Three questions of basic clarinet technic

Dear Mr. Friedland:

JW wrote:

I have three questions:

One is, with all the problems with the thumb-/register-key B flat, why the default fingering is not what I call the “side B flat,” using the A key and, I think it is the 2nd from the top right hand trill key? On my both my Selmer Centered Tone and Ridenour Lyrique C, it is clear and well in tune. We hear all the explanations about why the thumb B flat is bad, register hole is not a tone hole, etc., etc., but, “Why bother?” is my stance.JW
Answer to one
“Why bother” is incorrect because it presupposes that the Bb using the A and the third trill key can be used for all Bbs.It cannot, regardless of how many times you practice this fingering , it cannot be done with any rapidity on an ordinary clarinet. It must be played in any rapid context with the thumb and the A key. The only way to play it with the fingering which is always correct is with a clarinet such as the Mazzeo Clarinet,wherein any combination of fingers and the A key produces the throat Bb. I played Mazzeo clarinets for many years and it was always possible to play the throat Bb with no trouble. Unfortunately, after Mazzeo passed away and the patents ran out, there was no company who wished to make this clarinet. No ordinary Bb clarinet can make a Bb that is totally clear and capable of rapid execution except for the Mazzeo clarinet. One has to deal with a fuzzy and slightly sharp Bb unless the passage is slow enough to play it with the third side key.

Second, the endless question  of tonguing. When I listen to recordings of top players, e.g., Martin Frost, especially during rapid passages, it does not even really sound like “tonguing,” in the sense that there is no “ta” or “da” character to the sound. In fact it seems more like a huffing or “uh” sound. When I am playing, my notes sound like “ta” or “da” and I’d rather have the “huh”. How does one get that? (Maybe mine would sound that way if recorded rather than listened to “from the inside,” while playing, but I haven’t checked.) How are they doing this?  JW
Staccato is probably the very last skill to be achieved by the clarinetist. Most clarinetists can use either double or triple tonguing for rapid passages and using either pattern makes the attack less discernible. A short pop of a staccato is seldom used on the clarinet and rapid staccato involves air more than the tongue,the tongue hardly stopping the reed, and the staccatp sound indiscernible. A slow and short staccato is something more to the discretion of the conductor or the leader or the clarinetist of the group based upon knowledge and experience with the repertoire at hand.

Third I have figured out why I am getting so much “squeaking.” It happens when I create small leaks by not completely closing tone holes, often very subtly repositioning my finger when reaching for the C# (middle of staff) or other key, or barely nudging one of the adjacent levers, e.g., the G# (below middle C) lever or the E flat (first line at bottom of staff) lever. It is a problem of stiff old fingers. Any suggestions? I’ve tried keeping elbows out, which does help.JW

This has to do with the acquisition of a true control over the keys of the clarinet. Much more practice of scales, chromatic scale and exercises in order to become totally regular in finger placement regardless of the passage. All passages must be absolutely thoughtless for the fingers so as to eliminate all such mistakes of hitting extra keys. I do not think it problem of age, but more of not enough foundation studies.And more as you age.

The problems of age are age.


I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,



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