HOW TO TEACH AND LEARN CHARACTERISTIC CLARINET TONE
Normally instructions concerning clarinet tone production concentrate exclusively on the cosmetic aspects of clarinet embouchure. But embouchure is only one component of the clarinet's tone production system, the parts of which are interdependent. As a consequence, learning tone production on the clarinet involves understanding how the whole system works together and putting it into practice.
THE TONE PRODUCTION SYSTEM:
There are two elements which work together to generate the clarinet tone: The air column and the reed. There are two elements which work together to control the clarinet tone: the tongue and the embouchure.
DEVELOPING TONAL CONCEPT
Thought must precede action. Thought, once put into action, bears the fruit of understanding. Understanding then directs subsequent action towards a more perfect concrete realization of the ideal held in the mind. This creative reciprocity between thought and action is the dynamic process at work where ever there is true learning. Therefore, before we talk about these tone production elements let's talk about our goal; producing a characteristic clarinet tone. Just what is a characteristic clarinet tone?
AIR STREAM AND TONGUE POSITION (VOICING)
The air stream for the clarinet tone needs to be very concentrated. Sometimes this is referred to as "cold air". What this means is that the air stream is a small, narrow, fast moving stream of air rather than a slow, (warm), broad one. Two things aid in the production of the concentration in the air needed for characteristic clarinet tone: blowing properly and effectively shaping and
Most players, once they have taken is a good breath, squeeze the air out by contracting their stomachs, much like a tooth paste tube is squeezed. This method of blowing does not produce the proper compression needed for the clarinet. The best approach is to blow in such a way that the air is concentrated in the body much like material is concentrated in an aerosol can.
Here's how to do it:
PROPER TONGUE POSITION
The proper shaping and directing is done by using the tongue to shape and direct the air. This is done by playing the clarinet with what is called a high tongue position. It is easy to find this position. Simply place your tongue where it would be as if you were beginning to say the word "Key",
Now that we understand how to energize and direct the air (our fuel for the sound) by proper blowing and voicing techniques let's see how we can best control the reed (our vehicle for the sound).
1. Open the teeth and lips slightly about the some amount you do when sipping soda from a straw. Notice in doing this that the jaw drops into the position it would be if you were saying the word "oh", or "go".
2. Place the tip of the mouthpiece/reed wedge loosely into the small embouchure opening of the lips and blow air freely through the clarinet without any sound.
3. Next, snug the mouthpiece/reed wedge a bit further into the mouth so that a sound appears. DO NOT CLOSE THE JAW ON TO THE MOUTHPIECE. At this point the sound may be very "unfocused" and flat. This is good, because the flatness indicates that your jaw is in an open position.
4. Next, make the lips firm to resist even more snugging of the mouthpiece into the mouth as you simultaneously move your tongue from the "O" position to the high/back "Key" position discussed earlier. (IMPORTANT: Keep the jaw in the "O" position at all times!) The snugging of the mouthpiece/reed wedge done simultaneously with the lifting of the tongue will center and clarify the sound and raise the pitch to the level it should be. (Notice that this high/back tongue position causes the chin muscles to stretch down into a point and pull flat and taut against the jaw bone. The action of the chin will greatly assist the lower lip to both cushion and resist the upward/inward snugging movement of the reed/mouthpiece wedge.) This approach is the "friction" method of reed control and is far superior to the "clamp" or biting method of reed control which results when the reed is controlled by the closure of the jaw.
PROPER RESULTS AND TROUBLE SHOOTING
As you snug the reed/mouthpiece wedge and increase the air pressure the tone will become clearer, more centered and higher in pitch. If, after a certain point, the tone seems to begin to spread or get lower in pitch you have probably
WARNING: DON'T BITE!!!!!
One important thing it keep in mind is NEVER to close or bite with the jaw. The jaw should be kept in a fixed, open, stable position once it creates the embouchure opening. Reed control pressure should always be achieved by snugging the reed/mouthpiece wedge firmly against the lips, not by closing
If this material is properly understood and practiced the clarinetist will be well on his way to developing a beautiful, truly characteristic clarinet tone.