Clarinet Altissimo Part IV: Octave Studies

In addition to providing a way to refine and extend the tone and technique in the altissimo register, octave exercises are excellent for increasing student proficiency in a number of other areas:

1) Creating smooth transfer over large intervals

2) Establishing accurate pitch discernment in all registers (intonation)

3) Reinforcement of the proper mechanical approach in all registers.

Students should start with one-octave exercises in the middle and low registers. Make sure to use a variety of articulations, rhythms, and dynamics, and work for a consistent and focused tone. It is also highly recommended that students use a tuner while performing octave exercises so that they become keenly aware of pitch tendencies. As beginning students are able, octave studies should be extended to at least C4 (High C above the staff). 

 

Exercise I: One Octave

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Exercise II: Two Octaves

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It is important to alternate the starting position of these exercises. Students frequently have more difficulty starting on the upper note.

 

Exercise III: Two Octave Altered

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Exercise IV: Three Octaves

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Exercise V: Three Octaves - Altered

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Clarinet Altissimo Part III: Exercises

EXERCISES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CLARINET ALTISSIMO

Proper execution of register shifts throughout the range of the clarinet is very similar to the daily lip slur exercises and warm-ups used by brass students and professionals. Clarinetists must · practice their own type of warm-up exercises aimed at achieving the correct voicing. But what exactly is voicing?

Voicing is the correct physical maneuvering of the tongue, breath, embouchure, and oral cavity to produce appropriate tone and response in the various registers of the clarinet.

As mentioned previously, voicing involves many of the same elements that brass instrumentalists incorporate when playing in the upper register:

  • Appropriate embouchure

  • Tongue position: Think "AAHH" in the low register and "EEEE" in the upper register.

  • Maintain an open and relaxed throat and oral cavity and throat possible. Have students yawn to give the sensation of a relaxed throat. Work toward this feeling when playing the instrument. A good way to allow students to feel this sensation is by saying 'AAHH'. 

  • As you ascend in range there must be an increase in the airspeed while raising the tongue to the 'EEE' position. 

Time spent gaining skill, flexibility, and consistency with regard to elements of voicing will result in positive upper register performance. Furthermore, overall tone quality and intonation throughout the instrument will improve once voicing mastery has been attained.

 

Exercise I: Register Slurs With And Without The Register Key

The first exercise for upper register development should be the register slur. Examples of register slurs can be found in any beginning band method book. The clarinet (since it produces only odd harmonics in the overtone series) overblows the 12th when the register key is added. Other wind instruments such as the oboe, flute, and saxophone overblow the octave. Examples of register slurs are found on the exercise handout.

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1. Work the register slur exercise all the way up to the high C. Listen for tone quality, smoothness of register exchange, and consistency of timbre.

2. Next, experiment with removing the register key

3. Once the register slur exercise is comfortable and consistent, students should perform the exercise again; this time, however, students should release the register key after the upper note has been reached. The goal is to maintain the upper note with the lower note fingering. Do this up to the high C.

4. There will be a slight lowering of pitch when the register key is deactivated.

If students have problems producing the upper note without the aid of the register key, check the following reminders. It is probable that one of these areas needs improvement.

 

Reminders for upper register production

  • Firm (not tense) embouchure

  • High voicing →  lifted tongue by using the syllable "EEE"

  • Open throat and oral cavity → create space by saying the syllable ‘AHH’

  • Fast, consistent airspeed (always)

 

Exercise II: Descending Passages Without The Register Key

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  1. Execute a register slur from thumb F to high C. Remove the register key and maintain high C.

  2. Repeat the above sequence; once the high C is clearly produced without the aid of the register key descend by a half-step to B natural (slur). Return to the high C.

  3. Repeat the above sequence; continue to add tones in the C Major scale and the Chromatic scale.

  4. Work to descend to long C without the aid of the register key. Strive to maintain high voicing and fast air. A drop in the voicing will cause the pitch to fall the interval of a 12th.

  5. For an added challenge students can repeat the above exercise with simple tonguing patterns. Be careful to keep the tongue motion at a minimum so as to avoid the pitch slide of the 12th- Think Tip-to-Tip: Tip of the tongue touching the tip of the reed.

 

Exercise III:  Pitch Bends

  1. Articulate a high C and hold the note with a pure tone quality.

  2. Articulate and sustain a high C. After four counts, voice the note down a half step.

  3. Articulate and sustain a high C; after four counts voice the note down a half step, and then voice the note back to the original C.

  4. Repeat the above sequence with B natural as the starting note.

  5. Repeat the above sequence with B-flat as the starting note. Continue this exercise in a descending fashion through the notes of the C chromatic scale.

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After the student has achieved success with the half-step pitch bends, repeat the above exercise with an ever-increasing interval. That is, bend the pitch a whole step, a minor third, a major third, etc.

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As the distance from the sound source (reed) is increased, pitch flexibility is decreased. This means that it becomes increasingly difficult to bend the pitch as you move toward long C2.

 

Exercise IV: Voicing The Major 6th

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  1. Start on fourth-space E in the treble clef and produce a full, pure sound.

  2. Repeat the first step; once the sound is acceptable, remove the first finger on the left hand. This finger movement should cause the pitch to raise a major sixth to C-sharp. The first finger of the left-hand acts as a second register key bridging the clarion and altissimo registers.

In order to produce a C-sharp the tongue lifts, the airspeed increases, and the oral cavity and throat remain relaxed.

  1. Repeat steps one and two of this sequence; once the high C-sharp is focused and controlled, add the first finger on the left hand. Keep the voicing high so that the pitch remains a C­sharp.

  2. Repeat the above sequence with a starting note F-natural.

  3. Repeat the above sequence with a starting note F-sharp. Continue to ascend chromatically to high C-natural.

As you ascend toward the high C, the major 6th will become increasingly flat.

  1. Next, eliminate the intermediate step of lifting the first finger of the left hand. Start on the fourth-space E and then produce the C-sharp with a high voicing.

  2. Continue up the scale chromatically.

  3. Repeat steps 6 and 7 in the above sequence with a variety of rhythmic and tonguing patterns

For increased practice in the upper register, students should fill in the notes of the chromatic scale between the bottom note and the 6th above.

 

Exercise V: Voicing the 6th and the 9th

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  1. Once security is gained with the Major 6th voicing exercise, students should begin working on the next voicing-the Major 9th.

  2. Strive to keep the embouchure firm, but not tight. Excessive tension in the lips and pressure from the lower jaw and chin might cause the upper note to speak; however, the sound and pitch will not be desirable. Allow the voicing mechanism and air do the work.

For increased practice in the upper register, students should fill in ·the notes of the major scale with the added supertonic. In addition, play the chromatic scale.

 

Exercise VI: Disguised Repitition

At this point, it is necessary to draw attention to one of the most important pedagogical aspects of fine altissimo production-REPETITION! The teacher must take every opportunity to require students to spend considerable time practicing in the upper register. In terms of pedagogy, the fine teacher is a master of disguised repetition. That is, doing the same thing over and over while altering one small variable with each new repetition. For instance, the above scales would be played with a variety of articulation patterns, dynamics, rhythmic values, speeds, and styles. They would be played standing up, sitting down, walking, standing still, in the dark, eyes closed, eyes opened. Anything the teacher can do to change the task or environment slightly while requiring the student to complete the same basic task is highly desirable. The teacher must not tire in assigning the same essential exercise, and they must be endlessly creative in altering and disguising this fundamental task so that it becomes new and challenging for the student. Only through countless repetitions will the mechanical and physical aspects of upper register production become cemented into the student's long-term physical and intellectual memory, allowing for fluency, security, and artistic expression in this area of the instrument.

 

Exercise VII: Glissando

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In addition to being a common production technique for much commercial and jazz music, the glissando is also a necessary technique for the classical artist.

Furthermore, the process by which the glissando is learned and mastered benefits the development of voicing skill and proficiency.

  1. Repeat steps one through three from the pitch bend exercises. This time, however, start on high B2 natural.

  2. Once you have voiced the high B down a half step, slide the first finger off the key. After you have successfully removed the first finger from the key, voice the note up to a strong high C3.

  3. Repeat the above process starting on high A. Continue to move the starting note down successive.

It is important to keep the voicing low while sliding the fingers off the keys. It is also important to use a strong, fast airspeed while sliding fingers off the keys.

 

Exercise VIII: Bugle Calls

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There are many variations on the following exercise, and the creative student will use this example only as a starting point. I find these "bugle calls" to be very engaging for younger students. However, more advanced students benefit greatly from these workouts as well. In addition, there are a number of contemporary pieces in the solo repertoire that incorporate these and similar techniques.

  1. Using the calf of the leg as a mute, finger a low E and blow. The resultant pitch should be an F-sharp.

  2. Experiment with the voicing and the amount of muting pressure until you can produce the notes in a B Major arpeggio with the single low E fingering.

  3. Use the above example as a starting point for experimenting with this technique. 

  4. The above sequence also works for the· low F and low F-sharp fingerings.

 

 

 

Clarinet Altissimo Part II: Equipment

As an advancing clarinetist, having a comfortable, quality setup will provide you with the freedom of flexibility, ease, and expression over time. Likewise, a good setup will provide you with much greater ease when navigating the altissimo registers of the clarinet. Below are some suggestions that can help strengthen anyone's setup. 

 

MOUTHPIECE

Many beginner instruments come with inadequate mouthpieces. The mouthpiece is usually made of a low-quality plastic and has a facing which is either too closed or too open, and is at high risk of chipping and breaking. Students should be playing hard rubber mouthpieces with a medium facing. A good mouthpiece will improve the tone quality, articulation, response, and overall intonation of the performance. In addition, a quality mouthpiece helps students develop strong and consistent breath support. 

For perspective, think of the clarinet like the anatomy of an automobile. The car (or the clarinet) can't function without a good working engine (the mouthpiece). Both parts must work in harmony in order to achieve musical success. 

These mouthpieces are excellent for the beginning or intermediate student wishing to take the next step in their clarinet setup and can be found at most local music stores and online retailers:

 

REEDS

In order to successfully ensure progress and development, it is essential that reed strength issues are addressed at an early age. Generally speaking, a reed that is too soft allows the student to produce a tone on the clarinet despite a poor embouchure. If allowed to go uncorrected, students will continue to practice a poor embouchure and it becomes extremely difficult to correct later on.

Furthermore, a soft reed requires almost no breath support from the student (at least in the middle and low notes of the instrument), This leads to the development of poor breathing mechanics and collectively creates fundamental hurdles that will make other aspects of playing much more challenging. Going back to our car analogy, if our mouthpiece is acting as the motor, we can think of the reed as the key that makes everything work. 

Many young students assume that a harder reed is better, or, that reed strength must be increased as time goes on. These misconceptions are incorrect and will only lead to higher levels of resistance (and frustration!) ALWAYS use reeds that are compatible with your mouthpiece. If it feels too stuffy, try a half step down and vice versa. 

I suggest that beginners start on a size 2 ½ reed and quickly move to a size 3 reed towards the end of their first year of playing. After the initial fuzziness of sound goes away, students will be well on their way to establishing a stronger embouchure and stronger breath support. Additionally, the upper register will be much easier to master if there is substantial strength in the reed. Remember: Just like athletes, musicians also have to maintain a dedicated, consistent approach to playing any instrument well.

As an advancing performer, I believe that your most important job is to make sure that you are practicing correct technique each day. While some days are better (or worse) than others, with time you will discover that your technique will be become second nature, allowing you to focus your energy on creating a powerful musical statement. 

These reeds are excellent choices for the beginning or intermediate student wishing to invest in their setup and can be found at most local music stores or online retailers:

 

LIGATURE

Coupled with the mouthpiece and the reed, a quality ligature will provide greater flexibility, dynamic range, and freedom of resistance. Similar to most clarinet equipment, ligatures are completely relative to the performer's needs and preferences. After many years of trying state-of-the-art products, I have settled on the idea that if it works for you, then use it! While there are many options available, my best recommendation is to find something that is durable and provides you with equal parts flexibility and resistance. For the younger student, I recommend starting with a 'one screw' ligature--these provide a simpler 'setup' process and last a very long time. Metal ligatures run the risk of breaking reeds if placed on the mouthpiece/reed incorrectly.

With a quality mouthpiece, reed, and ligature, you will find that the possibilities for finding your musical voice will blossom. Even without a professional grade clarinet, having a mouthpiece setup that works for you will allow you to play within the altissimo range with greater ease and confidence. (Confidence being the key word!)

These ligatures are excellent choices for the beginning or intermediate student wishing to invest in their setup and can be found at most local music stores:

 

Happy practicing!

-Vince

 

Clarinet Altissimo Part I: Embouchure

The altissimo, or upper register of the clarinet can be a mystery to both music educators and clarinet students alike. Similarly, it is not uncommon for students who have been studying for several years to express uncertainty, apprehension, and downright fear when they see the notes on the page moving above the staff. Not surprising, students who are fearful when approaching the upper registers of the instrument will most likely possess a tone quality and technique that is undeveloped and lacks confidence. 

 

Equally important, if an entire clarinet section is uncomfortable playing in the upper register, the repertoire that is accessible to the band (or orchestra) is significantly limited. This situation negatively impacts the variety and quality of educational opportunities you can offer your students. In other words, the inability of the clarinet section's range can adversely affect the entire instrumental curriculum.

 

Examples of the technical limitations caused by a poor clarinet upper register:

  • Slow tongue speed and poor tongue flexibility

  • Inconsistent intonation 

  • Lack of tone quality

  • General fatigue issues


Examples of the repertoire limitations caused by a poor clarinet upper register:

  • The ensemble will not be able to perform upper-level transcriptions of orchestral works

  • The ensemble will not be able to successfully perform many standard marches by Sousa, Fillmore, and King since these composers commonly composed for the clarinet in the upper registers (similar to violins in an orchestra.

  • Clarinet players will not be able to successfully perform many standard works found in the repe1ioire as they advance into high school and beyond.

  • As a clarinetist in today’s ever-evolving world of composition, composers are now commonly writing in the altissimo register, so it is crucial that students begin to discover and become comfortable with the altissimo register at an early age.

If a methodical, systematic, and consistent approach toward altissimo development is followed, tone quality will improve in the upper register, students will play with more confidence, and the overall musical experience of both the individual and the ensemble will be greatly enhanced.


So, where do we start? In order to become proficient in the upper register, some basic fundamentals must be in place.

 

EMBOUCHURE

The basic fundamentals for a solid clarinet embouchure can be remembered using the acronym TLC2 (TLC Squared).

  • Teeth

    • The top teeth are on the mouthpiece

    • The bottom teeth are covered by the lower lip

  • Lips

    • The top lip is pulled firmly against the top teeth and the top of the mouthpiece

    • The bottom lip is curled over the lower teeth, acting as a cushion against the reed 

  • Cheeks

    • The cheeks are pulled inward in a firm manner-not overly tight.

  • Chin

    • The chin is extended down

    • Work for a slightly concave surface in the area between the lower lip and the tip of the chin

 

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Remember that the pressure around the mouthpiece should be equally distributed throughout the embouchure, similar to that way a drawstring pulls evenly as it closes around the opening of a drawstring backpack (see image to the right). Too much pressure from the upper or lower lip, the jaw, the cheeks, or any other part of the embouchure will negatively affect the clarinet sound.

 

Without a properly functioning embouchure, execution of the upper register will be extraordinarily difficult for junior high to advanced students. For this reasons, great care should be taken when teaching the basic embouchure.

To learn more, stay tuned for Clarinet Altissimo Part II: Equipment. 

Happy practicing!

Vince

 

 

 

 

 

Five Essentials for the Beginning Clarinetist

For the beginning clarinetist, gaining technical independence is a collective journey of determination, hard work, and consistent practice. These five essentials can help any developing clarinetist or music educator understand the foundations of clarinet pedagogy.

Use these tips as a basis for teaching, but note that they are simply a brief 'checklist' for covering the basics. For any questions relating to these tips, feel free to send me a message. Happy practicing!

 

1. CLARINET EMBOUCHURE

The formation of the embouchure is critical in the development of a beautiful clarinet tone and technique. Consistent care should be taken to ensure that the following aspects of embouchure formation are addressed and practiced each day.

Teeth

  • The upper teeth are placed firmly on the mouthpiece.

  • The lower teeth are covered by a small amount of the lower lip.

Lips

  • The lips should be drawn around the mouthpiece in much the same way that a drawstring tightens a duffel bag.

  • Try to avoid independent pressure from either the upper or lower lips. Instead, the pressure should be distributed evenly around the mouth.

Cheeks

  • The cheeks should be pulled in toward the corners of the mouth.

  • Puffed cheeks will result in a flat and unfocused sound, while overly stretched and tense cheeks will result in a constricted and pinched tone quality.

Chin

  • The chin should be pulled straight down and pointed toward the floor. It should be firm, but not overly tight or tense.

  • If this is difficult to communicate to your student, this step can be accomplished the same way as blowing air into a coke bottle or drinking through a straw.

 

2. BREATH SUPPORT

The developing clarinetist must spend considerable time and energy working to develop mature breath support.

Relax

  • The head, neck, shoulders, chest, and arms should remain relaxed at all times during the inhalation and exhalation process:

Stomach

  • Feel your stomach expand outward when you inhale and contract inward when you exhale.

Warm Air

  • Create a warm, focused air when you blow through the instrument. Avoid shallow, huffing gasps of breath.

Capacity

  • Work to use all your air before you take your next breath.

  • Doing so will increase your capacity and help you create longer, more expressive phrases during performance situations with time.

 

3. HAND POSITION

  • The hands should be placed on the instrument in a very relaxed manner.

  • Any tension due to exaggerated finger arching, finger flattening, or improper angle of the instrument will result in diminished finger technique.

  • Practice creating a relaxed hand position by relaxing your arms at your side. Next, left your hand and create a relaxed letter “C” with your hand, making sure that the fingers are relaxed and curved.

 

4. DAILY PRACTICE

Consistent and careful daily practice is the single most important ingredient to becoming a fine clarinetist. Practice sessions should include the following:

Tone and Breathing Exercises

  • This includes long tones, range exercises, volume (dynamics) exercises, and work with a tuner for pitch accuracy.

Technical Facility Exercises

  • Major and minor scales, thirds, chromatics, arpeggios, and more as desired.

  • Single and multiple articulation studies should be practiced for precision, accuracy, and speed. Quality over quantity, always!

Musicality and Expressiveness

  • Etudes, exercises, and solo literature.

 

5. EQUIPMENT

Maintenance of your equipment is a must in order to ensure peak performance.

Cleaning

  • Always swab the instrument after you complete a practice session. During long rehearsals it may be necessary to swab frequently, especially if the room is cold.

Reeds

  • Don't depend on only one reed!

  • Always have at least four reeds ready to go at any one time.

  • Also, make sure you store your reeds in the proper manner.

Mouthpiece

  • Mouthpieces come in a variety of sizes and styles.

  • Work with your teacher to find a mouthpiece that offers the following: warm tone quality, flexibility in all ranges, accurate intonation, and ease of articulation.

  • Additionally, the mouthpiece should be reed friendly.

  • Never play on reeds that do not work well with your mouthpiece! Harder reeds do not equate to a higher level of performance!

Case

  • Make sure your case is in good condition.

  • Many instrument repairs can be traced to worn out cases.

 

 

 

Hello!

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Hello! 

My name is Vince and welcome to my little corner of the digital universe! I'm a musician, educator, and visual creative, currently based in Phoenix, AZ. Over the years, as life would have it, I've taken some unexpected career paths that have ultimately allowed me to become a well-rounded, adaptable musician.

In today's ever-changing world, I believe that it is more important than ever to realize one's creative potential for the sake of being readily adaptable. 

From my own experiences, someimes gigging and teaching alone sometimes aren't enough to be sustainable, so it is with great excitement that I launch my online journal today. With a substantial background in both music and visual creativity, this platform will serve as a source of knowledge, providing posts focused on performance, pedagogy, marketing knowledge, and visual creativity. Looking ahead, I hope that this space can become an outlet for dialogue and the exchange of ideas over time within the music and creative communities alike. 

On the horizon, be on the lookout for my first journal entry in the days ahead--and in case there are any topics that you would like me to talk about, I'm always open to suggestions! 

Cheers and happy practicing!

Vince