Long tones, an essential in building embouchure and sound

September 25, 2008

 Dear Mr Friedland:Hello!

First thank you for the incredible abundance of information on your site!  There are suprisingly few good sources of detailed tips for our instrument on the web.

My question:  long tones are often stressed in advice about practicing well.  What are the specific exercises you recommend for young players as well as those more advanced?

Thanks in advance!

Dear AN: Thank you for your note and your question. I am happy to help.
long tones should be played initially only in the low register in order to develop embouchure and sound. An improving maturing embouchure will produce with time, a better sound. When you begin, or properly, even before you begin, make sure you have formed your embouchure and start each note correctly  with a clean attack with the smallest amount of tongue on the reed so as to begin cleanly and without extraneous noises.(In that way you also practice your attack)
I have always begun my initial playing of my instrument by playing long tones, starting on low E or low F in two ways: first, play the long tones mezzo forte for 12 slow beats for each note. No crescendo or diminuendo is necessary at first, just a solid mezzo forte or even forte, but not as loudly as you can play. Make sure that your embouchure is set and that you are ready to play prior to playing. Many people seem to throw the clarinet toward their embouchure and let forth a sound without carefully setting your embouchure. Work for  initially, just a very clear sound, preceded by a clear attack, and even preceding that with a big natural breath. Practice just one octave of the scale ascending and descending. It is important  not to tire yourself, meaning your embouchure. This should take about ten minutes or so and may be repeated using crescendo and diminuendo on each long tone. Do not play long tones to the point of fatigue; take plenty of breath and again make sure that you are playing correctly and carefully starting each note. After a bit your will experience a bit of fatigue at the sides of your mouth. Do not overdo the practicing of long tones, I would suggest a period of  no more than 15 minutes for this part of your practice. While you are practicing long tones, check for air leakage. In fact check for anything abnormal in your playing. Practicing these sound will also assist you in the beginnings of reed discernment.

good luck, Sherman


Covered tone holes for small fingers . Not the answer.

September 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I have two students (8th grade/girls) who are twins.  Both have very small hands making it difficult to cover the tone holes. The lower octave is manageable but the have never been able to playpast the break when they are only partially covering the tone holes.  When they get to HS I suggested
they try bass clarinet but they really would like to continue on regular clarinet. Do you know of any
student model Bb clarinets with covered tone holes or could you offer any suggestions? Thank you
K. Crotty

Dear KC:

Prior to locating a clarinet with covered holes, let me suggest that this is not a problem concerned so much with the size of your twins fingers than it is one of simple development .
If they can play the lower octave, they will be able to play the upper, for the fingering is the same. Really, it is exactly the same and it is difficult for any beginner to learn to go into the clarion register of the instrument, in fact it  only means the opening of the register key with the left thumb. But, the fingers have to learn to stay in their positions and this only comes after the proper instruction. What they need is a private teacher or someone who can point them in the correct direction, however it is mostly a problem concerned with breathing, coordination and confidence and it does and will come in your daughters cases. Iy may come a trifle easier however there is only one student instrument available. Should you decide on its purchase,you are forever wedded to that instrument and there is no other alternative. There is an instrument with covered tone holes, however I cannot find a listing for it.
Good luck, Sherman Friedland  

Shall a beginner start on the C clarinet?

September 12, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I am thinking of buying another/better clarinet. I have one my in laws bought in china but I have been looking at Ridenour’s Lyrique clarinets and I have been thinking about a C clarinet. I am just learning to play the clarinet on my own. Have a book by Benny Goodman and I am following his advise (dont let your top teeth touch the mouthpiece) by playing without my false teath. Anyway the question is why don’t everybody use a c clarinet? Is there something wrong with them? Why have your written notes not agree with the sound produced? As a beginner should I learn on a B flat then the c later if I want to?
Dear Sir:
To answer your last question first, playing on the Bb is mostly a tradition, as is switching to an A clarient when the part is in enough of a key signaure to challenge. Though they have each a different character of tone, it is basically a question of tradition.

Many thanks for your letter and for its main question which can be indeed provocative and is certainly something to carefully consider.
The C clarinets of today, The Lyrique, The  Amati, and the Forte and the others all play quite well indeed, and the mouthpieces are the same that one uses for the Bb. They play well, are quite well in tune and sound well. And you never have to worry about transposing a Bb clarinet part because you can play any part written for a C, or a concert instrument, a great comvenience, especially for someone such as yourself.
You can play Handel or Bach works for transverse flute and recorder, and literally all violin music. Chamber music is an absolute pleasure to consider because there is nothing out of your realm, saving the occasional part which is in the stratosphere where the instrument can be a bit difficult with both sound and tuning. Incidentally, your Benny Goodman book must stress the douple lip embouchure, wherein you put both lips over the teeth, the most natural way to play the clarinet, though there are those wo may dispute. 
So, without any reservation I say just get a C clarinet and have a lot more fun. You can always pick up a Bb should you need one and it will not be difficult to pickup,and you may save yourself a good bit of money as well.
You know, I wish I had one myself. I learned the clarinet many years ago and play everything on the bb clarinet or the A clarinet. I learned the transposition for C clarinet quite early on and it is not difficult, however I fully recommend that you start on the C. Make sure you get a good mouthpiece, either Selmer, Van Doren, Fobes, Hawkins, Gennusa, all of which will suite you quite well. Try each with the same reed and select the one that sounds and feel the best.
Good luck and best wishes.
Sherman Friedland


The sound of the clarinet really can be traced to L. Cahuzac , 1880-1960

September 8, 2008

Louis Cahuzac,(1880-1960) lived to be 80 and was an active player for most of that span. Below is a recording he made of his own work in 1930: His clarinet sound is usually called the epitome of the French Clarinet Sound, among its facets, extreme liquidity or fluidity, and agility of all aspects of both tone and technical faciity. While there needed to be much knowledge gained in the realm of recording piano, the clarinet sound is just about perfect in all its expressivity, timbral qualities and intonation. We usually think of his sound , and others as well: Hamelin, Maclane, Bonade, and their students, continuing until Marcellus, whose tone was less bright, perhaps more substantive, usually thought of as the beginning of the amalgation of the so-called German school of clarinet sound with that of the French. Toward this end, Marcellus it is said, used a reed with a different cut, a thicker blank, most probably a more resistant reed, yet some seem to have wished for a more expressive qality of sound, less objective, but for others this is the sound of which they prefer and for which they strive Actually ,upon listenig one hears more of a penetrating sound with Mr. Marcellus, whose technic and staccato was flawless.. Harold Wright really did not deviate much from that of Cahuzac, again more substantive, but with really superb facility and all-over control. He was one of the few contemporary orchestral clarinetists who played the actualy dynamics as they were written. Forte was forte and pianissimo and piano were his stringest points. Truly he believed and advocated never to push the sound, to distort. So while he played until relatively recently he escaped the emergence of the loudness of todays American orchestras, specifically the Chicago Symphony, whose principal Larry Combs, was really a deep admirer of the soud of Wright. His excellent control is demonstrated on this recent performance of the difficult 3rd movement solis of the Tchaikovsky #4.

Antony Pay from the UK is also of the more musical of clarinetists. His recording of the Mozart Quintet featured here is certainly the most imaginative and with superb ideas as to tempi and phrasing and his sound is exemplary. While not basically an orchestral clarinetist, he respresents the best and most thoughtful of the so-called English School. The only question one may have are the execution of his appoggiatured trills in the first movement, beautiful, though not consistent in that he plays the first  trill in the development without an appoggiatura.All others are executed with really excellent appogiaturas from the note above, accented and correct. One wonders why this single trill Ab-Bb is played without the appoddiatura? Still he is certainly representative of the so-called English school and tone quality.

Has the sound of the clarinet changed much since Combs and the others mentioned herein?(and there are excellent players, but these are the choices by this writer) I think not, however the advent of recorded symphonic music being so artificially conceived as having brough much louder clarinet playing to the fore. (for example, purchasing a recording, listening to the orchestra and going to an actually concert are different experiences. “How come I can hardly hear that clarinet solo?” Because it was recorded by a single microphone directly in front of the player and then mixed with great care so as to give it prominence on the recording; completely different from hearing the player in the orchestra at a concert. This has created a competition between a player and his recordings because the recordings are so much clearer than what the listener hears in the hall. Now has this competition made its impression upon younger clarinetists?Yes, it has; witness the playing of Mr.Morales who can, when he wishes, cut through any orchestra. The playing of Karl Leister, whom I remember as the Principal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra must also be noted for his excellence. The sound he made seems perhaps a bit more present, yet for me, I prefer a more even quality. I think the Barber included here, shows that rather thicker, (for want of a better word) quality, than that of the French. Still however, very imressive playing, perhaps a reflection of the German clarinet and mouthpiece and reed,perhaps not.

Gino Cioffi, another principal player of the Boston Symphony should be mentioned here because he too embodied that basic fluidity of the clarinet. It is interesting to note that all of these players recorded in beautiful acoustic chambers, either Orchestra Hall on Chicago or Symphony Hall in Boston.

But the sound of the clarinet was really conceived by Mr. Cahuzac and those of his ilk, and has not strayed all that far, that is to say, with that wondeful fluidity which is so much a part of the sound of the clarinet.

Of course, one can make the point that this reflect bias ;  that there were and are many players who were a part of the evolution of the sound of the clarinet, and to those, I will agree, however there is not that much deviation from the sound of Cahuzac made in 1930.

Keep practicing.


Louis Cahuzac:

Gino Cioffi:

Antony Pay

Harold Wright:

Larry Combs:

Karl Leister

Barber, “Summer Music” for woodwind Quiintet

It’s really a big bore!

September 1, 2008

I was wondering if you could help me with a clarinet I just purchased. It has a dynamique Leblanc label on it in white. The serial # is 550 —- is that a model #? Do you know what the bore size would be or where could I find that information?? I play on a L7 clarinet that was bought new in the early 1980’s. Very nice clarinet. Thank you for your help. J.


There is something about this question which makes one wonder what is meant by the “bore size”?.

So, here is all the information I can present concerning big-bore sizes and what they may mean. If anything.
Starting with an anecdotal approach, I can tell you that the Selmer Centered-tone clarinet, first appearing in the very late 50’s and the 60’s is now prized as a clarinet made specifically for the playing of Jazz. Why? Because this instrument is known as a “big-bore” instrument, and somewhere along the way of history there came a myth that a big-bore instrument was the correct thing upon which to play Jazz,   Something(another myth) that the notes are easier to “bend”, which is incorrect and well, you just play Jazz on a “big-bore” clarinet. This clarinet had a bore that measured .590. And that diameter has no connection to Jazz at all. What categorized it as such was that Benny Goodman had an arrangement with a Selmer advertisement wherein he is playing a Centered-Tone clarinet. But in actuality, Benny played many clarinets of all types and bores and finally, in the 60’s when I played Principal Clarinet of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, I played on a set of Centered-Tone clarinets, and except for the Cadenza from Rhapsody in Blue, I played no Jazz . And incidentally most of the clarinet section of the Boston Symphony also played Centered-Tone clarinets. Cioffi, the Principal at the time played  Selmer, but the model 55, which he preferred.  But at present, this venerable instrument is commanding high dollar in the used , vintage clarinet auction houses.
Also with a bore of that general size, is the Leblanc Pete Fountain of “Big Easy”clarinet, also with a bore of .590. This I know is a fine clarinet and it has an articulated G# which is a help for any clarinetist. I would recommend this instrument for any purchase because it is a fine instrument, and it is available new, and it is less expensive than the clarinet from any other French company. And, you can play any kind of music using it, anything you wish. There are the Dynamic clarinets from Leblanc, also so-called “big-bore”. The L7 which you own is a far more sophisticated instrument, and one of their very best.
So, if you want to or wish to play Jazz, that is wonderful, but you can play the same Jazz on any instrument, even an R13, or a Lyrique. “Big-Bore” doesn’t mean Jazz.( Jazz means other things).
In addition for those who purchase so-called big-bore clarinets or Leblanc Clarinets, here are some facts of which you ought to be aware. I have it from the source of Tom Ridenour that Vito Pascucci, the head of Leblanc USA, when Tom Ridenour was their chief clarinet designer, had many Leblanc clarinets rebored to a larger diameter in a somewhat routine manner, until Tom stopped him. This is absolutely true and many players have purchased these horns, rebored without care for anything except making a “so-called” bigger sound from the bigger bore. It is no longer an issue because Leblanc Clarinet as a USA company is no more, rather it is part of Conn-Selmer. But the vintage horns of the Leblanc are all somewhat suspect and if rebored, can have manifold intonation problems. So, be forewarned. Here is a response from Tom himself concerned with this article:
“Well, what you say is true, but here are some important addendums:   

Large bore clarinets were largely abandoned by pro clarinetists in the last half of the 20th century because of low register right hand sharpness.  Small bores were chosen because the 12ths were truer, especially in the right hand of the clarinet.
Mr. Leblanc had designed small bore clarinets and they tuned up to the state of the art.  Vito, with the dumb  idea that the bores would shrink from France to Kenosha, and thinking that large bore clarinet was fungible with the idea of large bore trumpet or brass instruments, took it upon himself to rebore these clarinets to make sure they blew with a “big sound”.  As his shop people enlarged 14.65 bore clarinets to 15.00mm bore clarinets, he was unaware he was destroying the tuning of the 12ths, especially the right hand 12ths, making the right hand low register as much as 30 cents sharp to the rest of the horn.
Vito, not understanding clarinet acoustics, thought the switch to small bore clarinets was just  fashion and personal taste and that someday the “fashion” would swing back the other way.  He was wrong; the switch came about because of higher demands for tuning perfection.  And that, not subjective taste or fashion, ushered in the age of the small bore clarinet, especially since bore modifications had made them tonally viable and equal to their large bore counterparts.
I stopped the boring because good horns that played great and tuned very well were being systematically destroyed by energetic ignorance and wrong-headedness.
There you go; straight from the horses mouth.” So sayeth Mr Ridenour, who is the clarinet designer of our time and was there at that time.  
Once more, you don’t have to have a so-called “big-bore”clarinet if you choose to play Jazz. You can play Jazz on any clarinet you can put your fingers on.
Good luck and keep practicing.