Tuning in any ensemble,part II

March 29, 2010

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I was lucky enough to get to your ‘Clarinet’s corner’ on the web. First I want to thank you for setting up such a helpful site. Second, I’m playing a Selmer 10S clarinet (sn Z9004) in an amateur local orchestra, after many, many years without playing it regularly. I switched to sax as a main instrument a long time ago. So I realize that currently everybody there in the orchestra is tuned at 442. Fortunately enough, my 10S came with two barrels, but I can’t get in tune even with the shorter one. Well, after some warm up, it goes a little better, but I regularly found myself lipping it up to approach the 442 diapason. I thought that this shorter barrel was a 442 one, but when testing it with an electronic tuner it seems to be a 441 barrel.

So, my questions are:

1) Would any of the current in-catalog 442 Selmer barrels fit for my 10S? Or would any other brand barrel do the trick? Or maybe the problem is me and not the instrument? 🙂
2) Would the instrument intonation be negatively affected in any way by using a 442 barrel?

Thanks in advance,


P.S.: My 10S briefing: It was bought at the Selmer head office in Paris, as no music shop in the city, at that time (circa 1976), was selling it. I was told they didn’t sell clarinets with Eb low key because nobody used them in France (I’m from Spain). The very attentive Selmer technician that served us at the Selmer office initially hold me the instrument with sn. Z9003. He told me to play it for a couple of days before considering it a definitive purchase. Eventually the central joint got a fissure thru the c#/g# hole, and the company took back the instrument and sold me the Z9004, that now has gone fine for already 35 years!

Dear Pierre
I do not think that the tuning problem is your fault in any way, but it is your responsibility to fix.

This can be done with some understanding of the tuning exercise in an amateur orchestra, which probably varies considerably, as does the meaning of the word “amateur”.

First, you must start the rehearsal already warmed up, meaning that you should arrive earler than the time you play so as to have your horn playing at its normal pitch. If you do not arrive early, I have found that you will spend the entire rehearsal out of tune and groping around for something like a pitch center to hang on to.
Please take that advice. You must be warmed up prior to the beginning of the rehearsal.
It is my practice to arrive at least a half hour prior to the beginning of the rehearsal. Stick to that time. As you warm up your clarinet, you will receive the benefit of hearing others arriving. They have to have a pitch to hang to, and perhaps they will listen to you or begin to associate their pitch with yours. This is really a part of the rehearsal. Get with the first oboe if they are to give the A and tune with him/her This will assist all who arrive at the rehearsal.
Attempt to tune to the note given by the first oboe.
If you cannot reach that pitch, you must come to a resolution, which may be solved by a shorter barrel. On the 10S, which happens to be very familiar to me, the pitch should easily be reachable with the 64.5 barrel that came with the horn. If not, I recommend first obtaining a pitch fork, or a small battery driven electrical tuner. which you can get in any music store. If you are in tune with that, then you must resolve the issue with the pitch giver.
Who is right? You are both wrong, if the giver of the pitch is higher than 442.
You can obtain a movable barrel which are also available and are not that expensive, and should be able to get you above 442. If not, you can buy a shorter barrel which may help . Or it may not.
When I was playing either in an orchestra or in chamber music ensembles,pitch always came first, and it was really a part of my livelihood. I made sure that I could reach the pitch by any of the methods mentioned above.
I also had a couple of extra barrels always with me in case of playing in very cold rehearsal spaces or with real amateurs, the kind that don’t really bother with tuning. Then you are in “tiger country”.
Mouthpieces can be an issue as well. There are certain brands which tend to be a few cents sharp, such as the Van Doren mouthpiece. And mouthpieces made on the Zinner blank, a gorgeous sounding blank are also a bit sharp. These can help.
The last culprit is you , your embouchure and/or, your reed, which I can tell you nothing about without hearing you play .
I know that it is not your clarinet, which I know is basically an in tune instrument . The two barrels are 66.5 and 64.5.
A 63 mm barrel is available, but that is an extreme.
Try one of the fixes mentioned above. I know that early arrival at a rehearsal is a plus, and warming up is also. The shorter the barrel, the more the notes closest to the barrel will be sharper, in other words, the entire instrument is thrown a bit out of tune.
Wooden clarinets , such as all of them take more time to warm up than specifically hard rubber, which are coming more and more into vogue these days, specifically for tuning purposes. Hard rubber is a much more stable material than is wood, and is more easily machinable.

I am not saying you should change clarinets, just that is is a crucial issue with really any ensemble playing.

I’ve spent at least 60 years concerned with tuning.
Good luck., and keep practicing.

(Get in touch with Ridenour Clarinet products. He sells a hard rubber barrel in many sizes which will fit your clarinet.)

Please see Part I , “Tuning the Clarinet”, from 2004, which is more specifically for an individual clarinet, not necessarily ensemble tuning.


Opus, Selmer and Buffet, big orchestras influence markets

March 26, 2010

Dear Mr Friedland
I am in Boston, where it seems most people play Buffet clarinets. I want to sell my son’s Leblanc which he used for only 2 years, and I am not sure where to advertise or how much to ask. It is in great shape, but the clarinet teacher wanted him to have a Buffet. He has only used this instrument at home because I would not allow him to take it to school. It is in excellent condition with a nice case cover and 2 reverse curve barrels.
Any guidance would be appreciated,
It is a Leblanc OPUS wood clarinet with an extra key on the left hand pinky. Not sure which note this is for. Also not sure if the keys are silver. Is it possible to tell the difference between nickel and silver plating just by looking?
Thanks, Terry

Dear Terry:
If the clarinet is only two years old, it is one of the finest clarinets available today anywhere and is worth a considerable amount to either sell or trade for a Buffet if your teacher insists.

I cannot help but insert here some pertinent information concerning all the clarinets mentioned above, and that you are in Boston, which was my home .

Back then, (in them there times) nobody, simply nobody played a Buffet, because the entire Boston Symphony Orchestra clarinet section played Selmers. So, all the teachers played Selmers as well.

Gino Cioffi, one of my last teachers, was Principal clarinet and of course, he played Selmers, as did Cardillo, Valerio and Mazzeo, the others.
Buffets were known and sold in New York, where all the clarinets in the New York Philharmonic played Buffets. So, there you have the whole story, and I’m sorry you have to sell your Leblanc Opus, which is considered the finest clarinet made today. Two of the most important clarinetists in the US play the Opus or a derivation of the Opus, Larry Combs, Principal Clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony,(retired), and Eddie Daniels, arguably the best Jazz clarinetist.
The lines in clarinet buying have been blurred in recent years, first by the Opus, designed by Tom Ridenour when he was the chef designer of Leblanc. Ricardo Morales, whos reputation is considered above all those mentioned here, is principal in the Philadelphia Orchestra. He plays the Selmer “Recital” clarinet. That particular clarinet has a smaller bore and a larger diameter than others. It is called frequently, “the fat clarinet”
Now, Larry Combs and Eddie Daniels both played Buffet prior to the Ridenour-designed Opus.
I have owned a set of both Opus and of Recital Clarinets and also Buffets and can say unequivocally that they all have good qualities, however the Buffet as a clarinet, is the most inconsistent.

In German and Austria many play play on a different system: an Oehler system with a different fingering, bore and resistance factor. Or they play the Wurlitzer Reform Boehm in Concertgebow Orchestra and the Hague in Holland.  I’m told that French style clarinets  mentioned above are making their way into European orchestras.

But, all this is not in your direct interest. What is, is the worth of your Opus.

If you want to simply sell the horn, it has to be worth about 1500 or perhaps even more.If you would consider trading for a Buffet, call Emilio Lyons, who works for Rayburn Music in Boston, (and is an old old friend) and tell him of your concern. He will give you a good trade on the Leblanc.
If you wish to sell it outright, you could use the internet, specifically Ebay,however this is frustrating unless you are an experienced seller on Ebay.
My recommendation is to find out from Emilio Lyons, determine if your teacher will get the Buffet from Rayburn, who I’m sure, sells them and go from there.
I truly hope that this has been of some help.
Good luck.

Director wants a darker sound, suggests tape around the bell.

March 14, 2010

Recently I travelled to Kauai with my clarinet and sat in at rehearsals of a local community band. The band leader during one rehearsal commented that someone’s (clarinet) sound seemed “too bright” and that he wanted a more “German” sound. He said that one could change this by wrapping tape around the clarinet. I forgot to ask him about it; but one of the other players tried it and sent me note about it. Have you heard of this and how does one go about gauging the effect it has, if any?


The idea of putting a piece of electric tape around the bell and barrel of a clarinet in order to dampen the sound is easy to trace,but is deep within the area of fantasy when extended to change a “bright” sound to a “german” sound. Your band director,whatever planet upon which he resides or whatever he is smoking, couldn’t be further from the truth. which in itself, is nonexistent.
It is a case of too little knowledge or a smattering of ignorance.
There is a clarinet with a different bore, a different amount of resistance and a different mouthpiece, which is played on the European continent which produces a slightly different sound than that of the North American clarinetist who usually plays in the French tradition , starting with people, such as Gaston Hamelin and Daniel Bonade,who were French players who came to the US to play in symphony orchestras, mostly imported by European conductors who themselves, were imported to conduct US orchestras, and the list is endless. The basic sounds of these clarinetists and their students was basically what is called “french”, being lighter and brighter than the so-called German, which really was available only with the kind of setup used by these players: different reed and mouthpiece, more resistant clarinet producing a somewhat denser sound.
There were and are exception to this, notable Marcellus, who played principal for Szell in Cleveland and had a noticeably more dense quality. Also presently in the same orchestra, Franklin Cohen who is currently principal has a similar quality.
Now, back to taping the clarinet. Forget about changing the sound in that way, the tape may make a slightly different response to your ear , but none at all to the listener. Taping the barrel helps nothing as well, though one may get the perception of some change, there is none.
The ring around the bell of most clarinets cuts in to the bell by 3-8ths of an inch, making the middle B flat. Take the ring off and it improves slightly, but only on the middle B.
The Mazzeo system clarinet had a bell with no ring and a different shape, rendering the midB sharper, but also brighter and it needed getting used to.
Holding the clarinet on your knee makes the B even flatter, but helps nothing else..
Returning once more to your question, if you desire a more dense sound, try a reed with a thick blank, slightly harder than you are accustomed to and you may achieve a bit of the quality for which you are looking, but please, no tape. Maybe handcuffs.
best wishes,


The Brahms Sonatas, Opus 120 (redux)

March 10, 2010

I began playing the clarinet when I was 15 which was in 1948. I progressed quite rapidly, and I was quite ambitious.
It was fun to play and I was reasonably successful playing.
Sometime a year or so after I began playing, I entered a radio playing contest. I played the first movement of the Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F Minor. My accompanist was Irma Levine, a high school student in the same class.
I remember only the outcome of the show. I won a prize which consisted of a box of Post Sugar Crisp, (who was the sponsor of the show), and five dollars. I don’t remember if I shared the prize with Irma Levine, either the cereal or the 5 dollars. I do remember taking her to see the movie, “Quo Vadis”, a period piece with exciting music and pretty stars, though I can’t remember their names.
I don’t recall ever seeing Irma Levine after that movie. I hope she is happy, wherever she is.
What a nice experience for me as a young clarinet student to win a small contest playing the music of Brahms. It had to be a great boost for every speck of ambition and musicality I had in me
Since then, at least 50 years ago, I have played both of these two sonatas literally dozens of times, no, much  more. I cannot understand why anyone who plays the clarinet cannot love these two great works.

But I came across this story the other day or so, about a clarinetist who absolutely hates these pieces and wll play almost anything else instead.
A clarinetist was asked to play the Brahms Eb sonata, Opus 120. He flatly refused,offering anything in its stead.He simply hated this work.

But first, the probable reason the clarinetist refused: They are among the most difficult pieces to render, perform musically well and in a convincing manner. There is frequently the intent by the performer to make something profound of the piece. It is profound, both sonatas are, but in their simplicity as in the case of the f minor, and in their complexity in the case of the Eb major both have to be performed exactly as the notes appear on the page. That is quite important, playing every single note in the exact rhythm, and dynamic which appears on the page. Without this, you are playing incorrectly. At the very opening of the f minor there is the leap from the 3rd space Cto the High Eb, , the only problem being the fingering: C with the left hand little finger the Eb with the right hand little finger, and to play it without fear or some kind of  movement of a shoulder or other part. Think of it as not difficult, and always practice the whole opening phrase so as to gauge where you’ll be at that moment.

I recently heard a well known clarinetist playing the opening of the Eb sonata. As he reached each different pitch level, we would swell the sound just a bit. This is objectionable , but a natural tendency,though creating a distorted impression. The sound unfortunately suffers from this kind of interpretive mistake.We train clarinet students not to sound like accordions, where the bellows moving in and out causes mini crescendi.

The two sonatas are full of difficulty, perhaps the most difficult in the entire standard repertoire for the clarinet.
The piano parts are not accompaniments in the sense of a simple harmonic basis for the solo clarinet; they are frequently much more important, and they are of concerto difficulty.(One should remember this when requesting a pianist to play the piece with you) There are so many accidents by pianists in these performances, caused by either terribly difficult sections( the first piano solo in the Eb major, marked forte, and usually rushed to a striking extent, and with many errors. And the most common error in the f minor sonata comes with the first two notes of the piano introduction. Very frequently the second note is played louder than the first , giving the mistaken impression that the first note  is a pickup note, which confuses the beginning,  basically the main  idea of the movement.
The whys are manifold, and here they are as I think of them.( I have performed these two works together on all-Brahms programs many times, having been both satisfied or reasonably happy, or sometimes once or twice, elated. Once, I was terribly upset with my playing. I had changed mouthpieces immediately prior to the performance, and while it went well, I was sharp throughout the F minor Sonata, the reason being that I used a German mouthpiece, and by the time we got to the F minor the pitch had risen too high, unfortunately for me.And for the audience). But these are asides. (The best rule I can think of is never to change mouthpieces right before a performances.)
The time I as elated was when I played the Eb at an after-dinner concert at Fontainebleau at the Conservatoire Americain. Nadia Boulanger was in the small group and when I got to the development of the first movement, she said audibly,” ahh, but this is wonderful”. When Boulanger said “wonderful”, take it to the bank. Probably what impressed her was the execution of triplets as triplets and not like sixteenth notes, another mistake many clarinetists make.( quite opinionated, but actually my opinions come directly from the idea that what is on the printed page is paramount. This comes first. If one looks at these pieces in the way of total accuracy, then you are on the road to beautiful expression and phrasing.) There is no room for “individuality”. Through total accuracy comes individuality, or as I heard Boulanger say many tmes, “there can be no freedom without discipline”.
If we consider the Eb Sonata, one is confronted with the biggest problem, the group of 16ths rising to the D, the one with the quintuplets. Nobody plays it in time, which is the way Brahms wrote it. Some make a sweeping gesture with a huge crescendo and ritardando . Wrong! It is not written that way, and we know that this particular composer was a neoclassical composer. He wrote exactly what he wanted to hear and he was very specific, placing many difficulties before both the pianist and the clarinetist; syncopations for both players with cross rhythms intermixed. Canons at the smallest of metrical values. And all of this is written out, totally written out by this composer.
Some play it like a cadenza, again, wrong. Why? Because it is difficult to play it in time, making the crescendo and the legato perfect.
That is what is written. Nothing else.
Next is the section with the triplets, which many play as sixteenth notes/ Again, this is incorrect.To play it correctly, one has to be able to make the syncopation. The piano has eighths, the clarinet triplets and it is slow enough for trouble, which is what usually occurs. One must remember that this was not written in the Romantic style, let us say of Liszt, wherein many liberties are and should be taken by the player. While Brahms lived at the same time, he is considered the first neoclassical composer, his compositions reflecting more of the basic aspects of Bach and Beethoven. His harmonic vocabulary is amongst the most sophisticated of the entire century.
So, instead, the player who hates these sonatas chooses the Poulenc, or almost anything else. They’re much more melodious, though they do not have the harmonic and rhythmic interest as does the Brahms Eb. And of course, the absence of any contrapuntal activity.

So, what I mean by all of this is that we should learn any piece in the manner first of an absolutely literal reading of the notes on the page, exactly as the composer wrote, all rhythmic values especially. One may take for granted that if there is not understanding of the work, or the passage, it will come with careful practice. In the case of Brahms, rest assured it will come, and when it does, either by playing the music in rehearsal or with a coach, it will more meaningful, much more than the Sonata of Poulenc, whic is also beautiful, but of a much different kind .
It is our job to play exactly what is on the page, and to learn all of this music, as much as we can, before we may cast it aside. The most dangerous damage a player can do is to hate a piece of music, especially if he or she cannot play it.Ths inability is frequently the cause of the disdain.

So, make it a rule. The ability to render the music accurately comes first, much before any other consideration. And, after total accuracy , one then must make the music sing, never forgetting that this clarinet we play is very frequently, emulating the voice; And it will come.

Stay well and play well. And learn those triplets,and how to play five notes equally in one beat, which is the first key that will open the door to the Brahms Sonatas.

Online selection, determining quality

March 3, 2010

Dear Mr. Friedland,
I used to play clarinet in school but later switched to tenor sax. Recently, I stumbled on my old student level clarinet, and found to my suprise that most of the finger memory was still there (after a couple of decades of not touching the clarinet). So I started to play it a bit more, and find myself enjoying and appreciating the instrument more than I did in the past. Inevitably, my thoughts now turn to buying a higher grade used clarinet, but without paying ridiculous sums of money (i.e. more than $1k in my case). My search for information led me to the discovery of your site, and I am really impressed with your generosity in sharing your advice and knowledge to clarinetists of all levels. I’ve had great pleasure reading the posts in it, and have learned quite a bit as well. You are to be congratulated for a fine enterprise.

I just lost out on an Ebay auction on a Selmer 10S-II yesterday, which finally went for $660. Somehow, my heart wasn’t really in it, for some obscure reason. Currently, there is a Leblanc Concerto selling locally at $650 (without mouthpiece), and I wanted advice on whether this was a good model and whether the price point seems fair. I know you are quite favorable to Leblanc, and the Concerto II is selling for a heck of a lot more money than $650, do I am thinking this might be a reasonable buy.

Against this, it might be possible to get a Yamaha Custom 82, the Selmer 9, 10 or 10G at around the same price point, with the hassle of Ebaying. Would any of these be much better compared to the Concerto? Specifically, on the 10G, I had read that it was somewhat bright, so I have some reservations about that model. Buffet somehow doesn’t appeal to me at all, more so now that I have spent some time at your web site.

I would appreciate it greatly if you would give me your opinion on this matter, although I do suspect that any of these clarinets in working order would more than fit the bill. However, it is always also the shopping and choosing between different models that is very pleasurable to most of us, while recognising that most of us are too fixated on equipement and somewhat less so on practice. Thank you very much for your advice.

Best rds

Hello CK:
Advice for buying a used quality is to determine the condition of the instrument you are buying.
If you can be assured of an instrument in excellent playing condition, the biggest hurtle has been resolved. But this seldom happens, and the tricks in the presentation of an online instrument can win a prize for pure and utter BS.

I sometime look at the auction ads.. The key is usually either hyperbole, or omission and/or just plain old lying.
So, my first suggestion is to “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”
Mouthpiece, or the absence of one is totally inconsequential in an online sale.
The 10G Selmer clarinet can be quite pricey and inconsistent as was the instrument when in production.
The Selmer 10s 2 is a terrific horn, and one wonders why your heart was elsewhere.

Of the horns you mention the Concerto is one of the better. It and the Opus were designed by Tom Ridenour when he was their chief designer.
These are legend in the business and I think you would be hardpressed to get a bad one. With used 62,72, 82,or the Custom Series, you will find them pricey.

In used, get a guaranty, but then again, you have to worry about the postage and the response from the seller , which can be anything from a diverting of the truth in his guaranty or his interpretation of same.

If you are having fun playing the clarinet but don’t want to spend more than a thousand, I suggest you get in touch with Tom Ridenour who will sell you the best horn in the industry for about the same money. But then again, if you are located in the Orient, that might prove to be difficult.

Remeber in used, it is the condition , and the difficult of discerning same. If you go by brand, any Paris Selmer or Leblanc is as good as you can get, again depending upon the condition.

Stay well, and keep looking and practicing.

A letter from Mr. Mueller II

March 2, 2010

Dear Mr. Friedland,
I was just forwarded your article concerning a Penzel Mueller clarinet (10/22/09) dealing with having it repaired.
My daughter’s boyfriend came across it somehow and forwarded to her and she in turn forwarded it to me. It was wonderful to read very nice comments concerning the Penzel Mueller clarinet. It was of course my grandfather’s and my father’s business up until the mid to late 1950s. I still remember spending time with both of them at the factory in Long Island City, NY as well as with the other craftsman that worked there. I unfortunately can’t take credit for any of the expert workmanship that helped to make the Penzel Mueller clarinet what it was. My only job (I was 6 or 7) was to use a gold crayon to fill in the Penzel Mueller name that was stamped into the BELL or Barrel Joint.
Thank you for the kind words, that business meant a great deal to both my grandfather and father. I’m sorry that it was not possible to continue the business and have it passed on to me.

Thanks again

Walter W. Mueller