Gino Cioffis basic ideas of playing the clarinet

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.




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