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 Centered Tone
Author: Mdi 
Date:   1999-01-22 02:53

It appears that after evaluating many of the various components that go together to make the composite sound that is the clarinet (reeds, mouthpiece, barrel, ligature, etc.)the comment that is often made is that the sound is "centered". I'm not quite sure what that comment intends to convey. Is it the actual physical location of the sound in relation to the keys or an intangable reference like that"Dark Sound"?

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 RE: Centered Tone
Author: Tim2 
Date:   1999-01-22 03:26

A "centered" clarinet tone is one that is not shrill to the ear. It is a tone with a firm embouchoure so the pitch does not vary even within the same note. A "centered" clarinet tone is one with breath support from the gut to give it strength. All the physical characteristics of the clarinet, the reed, the mouthpiece, affect the tone, but first and foremost, the person propelling the air through the instrument is the driving strength to a "centered tone".

"Dark" tone is more conceptual name for the kind of "centered tone" one is striving for. Some people like a brighter sound, some like a darker sound. It has to do with the partials that are part of the sound (overtones) made when playing. The more higher partials produced, the brighter the sound. Whether you like a bright sound or a dark sound, it is YOUR sound. If you want YOUR sound to be good, it will be "centered".

I know this is a dangerous topic to write about here on the board. I'm game. Any comment?


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 RE: Centered Tone
Author: Rick 
Date:   1999-01-22 04:54

There was a posting about a week or so ago that
asked for advice on an mp that would give a dark
and open sound. At the time it struck me that this
these were opposite characteristics. I had catagorized
it (perhaps simplisticly) as:
dark sound = closed mp = classical
bright sound = open mp = jazz, pop, etc., although there's
a place for dark sound in jazz too.
centered sound would a part of either bright or dark
if played right (embouchure, breath etc. as Tim2 posted).
Please correct me if I'm off base here.

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 RE: Centered Tone
Author: Ken Shaw 
Date:   1999-01-22 14:45

Mdi wrote:
It appears that after evaluating many of the various components that go together to make the composite sound that is the clarinet (reeds, mouthpiece, barrel, ligature, etc.)the comment that is often made is that the sound is "centered". I'm not quite sure what that comment intends to convey. Is it the actual physical location of the sound in relation to the keys or an intangable reference like that"Dark Sound"?

Mdi -

"Centered tone" and "dark tone" are practically undefinable. Everyone agrees that they are good, but beyond that things get hazy.


To me, a tone that is centered has what some teachers call an "edge of reediness" in it -- that is, a small amount of high-frequency "ping" that is not separately audible but gives the tone more color, energy and carrying power. Pipe organ players do this by adding very soft high frequency pipes at the various overtone pitches, which are not heard separately but blend into the lower basic pitch.

You can practice this with an exercise the great teacher Keith Stein showed me many years ago. Stand in a corner of the room facing the intersection of the walls. Play a low E fff and gradually decrescendo. At about mf, you should start to hear the middle line clarion B. Concentrate on the B, keeping it strong as you fade the E down to ppp. It may take several tries. It helps to use a slightly softer reed than usual.

Do this several times to get comfortable. Work on it so you can begin the E mf with the B already present and audible, without facing into the corner.

Then play the low F, listening for the clarion C, and then F#/C# and G/D. Above that, it's much more difficult.

Some people say you can also hear an altissimo Ab above the low E, A above the F, and so on.

Remember that only you can hear these overtones. Other people will hear them only as increased color or resonance.

Sometimes I think of this as a gleaming gold thread running through the middle of the sound.

When you can reliably create the "center" in your sound, you can use it as a focus, "leaning" against it to make your sound carry at low dynamic levels. It's the "right" sort of resistance -- not physically having to blow hard, but focusing your effort on the high energy part of the tone and keeping it strong regardless of the dynamic level.


"Dark" has little meaning, except as the opposite of what you don't like.

I think of "dark" not as the opposite of "bright" but as the opposite of "thin" and "pinched." A beginner, on a plastic clarinet, a cheap mouthpiece and a # 2 Rico reed makes the opposite of a "dark" tone.

When I think "dark" I suppose I mean a tone that is compact (without wasted energy), centered and energetic, yet made up mostly of the basic pitch, with only enough "center" to add energy without being separately audible to anyone but the player.

It's very hard to be specific, since "centered" and "dark" are words that have no agreed meaning as applied to clarinet tone. The only thing that's certain is that other people will disagree with me. I don't claim to be correct, but only that these definitions work for me.

Best regards.

Ken Shaw

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 RE: Centered Tone
Author: Rick 
Date:   1999-01-24 18:01

Ken, I have to take exception with your definitions.
This isn't easy, as you have a wealth of knowledge and
it was actually a posting of yours (over a year ago about
how you used to commute with a mp in your mouth to
develop the facial muscles for a double lip embouchure)
that struck me quite significantly and made me realize
that my approach to playing was far too casual.
But that said, I think your definitions for "centered" and
"dark" sounds actually contribute to the vagueness of
these terms. I would think that a centered tone would be exactly what it says: pure tone without an "edge" to it
and without behind wrapped around a twelth overtone.
I think it would read on a chromatic meter as a needle
pegged at 440 Hz, without wavering. This wouldn't
make it necessarily good or bad. In most instances it would
be something to strive for, but at times adding the "color"
of harmonics or vibrato or bending notes adds pesonality
to a piece. And this is the artistry of playing: being able to
and knowing when to "uncenter" the note for effect.

As far as "dark" tone being opposite of "pinched", harsh
untrained tone, I think this is a pretty subjective definition
you're using also. I you look at the literature that comes
with the Rovner ligature, it describes the technique for
cocking the ligature one direction or the other for a "brighter" response" or a "darker, more covered sound". In the"cocked backward" position for the darker sound, there is less vibrating reed length. Dark contrasted with bright, rather than dark contrasted with poor, seems like a more universal definition. At least that is my opinion.
One of the great advantages of this site is that it allows dialogue in a manner never achieved before to help make terms like this "definable".

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 RE: Centered Tone
Author: Ken Shaw 
Date:   1999-01-25 22:56

Rick -

On this we'll have to agree to disagree.

I've always heard the expression "centered tone" used to mean something different from a pure tone. Each time a teacher told me to produce a more centered tone, what got approval was putting more resonance into it. The note A sits on 440 just as steadily when centered as when uncentered.

Also, I certainly vary the amount of high frequence energy in my tone depending on how I want it to sound. The exercise I described was to learn how to do it, and not a statement that it should be used to the maximum all the time. Nevertheless, the clarinet sound always has overtones in it, and to my taste always needs at least some amount of brightness amid the sweetness or darkness.

"Dark," as everyone says, is a term without much objective meaning. I find my definition useful in getting the sound I want. If it doesn't work for others, they don't have to use it. Of course my definition is subjective, and I said so when I gave it. I don't think (and again, this is simply my opinion) that "bright" is the direct opposite of "dark" in clarinet tone. The opening of the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony certainly calls for a dark tone, yet it has to have tremendous energy if the low register sound is to be heard through the orchestral accompaniment.

There's been some discussion on the Klarinet list about the relative overtone strengths in sounds that the player thinks of as dark and not-dark. These show that a tone perceived as "dark" has a strong fundamental and relatively less overtone strength. This contradicts my definition, and I'm probably wrong in at least some objective sense. But on the other hand a mostly-fundamental tone would be simply inaudible in the Tchaikovsky.

It's probably more useful to talk about the appropriate tone color for a particular piece of music. Brahms seems to call for a "darker" color than Mozart. I turned on the radio a few months ago and heard some wonderful playing in a Wagner excerpt and said to myself, "That's obviously a German player on a German instrument. No other player or instrument could produce that characteristic sound." Of course, it was the Cleveland Orchestra with Marcellus, who could play anything in any style.

Well, this has gotten off the subject, except that it's one of my "hot buttons." For me, there's nothing more boring than a player who sounds the same all the time. That, by the way, is the reason I continue to play a Buffet R-13 rather than a Leblanc Opus or Selmer Signature, both of which are better in tune and have a more even scale. For me, the R-13 accommodates tonal variation -- different colors and levels of resonance -- better than anything else.

Good night for now.

Ken Shaw

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 RE: Centered Tone
Author: Tim2 
Date:   1999-01-26 03:46

The word subjective is it. Thanks for the interesting words.

I agree with Ken that an "A" can be 440 whether it sounds like Jonathan Cohler, or a beginner with no tonal concept but keeps the pitch even, no matter what the timbre of the sound is. Physics.

But I agree with Rick that a "brighter" response" or a "darker, more covered sound" by how much of the reed vibrates is a determining factor. The whole object is to get more of the reed to vibrate, so I believe. "Pinched" doesn't do it for me either.

As was said, overtones will always be there. But how much of the bottom one can be brought out? How much does one WANT to bring out. How dark do you want it? Brahms & Tchaikovsky darker? sure.

I love Marcellus.

"It's probably more useful to talk about the appropriate tone color for a particular piece of music." I never thought about this but I think subconciously, one works towards this end if they know what they are playing.

Each player has to listen and develop what he/she wants. It is too bad that it is such hard work to define such concepts as "dark" and "centered." One option a beginner has is to listen to players who play well. In high school, I was a freshman and the senior who was first chair was my inspiration for what a clarinet should sound like.

For what it's worth, I strive for that dark sound.

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