Clarinet Altissimo Part III: Exercises


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.


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

  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.


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.


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

  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

  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


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


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.