What is technique? Technique means control. Rhythm starts.

August 30, 2008

I have been inspired again by students and others who question the meaning of technique, specifically clarinet technique. Reading everything from suggestions for unequal practicing of equal notes to changing rhythms to using a metronome, all of which arebut  part of the equation, not all of the control needed to have any kind of technique and most specifically, the first and most basic: Rhythmic . Most students and many professional players do not have this total control of the rhythm in music, and it is what will always trip them up, or trip you up.

Beginning with an anecdote I remember a student coming for a lesson in preparation for the audition he was to take for a position in the Toronto Symphony. This was a very good clarinetist, mind you. He told me the rules:  there would be no talking during the audition, that he wold be asked to play from a given list of pieces and if he was to be eliminated,a bell would be rung. And that was it. Over.

He then played some excerpts which were OK and then came to the Scherzo from The Midsummers Night Dream, by Mendelssohn. The first 4 measures are not difficult, but when he got to the 5th , because of the awkwardness of moving from G# to middle B quickly, he lost a bit , a tiny bit of time.

“Charles, I said, they will ring the bell here”. So we rehearsed it until it was smooth and in time. But when he came back with the results, he told me they had rung the bell. I said, “Where?” He pointed to the same place I had stopped him at. That may cause a smile, perhaps a frown, but it was the rhythm that tripped him.  He was unable to coordinate his breath/support with the change from the throat G# which takes hardly any support and the middle B which uses much, and instead of compensating by more support and staying “in time”, he lost time. Time, time time, is what playing anything is all about.

It is NOT about how fast you can tongue or how high you can play, which has little to do with playing under pressure,   The very first thing you must have is complete control of the rhythm, which is not playing things in uneven rhythms or tonguing ahead of the note or any of that; it is knowing  where the rhythm is and knwing how to play whatever it is you have in perfect rhythm.

You are after all, playing for a conductor, not a metronome. So while a metronome is another  part of the equation, knowing exactly where to put your few notes in time is what is more and indeed most important. It is what happens between the beats.(read the last sentence again, please.)

There are beats, yes, but there are also very structured strong pulsations between the beats. That is how really to play in time. One must never lose track of all of the basic beat, and it must remain within your consciousness until it becomes absolutely thoughtless, and totally ingrained.

How do you learn to do that? To aniticpate what actually occurs in rests and how to prepare to change a rhythmic pattern in midstream? You learn by practicing changing rhythms in your mind prior to playing them. When you are playing straight eighth notes, a very simple legato group of eighth notes, and you must suddenly change to playing an eighth-note triplet, what is your process?

How do you switch “gears”, so to speak from two notes to a beat to three?In order to divide the change exactly you must find a common denominator, which between two and three, is 6. Because 6 is divisible by both two and three, it is the simplest equation to subdivide, which is the basic answer for executing any rhythm and changing that rythm.Dividing the two eighth notes is obviosly quite simple, but changing those two into three is what can be difficult and is where that common denominator is of great importance.The solution of course, is to have practiced that change many times at many tempi. There is where your metronome comes in very handy. You keep the time going, give yourself a beat or two, then change to the triplet figure. Try it. The beat is wrong, right? Either too fast or slow. That is wrong. The metronome is usually correct, expecially if it is digital. Mechanical metronomes are not terribly accurate. They are excellent for establishing a tempo but not for serious practice,as a check against our own human failings. It is important that the metronome be set at a very slow tempo because you cannot cheat that way, and it is in our nature to cheat the beat.( It is in our genes, I think). Especially when you are young. Rushing does get slower as you age. When young, I used to “Take off  like a wonded bird”. But as I aged, I improved. 

Rather than give examples, let me suggest two of the best books for this learning and execution of the common denominator.


Lots of folks cannot do that because it involves a basic syncopation, the most difficult and the easiest, changing from 2 to 3. The syncopation is made in your ear. At a slow tempo with a very slow pulsation on a digital metronome it becomes more difficult. You can execute it only with the using of the common denominator. When you play the duplets, , you create in your mind, two groups of three notes each. Each eight note get one of the groups of 3.

This is the basic lesson to be learned precisely, to change from equal eigth notes to equal eighth-note triplets.

Let me again make those suggestions for the acquisition of two books for you; both are not large and not expensive, but they will do what I have suggested, if you use an accurate metronome at a slow tempo.

Gaston Hamelin, who was the Principal Clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra wrote a book called “Scales”, very simple book utilizing scales, starting at different points of the scale  in all kinds of different rhythms, which is very helpful in establishing good legato as well. (The Hamelin is piblished in France) (sorry)

The other is the most difficult book of studies and the is the Emile Stievenard book of scales(publishes by International), a complete different kind of study book which has nothing but scales in changing rhythms. You can open the book and it will look terribly simple. But, when you use the accurate metronome, set at a slow tempo, and then play the exercises, using only the written rests to change the rhythms, you will be confronted again by the inaccurate sound of the metronome, which is not that but your own inability to cope with, as I mentioned, that syncopation between duple and triple notes within one beat. In the first exercise in C major, you have forte, staccato eight notes

The metronome continues to “go”.There are couple or three pulsations or rests, and then you must come in with triplets, legato and pianissimo. Try it once, and you may detest me and rhythm in general, but I guranty that it is the way to complete control of rhythm, which is the beginning of a real technique Do not leave the first two lines until it is perfect,then leaving the metronome at perhaps 43-52 for the basic pulsation, continue. The rhythm, dynamics, articulations change constantly. Always use the ciommon denominator until it becomes ingrained. When the metronome is “right on” with your playng, you may be ready to go on.

Now, when the conductor gives a couple of beats between one rhythm and a different rhythm, you will be in time, because you know it, not ever guessing, and then you are ready to go further.

Best of all good fortune. Remember techique means control, not ever speed, but the latter comes from the former, which comes first.


Scouts Honor!


Sherman Friedland


Which Clarinet? A view from the UK

August 28, 2008
What follows was received from a clarinetist in the United Kingdom. I found it interesting and informative,without reflecting prejudice, while attempting to rank many  instruments.
“I think that you need to approach this topic from a rational standpoint i.e. what does is sound like to you and your critical listeners. Any argument from any other clarinet player uses is really irrelevant, especially when players are sponsored or otherwise rewarded by playing a certain instrument. As for makers using wood as opposed to ebonite (hard rubber) then there is a vested interest in marketing wooden instruments, not least the need to replace them as they wear out/crack and so on.
I personally use a Ridenour Lyrique RCP-5768C Bb ebonite clarinet . I have tested this instrument (with the same mouthpiece and reeds) against a wide variety of clarinets, everything from the cheapest ABS Buffet B-10, through all Buffet models, up to and including the R13 Tosca, Vintage, Prestige and so on; various Selmer models, all Yamaha models and several Leblanc models (though not the high end since they are not stocked locally). My conclusions are as follows: For focused sound, evenness and intonation, only the Leblanc Sonata came close – most of the Buffet models were either uninspiring (Tosca) or uneven (R13 standard and below), as well as being poor in intonation throughout the registers. One R13 Prestige was exceptional and was arguably richer in the Chalameau register than the Lyrique, though not quite as even through all the registers.
My conclusion is that for me at any rate, the Lyrique offers a blend of evenness, intonation and quality of sound unrivalled at any price. It does suffer however, in that it does not have the “ego” factor of a high-end wooden instrument such as a Buffet R13 Prestige or Tosca,
It also does not need so much loving attention, nor does it suffer from atmospheric changes like a wooden instrument. If you want to buy a wooden instrument then you MUST test them yourselves with your own mouthpiece and reeds – every instrument is different and some are poor, no matter what the price. I know several orchestral musicians, and they test many instruments before selecting one – most will only buy from the factory. They know how variable wooden instruments are and cannot afford to have a poor instrument. Most of us cannot do this and would be better off with the consistency of an instrument like a Lyrique.
Remember, that when metal woods were first introduced in golf the purists ridiculed them until they saw how effective they were. in golf however, there is an absolute measure i.e. distance and accuracy, whereas in music there is much “smoke and mirrors”.
Please let your ears rule in choosing between a professional instrument such as a Lyrique or a high-end wooden clarinet.”
I think it is pertinent that the writer speaks of really great differences in clarinets at the high wooden end of the selection. I have fond this to be especially true, most frequently with Buffet This has been the norm for as long as I can remember. In order to get a good one, you have to try many. Selmers to be always much more consistent. As far as the best playing clarinet, it really has always been Leblanc. They are even and have excellent tuning and finishing. The current models are almost prohibitive to buy, but they are indeed a very good instrument. I have an LL, just overhauled which is in my mind, a gorgeous clarinet, and also a VSP, not usually thought of as being a top-line horn, but this one is.
Readers are aware that I too play a Lyrique (set of) clarinet. I play them for the same reasons listed above.If you try 5 or 10, the relationship between each is almost indiscernible.
Good luck with all your work, and always practice.

Gino Cioffis basic ideas of playing the clarinet

August 27, 2008

Having studied with Mr. Cioffi many years ago and having been totally impressed with his truly unbelievable ability to play anything and always with the most beautiful sound and interpretation, one which remains in my mind as being truly unique, it is with great pleasure that I print his own words concerning practice as , while I feel that he was the most gifted clarinetist I have heard, it is quite wonderful to hear his ideas, especially those concerned with slow practice.


On Clarinet Playing,

by Gino Cioffi, Former Principal clarinet,Boston Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitain Opera Orchestra, Clevelnd Symphony

“Throughout my professional life I have been asked what I considered to be the principles of the art of clarinet playing. I shall endeavor to outline them here as fully as possible.

The clarinet is merely the instrument through which the artist expresses his interpretation of music. The richer his imagination and the more skillful his craftsmanship, the greater the artist will be. The artist’s craftsmanship must adequately express his thoughts; even more, it must stimulate them, for the two are inseparable. The artist on the clarinet must be able to command from his instrument many shades of color, expression, and volubility as rich as the music he performs. This is the goal.

There is no doubt in my mind that the key to advanced clarinet playing lies in the ability of the player to relax his muscles when playing.

It seems almost foolish to repeat a statement made so many times. Furthermore every clarinet player will agree with this point. I have yet to meet one who advocates tenseness in playing; some will even leap at the opportunity to preach about the pitfalls of “tightening up.”

Nevertheless, when a clarinet player who has played professionally for ten years has difficulty with the opening of “Daphnis and Chloe” or the cadenza in Coq d’or, ten to one the root of his difficulties is tenseness-his muscles are frozen.

Generally speaking, the better schools of singing, string playing and piano playing all treat relaxation as an elementary step in learning. If pianists were to tighten their fingers, wrists and arms as much as the average clarinet player, we would have no Horowitz or Rubinstein, and we would hear very few performances of the Tchaikowsky or Brahms concertos for the simple reason that few pianists would have sufficient command of their instruments to play such works.

I am making no special plea for fast as against slow playing. There is no contradiction; one should be able to play fast and slowly well. Because a man can run fast does not mean that he should not or cannot walk well.

How does one learn to play with complete relaxation? By practicing slowly.

The entire body should be relaxed; sit or stand properly, don’t slouch in your seat or cross your legs. Allow all your muscles to be free, not cramped. Be sure the arms swing freely from the shoulders, that the elbows are free; the wrists are so relaxed that the hands droop when arms are raised. If the wrists and forearms are relaxed the fingers will follow suit.

The fingers should not be held out straight but curved, as though holding a tennis ball in the hand, so that the balls of the fingers rest on the instrument. Holding the fingers straight across the holes causes tenseness and overshooting of the holes. Some players use parts of the fingers as far up as the joint. The wasted motion involved in this position is terrific. Fingers should be raised only 3/4 of an inch.

The greatest benefit, under most circumstances, is to practice slowly. A good instrument, reed and mouthpiece are essential to a good tone. The practice of long tones is necessary so that the player can develop breath control and train his ear. After that has been achieved to some degree, crescendos, diminuendos and other tonal shadings may be introduced.

If the player is not relaxed, he will invariably pinch and his breathing will also be affected. The pinching of the reed destroys the tone and destroys evenness of tone throughout the registers so that a good legato becomes an impossibility. The clarinet should and can be played from its lowest to highest notes with an even quality of tone much the same as the piano. When all this is accomplished, all the shadings of phrasing-legatos, crescendos, diminuendos-can be executed with great ease.

Now we turn our attention to the type of technical facility required by music where the composer has painted in bold and daring strokes.

The main difficulty when beginning this phase of clarinet study is to develop evenness. The professional who has been playing with tensed muscles, although evenly, will find that the fingers will momentarily jump out of control, but even this difficulty is quickly overcome. Above all, evenness can only be developed by slow practice. After the player has learned to play evenly and relaxed, then and only then should he attempt to develop speed. In most cases practice for speed should not be attempted until the first hour of practice. Then one should take suitable and familiar studies and practice them at the fastest possible speed while still playing evenly. Speed does not come of itself-it must be achieved. Slow practice only lays the basis for speed by developing evenness and allowing the player to concentrate on relaxation.

As suitable studies for this method of practicing, I can recommend with the greatest confidence the Labanchi Clarinet Method, because it has a great variety of studies to develop beautiful phrasing. It has all the material needed to develop a prodigious technique.

In addition to these rules, a good teacher cultivates in a young player a feeling of confidence and poise, the value of which cannot be over-emphasized. How many times orchestra players freeze and become panicky because of a lack of confidence that began in childhood and early years of study! To remedy and guard against this situation is as important a task as there is for the teacher.”

Thank you James Turner, for making this available to me.

And thanks to Gino, wherever he is.



The Clarinet Life, and some suggestions

August 17, 2008

There must be a considerable amount of wonder in the mind of an aspiring clarinet player (as I have read recently) and have confronted and advised  for many years. This particular career choice is first and foremost virtually impossible. One just does not learn to play the clarinet well, and then go off and work, starting small and working ones way up the ladder. One has to deal with something much more important than the clarinet, something which you can either do or not; one has to deal with oneself in the rest of the world; an issue which can and does dwarf the issue of playing the instrument.

It is not just an issue of  “at which school shall I get my degree in clarinet performance?” No more than it is a matter of “which instrument shall I play or mouthpiece? These issues are worked out during all of the learning that goes on in the “learning years”.

Advice number 1

 Do not allow the choice of a university to get a degree in clarinet performance. It is simply a non-starter, for there is no program and certainly no teacher who will give you a one-way ticket to a job. There are none.There is no teacher who  can make you play better than the others.  Something like this instant placement existed perhaps 50 or more years ago, when there were several teachers who were consistantly called by conductors or personnel managers for players and it was a simple as that.

In some instances, that was all there was to it, but we don’t hear about the ones who were recommended but who were unable to hold the job for many reasons, frequently having to do with personalities which were not able to be pliable enough to stand peforming under the increasing stress of playing in an orchestra.

It is no longet operable, although truthfully, there are many schools and unversities who attract students in that manner : The subliminal promise of a position throught the so-called prestige of the instructor. Another non-starter. Don’t believe it, as it is simply untrue and based upon the need for students and your own unrealistic aspirations. Reality and realistic thinking can be quite difficult for an aspirant of the clarinet.

 Making this kind of judgement only extends the time that you may have prior to entering the actuality of earning within todays world, whether music or not.

Advice 2

Instead, multitask, meaning do more than only enter a performance preparation area. It is advice given by many teachers and student advisors and it is not bad. Do more than just one narrow avenue of endeavor. In truth, you can continue your sincere performance preparation without that particular “major”. Many say, “go for a BME degree”,which I believe to be viable only if you don’t mind teaching many ungifted students in classrooms. If that is what you want, great, if not, do not go near it. It is a terrible road to mediocrity, which may be comfortable for many and is no disgrace, however you are a gifted clarinetist, or are you? You can continue on your road to perfect clarinet playing without a BME degree. Those kinds of schools specialize in keeping the amount of students coming in,usually do not have any credible orchestra program and are generally doltish in teaching and playing. It is not what you want,believe me.

Advice 3

Liberal Arts is becoming a viable major. For years it had turned into a no-no situation, “much ado about nothing”, but there really is somethng very good about a good general and liberal eduation. It widens your parameters, allows you more breadth of understanding and thus, more possibilities. And, you can keep up your clarinet studies.

I was Conductor of the Concordia University Symphony Orchestra for 17 years, a college/community orchestra.One time, I had auditioned a youngish student from another university and I heard coming from his clarinet the most beautiful playing! Really gorgeous. Asking him where he went to school, he answered that he was a Liberal Arts student at another university in Montreal. Could he have been a clarinet major? Yes, but he was not and that is what you want to remember. 

As far as my own background is concerned, I started the clarinet when I was 15, went into the high school band the next year, became solo clarinet in about three months and was playing the Debussy Rhapsody at the end of my first year. I started learning Orchestra Studies in my second year of HS and knew them all when I graduated when I was 17 or so, Yes, everything in that Bonade Book.My teacher told me that I could easily get into Curtis, but I didn’t know what that was and opted instead for a full scholarship ar Sam Houston College in Huntsville, Texas. You see, my dear friends, there were other issues within me which had to be solved and being away from home was important at that time, for my survival. I improved as a player there, learning to sight-read manuscript “dance-band” music very quickly,   But I couldn’t read! Trust me, I learned very quickly. That “lead-alto” book was hard and I had to really work. Did it help me to improve as a clarinetist? Yes, most assuredly, it did. And I met many people and schools of thought and life styles which were broadening and of which I was in great need.

Following that, I enlisted in the Fourth Army Band,stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, a so-called “good duty” band, our major chorse being recording one radio show a week for disribution with our singer, Vic Damone, and playing a few guard mounts. During that time I continued studying with Lee Munger, oprincipal of the San Antonio symphony. After 3 years, I returned to Boston, first entering Boston University, where my brother taught (and therfore I received a half tuition advantage) and I studied with Gino Cioffi for a year or so, largely an unfortunate experience, however I got to hear probably the most talented clarinetist who ever lived. I have thousands of Gino stories, but here is not the place for them. I auditioned for Rosario Mazzeo and was accepted into his class (6 students) at the New England Conservstory of Music and learned a great deal about both playing and business from him. He was an excellent teacher and he knew the business inside and out as he was the Personnel Manager of the Boston Symphony. I spent 6 years there, free-lancing in Boston and finally auditioned and won Principal in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This was an interesting and challenging position. I was both Principal Clarinet and served as Personnel Manager as well, serving and organizing auditions throughout the US. After several years, I decided that I preferred something else, and left the orchestra for advanced degrees contuing to play always and serving as Clarinet in Residence for a new Music Group,having won a Grant from The Rockefeller Foundation playing its concerts in New York. I met my wife there and we then entered a more academic life. Playing as always, but here, I found more opportunities for performance of Chamber Music as well as conducting.

 Well, I hope I have perhaps been of some help to you and those who are in quest for a way through this world. I have played, taught, conducted formore than 40 years, and performed all of the repertoire for the clarinet and had about 50 works written for me. We are married and have four grown sons.

So, that is my example for you to consider and to take from it what you will. The rest can be filled in by my bio. ,included on this website, also a part of my daily existence. There are upwards of 600 articles contained herein,most of which in response to questions from aspiring clarinetists from around the world.There soon will be additional recordings of mine within the next several weeks.

Good luck and keep practicing, and perform at every opportunity.


Legere, The Ontario Cut, by far closest to flexible cane

August 12, 2008

This posting is actually an addendum to my other posting concerning this interesting product which has made great inroads into the world of reed instruments. I have done several long tests with the ordinary cut, the Quebec cut and now the Ontario cut.

Although all of these reeds will give you a good response, both the normal and the Quebec cut are not as  flexible the Ontario cut, in my opinion.

Readers may know that I have been using the Richard Hawkins “R” mouthpiece because it plays quite beautifully and also because he is an excellent clarinetist, a professor at Oberlin who has many fine sound clips all made with Legere reeds….. and he sounds quite lovely. 

So, my motive was to achieve what he has achieved with this same reed. Hawkins more than proves the quality of the reed, but I myself was unable to achieve it. Until I played these Ontario reeds. They are a bit shorter and much more flexible than are any of the other Legere reeds and I feel that with this Hawkins mouthpiece, I have come as close as I need to in order to play any of the repertoire utilizing this Ontario Cut Legere reed. It has been in existence for several years and I did prefer them when first I was sent a few, however it was not until recently that I was able to buy some that I was able to fully test  and with this Hawkins mouthpiece. They also play with my Gennusa mouthpieces, however staccato seems easier to perform with that special articulation that I like to use so much as in that middle section of the Debussy Rhapsody, the change in tempo and mood toward the middle of the work.(Actually my staccato is based on Hamelins early recording of the piece.) The Hawkins mouthpiece allows me to play exactly as I would with cane. I purchased the strength #3 and that seems perfect. The Ontario reed has three dots on the butt of the reed and I believe that it will be in greater usage as soon as they become more available.The tip is actually thinner than other Legeres allowing for more flexibility.

Congratulations, Legere!


Sherman Friedland



Sherman Friedland

The Harmonic series, for the clarinet

August 12, 2008
Mr. Friedland, I am a novice clarinet player.  You have made reference to “harmonic fingerings” for the clarinet.  Could you explain what harmonic fingerings are and when they are used?  A couple of examples would b great!  Thank you.
In order to understand what a harmonic fingering is, you must first understand that the clarinet was and is still a cylindrical pipe which has a series of fundamental pitches which overblow, which for your purposes mean that when you open a certain key, you get notes which are twelve notes above the initial note, and are called unto themselves harmonic fingerings. For instance, when you pay the lowest note on the clarinet and then open the “so-called” reigster key the same fingering goes up twelve notes(rather than an octave which are the overlown notes of a saxophone or a flute.
The primary(or first, or lowest) notes of the clarinet go from low E to throat Bb. Each of these pitches
has a particular number of vibrations per second, or frequency. By applying pressure
to the reed, we can make it vibrate a various multiples of that frequency. These other,higher frequencies are called harmonics. When the fundamental frequency is doubled,the pitch rises one octave to its second harmonic. This is what happens when you press the octave key on a saxophone, oboe or bassoon. The clarinet’s physical structure causes it not to sound octaves or other even-numbered harmonics, so its pitch rises
in much longer, less even leaps.Because the clarinet does not overblow octaves and other even-numbered harmonics,
its high note fingerings can seem confusing at first. Below are the fundamental notes from which the highest fingerings are derived. Practice moving between the different registersto help develop your embouchure & fingers.
Chalemeau register – This is the bottom register, where the instrument’s natural sound is
heard. This pitch is called the fundamental. This register is named for the folk instrument
that later became the clarinet.
Clarion register – Press your left thumb on the register key and go up a 12th to the notes
with the clear sound that gave the clarinet its name. This is the third harmonic,or three times the frequency of the fundamental pitch.
Altissimo register – Vent the “E” tone hole by sliding or removing your left index finger.
For pitches “D” and above, put your right pinkie on the pinkie Eb key. This is the fifth
harmonic or five times the fundamental frequency. To move up from C# to G, remove
your left ring finger from the “C” tone hole. This is the seventh harmonic, or seven timesthe fundamental frequency.
I hope this will help a little. Certainly when you improve and develop your embouchure, you will be able to first understand the clarinet and that it actually overblows as do all instruments.
Don’t be confused, as it will become clearer and clearer.
Best wishes, Sherman

Mouthpieces, their place in your development

August 10, 2008

I have written many pages on different kinds of clarinet mouthpieces, and I would hope that some of them may make some sense for the reader and be a help to those who may read wht I have written. My development as a clarinetist was never that of playing and picking different mouthpieces. No, I never ever thought of mouthpieces.

Some postings and writings concerning mouthpieces  seem to basically neglect the fact that it is you,  who makes the sound, who searches for solutions to playing intervals and articulations, it is not and never is/was/orwill be the mouthpiece. Only when you get to a point where you can say a certain mouthpiece facilitates the achievement of these problems can you or anyone really discern what is the proper mouthpiece for you.

As I have said, this was never ever on my mind as a student. I had problems to solve, many things which came only with practice and trying different ways of support, embouchure , fingering, legato and staccato,, tongue and everything that goes into,”the sound”. (Problems which return again and again.)

Everyone can and will give you their preference and many band directors will determine that each clarinet shall play the same facing of the same mouthpiece. They do this for (hopefully) intonation and they say it is for “the same sound’, but they don’t know. You know, and that knowledge comes only after you have developed to a certain extent.

If you have 50 Van Doren mouthpieces with the designation B45, each will play differently, yes, like fingerprints, no two mouthpieces are the same.

If you take but a part of what I say, you will realize that there is only one common denominator here, and that is you who determines what it is that will render for you, what it is you want . And you may change your mind, but wait until you and “your chops” (as they say) develop.


Keep oracticing.

Sherman Friedland

Considering a Bass Clarinet? Careful!

August 9, 2008

“Is anyone able to post some well-recorded soundfiles of the ridenour bassclarinet and a buffet or selmer for comparison?”



A gentleman from Belgium posted this request on a “board” a while ago. I found it quite interesting, as the question was for comparing the Ridenour Lyrique Bb clarinet and other French and Japanese instruments. My own immediate response is to ask the reason for such a request.

First, get a good Bass Clarinet mouthpiece. Many use the Selmer (Paris). I use the C facing.) Also, please make sure that you understand that in general the reed you use on the Bass is much less resistant than that which you use on Bb. Then, make sure that you use a floor peg and that you try to use a bassclarint neck that has an turned-up end ppise which has the mouthpiece going into your mouth similar to you Bb. (Rosario Mazzeo, my teach for 6 years and Bass Clarinetist with the Boston Symphony for 32 years designed that) Also be sure that you understand that the fingerings past the clarion can frequently use harmonic fingering for the best speaking and itonation .

My own experience with Bass Clarinets has been that of a doubling instrument, frequently playing Pierrot Lunaire, by Schoenberg, really the 20th Centure masterpiece for the two clarinets, Bb and Bass, and other such works or works such as the Hindemith Septet.fpr WW Quintet, Bass Clarinet and Trumpet.The performane were always in professional circumstances, either Carnegie Recital Hall in the Lucas Foss / Allan Sapp series of concerts or for radio broadcasts.

Playing Bass is quite important in this context and is very largely a matter of the correct mouthpiece, but almost more, for a clarinet in excellent adjustment, or should I say perfect adjustment.

The sound is not of prime importance and no difference in sound can truly be discerned except by performing or recording exactly the same repertoire with the same basic equipment, (reed and mouthpiece). Who, one would hasten to ask, will be the judge of which sounds better, or which projects more, or to characterize the sounds of each of the clarinets in question?

We are talking about a matter of ones opinion. Important? Certainly, but a matter of opinion. On the other hand, the adjustment of the instrument can spell the difference between a successful rendering of the part and total screeching failure. The instrument upon which you play must be in perfect adjustment. If you buy one and it comes unadjusted or adjusted poorly, send it back immediately. Do not hesitate.

When you try, (with an eye to purchase) the horn must be perfectly adjusted and it is best to go to the place of purchase and check the whole place out, from owner to store, everything. If you bring your own mouthpiece with you, all the better, for you at least are startng on somewhat familiar territory. 

Now as to Bass Clarinets in this century, we are talking about serious “Tiger Country”, meaning this is not about several hundred dollars, but frequently ten times that amount.

If you are talking about the Ridenour Clarinet, Bass, or Lyrique Bb or even the Basset he makes, take a train or plane to Duncanville, Texas. I have never been there, but I know you will be treated with great courtesy. And likely you will leave totally satisfied, for that is his mission in clarinet life, and he knows the horn better or as good as anyone.

You can pay upwards of several thousands for a Bass clarinet. Don’t do that by mail!

If you want, go to Paris. For that kind of money you will be treated with total coutesy if not downright obsequiesness.

As far as recording different clarinets, rubber, wood or balsa wood, with a good player, nobody can tell the difference and the conditions of recording would have to be absolute scientifically arranged, a virtual impossibility.


When I was doing those concerts in NYC, I had them order me a Bundy, one-piece plastic Bass clarinet, (and an Eb as well. Those were my extras)

The cost was very little, but the one piece Bass never got out of adjustment.( I will end with a true story.During rehearsals  for Pierrot, the pianist wanted the lid of the piano open. He had it lifted. Unfortunately he didn’t see that my bass was resting there and it went crashing to the floor as the lid was raised. I was startled and went immediately to the horn , picked it up and it played perfectly. Would it have played had it been wood? I think not.

Keep practicing and be careful what you buy.


The Van Doren Clarinet Mouthpiece, actually superb

August 7, 2008

Many years ago is when this story begins. It was during the 60’s or maybe before and the Van Doren was the reed played by all serious players and all of their students. They were very inexpensive @ $3.75 for 25 reeds. Very frequently, I would go through 4 or five boxes before a lesson and I am sure that many others did the same. Fixing reeds was OK but not for a lesson as I and many others found. And there were more clarinetists around, at least in Boston, my home.

Gradually, reeds became a thing for which you asked, but sometimes were not there. Yes, you had to wait for a shipment and then finally, the word got around: In order for the dealers to get VD reeds, they had to also buy and stock VD mouthpieces. At this time, the Van Doren mouthpiece was not in vogue and it was diffcult to find one. They had no reputation of any kind. People played Selmer or sometimes Woodwind mouthpieces, but not Van Doren. But, they were soon to change as the reeds only became available if Van Doren mouthpieces were ordered as well.

Funny thing. These mouthpieces didn’t play badly. They were not costly and they had a better sound than many others available at the same time.

Actually during a previous summer I had been in France at the Van Doren showroom choosing reeds, as I am sure many of you have. You could try reeds for hours, ptting aside  the ones you liked and later when finished, they wold take the reeds and mark them and sell them to you for about .25 a piece.(Of course, when you got them to your place, they played nothing like they did at 56 Rue Lepic, but that is another story.

I had been picking reeds using a Selmer mouthpiece and I found very few that I liked at all. A fellow came downstairs with mouthpieces on each of the fingers of his hand, and introduced himself to me. He was Robert Van Doren and he allowed me to try the mouthpieces he had brought with him.

All of them played much better than did my selmer and I remember buying a 2RV and a couple of others.

Now, you and the other current students and players know that Van Doren is the worlds best selling mouthpiece and it is quite probably the best as well.

You are paying about $60 or $65 dollars for a very well made mouthpiece, quite consistent and available in every conceivable facing and tip opening. They are made very accurately and although every mouthpiece of the same measurement will play somewhat differently, every facing is there.

Within the parameters of the “M” mouthpiece, you have Van Dorens version of the Kaspar and Chedeville style and they are quite close/ I purchased an M13, a mouthpiece made for the American pitch standard after the above makers and played on it until quite recently, and still go back to it from time totime.

They come with the most open facing, the 5JB,which they call “the mouthpiece for Jazz” to every conceivable length and depth one can think of. Cheap, Cheap, especally considering what the “Craftsmen” will charge, which can be anything and is usually more.

The only disparaging thing one can say is that the basic response of the VD sound is not as romantic and sensuous as that of the Zinner, which is as far as I care to go.

Yes, the reeds can frustrate even “The Dark Knight”, but the mouthpieces are great, well made,beautyfully finished and highly affordable.

Don’t let anyone, (especially me) tell you different.

Keep praticing.


The Lyrique A Clarinet

August 6, 2008



Dear Mr. Friedland:
Do you really believe the Lyrique A clarinet is the best you’ve ever played…even better than the Selmers you used to use?
This is a hard stretch for me, as the Lyrique seems like just another ebonite product.
Thank you,
D.L. L 


All clarinets are just another  product(s), no matter which model or make of model.(By the way, do you know of another ebonite A clarinet? I think not.)
However this particular clarinet, the Lyrique A clarinet is better than any of the many Selmers I have played or even my Opus A, which was close but not equal to the Lyrique. In the case of hard rubber, I would say that it is a less strident, much a more musical response that the material itself brings to the music. With the addition of the scale which has been designed by the best designer in recent years, the sum of the parts is worth a better response than any A I have played, Yes, without question.
Traditionally, the clarinetist always looks for an A clarinet that blows very freely and perhaps as with as much ease as does the Bb. This is not easy to find, however with the Lyrique it is a simple fact. They all play with an ease of response which is remarkable..
This does not have to be accepted by everyone. But it will be,  more and more.
Keep practicing.