” Cheap mouthpiece….a real mouthpiece???”

February 22, 2011

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I am a 25 year old clarinetist actively pursuing a masters in clarinet performance. Three years ago I spent an entire summer studying with a clarinetist named  R.L. He was student of Bonade at the same time as Marcellus. The summer I spent with him had such a profound impact on me as a clarinetist. During the time I was studying with him he gave me one of his personal G. mouthpieces. After getting used to it, (I was playing a H. B before this), I became madly in love with this mouthpiece. For the next year and a half I played this mouthpiece with wonderful results. It even helped me get into a few of the nations top graduate schools for clarinet. Now after transitioning to graduate school I ended up abandoning the G. My professor and colleagues could not believe I played on such a cheap mouthpiece and insisted that I needed to find a “real” mouthpiece. So began my epic, and extremely expensive, quest for a mouthpiece. All in all I am well over a thousand dollars in the hole and I have no mouthpiece that makes me even close to happy. I have had the most success with Mr. H’s mouthpieces but for some reason the pitch is very high when compared to the G.. It is high enough to make me very uncomfortable and self conscious. I feel that I am far enough in my development that I can make my own decisions but after flip flopping mouthpieces for the past year or so I feel rather lost. The G. I loved feels strange but oddly comfortable and the pitch is right on. I would consider having it refaced but I am terrified of losing the only mouthpiece that I have truly loved! My question for you is multifaceted. Do you think the G. is a viable mouthpiece for today’s clarinetists? Again mine is older and likely made by Iggy himself. If so then should I seriously spend some time revisiting it again? If not can you recommend some mouthpieces for me to try? I have yet to try the Fobes. I play one on bass, and love it, but it, like my Gennusa, is not favored by my professors and colleagues. If you think it could benefit from a refacing is there anyone you particularly recommend? Again I am afraid of losing what I have! Well thank you so much for your time and I sincerely look forward to your objective opinion!

Best,

G.

Dear G:
Thank you for your rather fascinating letter. It is fascinating because of your background in professors. You did have in R. L., one of the more noted names in the field of clarinet. I have heard his name frequently and I know that he retired from a respected school of the Arts about ten years past. He is always spoken of very complementarily.
You mentioned that he had a profound impact upon you as a clarinetist. Further, you say that he gave you one of his personal  mouthpieces. This in itself, is meaningful.
Further, you say that you fell in love with this mouthpiece,”madly” in love.

Let me stop right here and tell you that I have had the very same experience with both a R. H. B mouthpiece and a G. mouthpiece, the only difference being that I came upon the G. in a situation wherein it came with a clarinet. I played it and found it good, however my thought was that it is kind of dull in comparison to my RH. But I kept on trying it, finding it more and more to my liking because it felt less edgy, fuller, and yes,  articulation  response. I started playing on the G. and really found it exactly to my liking. I had to have another. The fellow who bought G.mouthpiece is B. R.. I wrote to him and asked if he could make me a duplicate.
He agreed and made me quite a nice duplicate, just a bit brighter in responce. I was satisfied and played one or the other, and stopped playing my others.

Here comes the bend in the road. I played a concert at the Berklee School of Music in Boston., all contemporary music/ It went well enough, but I was not satisfied at all. I blamed my poor G.. Rule number 1: A mouthpiece is an inanimate object. It is just part of the whole, the rest being well known to all. I shouldn’t have blamed the poor G., and ,my friend, neither should you.The mouthpiece was given to you by a noted excellent clarinetist and teacher. You loved this mouthpiece. Why have you given it up?

Answer to question 1. Yes, I believe the G. is a viable mouthpiece for todays clarinetist, and especially because it feels comfortable and it is right in tune. Do not think of having it refaced. (please)

One is especially disappointed that you have heard disparaging remarks concerning your mouthpiece, which ever you play. No mouthpiece can be called “cheap or real”. These are words that are intended to coerce you. I have played and tried mouthpieces of every conceivable name and price, all of which being totally without credence or significance. A Kaspar , or a Chedville, or  any kind of mouthpiece can be perfectly terrible , or can play quite well. Your ideal of a sound, your intellect, your ear, your embouchure, your love of the sound of the clarinet are all parts of the formula. There is no standard of excellence in mouthpieces. It is the sound  and  beauty of the player. That is the final definition.

I will not recommend any mouthpiece for you to try, regardless of what your professors and /or colleagues say or tell you. You are in a terrible situation because you are part of a cult of mouthpiece whackos who do not like your G,. It is that simple. I recommend you consider changing Graduate Schools,rather than changing your mouthpiece, because at the very least, you are being influenced by folk who probably are not at your level and/or have not studied with a teacher with the qualities of a Mr L. A thousand dollars in the hole. My gosh, that is awful. I play a Zinner blank and can honestly say that all Zinner mouthpieces play a few cents sharp.Fobes as well.

I have almost a complete recorded history of all of my performances, and there are some that I consider to be excellent, some less so. I cannot attach any mouthpiece to any of the performances.Mouthpieces are easily forgotten; music and the performance is what is remembered.

Again, stay with your Gennusa. Cover up the name with electric tape. Tell everybody you have a Gaddafy-Shapiro mouthpiece from some place in the Mediteranean.
And just play your brains out and get a good job. Keep your G. and flourish.

Best of good luck, sherman

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Lyrique Clarinet Concerns/update

February 16, 2011

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I’ve owned a Ridenour Lyrique 576BC since mid-2010 and I find myself in total agreement with the praise you’ve lavished upon this fine instrument. I’ve never before played a clarinet with such flawless regulation and even response. Investing practice time with the Lyrique is always a delight, never a chore.

The only nagging concern I have with the Lyrique is that I can’t seem to generate levels of projection and volume that are comparable with my other clarinets: a wood Noblet Normandy, and a hard rubber Pan Am 58N. I’m in an ensemble performing a lot of big-band and adult-standard material and find I just can’t get the sound out there with the Lyrique–playing in a section alongside a Leblanc Dynamic and a Selmer Centered Tone, the Lyrique is easily overwhelmed. I’m using the same vintage Selmer HS* mouthpiece, Legere 3 reed, and Rovner Dark ligature with all my horns. Should my airstream/breath support be different on the polycylindrial-bore Lyrique versus my cylindrical-bore horns? Would a different mouthpiece/reed setup help? Do I just need more time with the Lyrique? Or am I overlooking something else here?

I was sincerely hoping to just be able to use the Lyrique for everything. Thus far, however, I’m still out playing jobs with the other horns and dearly wishing they were as mechanically and ergonomically excellent as the Lyrique. Your insights would be most appreciated.

Best Regards,
G. G.

Dear G.G.

Thank you for your very interesting questions concerned with projection of the Lyrique clarinet in a section with a Leblanc Dynamic and a Selmer Centered Tone , playing big band music.

Both the horns you mention are larger bore instruments than the Lyrique, which may be part of the problem, but more to the point, you are obviously more interested in the quality of sound, its actual dimension, than are your partners. One can almost guaranty that they play different reeds, mouthpieces and are after a different quality than are you. They play with very open throated sounds, probably on Rico or La Voz reeds, their mouthpieces are focused on projection at any cost, and as you say, you are overwhelmed.

First and foremost, do not allow their open quality “whaling” bother you. You are playing on an instrument which pleases you in all the ways you mention above. They are just playing as loud as they can. Their criteria for sound and tuning are below your level because they are interested in only louder,not better in tune, or better sounding. I know that if I were listening to your group and asked each of you to play a passage alone, yours would be preferable. You have already mentioned the reasons. You are investing practice on your instrument and you are enjoying the results. One can ask for little more than that. If you are in a loud gawky section with sounds that are spread out all over the room, you can only play with your own best quality. I would suggest nothing more than that.

One could suggest that you try a more open mouthpiece,with perhaps a Rico or La Voz reed, or a softer Legere, but I would not. If you are pleased with your Legere, continue with it, or perhaps try on of their newest reeds, (the name of which escapes me). You may try a Van Doren 5JB mouthpiece, much more open than your HS*, but I also suggest that you don’t and continue on in your own way and with the quality of sound that you enjoy presently.

Should you change for the sake of volume, that would sacrifice much of the quality you admire in your Lyrique. For louder, never.

The only thing you may wish to do is to play one of your other instruments that seem to be more able to scream with the others, but of course, you will sacrifice again for projection rather than quality of sound. It is a simple choice. Sound and tuning always come first.

I hope that this has been of some help.

Keep practicing.

sherman

response from,GG:

Dear Mr. Friedland:
Please accept my belated thanks for your response.  It was indeed very helpful.  Sometimes we all need a gentle reminder of what is truly important when approaching the clarinet, as well as in life.
At rehearsal tonight, I played the Lyrique/Selmer HS* combo but with a slightly softer reed, and approached things a bit differently.  Thanks to your excellent guidance, I put ultimate loudness out of my mind, and simply played relaxed–striving for tonal focus, maximum resonance, and technical excellence rather than getting as much air through the horn as possible.  Once I did this, the Lyrique ‘did the work’–I could really feel the horn resonate in my hands, and it started to really sing.  Suddenly, with much less effort than I had been expending, my tone had that delightful ring that shimmered and sparkled over the rest of the ensemble.  It was quite a revelation.
Once again, thank you for your insightful guidance–and thank you so much for your past Clarinet Corner articles regarding the Lyrique clarinet.  I play almost exclusively in environments unfriendly to traditional wooden clarinets, and thought I’d have to invest thousands in a   greenline in order to have a truly pleasing instrument that I could play without worry. (No, not without worry. This instrument,made from fibres of grenadilla and carbon has been known to crack. frequently.In this case, you replace the joint. If it cracks at the joint, you are in deep doo-doo) Your articles opened my eyes to a most worthy, sensibly priced alternative.
Best Regards,
G G

Reeds for Beginning and Intermediate Students

February 14, 2011

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Would you speak to proper reed choice for beginning and intermediate
clarinet students? I’m interested to know if you share my thinking
that most teachers recommend reeds that are too soft (given a decent
“medium” mouthpiece), and this cause problems later on.

I routinely get students from the local band programs who come to me
playing 1 1/2 strength reeds on mouthpieces with medium tip openings,
Aside from very thin sound, most of these students have trouble with
squeaking, pitch, and register changes (typically with a strong habit
of trying to muscle the reed into hitting notes in the clarion from
below and in trying to get the “short tube” notes somewhat in tune),
not to mention articulation problems.

I start my beginning students with a 2 at minimum if they’re 10 years
old or younger, Over 12 years old, I start them with 2 3/4 and
sometimes 3s or stronger, depending on the individual, and I have had
little problem with students squeaking, being horribly out of tune,
having percussive articulation sounds, or having poor timbre–as long
as I consistently reinforce concepts of stable embouchure and
sufficient and constant breath support.

Intermediate students who come to me playing soft reeds I generally
bump up to 3.5s or stronger (on a “medium” mouthpiece, again), and
their improvement is nearly instantaneous after they get used to
needing more breath support to get the reed vibrating. (They complain
that they’re “hard to blow,” but that generally doesn’t last further
than the first lesson.)

Within limits, for my own and my students’ playing, I’ve come to the
conclusion that the hardest reed one can reasonably handle that
accommodates one’s tonal concept is also the reed that is ultimately
is easiest to play and produces the best results with the least
effort, and that using too-soft reeds introduces more problems than it
alleviates.

What do you think?

Thanks for your reply

B M

Dear BM:

thank you for your interesting letter concerning reed strengths for younger and intermediate players. First, defining a medium mouthpiece opening with a medium reed,is difficult to ascertain, epecially since all of the above vary from one to another and certainly so indeed, do the students.

I would think that most would tend to agree with your idea of “ultimately” the easiest playing reed probably produces the best results with the least effort. All well and good.
Your conclusion is however, not necessarily true in all cases, especially these days where there are some very fine players who to play the most resistant reed they can make vibrate and continue to work with that principle.

All kinds of excellent players some to mind. I remember well, the playing of Manuel Valerio who played 2nd with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and First in the Boston Pops for several years in the 50s or 60s. He used the closest Selmer mouthpiece, I think it was called the A facing and he used to play on clipped #5 Van Dorens. When he played, I thought that his sound actually floated above the rest of the orchestra in a  shimmering edgeless quality that was difficult to describe, it was so beautiful. Here is a player who completely defies your conclusion, and in many ways, my own, which is somewhat similar.

I would have to add one more facet of your ideal reed, and that would be the ability to play the complete range of the clarinet with that same medium quality and medium mouthpiece. Why? Because you do not speak of the embouchure and its development along with the reed , and also the most important facet. The sound ideal, the particular sound which the student hears in his head, his model. Perhaps it is a recording of a clarinetist or of a clarinetist within an orchestra, or perhaps it is the first sounds you played for he or she in the first lesson. The first lesson or lessons can be absolutely huge for the student, especially the student who may have that special ability to hear and recreate,perhaps the sound that has driven him to study or the sounds that you first played for the student

I speak of my own experience, remembering my first lesson, and subsequent lessons on the instrument. I will never forget the first notes that I tried to play and those which my teacher played. His were shockingly beautiful, mine were , as I recall, simply shocking. Horrible squeaking and strange noises, ugly beyond anything imaginable. I left that first lesson vowing to myself that I would not squeak for the next lesson, no matter what else I did, I would not make those horrible noises.

Perhaps I was an average kid, perhaps more or less sensitive than the next kid. But that is the vow I made and kept for the next lesson. I couldn’t count, read music, couldn’t do anything else, but copy my teachers sound. That is why I absolutely insist that the student have someone who actually plays the clarinet, for a teacher. If one does not one can progress but without a sound to listen for and emulate, one can be at a disadvantage.

What I have said in general is that each and every student is different. They have different faces, eyes, ears and mouth and they will react more or less with sensitivity to those very first sounds,as did I and many more students. The teacher is the model, his sound is the very first thing the young student hears. Students more advanced, those who come to solve a problem, fix their staccato or change their sound, each is completely different. But the younger student is the most sensitive, some more than others, and their response to you, the teacher is the most important . My teacher played for me the most beautiful sound I have ever experienced, and I remember it to this day.

My favorite clarinetists of the past are Harold Wright, who played double lip embouchure and a medium reed on a medium mouthpiece, (but of course not just any) Gino Cioffi, also a double lip player who played a softer reed and was the most natural clarinetist.He played a crystal mouthpiece,with a medium tip opening. I did not like the quality that Drucker made for all those years with the NY Philharmonic, though I will always admire his quickness and receptivity to the conductor and the mood of the piece.Larry Combs is one of my admired players, simply clean correct and great for 30 years in Chicago. He started playing Eb in that orchestra, but worked his way into the principal position and distinguished himself as one of the very best . The fellow who plays first in Cleveland, Franklin Cohen supposedly uses very resistant reeds, yet his playing can be extremely beautiful and delicate. Marcellus of Cleveland was the most consistently excellent player of any orchestra during his time. Those days and times seemed to be the time of distinguished players of note. Nowadays, simply everybody plays beautifully. How they start out is most probably a varied story. Each can play and imagine and be sensitized to different aspects of the sound of the clarinet. So,as to my conclusion,it varies from student to student.

I hope this has been of some help.

best wishes,
sherman


Qustion from Dutch Clarinet Magazine (C Clarinet)

February 5, 2011

Dear mr. Friedland,

While searching the internet, I found your site. What a lot of interesting information is there to find!

I’m the editor of the Dutch Clarinet Magazine (from The Netherlands and Belgium) and in our two-monthly magazine we always have a small section in which one of our readers can ask a (clarinet) question. For the answer to the question we ask a professional teacher or clarinet specialist.
I would like to ask you to answer the next question.

“I recently found an c-clarinet which I like to play. What reeds are best for c-clarinets ( I can’t order c-clarinet reeds?). And what mouthpiece should I use?”

If it’s possible for you to answer these questions (in general) and you are willing to help us with it, please send the answer in an e-mail? We’ll translate it into Dutch. Of course we’ll have your name in the section and also a short cv (can take some information from the site?).

Hope to hear from you soon!

Yours sincerely,

Karin Vrieling

Dear Ms. Vreiling:

In response to the question concerning C clarinets and reeds for that instrument, I can answer that first, it depends upon the mouthpiece which fits on the instrument. I own and play a C and use the same mouthpiece as I do for the Bb clarinet. Most who do play this instrument use the Bb mouthpiece, which sounds as well, and makes the choice of reeds much simpler. One simply uses the same reeds as one uses for the Bb. If one has a smaller mouthpiece, the reed of choice will be an Eb clarinet reed.

There is virtually no difference in the quality of sound, or the response, however the Clarinet in C has a slightly more refined response than does the Bb, and there is no pitch differentiation. Playing the C clarinet is quite enjoyable , the repertoire being refreshing to both the ear and the fingers of the clarinetist. While most clarinetists can play parts written for C instrument at sight, (this technic is taught to all who pursue the instrument) playing on the C clarinet eliminates any possible transposition difficulties and one can play violin music at sight.

The only deviation to my response has to do with older models of the C clarinet which may require a slightly smaller mouthpiece. I owned one of these, an instrument made in the UK especially for younger players, called the Lyons Clarinet. It was made of all plastic parts, easily replaceable, was contained in a narrow round case and sounded lovely. I inquired of Mr Lyons of his instrument and he actually sent me one. It played beautifully, but required a smaller mouthpiece which was built to fit into the clarinet.

I later sent this instrument to William Ridenour, of Texas USA, who has designed some excellent clarinets made from hard rubber, including a C clarinet, but using the Bb mouthpiece. If you have to use a different mouthpiece,you must change, and usually have but one.If you play the C clarinet using the Bb mouthpiece, one is always prepared should the occasion arise.

I hope that this answers the question.

best wishes, sherman friedland