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 contra-alto clarion problem solved
Author: Ajay 
Date:   2007-09-09 11:28

UPDATE: we found the problem (see latest post)

Yesterday I was lent my concert band's contra-alto clarinet. I have a week to get to know it before our next practice, and now I've played it for a few hours the low notes are fine, and so is the clarion register if I play really quietly, but if I try to play even slightly louder the sound gets really coarse.
Are there any specific drills I can do or changes I should make to my embouchure to help with this?


Post Edited (2007-09-16 15:51)

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 Re: contra-alto clarion register
Author: nahoj 
Date:   2007-09-09 15:30


What make/model is it?
My first guess is that the register vents and perhaps the whole clarinet aren't 100% regulated.

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 Re: contra-alto clarion register
Author: Lelia Loban 2017
Date:   2007-09-09 18:33

Could be crud in the register key tube. Try cleaning it out with a pipe cleaner (but just make sure it's the all-soft kind, not the kind with little metal bristles in it). Could also be that some previous user has been swabbing out with one of those big fluffy "pad saver" thingies, and has left fluff residue caught on the tube or on a tone hole edge. Check inside the neck, too: Maybe the previous user didn't swab in there at all. The chalumeau register is much more forgiving of these sorts of problems, so when the whole clarino goes wonky, dirt is my top suspect as the culprit.

To hear the audio, click on the "Scorch Plug-In" box above the score.

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 Re: contra-alto clarion EMERGENCY
Author: Ajay 
Date:   2007-09-12 21:07

With practice I had got to the stage where I was playing up and down scales almost as easily as on my normal clarinet.

Then, midway through my practicing there was a sudden change. The notes B, C, and D just above the break became completely unplayable. Eventually I was able to just about sound them if I descend from clarion G, but either moving form chalumeux to clarion, or trying to play a B, C, or D without a runup is impossible, I just get a really high squeaky harmonic.

The difficulty is that while it felt like a sudden change, it could be an escalation of the very minor initial problem, which reached a critical point and is now crippling, or it could be that it is a new problem. Given the fact just before this new setback the clarion register was starting to become easier, it is even possible the initial 'problem' was just me being inexperienced on the instrument, but now there is definitely a problem.

It is a Selmer Rosewood Contra alto, the two numbers written on it are L5252, and C5058.

I do not know what is wrong, but the three notes now virtually impossible to play are the ones that use the register vent on the upper joint instead of the one on the crook. Could this be significant?

Any help much appreciated

(The reason I describe this as an emergency is because this weekend is the band's first weekend course, where we have two days of working on parts in sections, and with the concert band festival coming up relatively soon, I really don't want to miss it.)

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 Re: contra-alto clarion EMERGENCY
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2007-09-12 21:37

It's 100% certain that the register mechanism is out of adjustment and that the upper register vent (on the neck), or perhaps the vent for the throat Bb, is not closing completely. This mechanism has numerous moving parts, sliding over each other or across cork strips, and it goes out of adjustment all the time on contras.

Finger the middle B and have a friend hold the upper vent closed, and also the throat Bb vent if necessary. This will confirm the problem. Often, you can finger a note and it comes out, but the mechanism binds when you go from one side of the break to the other (that is, raise or lower your right ring finger).

A very small application of cork grease at the sliding points often makes a temporary fix, but you need to get it adjusted by a repair tech to get it cured as close to permanently as possible on the beast.

Good luck at the concert.

Ken Shaw

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 Re: contra-alto clarion EMERGENCY
Author: nahoj 
Date:   2007-09-12 21:54

I can confirm Ken's post.
But once it's done right, it stays in adjustment fairly long. At least for two years now on my Leblanc. So it doesn't go out of adjustment 'all the time'. Unless it is dependent on the individual instrument?

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 Re: contra-alto clarion EMERGENCY
Author: Ajay 
Date:   2007-09-13 20:02

I tested the contra alto today, by getting my brother to hold the upper vent closed, and then attempting to play a B above the break, and the note was still impossible to play. Does this result affect what the problem is?

Thanks for the help

Post Edited (2007-09-13 20:02)

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 Re: contra-alto clarion EMERGENCY
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2007-09-13 20:41

Try also holding the third vent controlled by the register key closed. It's the one that opens for throat Bb.

Other possibilities:
- leaks in the 6 lowest pads, operated by right middle finger and on down
- leak in the bell socket
- leaks through the wood:
- cracks, particularly at the key posts, or elsewhere
- key post that has worked its way through and is sticking into the bore
- pinhole in the metal bell
- soldered joint where the tube on the bell meets the body

The problem is definitely a leak. You just have to find it.

Contra reeds often warp down the middle. Put the reed on 400 or 600 grit sandpaper and get it completely flat on the bottom. Then tighten the ligature up quite snug and then back it off 1/4 turn.

Finally, you can stabilize the upper register by using a "bad" embouchure, with your jaw down and back and your chin bunched up. Many bassoonists do this and call it an Andy Gump embouchure.

Ken Shaw

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 Re: contra-alto clarion EMERGENCY
Author: InTheBassment 
Date:   2007-09-15 03:28

Have you played a low clarinet before, or just Bb? The lower clarinets tend to be quirky. The bass, for example has issues for people transitioning from the Bb on anything above the staff. Also, the lower the clarinet, the more often it needs repairs. The contrabass clarinets are in constant need of attention.

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 Re: contra-alto clarion problem solved
Author: Ajay 
Date:   2007-09-16 15:59

At our rehearsal on Saturday someone helped me find which pad was the problem, it was a pad on the lower joint that is controlled by the right hand middle finger, to play a clarion E. Ken Shaw was exactly right with his first suggestion in the list.

When I got home yesterday I looked at it, and all that was wrong was that the screw that holds the rod that key is mounted to in had backed out so far that under the tension of the spring the whole rod had been pushed off to one side slightly. I tightened this back up, and suddenly there was no longer any problem playing. I was really relieved, and at today's rehearsal I was able to play the contra alto, and thankfully it was only my playing that was a problem.

Thanks for the help

Post Edited (2007-09-16 16:00)

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