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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000519.txt from 2004/10

From: Adam Michlin <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Different sounds
Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 22:32:57 -0400

At 10:21 PM 10/18/2004 +0100, Tony Pay wrote:
>It's not a question of 'in theory' or 'would it be good music if' or any
>of all
>of that. The sound of any good musician varies as they play, and there is a
>proportion of sound that doesn't involve reed/mouthpiece contact in that
>variation, even if that proportion is sometimes small. A sound that *never*
>involves reed/mouthpiece contact is called, 'echoton', but the suggestion that
>you should strive for continual contact is unrealistic, and might even be
>counterproductive to a student.

I am assuming 'echoton' is what we Americans refer to as 'subtone'. I am
not entirely sure that the reed does not contact the mouthpiece at all when
a player plays subtone, but we'll have to wait until someone takes some
high speed photographs of players playing subtone to be sure.

Your description of the subtone effect seems overly simplified, perhaps to
a fault. It may be true that the reed doesn't contact the mouthpiece, but
if a player were to blow into a clarinet without pressure of any kind on
the reed the resulting tone would tend to be harsh and forced, not subtone
(dependant on mouthpiece opening, of course, but let us assume we are
dealing with the relatively small tip opening most commonly used by
classical clarinet players).

To achieve a subtone the player must additionally apply pressure to the
reed with the lower lip. This has the simultaneous effect of both moving
the reed closer to the tip opening (and, perhaps, causing the reed to
contact the mouthpiece) and dulling the vibration of the reed (the soft
flesh of lip hinders the vibration of the reed). End result, subtone.

An additional variable is the quantity of mouthpiece taken into the mouth.
Players who dull the vibration of the reed with lip pressure but do not
wish to get a dull subtone sound will tend to take more mouthpiece. The
sound will get harsher and harsher as more mouthpiece is taken in thus
counterbalancing the dull sound caused by the lip pressing against the
reed. An effective way to play, most certainly. The most efficient? I'm not

These are the misunderstandings which form the "rubber band" embouchure
school. The player dulls the harsh sound (typically caused by either just
blowing without moving the reed at all, or having too much mouthpiece in
the mouth) by wrapping the fleshy lips on the vibrating reed. An effective
way to play, perhaps. The most efficient? Not necessarily.

In any case, subtone seems much more complicated than you state. If echoton
is something different, I look forward to learning more about it. As I
reread my message, I'm not entirely happy with my explanation on the
complexities of subtone and clarinet tone. This is the first time I've
tried to explain this concept in print without aid of a clarinet to
demonstrate. I think I may have failed, but I'll put the information out
and see what happens.

>Certainly, pushing the reed against the mouthpiece with the tongue to begin
>with is no guarantee that contact is maintained subsequently. That's to do
>with the air pressure you maintain behind the reed.

The tongue is put on the reed to hinder vibration allowing for the
cleanest, most controlled attack, not to cause the reed to contact the
mouthpiece. It does appear, with the possible exception of echoton/subtone,
that the reed does contact the mouthpiece.

The million dollar question which therefore follows:

What is the most efficient way to move the reed such that it contacts the

Please also assume the player in question is using proper breath
support/air pressure/whatever you prefer to call it. I agree 100% that air
is the single most important variable in clarinet tone production. Let us
explore what may be the second most important variable in clarinet tone
production. I look forward to your thoughts.


PS: Maybe this is the third most important variable. We haven't even begun
to talk about the function of the upper lip!

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