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With all the repertoire and exercises that normally need to be covered in studio teaching or personal practice, it can be hard to be motivated to practice auxiliary clarinets. This is especially true if you don’t have any upcoming performances that require E-flat or bass clarinet.
One of my favorite orchestral excerpt classes provided a potential solution to this issue - practicing excerpts and parts in quartets. Rather than each of us preparing one part, we came in as quartets and played excerpts from Till Eulenspiegel.
Since it isn’t uncommon for students in an established studio or university setting to participate in clarinet quartets or choirs, this is a great opportunity to introduce orchestral repertoire with a larger clarinet sections. It also may allow students who are not currently assigned E-flat clarinet in ensembles a chance at playing some important excerpts. In some ways, studying excerpts in this manner can be more beneficial than independent study, as it requires the student to deal with many of the intonation and ensemble challenges they would face in an orchestra. If you don’t have a few clarinetist around to create an impromptu orchestra section, this same idea can one applied to other woodwinds. I found it especially helpful to practice both my B-flat/A and E-flat clarinet excerpts with a colleague on flute and/or piccolo. (Daphnis was always a favorite for those practice sessions!)
Here’s a list of some ideas of clarinet parts to play through as a section/chamber ensemble: Mahler: Symphonies Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe 2nd Suite Shostakovich: Symphonies Strauss: Till Eulenspeigel, Alpine Symphony Stravinsky: The Firebird (1910), Rite of Spring Not sure where to get parts? Here are some places to start:
IMSLP Petrucci Music Library: public domain scores and parts. imslp.org
Luck’s Music Library: orchestral parts (sometimes with handy transposed parts) and scores for rent and purchase. lucksmusic.com
Search engines: why? Because you can often find common excerpts on links or lists through audition pages for orchestras or schools. This is great for pieces like Daphnis, where all of the parts are potential audition excerpts.University orchestra libraries: If you are in any way affiliated with a university music department, the orchestra library may be able to help you out. Orchestra librarians may be able to provide you with practice parts for excerpts, especially if you are a student or faculty member at that particular school.
Share your favorite clarinet section excerpts below!
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This month's post is inspired by my freelance performing over the past year or so. I spend most of my time teaching, and play in an orchestra about once a month during the regular concert season. Most of the time, this doesn't include E-flat clarinet. However, I have been called several times now as an emergency E-flat clarinetist on pieces like Roman Festivals, On the Town, and Shostakovich 10 - sometimes with only two days before the first rehearsal!
The plan for November was to talk about playing traditional band music... until I was called to play Shostakovich Symphony 10. If you've seen the woodwind parts for this pieces, you know the challenges: fast parts, awkward fingerings, lots of altissimo, lots of unison, and patterns that aren't really patterns (thanks for the enharmonics, Shostakovich...).
Since I had to basically drop some of my projects for a couple weeks, this month I'm sharing my process of preparing not only to play with a section I've never heard before, but play an extremely challenging part on E-flat clarinet.
My first and most important point: I could never have taken any of these gigs if I wasn't already consistently playing E-flat clarinet! If you want to gig on an auxiliary clarinet, practice it like you could be called to audition or perform at any time - it pays off when you actually get called.
Personal Practice
1. Have ALL THE REEDS.
When you're subbing with a group for the first time, you don't know what is feels like to play in the rehearsal and performance venues. If you break in a lot of reeds, you have options. Number the reeds, and try playing them in different spaces if possible. Know how it feels to play different passages of the piece(s) on different reeds.
2. Know the part.
If you don't know what the piece sounds like, the first rehearsal won't be a good experience. Who plays when you have rests? When are you part of the clarinet section? When are you unison with the piccolo? Do you have solos or duos with anyone? Do you switch clarinets frequently?
3. Know when you have breaks.
Related to knowing the piece - as you listen to a recording, keep track of when you can turn pages, swab your instrument, etc...
4. Know when to breathe.
Do you need to stagger breathe with the other clarinetists? Are there standard places to breathe at the ends of phrases during your solo with the piccolo? Is there a place to breathe out and take in fresh air during all the technical passages?
5. When do you need to be in tune, and when do you need to play all the notes?
In all honesty, these two things may not be 100% possible at the same time. Obviously you should do your best to achieve both! Sometimes the continuity of the line (in fast passages) will be more important than tuning a single sixteenth note. Other times, you need to deal with possibly awkward and challenging fingerings because intonation is essential. Save your energy for these spots!
Also: ALWAYS practice intonation with a drone. The needle on the tuner won't help you in a full orchestra. Learning to hear intervals will.
6. Know how to select fingerings.
Related to tuning vs technique - sometimes you need to use a really strange fingering to be in tune, and sometimes you need to use a cheat/fake fingering to play a technical passage at tempo. For more in-depth discussion on fingering choices, check out a previous post on altissimo and alternate fingerings.
Rehearsal
1. Make friends with the piccolo player (and the other woodwinds too).
This can make rehearsal infinitely more pleasant. If you make it clear that you're willing to work together to make the best possible music, people are less likely to blame any and all intonation issues on you.
2. Have several working reeds out, and rotate when you can.
Fantastic reeds in rehearsal don't do you any good if they're dead by the time of the concert!
3. Remember your stands, and know which ones work best for E-flat clarinet.
This may seem like a weird tip. However... I actually had a problem once where my E-flat was suctioned to my stand (a standard K&M collapsable stand). I fixed that by wrapping part of the stand in masking tape. Added bonus - I could find my stand easily in pits for operas and musicals.
4. Mark all sections with questionable intonation.
Double check your pitch tendencies in the phrase you've marked before next rehearsal, and ask to play with someone before rehearsal starts if its a duet or exposed woodwind section.
Performance
1. Still have ALL THE REEDS.
Or at least all the good ones. Try to keep yourself from switching reeds during the piece if possible though - sometimes switching reeds can be worse than a minor problem that develops over the course of a long piece. If you really need to switch, make sure you do so before a tutti section.
2. Play out.
You've practiced the parts and you know your intonation tendencies. Backing off in order to listen can be intonation death at this point.
3. Swab.
Water can cause all sorts of problems. Take advantage of those sections you marked when you were practicing.
4. Have fun!
Playing a demanding E-flat clarinet part can be an exhilarating experience! Enjoy it, because a lot of the big pieces don't come up too often. If you come prepared, you might convince a few people that they don't hate high clarinets after all...
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An E-flat clarinetist deals with a number of pitch inconsistencies inherent to the instrument, and similar to someone playing piccolo, often has to deal with these notes in a very exposed register. The way in which clarinetists treat these notes can often determine whether or not we feel like we're good at our instrument. Thus the common prejudice against E-flat clarinet - it can be difficult to play in tune!
Composers and arrangers often place the E-flat clarinet in the upper register. This means that we need to be very comfortable with altissimo in a variety of settings. Can you play at a strong dynamic without a piercing tone? Can you play softly while still matching the pitch of the ensemble? Most often we cannot achieve our best sound in a variety of settings using the same fingering.
If you have strong fundamentals (embouchure, air support, voicing), then alternate fingerings (and a good sense of pitch!) are all you need to be successful in the upper register.
Selecting a Fingering
So you know you have a problematic altissimo note - how will you choose the best fingering for your situation?
Know the context: What musical elements are the most important in this particular moment in the piece? Is this note going to be held out for a long time? Is it essential to play as soft as possible? Do you need something that responds immediately? Identifying your priorities with the note in question will help you in your fingering choice.
After you know what you need from your note, consider the following concepts when making your decision:
1. Technical Facility
Can you get to this fingering easily? If you're playing something very smooth and connected, or something very fast, you need a fingering that works with the notes that come before and after. Keep in mind that sometimes a fingering can be too easy, causing us to rush!
2. Response
Different fingerings change the feeling of resistance you experience when playing. Often, putting down more fingers means that you can play "into" the note a bit more - it will be stable at strong dynamic levels and not easily overblown. Other fingerings may allow the note to come out quite easily - great for some softer dynamics and moments when you need to get an immediate response.
3. Tone
In some ways, the tone you get on a particular fingering may be related to the response. Notes that respond quickly and easily can sometimes be brighter in timbre and easy to overblow. Listen carefully to each of your fingering options and choose the fingering that allows you to match the surrounding notes and mood of the piece you are playing.
4. Intonation
Most often, tuning will be the most decisive factor in selecting a fingering. Due to fluctuations in intonation at different dynamics, make sure you are testing fingerings with the same air support and dynamic level required for that note in the music.
Venting and resonance fingerings: It is also worthwhile to learn the tendencies of your particular instrument, and how to correct them. Often, this requires added fingers in the throat tones to help tone quality and intonation.
I've included a chart with some of my most frequently used alternate fingerings. I highly recommend you write down your own favorites! Every instrument and clarinetist can have a different result with alternate fingerings, so figure out what works best for you, and always have several options.
Need a place to start writing down your fingerings? Click on the link below the blank chart to download a copy.
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Reeds: of all the equipment we have as clarinetists, reeds probably win the love/hate relationship award. I know clarinetists that could argue all day about how to break in, store, rotate, and care for reeds. In the end, it's always down to personal preference.
Personal preference in equipment is why variety is so important. Looking at several websites (Woodwind and Brasswind, Muncy Winds, Just for Winds, etc...), there are really only a handful of options when searching for E-flat clarinet reeds.
However, we have a new option - the D'Addario Reserve E-flat clarinet reed!
A few months ago, I was contacted by D'Addario to test their new E-flat reed. As someone that has played a wide variety of reeds over the past several years, I was really interested to try their reeds - especially since I have frequently preferred B-flat reeds on my E-flat clarinet. In this post, I'm going to share my experience testing the Reserve reeds, as well as some of my thoughts on the product - I hope all of you have a chance to try them!
One of my primary reasons for playing B-flat reeds on my E-flat clarinet is the actual size of the reed. Many E-flat reeds feel thin and a little narrow on my mouthpieces. The Reserve reeds are a bit wider at the tip, which I really like. As E-flat reeds, they are still thinner than most B-flat cuts. I was skeptical that they would provide me with the strong core feeling I like from my reeds, but I was pleasantly surprised after playing them.
My process for testing the reeds started out by breaking them in slowly for several days. I numbered both boxes of samples, and made a chart to keep track of the response and tone of each reed. This can be an extremely helpful tool as you break in any reeds, but I find it especially useful when I am experimenting with a new brand or cut of reed. In this case, I wanted to keep track of how each reed felt to play, along with my overall impressions of tone, dynamic control, articulation control, and response. I use letters to represent some qualities of the reed (H: hard, S: soft, F: fuzzy) and a check mark to represent reeds that have potential to be good enough for regular practice and performance.
Break-in process:
Day 1: I played each reed for about a minute - a couple long tones and scales, with nothing too high. No altissimo. Most of the reeds had a nice sound right out of the box, and even the reeds that were a little too hard weren't impossible to play.
Day 2: Similar to day one - two or three scales played slowly, without playing too high.
Day 3: Scales plus a few lines of finger exercises for each reed. Introducing some altissimo notes. The reeds stayed fairly consistent from my impression on the first day.
Day 4-5: I started playing small sections of pieces and excerpts. Some of the reeds felt a little softer at this point, but overall still fairly consistent. Most of the reeds continued to be very clear in response and articulations.
Day 6: This is the first time I will flatten any reeds that don't seem to be sealing. At this point, I'm starting to rotate the reeds into my regular practice.
After a week, I was fairly impressed with the Reserve reeds. I like the sound that I get on them, and the response was excellent (even on the harder, slightly buzzy reeds). I had similar results on my old Hawkins mouthpiece.
Here's a sample of me playing the Reserve reeds. I'm using a 3.5 strength on an M30 mouthpiece. I chose Till Eulenspiegel for the range and articulations, and Bolero for tone and control.
Overall impressions:
Given my general preference for B-flat reeds, I have to say that I really liked the Reserve E-flat reeds.
About half of the reeds were ever so slightly fuzzy on my setup, however they responded well and had a very consistent sound. The response is probably the highlight of this particular reed. I felt like I could articulate clearly in all registers with a secure and consistent tone. I played a variety of pieces and excerpts, and the reed did allow for some flexibility in tone color - necessary when so many E-flat parts require different characters and sounds!
On the best reeds, the sound was clear and strong, without being overly bright or piercing. The reeds held pitch in the upper register without any extra embouchure pressure, and responded well at different dynamics.
I believe the Reserve reeds are a great option for E-flat clarinetists! If you have any additional questions about my experience playing the reeds, please comment here or contact me through the website or the E-Flat Clarinet Project facebook page.
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Upcoming blog posts will be delayed by at least a few days as the storm passes through Florida and the southeast. My home studio space will be housing friends from Florida, and many of us in the southeast will be preparing for potential tropical storm conditions.
One thing I love about music is the wonderful people you discover. So many of us are traveling to stay with friends or opening our homes - musicians we have gotten to know through trips, rehearsals, performances, festivals... These relationships and experiences are what makes practicing worthwhile. I'm glad my practice space can provide shelter to at least a few people I am lucky enough to call friends!
I hope everyone in the path of this storm stays safe as possible!
- Jennifer Fraley
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eflatclarinetproject by Jennifer Fraley - 1w ago
Happy August! For many of us, August means a return to school as a teacher or a student and the start of the regular concert season.
As we all prepare for auditions, ensembles, solo recitals, and more, it can be easy to bury ourselves in the notes and leave the basics of good playing to chance. I'm personally just getting over bronchitis while simultaneously preparing for the upcoming academic year. As I've slowly started practicing again, it has been tempting to dive into all the pieces on my stand and try to make up for lost time! As a result, I've been thinking a lot about how to incorporate all of the basics of good clarinet playing into my shortened (and often coughing-fit filled) practice sessions.
Though I practice E-flat clarinet regularly, especially with recording projects looming on the horizon, my first responsibility needs to be to my B-flat and A clarinets. Daily teaching, the upcoming orchestral season, and various other performances dictate that most of my warm up be done on my primary set of clarinets. It is important that I not just learn my E-flat music though - I need to maintain I high level of proficiency on the instrument itself. I'm sure many of you find yourselves in similar situations. So how do we make sure that we know our instruments when the scores pile up and we're short on time?
E-flat Clarinet Exercises for Abbreviated Warm-up Sessions
On days when I have less time than I'd like to dedicate to practice, these two exercises are some of the most common in my E-flat clarinet routine.
Exercise 1: Five Note Scale with Dynamic Changes
Uses: Breathing, Tone, Dynamics
For this particular exercise, I really focus on playing slowly and using my air. For students that are not quite ready to maintain air support at very soft dynamics, this exercise should be done starting and ending at a mezzo piano level. Repeat the exercise in an ascending F Major scale by starting on the last note of the previous set. (So the third set of this exercise would be as follows: G, A, Bb, C, D)
Try to avoid bumps in the sound as you ascend the scale by keeping the air stream consistent and using smooth finger motion. I've found this to be a fantastic alternative to basic long tones for students that have trouble focusing on one note at a time.
Exercise 2: Five and Nine Note Scale Pattern
Uses: Finger Technique, Articulation
I love doing this exercise when I need to get my fingers and embouchure ready for E-flat clarinet playing after a full day of B-flat clarinet! By working through both a five-note and nine-note version of the scales, you have the opportunity to work on tricky fingerings, and even work in alternate fingerings. The repetition of the scale also allows for a variety of articulations - you can change them to fit your particular articulation needs and skills. (For example, a student working on tonguing would probably be more successful starting with legato tonguing on the second five-note scale, rather than playing staccato.)
It is important to get a strong sound on the first note of every group. Often, our first note dictates the stability of our air and sound - I've noticed that students that don't have a strong first note frequently fight for a good sound and air support the rest of the way through a scale. Blowing through to the ninth note of the scale will also help maintain proper support, thus the tenuto marking as a reminder. Repeat this exercise by playing each scale until you reach the top of your range. If you are working on extending your altissimo, always try to go a note or two higher than you're comfortable playing in performance - just remember to maintain a good embouchure and proper air support!
Hopefully this inspires you to find some good warm-up exercises of your own! Do you have any favorites? Share with us in the comments!
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It's almost time for ClarinetFest! Unfortunately, I won't be attending this year, but many of you will!
ClarinetFest is always a great opportunity to discover new repertoire, products, and performers. Please share any E-flat clarinet music, performances, and products with us! You can share information through The E-flat Clarinet Project Facebook page, the contact page, or our email (eflatclarinetproject@gmail.com)
Have some great E-flat clarinet pictures from ClarinetFest? Tag us on Instagram with #eflatclarinetproject
Posts from the conference will be featured on the blog!
ClarinetFest 2017 Events Featuring E-flat Clarinet
The following is a list compiled from the ClarinetFest 2017 program book. These are the events that include E-flat clarinet (and D clarinet) in solo and small ensemble settings. Specific pieces that are outside of quartet and clarinet choir music have been included. Be sure to check out additional quartet and clarinet choir performances throughout the conference!
Wednesday, July 26
2:30pm Mostly Quartets Recital
Thursday, July 27
8:30am Potpourri Recital
Amicitia Suite (premiere -2017)
by Scott McAllister
Diane Barger, E-flat clarinet
Denise Gainey, B-flat clarinet
Dale Williams, piano
3:30pm Clarinet Quartets
8:00pm The Ritz Chamber Players String Quartet and Soloists
Concerto No 1 in A Major for D Clarinet
by Johann Melchior Molter
Catherine Wood, D clarinet
Scott Watkins, harpsicord
Friday, July 28
1:00pm Shared Recital
Five Dances for Five Clarinets: A Suite for the Clarinet Family
by Alfred Reed
Hoe-down (for E-flat clarinet)
Keith Northover, clarinets
Flatteries (premiere)
by Jiri Gemrot
Jacques Merrer, E-flat clarinet
Ritz Chamber Players
Sonate pour Trois Clarinettes, op. 35 (1933)
by Marcel Mihalovici
Elizabeth Crawford, E-flat clarinet
Peter Wright, A clarinet
Tod Kerstetter, Bass clarinet
3:00pm Clarinet Quartets
4:30pm The University of Florida Percussion Ensemble
Evolution 2.0 – the eternal seven days
by Matthias Müller
Matthias Müller, SABRE clarinets (B-flat, E-flat, bass)
Saturday, July 29
2:30pm Small Ensembles Recital
Happy ClarinetFest, clarinetists!
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eflatclarinetproject by Jennifer Fraley - 1w ago
Did anyone else think they were really horrible at E-flat clarinet when they first started playing it?
I know I did.
Things definitely improved when I started playing a better instrument and mouthpiece. But the biggest change for me was when I tried some different reeds: B-flat reeds.
Reeds for E-flat Clarinet
Video: E-flat vs. B-flat reeds, How to cut a B-flat clarinet reed to fit an E-flat clarinet
Reeds for E-flat clarinet should be chosen in the same way you would select a reed for your B-flat clarinet. That means that not all brands, cuts, or strengths will work with your mouthpiece.
Try both E-flat clarinet and B-flat clarinet reeds. Even if you don't hear a major difference, one type may be more comfortable to play. Some players have had success with some of the German reeds (such as Vandoren Black Master).
If you don't have a barrel that accommodates a full B-flat reed, you will need to cut the reed to fit. Never tried it? Here's how to do it....
Cutting B-flat clarinet reeds (and saving your fingers)
First of all, make sure you are comfortable with all of your equipment. If you are a middle school or high school clarinetist, you should make sure its okay that you're using a knife before trying this!
Materials:
1. Pencil
2. Ruler/E-flat clarinet reed
3. Cutting mat
4. Utility knife, old reed knife (should still be moderately sharp though - blunt knives can be bad news!), or hobby saw
5. Heavy duty/utility scissors
6. File/sandpaper
7. B-flat clarinet reed to be cut
Step 1: Measure and mark your reed
B-flat clarinet reeds are about 2-5/8 inches long, while E-flat clarinet reeds are about 2-3/8 inches long. Using a ruler (or a sample E-flat clarinet reed) as a guide, make a pencil marking where you will cut the reed.
Step 2: Continue marking all sides of the reed
You'll need to score all sides of the reed, so make sure you continue the pencil line around to the back. This will get you a more even cut, which hopefully will prevent splintering.
Step 3: Score the reed
Using either a knife or a hobby saw, make a cut along the pencil marking. It is often easiest to make initial cuts on the sides, followed by the back of the reed, since the bark normally has an almost 'laminated' feel which is more difficult to cut. You are making a small groove which will act as a guide for the scissors.
***Though it might be cool to carry around a saw (unless you're at an airport), I personally prefer to use a knife. The saw can be a little difficult to handle until you get a groove in the reed. However, it can be helpful if the reed you are cutting is particularly thick near the heel.
Step 4: Cut the reed
Take the scissors and fit the blades into the groove you made in the previous step. If you've made the grooves deep enough, the reed should be fairly easy to cut. Be aware that sometimes the heel of the reed will split into pieces, which can sometimes go flying off your work surface.
Step 5: File the edge and back
If the bottom of the reed splintered, you may want to file it down. Otherwise, just make sure the back of the reed is flat - you don't want any bumps from the process interfering with the reed sitting flat on the facing of the mouthpiece.
Finished reed!
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There are so many elements involved in playing clarinet. We have books and exercises for most anything you can think of - breathing, fingerings, tonguing. Some of us are addicted to gear, always searching for the one element that will get us closer to that perfect sound.
Of course, there are more than just three things that will make any of us great clarinetists! Its easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of things we could be doing to improve, but there are some basics that can help simply the process when you are getting started with E-flat clarinet. When I first became serious about mastering the E-flat clarinet, these three things really made a difference in my playing.
1. A good reed/mouthpiece combination.
This seems obvious, but how many of us had a bad first experience with E-flat clarinet? I know mine wasn't great. You're given a school instrument (which may or may not be kept in good condition) with a borrowed mouthpiece. You either get reeds from the last person that played it or guess when ordering your own box.
Until the middle of my masters degree program, I thought I was pretty bad at the instrument. Then I tried a friend's mouthpiece and changed up my reeds. Suddenly the instrument became a clarinet (with all the intonation, tone, and fingering challenges, yes). But the problems were more manageable.
Actually try E-flat clarinet mouthpieces, just as you would when searching for a B-flat clarinet mouthpiece. You want to check for the same things - does the mouthpiece allow for you to comfortably play with the correct embouchure? Is your intonation good? Do you like the basic sound? The styles may not be the same - my B-flat and E-flat equipment definitely don't match - so keep an open mind. Try reeds intended for E-flat, but also try some B-flat reeds that have been cut to fit the smaller mouthpiece.
(Never tried it? More on E-flat reeds in a post coming soon!)
2. Tuner with a drone
This is essential!
One of musicians' biggest complaints about the E-flat clarinet is intonation. Most of us have had years of ensemble playing on B-flat clarinet prior to playing auxiliary instruments. Hopefully, that means we are used to our tuning tendencies, and are able to adjust as necessary to the tuning of the ensemble. If you are new to E-flat clarinet, you haven't built up familiarity with the instrument yet. Playing with a drone can help!
Playing an instrument while watching the needle on a tuner can be helpful if you are trying to chart intonation tendencies, but doesn't help so much when we play in a group. To learn how it feels to really play in tune with others, it is important to practice with a reference pitch. Learn how each interval sounds when it is in tune. Play scales with a drone on the tonic or dominant. Know how it feels to play in tune on E-flat clarinet throughout the full range of the instrument.
I'll have some sample exercises with a drone up by the end of the summer!
3. Creativity with fingerings
If you don't like exploring some uncharted areas of practicing, the E-flat clarinet might not be for you... this instrument can demand a bit of creativity when it comes to achieving the best results.
Certain ranges of the E-flat clarinet are fairly out of tune - normally the throat tones and the altissimo register. Obviously mouthpieces, reeds, and barrels can assist intonation, but what about the notes that are really out of tune?
If something is so off that you need to change the quality of your tone to bring it close to pitch, you probably need a different fingering. For example, I vent several throat tone notes by using the right hand trill keys. Depending on the dynamic, I don't always need to do this. However, I have taken the time to figure out what notes (or combinations of notes) need a bit of help on my particular clarinet.
Definitely make use of fingerings from other clarinetists! Peter Hadcock's Orchestral Studies for the E-flat Clarinet has some fingerings, as do numerous online clarinet forums and websites. Remember that your instrument might be different, so an amazing fingering for your friend might not be the best choice for you.
(Not sure where to start with altissimo fingerings? Try this alternate fingerings page from The Clarinet of the Twenty-First Century by E. Michael Richards.)
Basic message: don't expect to sound great right away! You need reliable equipment and some time learning how the E-flat clarinet responds. If you're an advanced player picking up E-flat clarinet for the first time, remember that while it is a clarinet, it is a different instrument from B-flat!
Do you have an essential for practicing E-flat clarinet, or a great fingering resource? Share in a comment below!
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Have you ever been called to play with a group, and then scrambled to pick up an auxiliary instrument? Most clarinetists I know would admit this has happened to them a few times. For some teachers working with high school students and younger, even getting called to play A clarinet can be a little uncomfortable!
Playing auxiliary clarinets can be very helpful in getting performance and teaching opportunities. Whether we like to admit or not, playing B-flat clarinet does not automatically mean we can pick up an E-flat or bass clarinet and sound our best. I learned this the hard way after a semester of playing only B-flat and E-flat. I got a last minute call to sub on a program that was entirely on A. While my playing wasn't bad, my voicing and intonation were points of anxiety during that first rehearsal - I just wasn't used to the small things that make me sound best on that particular clarinet.
Over the past few years, I've adapted a practice habit I used when playing a lot of big band gigs and musicals: instrument rotation.
Working rotation into your practice
Here are some guidelines to get started:
Take out everyinstrument you intend to practice!
This is especially important if you tend to procrastinate on additional practicing later in the day.
Start with the instrument that gives you the best basic embouchure and breathing warm-up. For me this is often the A clarinet. Bass clarinet is great for air, but the embouchure feels too loose for me. E-flat can encourage a tight embouchure and a shortened air stream.
Play your fundamentals: long tones, scales, octaves - whatever it is that provides a good, solid foundation for your playing in this practice session.
Switch to your next instrument. Identify the things that need to stay the same (i.e. good air support) and what you need to adjust (voicing, finger placement, etc...).
Find a short warm-up that works through the things you need to change.If I am switching to E-flat, maybe I play an arpeggio etude in order to get my fingers used to the keys and my voicing right for changes in register.
After doing a brief warm-up exercise on each instrument, continue to rotate based on a time interval. 15-20 minutes is normally good for me. You can practice solos, excerpts, ensembles parts, etudes - whatever gets you playing each instrument. Some orchestral parts may require you to make very quick instrument changes, which are always worth practicing! Notice how switching between horns feels.
A couple things about this method: This only works well if you have spent time with each instrument individually and have an established warm-up routine. If you have never played bass or E-flat clarinet before, put some time in doing basic fundamental exercises (tone, intonation, articulation) before starting a rotation routine. Also, don't get in the habit of always playing in the same order! Some instrument switches may be more or less comfortable for you.
Planning Practice Sessions
Obviously there are times when you won't need to practice multiple instruments. However, keeping up a few practice sessions a week that include instrument rotation can help you stay in shape for those random last minute opportunities!
Try organizing your practice in different ways and keep track of how effective you felt over the course of a few weeks. For example, I've found that switching to E-flat feels pretty easy, so I save that for later in the day. My morning warmups are on A and B-flat clarinet a few times a week, and may be heavier on one instrument depending on what performances I have scheduled. Find what works best for you!
Do you have a routine for practicing auxiliary clarinets? Comment below or tag @eflatclarinetproject / #eflatclarinetproject on Instagram!
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