearsals and performance of this little woodind quartet.
At one pont in the rehearsal, Gillet also in attendance got up to speak with Chavez, a heated discussion concerning execution of a dotted eight and sixteenth note. It turned ugly , voices rose, but Gillet won the argument with ease.
He was head of all rhythmic problems on any instrument, and he knew everything. Think of how many premieres he played the first performances of by the great composers of the first half of the 20th century, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev, the list is endless but he was always up to the problem whatever it may have been and most of them were and remain rhythmic in nature.

A simple answer, always subdivide when necessary, or even when not necessary But as all fine players know, it is always necessary.

play well everyone.


Skeletons(staccato) in the Closet

January 26, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I recently stumbled upon your website, which I found very interesting and applaud you for your wonderful and noble work!

After reading some of the archival Q&A’s, I believe I am not your typical inquirer, as I am not longer a student. I am in my mid twenties, and considered a “professional” clarinetist, seeing how I make my living playing and teaching. I graduated from one of NY’s top conservatories, and freelance extensively.

However, I have always had a skeleton in the closet that is really beginning to haunt me now – and that is the speed of my staccato. I hid and faked this problem throughout my student years, and now have to practice extensively when called upon to play say Mendelssohn’s Scherzo and Beethoven’s 4th, etc. and even then, I pray the conductor will not take it fast. So far.. I’ve been lucky.

The thing is, I can barely play a chromatic scale up and down at 130 per quarter note. And, for example, all though I can do the Scherzo at about 80-85 per dotted quarter, I can never do it comfortably at 90 (which as you know is a common tempo) unless I get REALLY warmed up after almost an hour of doing just that. And even then, it is not always there.

I have spent hours trying to push it higher, but to no avail. My question is – do you think there is a physical limit on staccato? Would it be a waste of my time to obsess with it? Any advice would be appreciated. Its a topic I never felt comfortable discussing with colleagues (as you can imagine), so I really appreciate your input!
Skeletons in the Closet

My first teacher told me a great story concerning the articulation of the final movement of the 4th Symphony of Beethoven.It is usually played as fast as the conductor can move. The story goes like this:
After the movement had been completed, the first clarinet turns to the first bassoon and says, “well, did you tongue it?” The first bassoon replied, “did we come to it ?”

You know my friend, we all have these specters within out clarinetability, whether they be real or imagined. I can well understand that staccato could be one and is with many more than just yourself.
I remember well while in in high school having the very same problem. It all started in my first clarinet lesson, which as I remember it, was all horrible squeaks and noises of all kinds for the entire half hour or so.
After the lesson, while riding on the subway home, I vowed that I would never ever make such horrible noises again. Never!
How was I able to achieve this in the space of a week? It was really quite simple. After determining that the noise occurred immediately upon placing my tongue on the reed, I simply did not use my tongue again in order to start a note, but placed it at the roof of my mouth, which miraculously made the clarinet sound without the squeaks.All this was subliminal. (I probably never thought consciously of anything until , well last week or so, I think). Imagine how well I felt, coming back for a second lesson without squeaking!
It was really a wonderful feeling and I could do it with a fair amount of rapidity, which surprised the band director and made me advance quite quickly. I continued this all through high school, playing solos for clarinet and band, mine being the Concertino by Weber, which I played many times during those years.
Then, after a period of time, I leaned that I was placing my tongue incorrectly and undoing this process took a period of time (and thought), the first sounds being quite uncomfortable to listen to, but soon enough, I accomplished a “staccato” which was and is quite respectable. There are many articles on this site concerning the very rudimentary acts of placing the tongue on the reed correctly, which of course you are welcome to explore.
Now, as far as speed is concerned, it is simply not a musical issue, but rather one of competition among students.
I have never had a problem with being able to articulate a passage fast enough, especially with the woodwind section of a symphony orchestra. Why? Because they make all kinds of concessions to articulation, especially in the two pieces you mention. That Beethoven passage is not a solo passage and usually goes by fast enough, to be articulated in some way between the bassoon and the clarinet,. I’ve never heard of it being a problem.(Have you ever looked at an actual Beethoven score. The actual articulations were probably placed years after he passed away. His manuscript was mostly unreadable, and crossed out many many times). Fortunately for us, the music however, is of a great genius
The Mendelssohn is somewhat more problematic, however the two solo passages while being difficult, can be negotiated either as is or by making a “two-and-two”articulation, the rest of the woodwinds being ready always to work together with you to achieve the desired result.
The important thing for you to remember is to articulate correctly and never to sacrifice your sound for the sake of your tongue.
In actuality, there is always a limit on speed of staccato, but there is no limit on the ability of your mind; your problem could be one of coordination between fingers and tongue, which can be fixed easily.)

best wishes, sherman friedland

Low E/B leak in Scotland

January 25, 2008

I have returned to clarinet playing after some 40 years and have now been playing for almost a year on a new hired clarinet.

Very recently I have experienced problems with obtaining clean notes on chalumeau E and clarion B using both left and right fingers. This is particulary true with clarion B. The instrument seems to be fine with no apparent leaks and my embouchure is OK on all registers. Can you help ?
There is a leak, which is typical of those little finger notes, or it may be that you are not covering all of the holes correctly or fully, which occurs with anyone from time to time. It is probably not your embouchure. Any of the other pads may be leaking, which could be the cause. The Eb/Ab little finger key could have a slight leak, almost invisible. It is something we can fix in a minute or two, but can be very frustrating.
As an afterthought, a “hired” clarinet for a year ……might be a message to perhaps “acquire”
best regards, sherman

Returning to the clarinet/ A new Horn?

January 21, 2008

Dear Mr Friedland,

I recently came acRoss your Clarinet Corner and find it a veritable haven of useful advice! I do hope that you are still answering questions.

I used to be a relatively advanced player in high School, getting high marks in all the Associated Board exams, playing in a regional youth orchestra and so on. For a few years during university I let my playing lapse somewhat and am now playing more again but am frustrated that my standard and stamina have, inevitably, decreased! I have two questions really. Firstly, what would you consider the best ways for a player returning after an absence of 6-7 years to improve in terms of dexterity, articulation and stamina. I currently play in a community band but do not feel challenged and would like to get into a higher-level orchestra.

My second question is regarding my instrument. I currently play a Yamaha 64 – I know they are no longer made, I believe the current equivalent is the YCL-650. After talking to various people and doing some research, I basically have the itch to upgrade to something like an Opus or one of the new Leblanc Backun models. My current instrument has a few small issues — sticking pads, water bubbles under certain pads after playing awhile (I have tried to have both of these issues dealt with, with no success as yet) noisy keys, poor intonation in the higher register and my main gripe, the difficulty of playing the middle B. I have read in various places recently that Yamaha does not make the best instruments, but I wonder if many of the above issues could be fixed. A new instrument is obviously no small investment, but one that I would be willing to make it if it was likely to improve my playing or make it more enjoyable.

I would be grateful for any advice you can give Me. Many thanks for your continued assistance!

Returning to playing the clarinet is something to first determine just where you were when you left.
This starte with rediscovering your embouchure through playing long tones in the low register. This is to be done thinking about the sound you are making , the comfort of your embouchure and the satisfaction you are deriving as you play and listen to you’re playing. Everything you play should be judged by you, your ear and your mouth. Attacks and releases are to be considered and I general, this requires a good bit of concentration. Play these notes mezzo-forte and for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. Then stopping to rest and to recoup. Then go on to some melodic studies, which are in general legato and pleasing in sound. Always be aware of the sound, attacks, embouchure and fatigue within the embouchure which should be minimal. The endurance will come later as well as the stamina. Keep it accessible to your embouchure and to your technic. This is the kind of slow pace I would advise.

As to clarinet,the 64 is a good instrument depending upon how much of a beating it has taken.
Consider an overhaul, which you can get from a fellow who goes by the name of “hornfixer” and is named Paul Heimann. He has done fine work for me, very reasonably. He knows how to do a good job. I recommend him highly. If you are considering purchasing an instrument of quality, I would suggest the Opus above all others. The Backun influence and ability have just been arranged with the Leblanc company and to me he has not show much of a luster of ability as yet.He may, but note that his prices are unusually high, and the provenance of his ability has not been shown as yet.
The Opus, Concerto, Sonata were all designed by his predecessor, Tom Ridenour, who is currently marketing an ebonite clarinet with the best scale in the industry at a very low price

Stay well, and be good to your work and in it too.

Most sincerely,

Leblanc or Buffet? Which to choose? Why?

January 13, 2008

I was wondering if you might be able to help explain what the difference between a Leblanc Concerto II Bb Clarinet and a Leblanc Opus II Clarinet. I also was interested in your opinion what the best Leblanc Bb Clarinet is. And I was also hoping for a suggestion as to whether in your opinion a Professional Model of Leblanc is better than a Professional Buffet R-13 because I am really torn between the decision of getting either of the two. Thanks GL
First, there is very little difference between the Leblanc Concerto II and the Opus II.

If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about the difference between the Buffet R13 and the Leblanc Opus or Concerto instruments. The Leblanc instrument is basically in tune right out of the box and the Buffet simply is not. One has really to try perhaps 5 or 6 Buffets to get the one of those that is best, while the quality control of the Leblanc instrument is very much superior, not just better. The latest Buffets already have a history of flaking of plating on the keys, and the historic failure of the material used for the dowel in the lower keys, it being plastic, has traveled everywhere and is truly an accident waiting to happen, simply a poor choice to fix a problem, that of noise between the keys.
There is simply no contest between the two, only the reputation of Buffet being a professional instrument surpasses that of Leblanc.Two of the undisputed highest echelon of US clarinetists play Leblanc, Larry Combs and Eddie Daniels, and there are now many orchestral musicians who play Selmer as well.
Good luck with your new clarinet.
best wishes,

Clarinet Bells, from where they evolved

January 12, 2008


Dear Sherman,

I have a hobby in studying how clarinets work and at the moment I am writing out the roles of different parts of the soprano clarinet. The part of the clarinet I am stumped on is the bell.
I was wondering if you know its exact purpose? I read from a couple of sources that it helps with the frequencies of the notes played by the right hand (*esp. the low notes) and keeps the consistency of the tone (From what I gathered). Some of the sources I have read sound too scientific to me and its hard to grasp (Might have guessed I’m not a mathematician or scientist, just a fellow musician).
I am really curious about how the shape came about (if there was any type of research on the dimensions of the clarinet bell in the 1700’s compared to now) and if the change of material for a bell changes the timbre of just the low notes?
A while ago also I read that having the bells logo facing a different direction can affect the sound but not sure if I should believe that or not.
Your knowledge in this area would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance, A
Hello A:
Thank you for the interesting note you sent to me regarding bells of clarinets. According to Anthony Baines, “Woodwind Instruments and Their History”, (Dover Publications), the origin of the bell, “bells of cowhorn were attached to the bottom ends of pipes, making a hornpipe.” There is also an illustration that shows the general shape which evolved into the clarinet bell.
Additionally the bell does help to vent and tune the notes directly above the bell , and in some later instruments, there is even a cutout within the bell that tends to brighten some of the lower more dull notes around the bell.
Rosaro Mazzeo with the introduction of his clarinet in the later 50s and early 60s removes the metal ring around the bottom of the bell which tended to dull the midddle B and even the low E. There are many clarinets from the 1700s around or pictures of them that shows the bell gradually getting less of a flaring quality up until the Mazzeo bell is simply a slight flare in the pipe. As far as change in the timbre of the note around the bell, ask any clarinetist and you will get a slightly different answer. Any slight change might make a big impression depending upon the ear of the beholder, so-to-speak.

The logo business and it being lined up with the logo of the upper joint is really stretching the whole idea into the land of never-never, but then again, everyone has a different theory.
Years ago in the 50s and 60s in New York there was a fellow who would take your flute or your clarinet, put it together , put it in an oven for a while under a certain temperature and then take it out. The instrument was then never ever taken apart again, rendering for some people a special sound. There were those who had this procedure and swore by it, I’m told.
There were and are many theories about the clarinet and putting it together, however, I am a firm believer in a perfectly tuned and adjusted instrument being the best key to musical success .good luck,
Sherman Friedland

Centered Tone Clarinet, special mouthpiece?

January 10, 2008

Mr. Friedland, thank you for your most helpful website. Two questions. First, you have referred to the “scale” of a clarinet. Please specify what exactly is meant by the “scale” of a clarinet. Is it how well in-tune each note of the instrument is?

Second, I have read that in selecting a clarinet mouthpiece, the bore of the mouthpiece should match the bore of the clarinet the on which mouthpiece will be played. Please comment on the importance of this. How can one determine the bore of a mouthpiece, particularly if ordering by mail. I play on a wonderful Selmer “Centered Tone” which I purchased new in 1958 while in the Marine First Division Band. This is a “large bore” clarinet. Do you know of any modern mouthpieces that would match the bore of this CT? Thanks for your comments.
Hello Mr. T:
Thank you so much for your note and your compliment and your question which has a considerable amount of interest to me.
While it is true that the Selmer CT clarinet has what is known as a “big bore”, it is really not that much bigger than the usual clarinet. I am sure that there are differences in mouthpiece bores, however I have to relate to my own personal experiences which are many, especially with the Selmer Company, and specifically the Centered Tone Clarinet.
When I played Principal Clarinet with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra,I played on a set of Centered Tone clarinets. I actually performed on the CT for more than 30 years.
My mouthpiece then was a Selmer with the S facing. This was a relatively open mouthpiece with a short facing. For more than ten or 15 years I played on that very mouthpiece is virtually every kind of ensemble. As far as I knew, I had had no problems with the mouthpiece, nor the clarinet.

So, I will state unequivocally that the mouthpiece has little to do with the musical product, nor does the instrument as long as it makes available the correct result for the player. Notice, the player is most important. All the rest of it is just the horn, so to speak.

The “scale” of the instrument is important, of course, for the embouchure needs to do less in the tuning process with a basic scale that is “in tune” or is easily tunable. Obviously, the clarinet is a “fixed pitch” instrument, however changes in pitch can be minimally achieved by flexibility of the embouchure.

I have played on some mouthpieces which had different bore than the usual American bore, which produce varied results in tuning. I speak of the German mouthpiece bore which produces generally a sharper scale than that which is used in North America.

As far as a mouthpiece that would match the exact bore of the CT clarinet, it is more a matter of which mouthpiece feels best and tunes best with the instrument.

I have found that mouthpieces are similar to fingerprints: there are no two alike/Try the Selmer C85 mouthpiece, which may be their best/ I have had good results with that mouthpiece in years past.

Good luck, and best regards for the New Year.

Sherman Friedland