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 Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2017-12-04 07:09

What is the most common reason for difficulty crossing the break?

I know at least eight reasons:

1. air column length/resistance differential
2. bad pinky key regulation
3. bad 1-1 Bb/Eb regulation
4. other leaks
5. bumping the horn when covering the holes
6. biting/tension
7. bad support
8. bad voicing

In my own experience regulation has been the main culprit, although I have had them all.

- Matthew Simington

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2017-12-04 07:49

Do you mean hard for beginning students or hard for experienced players?

I can't think many experienced players actually find it hard. So I'm hoping you mean beginners (whatever their age).

I think the number one problem for beginning players is poor finger coverage, most often on the right hand but not always.

And I assume you mean crossing upward from the throat notes to the lower clarion. I rarely have had students who found going downward over the break hard if I started them in the clarion register from G5 or F5 and taught the fingerings in descending order. If they can manage B easily, crossing from B to A is rarely hard for them (I would say never, but I suppose there may have been an exception I've forgotten about sometime in the past 50 years).

I think the second most frequent problem with going from A4 to B4 or Bb4 to C5 is biting or clinching with the jaw to stabilize the clarinet.


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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2017-12-04 08:20

My favorite accessory in the clarinet world is a mirror on your music stand. All of the comments listed above can be solved by using a mirror at the side of your music stand. At the age of 61 people say I have a great sound fast finger and more. Still have a mirror. :) I was lucky to have studied with the best, but it was looking at the mirror when screwing up or doing something great that helped me become the player I am.

So why did I squeak crossing the break? I look at the mirror and my right ring finger wasn't covering the hole. Just an example. hahaha, before you spend $10,000 on a horn or $1300 on a ligature, spend $5 on a mirror.

Designer of - Vintage 1940 Cicero Mouthpieces and the La Vecchia mouthpieces

Yamaha Artist 2015

Post Edited (2017-12-04 08:35)

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2017-12-04 08:21

Agreed, that the most experienced players have little or no trouble going across the break from the throat register--the "first" break of Bb to the B in the clarion register. so long as their fingers are cupped and their hands are relaxed and in position. What helps is the register key. Opening the register key does most of the work in making the transition from throat tone to clarion tone. You don't have to revoice the tone or change the air column with your tongue position.

It is a very different story going across the "second" break from clarion to altissimo. The register key is already open in the clarion so it cannot assist you by automatically voicing the altissimo. That difficult task is up to you. Control of air pressure and shape by tongue placement is necessary to get you over that hurdle.
The altissimo wants to squeal out with a louder, more strident tone and a potentially unstable pitch that needs to be stabilized. Of course, pros achieve stability and equality of dynamic range and timbre over the upper break too--but that can take much more work and practice time than overcoming the smaller hurdle of getting smoothly over the first break.

Post Edited (2017-12-04 09:19)

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2017-12-04 09:53

I'd say the number 1 reason with beginners is poor teaching. Poor teaching that doesn't effectively address hand position, air, embouchure, and voicing, in approximately that order in relation to this particular problem. So many supposed difficulties are avoided with proper fundamentals.

Seabreeze, wouldn't you say that the left hand first finger functions as a register key when ascending into the altissimo? I would certainly agree that it's a more finicky register. Any weaknesses in fundamentals are fully exposed in that range, which presents a great opportunity to improve them!

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2017-12-04 17:34

When you use the "half-hole" technique with the left hand first finger, it certainly functions as a register key. But you usually don't use that subtle fingering position on the defining upper break interval of clarion C to altissimo C# a half tone higher. Plus that first finger can assume three different positions on the first tone hole: open, closed. or half open, which pretty much destroys the analogy, I think.
The register key (with the assistance of the thumb hole) has a clear binary function--it's either open or closed. The left hand first finger plays a more complex, multiple role. Because of this complexity, I suppose, when I've tried the analogy of register key and left hand first finger with students, it seems to confuse them. When I specifically teach half-holing for smooth interval connection, then they easily see the true but limited value of the analogy.

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: Douglas 
Date:   2017-12-04 18:27

The biggest psychological problem is that people continue to tell young
students that the register change is called the "break".

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: sfalexi 
Date:   2017-12-04 18:59

In my experience with kids, it's been hand/finger positioning changing which causes leaks under fingers (typically the ring fingers as they reach for the B/C levers with their pinkies and are also concentrating on hitting the register key).

As for the second break (into altissimo), I like to tell kids when they squeak something along the lines of "Hey! Good job getting that upper altissimo note, but we're not there yet in our lessons." or if they apologize for squeaking I say, "It's not a squeak. It's the wrong partial. And later on we'll WANT those squeaks cause they're all actual altissimo notes." Helps keep the edge off and the environment light IMO in lessons. Or I'll squeak along with them and show them that everyone squeaks, but later on we're gonna work on controlling when and where we squeak or hit the partial we want.


Platoon Sergeant
US Army Japan Band

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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2017-12-04 19:35

Douglas wrote:

> The biggest psychological problem is that people continue to
> tell young
> students that the register change is called the "break".

Compounded by the tendency of generalist elementary band teachers to hold off introducing the clarion for a really long time - in some cases (teachers I've known) well into the second year of study. It doesn't just cause a psychological dread of the "break," it also imprints the chalumeau note name for each fingering so firmly that learning to rename the fingerings a twelfth above becomes a traumatic issue for many students.


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 Re: Teachers: Why is crossing the break hard?
Author: LC007 
Date:   2017-12-04 20:15

Great topic. As a beginner myself who is struggling with this maneuver I can bring a beginner's perspective. I have been playing for 3.5 months, almost every day and a good 60-90 minutes per day, and I am getting better. Sometimes crossing the break is very difficult (i.e. squeaks, or no sound at all). And other times it seems so easy. The most difficult notes for me are from a basically open instrument (G or A , Bb is the worst) to B. No or few fingers, to all fingers. The pinkies on both hands are usually slower than the rest of the fingers and the stretch causes leaks at L3 and R3.

The times when it's easy is usually when I'm hardly trying at all. It just sort of happens naturally. So I am trying to teach myself to relax. When the break is hard and doesn't come, I tense up. This causes a too firm embouchure and pressing too hard with the fingers and that just exacerbates everything.

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