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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000440.txt from 2004/10

From: Tony Pay <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Air flow
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 16:50:19 -0400

On 15 Oct, Adam Michlin <> wrote:

> 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?

It may not actually be vibrating much, in these circumstances.

> The answer, of course, is the reed must "strike" something, the mouthpiece.

No, this is wrong. You can have the reed not striking the mouthpiece, and
there still be a clarinet sound.

In fact, the Germans have a word for it. It's called, 'echoton'. Echoton
occurs when the reed doesn't close against the mouthpiece facing. (Some very
open mouthpieces almost ensure that this doesn't occur.)

Alan Hacker once said that 'English' clarinet players don't really have a
clarinet sound -- it's all just amplified echoton:-)

> To have a reed vibrating without a surface to strike is roughly equivalent
> to the sound of one hand clapping.

No -- though I do agree that clarinet sounds that don't involve closure
aren't to my own taste.

> 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?

Well, we don't, not always. Quite honestly, it really depends on the
circumstances. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. And the same is true of
the professional colleagues I've spoken to.


> 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.

I believe the way to think about this is to divorce the notion of a staccato
sequence from the notion of beginning a note.

Beginning a note can be achieved quite successfully in most cases without the
tongue. It can be more immediate if you use maximum support. But the
greatest immediacy is achieved by using the tongue to 'clean up' the attack.

See: before.

> At this point, I must digress for a bit on articulation syllables. If you
> look at the 19th century French (admittedly Flute)

...and I have to say, that's the difference...

> methods, you'll often seen the syllable "tu" as the indicated articulation
> syllables. But, and please forgive me for shouting, NO FRENCH PERSON WOULD
> 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).

It's worthwhile to understand the difference that the tongue position may
make in staccato. But that's not to do with the action of the tongue on the
reed -- it's to do with the quality of sound generated by the mouth cavity
when the tongue leaves the reed.

> 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.

As you have probably worked out, I find all of the above misleading.


> 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)

I find it particularly worthwhile to notice how the reed/instrument responds
to different tongue actions that stop notes, according to what register
you're playing in.

No-one told me this -- it was something I discovered for myself. Again, see
the (rather long) article I quoted in the URL above.

> 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.

You can use a great variety of 'ending note' techniques, involving the
tongue, or not. None of them is wrong, or right. Only the results are wrong
or right.

> See? Playing the clarinet is easy. Just learn how to stop and start your
> notes. Consistently.

Yup, that's it.

_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE
tel/fax 01865 553339

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