Thursday, April 25, 2013

Resonance Fingerings: A Clarinetist’s Best Friend

One of the most problematic aspects of clarinet playing is achieving an even, fluid timbre across the instrument’s range, through all dynamics and articulations. Barring extreme altissimo, the most unforgiving notes on the instrument are the throat tones – F, F#, G, Ab, A, and Bb. They tend to be weak, stuffy, out of tune, hard to project, and unpredictable from player to player.

Why do these specific notes give clarinetists everywhere headaches?

 photo clarinet2_zpsd768959e.jpgFirst of all, the body of the clarinet isn’t utilized as much as long-tube notes, therefore the the wood itself isn’t resonating fully, resulting in a smaller sound. Secondly, the register key is responsible for two functions–allow the clarinet to jump the 12th to achieve the higher octave, and provide an agile fingering for the throat Bb. The problem with this, however, is that these two functions clash against each other.

Ideally, the throat tone Bb key should be a bit higher, as it is on the alternate side key (which is a much better-sounding fingering), and the register vent should exist in 12 separate positions (one for every note)–but that is a completely different issue.

How does one combat the dreaded throat tones? 

By selectively adding fingers while playing the pitch, the nodes of the instrument can be emphasized, producing a fuller sound through a greater portion of the body. In addition, adding fingers usually addressed pitch issues. Commonly on Buffet clarinets where the throat tones are usually sharp, this is true, but in the case of my old Leblanc-Backun clarinets, the throat tones were flat to begin with! As with anything, results may vary.

Let's look at some fingerings (note, I didn't include F and F# because I don't personally resonate them):

 photo Eddie_1_zps80f12466.jpg   photo Eddie_2_zpse3d004a2.jpg  photo Eddie_3_zps671df7c6.jpg  photo Eddie_4_zpsc92ed19b.jpg

Try these and see if they work out. Chances are, since each instrument is unique, you will have to experiment a little to find the fingerings that work right for you.

Over time, your chosen resonance fingerings will become automatic and fluid, even at higher speeds. The result is a more unified sound across multiple registers.

Have a success story to share? Let us know in the comments box below!

Eddie Sundra is pursuing a degree in Clarinet Performance at Penn State. He teaches both clarinet and saxophone for The ZOEN. Sign up for a trial lesson today!

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