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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000388.txt from 2005/04

Subj: [kl] Buffet Tosca Clarinet / Optional Key & Finger Memory
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 2005 14:37:23 -0400

I wanted to share something with the list that might be of some interest.

I recently purchased a Buffet Tosca clarinet (about 6 weeks ago) with the
intent of using this clarinet as my main Bb until I can fully transition to
the Wurlitzer Reform-Boehm clarinet. I also wanted a good French clarinet to
replace my worn 1971 R-13 and to act as a back up.

I have now observed something that I did not expect in playing the Tosca
clarinet and it has to do with finger memory. I had a big concert that I was
working up and was playing it 3-4 hours every day in preparation. This
particular concert featured a lot of clarinet solos including what I felt
was a bad arrangement of Capriccio Espanol. It had all of the usual clarinet
solos, with back to back violin solos as well. So the solo clarinet had to
work their way through all the difficult enough clarinet solos, only to find
the violin solos immediately afterwards in several places. Needless to say,
it was a challenge trying to find a good place to catch one's breath.

About one week before the concert, I started to have a problem when I went
to play a low F or middle C with my right hand little finger. I actually got
to the place several times in rehearsal where I could not correctly feel
where the regular key was. It was as if I had lost the memory for that one
particular key. I was quite concerned that there was something wrong
physically with my little finger, but I had no such problem with any of the
other right hand lower keys. It was quite disconcerting to be playing a run
over the break and then find that your right hand little finger just could
not find the correct key. This only seemed to happened after I had been
playing the clarinet for a while. I literally could not seem to feel where
the F/C key was.

This totally caught me off guard and I started to panic thinking something
was physically wrong with my little finger, until I realized what I believe
was happening. Buffet has added a fifth key to the lower right hand key
stack. On the Tosca clarinet, they have added an optional low F/C key that
opens an additional tone hole down by the very bottom of the lower joint and
near the bell. This fifth key is suppose to raise the pitch of what is
traditionally a flat low F. If you hold this key down with your right hand
and then play a low E/B with your left hand, it will also raise the pitch
somewhat higher on those notes as well.

Buffet did not put this key in line with the spacing of the other two keys
next to it, but instead doubled or tripled the spacing between it. See
diagram below if you are not familiar with this key arrangement. By adding
dead space in between the regular low F/C key and the optional low F/C key,
they must have felt it would be less likely that a person would use it
accidentally in the wrong place. The bottom line is you do not want to use
it except when playing an exposed low F or E as it will raise the pitch
enough to not blend well with the other notes next to it. It would sound
somewhat out of place pitch wise.

I now think this design may be problematic, and I use my problem as the
reason why. What I believe is happening with my right hand is that my little
finger can actually sense this fifth key being there, even if it can't reach
it under normal hand motion, and is trying to memorize it's position.
However, because it is oddly spaced farther away than any of the other four
right hand keys, it created a confusion in my finger's memory for playing a
low F/C. My finger, after playing a long time on the clarinet, basically
could not correctly locate the traditional low F/C key and would want to
press down in this empty space between the fourth and fifth key, resulting
in disaster in fast passages where I would basically fumble over these

Here is a diagram of the layout of the bottom right hand keys:

XX X (optional key)

I don't know if playing more on this clarinet would finally allow my fingers
to adjust to this very odd spacing or not. All I know is that I found I had
to continually "ground" my little finger on the Eb/D# key to find it's
starting position every now and then just to make sure it did not want to
reach for the fifth key and end up in dead space. My feeling is that few
people will have large enough hands to make this very long and awkward
stretch to activate this fifth key anyway and simply not use it. I have yet
to need to use this key, and the intonation on the regular low E/F is close
enough that I can lip it up to adjust as needed without needing the fifth

I know some people on this list have bought the Tosca models, and I am
wondering if they have had any similar experience. I would hate to think I
am the only one with this problem. I do remember reading a post somewhere
from one person that said they were very concerned about getting confused
and hitting the wrong key because of the key layout, but I don't know if
that was here or on some other list.

For those that may be thinking about buying a Tosca, you should be aware of
this. It's a great clarinet and I really don't have any other gripes of this
nature, but just picking one up and playing it for a little while will
probably not result in what happened to me. You have to play it long enough
that your fingers go through the fine adjustments that they will make as
they memorize the new key positions and feel under your hands. For me, it
took at least four to five weeks before I ran into this problem.

I am now wondering if I should expect that my little finger will eventually
adjust to this very odd spacing and practice through it, or take a more
proactive approach and see if I can have a repair tech do some kind of work
to these right hands keys. One option I thought of would be to silver solder
some kind of low plate vertically to the right side of the low F/C spatula
so that my little finger could feel this "stop" and know exactly where to
position itself for this key. Another possible solution might be to silver
solder an extension to this fifth key to make the spacing more in line with
the rest of the keys. I've just never experienced anything like this before
in all of my clarinet playing and was quite concerned.

Tom Henson

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