Klarinet Archive - Posting 000399.txt from 2000/02

From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: Re: [kl] daily playing
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 11:04:45 -0500

On Wed, 09 Feb 2000 00:17:46 -0800, nyip@-----.edu said:

> By the way I hope that it was a little bit clearer. (^_^)

Yes, it was:-)

Here's something I wrote that you might try reading, and acting upon, in
addition to the good stuff Neil and others wrote.


Finger movements
Many Clarinet Tutors speak of finger movement as something we should try
to minimise. On the principle that economy is in general a good thing,
and having seen players failing to play accurately whilst moving their
fingers a lot, most of us would tend to agree. I remember designing and
making a gadget out of a coathanger to encourage myself to play with my
fingers closer to the keys. A length of wire ran from the barrel of the
instrument to the bell, about an inch and a half above the holes.
Whenever my fingers moved further than this distance from the keys, they
struck the wire and brought the matter to my attention. I recommended
the system to my students, but found that I used it little myself.

However, I have since come to think that the instruction to minimise
finger movement can be misguided. It's true that there are
clarinettists of great ability who move their fingers only a small
distance, but equally there are others just as fluent who use larger
movements. Sometimes it seems as though the concentration on small
finger actions in some way inhibits the expressivity of yet a third
group -- they may be able to play the passages, but somehow they seem to
lack character, as though they are too distanced from what they are

I think the problem is that the instruction is a negative one. Clearly,
we want to avoid the desperate thrashing of fingers that we sometimes
observe with inexpert players, but perhaps we can do better than the
usual approach. I would like to recommend an alternative way of
thinking about the situation which leads to our playing with small
movements when it's really necessary, but allows us to use larger
movements without deleterious effect when it's not.

What moves fast?
If we play a one-octave ascending F major scale in the chalumeau
register of the clarinet, first slowly and then quite substantially
faster, a question we can ask, either of a student or of ourselves, is:
supposing the second version of the scale to be, say, three times faster
than the first, how many times faster do we have to move our fingers in
order to play it?

I have found that people react in different ways to this question. Some
find it trivially easy to answer correctly, whilst others find it
confusing. A careful consideration of the answer (that the speed of the
run is in fact independent of the speed of our fingers) and subsequent
experiment is nevertheless enabling for any player, firstly because we
tend to forget these things, and secondly because information that know
intellectually may not impact our performance. We need to experience
the situation directly.

Reflection shows that clearly nothing physical need move fast. All that
is required is that each successive finger begin to move away from the
corresponding key or hole sufficiently soon after its predecessor. In
this situation, therefore, neither fast nor small finger movements are
demanded. To put it technically, the high speed of the run is
guaranteed if there is a high phase velocity associated with the finger
movements. What is required is *precision* of movement.

Of course, I have chosen an extreme case. Here, once a finger has
moved, it does not participate further in the run. Not all fast
passages are like this, though I suspect that most players will be
surprised by how large a proportion of any particular passage does turn
out to be of this type.

It's instructive to examine the opposite extreme, which is that of a
trill. In this situation faster finger movement is required, because
the same finger must continually change direction to produce each and
every sub-element of the trill. In practising a trill, moreover, it's
useful to notice that we can produce a different musical effect by
assigning differing lengths to the two notes. (The trill is either 'on,
coming off' or 'off, going on'.) So the perceived proportion of the two
notes in the 'mixture' of the trill is a variable we have at our
disposal. As we experiment with this variety, we may notice that the
distance we are moving our finger, though generally small in order to
achieve the required trill speed, nevertheless changes to produce the
effect. Perhaps we might create a metaphor to generate the notion that
the same amplitude of 'waggle' when the finger is closer to the
instrument produces more of the lower note than when the finger is
higher up, thus: if you imagine contact with the instrument to be like
putting your finger into water, you can think of the longer time you are
on the lower note to be associated with going deeper under the water,
and therefore being there longer, even though in reality the finger
cannot move further once it's has touched the instrument. (The opposite
is the case if we are higher above the surface; then we are out of water
for the greater part of the cycle.) At any rate, the variety of finger
distance occurs naturally, is a variation of something small, and this
smallness occurs naturally instead of being imposed.

Varying finger speed
For me the important part of all of this is that it leads to a natural
classification of the various parts of a passage of fast music as either
requiring fast finger movements, or not. In general it's best to begin
by regarding all of a passage as a candidate for slow finger movement,
as it seems that faster movements occur more naturally in the context of
slow ones than the reverse, and anyway we are likely to be erring in the
opposite direction out of our natural response to the speed of the
passage. We need not experience slow movement as a negative instruction
if we think of it as a 'relaxing' one. Perhaps the advantage of the
instruction to move slowly over the instruction to move less is that the
latter can result in greater tension. Also slower movements take longer
to execute, even if the run itself is still fast. One of the noticeable
characteristics of expert playing is the elegance of it; there seems to
be more time available to a master player than we experience. To engage
with our own mastery, we mostly need to create for ourselves the
illusion that we have more time.

It's often advantageous to isolate the parts of a passage which give us
difficulty. One of the traps into which we can fall is that of
generalisation; as when we say, "this passage is difficult" when it
would be more accurate to say, "I find these three notes awkward", or
even better, "I tend to play an extra note between these two", or,
finally, "that time, I played a rather flat G natural between the A and
the F." If we know the moments that require fast finger movement, we
can practise them intelligently.

In addition, we need an overall view of a passage in order to master it,
both technically and stylistically; what we might want to call some
altitude with respect to it. This overall view needs to be a complete
one, or at least the sketch of a complete one -- it's no use practising
a passage that will need to be light and delicate with a technique
appropriate to energy and drama, unless this is a deliberate and
consciously undergone attempt to enlarge our musical conception. Any
mode of study which reminds us of the overall view, or which requires us
to consider the passage in its totality with regard to some system of
classification, contributes to this quality of our response to it.
(This is part of the reason why looking at the harmonic structure of a
passage can help us to play it.)

We may recognise the process as an example of the phenomenon called
chunking, which is what we do when we group a large quantity of
information into smaller, more manageable 'chunks'. We then learn to
handle these chunks as though they were the basic units. When we learn
a skill, we repeat this process several times, each step chunking the
previously created chunks, and ending up with an action which has the
unity that we have imagined from the beginning, with its qualities
reflected in each stage of the hierarchy.

It's amusing and instructive to try playing the ascending F major scale,
always with slower and slower fingers, faster and faster until the notes
fly out at a dizzying speed! The experience is exhilarating. Be
careful to keep the dynamic strong and the sound bright even though the
fingers are much more relaxed. Try following it up with selected
passages from Weber, who nearly always writes so that we can play, if we
wish, really fast without major difficulty (except that of being heard
clearly). The result is hardly musical, but it's an indication of how
easy it can feel if we let it.

As always, we need to make some remarks about the subtleties that should
still be available after we have made the initial move towards slow
fingers. There are some circumstances where it's advantageous to move
our fingers almost fast enough for the actual closing of a hole to be
audible as a sound in its own right. 'Brilliant' passagework sometimes
has this quality. It can be advantageous to regard a passage as having
a structure consisting of smaller movements as submovements of larger
ones, with the larger ones slower than the smaller. (Some passages
around the break, as well as those using the thumb keys in the extreme
low register of the larger clarinets, respond well to this approach.)
Also, although we will mostly find ourselves making the most economical
movement consistent with the execution of a passage, sometimes we will
also find ourselves wanting to add further movement, even of the
fingers, in order to be congruent with the other expressive
characteristics of the music. Sometimes this sort of physical
expression can become exaggerated, but it's unwise to react by reducing
it to an absolute minimum. Almost all expressive players indulge in
some degree of movement, though with the best this stops short of being
a distraction to the audience and does not interfere with their ability
to play.

_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN family artist: www.gmn.com
tel/fax 01865 553339

... "Bother", said Pooh, as his girlfriend informed him of the pregnancy.

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