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 Squeaking student
Author: Marie from New York 
Date:   2018-03-31 14:58

I have an advanced student who is struggling with a very unstable high E. He squeaks and goes to the high partials. We have tried several things, pushing up with his thumb to be sure he's not biting, working on harmonics slurs to engage the back of his throat in bringing the note down, but it still persists. I had him try my horn to be sure it's not his instrument's quirk. This is not a new problem for him, but seems to be worse/more persistent. He's worked very hard to prepare the Grand Duo Concertante for a performance but this problem is threatening to torpedo his efforts. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: sax panther 
Date:   2018-03-31 16:13

When he tried your horn, did he try it with his mouthpiece or yours? The reason I ask is that I used to have a mouthpiece that sounded really great, but I found it very hard to control the altissimo - particularly high E kept going up to the A. The problem disappeared on other mouthpieces.

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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2018-03-31 17:27

E6 can be a little tricky to control - so can G5 on some clarinets (at least French Boehms - I don't know about other systems). Have you tried his clarinet? Something as simple as dirt in the register tube or a slight leak in any of the closed pads on the upper section could increase the instability, and I find that E6 is the first place something like that shows up.

As sax panther suggests, some mouthpieces, especially with poorly adjusted reeds, can be difficult in the altissimo, and, again, I find that E in such cases is the most affected victim. Have you tried his mouthpiece?

One way to make E6 pop up to A6 (the next harmonic) is to press the RH F#/C# lever instead of the Eb key. So maybe check the C# pad to make sure that isn't leaking enough to cause the same effect even if it isn't being pressed.

He may be able to produce the note more comfortably by "half-holing" - only partially opening - the LH 1st hole. The note can be played in some situations with all LH covered (like G5) and opening the throat G# key. These are more useful for leaps than scale passages.

A few more details may help. Does the squeak only happen in leaps, like (in the Weber) the one after E or third bar from the end of the first movement? Or does he also have trouble in the linear passage 6 after K? What about the leaps to D6 (9th of K, 5th of N, O, 6th of the 2nd movement, etc...)?


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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: Exiawolf 
Date:   2018-03-31 20:49

I struggled with this exact problem for a while! What fixed it for me was realizing that my throat was closing up whenever I tried to play high E. The problem got worse and worse because I would tense up more and more thinking that E “was a hard note to play”. What fixed it for me was working to be as relaxed as possible when playing E (not thinking about it being too high), actively working to relax and open my throat, and furthermore finding the correct voicing by doing an excercise where I would play a low c and go up to the clarion G, altissimo E and A without using the register key (all voicing). Perhaps he is having the same problem?

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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2018-03-31 21:18

Exiawolf wrote:

> The problem got worse and worse because I
> would tense up more and more thinking that E “was a hard note
> to play”.

The thing about persistent squeaks, from my own personal experience, is that they always provoke a reflexive response in the player ("E is a hard note to play"), which adds tension to the underlying problem and makes it worse. You have to find some way, like Exiawolf's voicing exercise or a way around the squeak with different fingerings or (as in my case decades ago) testing double lip, to change the instrument's response and produce a clean sensation of the note. Then you can start to build on the confidence that comes from the clean response.

Still, make sure there's no mechanical explanation before starting on a road toward a technical solution. If it turns out to be a leak or a quirky mouthpiece or mismatch between mouthpiece and reed, the technical changes may not produce any better response, and the anxiety problem will just get worse. And remember that if the student gets the same squeaks on your equipment but you don't, he's approaching it with a very different level of anxiety and tension than you are. He may be perfectly able at this point to make *anything* squeak on E6. You as the teacher need to check every part of his instrument to make sure there's no instability coming from there.


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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: EaubeauHorn 
Date:   2018-04-02 20:09

If it does turn out to be that he's getting in his own way, the fix is mental....what I've done on other instruments where I was getting in my own way, was find a variation of that instrument where the problem note was considerably easier, get my mind changed about it, and then find a way to switch back with my mind having been convinced I can do it.

Same questions as others....his mouthpiece, his instrument, is that note hard for you? Your instrument, your mouthpiece, does he have the same problem?

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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: Marie from New York 
Date:   2018-04-06 18:22

These are all helpful. Thanks! He does have the problem on linear passages as well as leaps. It's definitely a good idea for me to check his horn for insignificant leaks that may go unnoticed except for the high E. and to try playing his full set-up. I have done the harmonics work you mentioned with him but I'm interested in what happens when he plays double-lip. I agree with many of you that the tension he's having over it is probably now an increasing part of his issue and so I like the thought of having him use an alternate fingering. I'm looking through Ridenaur's fingering book and I see some possible fixes, if they are not too awkward for him to use.

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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2018-04-06 18:40

Voicing is important, as mentioned above, but another is that the embouchure side muscles are not pushing in, like whistling. Opperman used to say, kiddingly, that you should be able to hold the clarinet, no hands, and swing it back and forth. Trying double lip or just lifting the upper teeth off the mouthpiece may also pinpoint an embouchure problem. I can play double lip or single lip without good clarinet players able to tell which is which.

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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2018-04-06 18:43

Marie from New York wrote:

> I have done the harmonics work you mentioned with him
> but I'm interested in what happens when he plays double-lip.

(Since I brought it up) Be really careful with him in having him try double lip. High E is not an ideal place to first use it. If you have him do it, get him to play a little in a more medium range or even stick to the chalumeau for a couple of scales. Then, if things are going smoothly, have him try slurring up a scale to E6. Or maybe even better - turn the mouthpiece around, have him hold the barrel for steadiness, and *you* do the fingering, not going straight up to E but approaching it and teasing it a couple of times so he doesn't know when you're going to finger E and can't tense up.

In fact, that might be a useful thing to try first single lip. If he can play an E because you're fingering it and he doesn't know when you'll go to it, it may be the beginning of the solution. I do this routinely with kids who are having trouble crossing the A4-B4/Bb-C break. It prevents the reflexive tightening that comes from repeated failed attempts.


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 Re: Squeaking student
Author: Marie from New York 
Date:   2018-04-07 20:23

I do like the idea of turning his mouthpiece around and going up to the E when he doesn't expect it. I do that frequently to help my students who are "finessing" every note instead of playing with consistent support. But you may be right, that might be the beginning of a solution.

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