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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000438.txt from 2004/10

From: Roger Shilcock <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Air flow
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 16:38:06 -0400

I suspect that anyone who locks himself in a practice room for 8 hours a day
and tries to practice the clarinet the whole time will wreck his facial
Roger S;

In message <> writes:
> I'm going to have to reply to Tony's reply to my reply to.. er.. separately.
> >The fundamental thing is, it's the reed's vibrations that create the sound,
> >and we stop the sound when we stop the reed vibrating.
> A couple things to say.
> It is a mistake to think that the vibration of the reed is the only thing
> required to create a clarinet sound. One can blow into a clarinet quite
> easily and achieve only an "air" sound. The reed is, in fact, vibrating,
> yet there is no clarinet sound?
> The answer, of course, is the reed must "strike" something, the mouthpiece.
> To have a reed vibrating without a surface to strike is roughly equivalent
> to the sound of one hand clapping. How to make the reed strike the
> mouthpiece is a topic for another day. With that said, the pertinent
> question is how to start and stop the sound.
> Crudely put, playing the clarinet is merely about starting sound and
> stopping sound (the devil, of course, is in the details). It is easily
> proven fact that we don't need the tongue to start the sound. The question
> becomes why *do* we use the tongue to start the sound?
> The simplest answer is: control. By using the tongue as a valve, we
> (hopefully!) have absolute control over when the note starts. The tongue
> releases, the sound immediately starts but *only if the air is already
> there*. The other obvious reason is to articulate with speed.
> If you release the tongue and there is no air behind it, there simply will
> be no sound (gosh darn laws of physics). Now most players recognize this
> problem (how many times have we heard students make a "thunk" kind of sound
> to start their note only to have the sound to come out late?) and gradually
> develop a balance of blowing while they simultaneously articulate, in order
> to start the note. With enough practice, this works.
> As an aside, I will be the first person to admit that anyone who locks
> themselves in a practice room for 8 hours a day will be a fine clarinet
> player, quite independently of how they do pretty much anything. If they
> understand music they will find a way to make the music happen. Me? I'm lazy.
> Now, returning back to us mere mortals (or just people with day jobs) who
> can't practice 8 hours a day, the problem with this approach is there is
> always the possibility that the air will start late. We often compensate by
> tonguing harder which only serves to mask the late air with a quite
> unmusical percussive attack. I always like to tell my students "If you want
> to play a percussion instrument, take up the drums." With enough musical
> sensitivity and practice this method can be very successful. It is just
> difficult.
> Let us instead consider what would happen if the air flow starts before the
> tongue is released. The air will be immediately released and (assuming the
> reed is put into contact with the mouthpiece) the sound will immediately
> sound. This is called "you controlling the clarinet" instead of "the
> clarinet controlling you". The air, by definition, cannot be late therefore
> the sound, always by definition, cannot be late.
> The question becomes why do so many people disagree with this technique?
> Well, there is one catch. As I believe Tony himself has pointed out, the
> tongue must be thought of as releasing the air, it cannot be thought of as
> "attacking" the reed. To attack the reed is to get the percussive effect I
> was referring to earlier. The quickest way to eliminate this percussive
> effect is to no longer "stop" the air with the tongue. Late air will make
> the percussive effect all but inaudible (since the air isn't really flowing
> well at the starting point of the note). Unfortunately, the articulation
> starts to sound wish-wishy (and yes, that is a technical term! Ahem.). With
> time, a studious student (is that redundant?) will become better and better
> at timing the air with the tongue, but this, as I think I've already
> pointed out, is just really hard.
> At this point, I must digress for a bit on articulation syllables. If you
> look at the 19th century French (admittedly Flute) methods, you'll often
> seen the syllable "tu" as the indicated articulation syllables. But, and
> please forgive me for shouting, NO FRENCH PERSON WOULD EVER PRONOUNCE "TU"
> AS THE ENGLISH "TUH" OR "TWO". The closest English approximation would be
> "teu". Joe Allard (forgive my name dropping) used the French pronunciation
> throughout his entire career, but Joe was also a francophile. My teacher
> changed it to "teh" because he felt it was a better English approximation
> to the French "tu" and easier to understand for his American students.
> "Teh" (or the French pronunciation of "tu") is favored because it tends to
> keep the tongue in the middle of the mouth (at this point Joe would have
> probably gotten out his Gray's anatomy book and explained why this was
> better, but I will admit that I do not understand physiology well enough to
> elaborate further - I'll be more than happy to refund your ticket price if
> this is a problem).
> To correctly start a note is as simple as putting the tongue on reed,
> applying pressure on the reed to insure it will strike the mouthpiece,
> increasing the air pressure on the mouthpiece opening and then, ever so
> naturally, saying "Teh" (or your preferred articulation syllable). Not
> "TTTTTTeh" (this works so much better when I'm speaking instead of typing).
> Just the tongue leaving the reed as if you were saying "Teh".
> This still takes practice, but is infinitely easier to learn to control
> because the you no longer have to synchronize the air with the tongue.
> Engineers on the list may recognize this principle as being similar to the
> problems of race conditions in digital circuits. The principle is simple,
> you only want to have one variable changing at a time, otherwise life gets
> really complicated.
> This principle also relates to why it makes sense to prepare the fingers in
> the space of the staccato. You can:
> 1. move the fingers early.
> 2. move the fingers at the same time.
> 3. move the fingers late.
> 3 simply doesn't work by definition. 2 takes an extraordinary amount of
> practice to synchronize, but will work. 1 works just as well and is easier
> to master (in my not so humble opinion), you just have to make sure the
> reed is properly stopped to prevent the new note from sounding prematurely.
> I know, me and my laziness.
> Now we must address how to stop the note. I will leave the Miles Davis
> approach of "take the bleeping horn out of your mouth" (his response to
> Coltrane's comment that he (Coltrane) didn't know how to stop playing his
> long solos) aside and submit there are only two viable options.
> 1. Stop blowing.
> 2. Put your tongue on the reed.
> In case 1, the air is gradually stopped, achieving a potentially long
> tapered effect (a quite useful effect, I might add). Case 1 is horribly
> ineffective for playing staccato, particularly at high speeds. Good luck
> stopping and starting your air at a quarter note = 200 staccato eighth
> notes with this method!
> Case 2 is also effective, particularly in the case of staccato passages
> where the intent is specifically not to get a large tapered effect.
> Now, case 2 often fails because of an incorrect understanding of how the
> tongue works. The harder you try to place the tongue on the reed, the more
> abrupt that taper is going to be. To get a true bell like "separated"
> staccato, one only needs to barely return the tongue to the reed, allowing
> for separation yet preserving the bell like quality one is after in a
> proper staccato (separated, NOT short) technique. How much bell and how
> separated? Entirely dependant on the style of music and personal choice
> (hopefully, more of the former and less of the latter)
> You may think of "Tet" as a good way of achieving this, but you must not
> articulate the final T sound. It should sound like "Te<tongue returns to
> the it's original position at the roof of the mouth>". This is another
> source of problems, articulating that final T sound makes staccato tonguing
> sound almost like a drunken double tongue, or an echoed tongue.
> See? Playing the clarinet is easy. Just learn how to stop and start your
> notes. Consistently.
> -Adam
> PS: If you like what I've written I give all the credit to my teacher and
> Joe Allard. If you don't like it, I take full credit for everything.
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