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 How much air to put through the horn?
Author: BaconLord 
Date:   2021-02-19 04:29

The whole concept of air has had my mind spinning and I cannot seem to get a definite answer from anyone, so I need some help.

I just cannot understand how much air I should be putting through the clarinet.

My teacher during high school (who is a very big name and reputable but I'm keeping everyone anonymous here) had me playing with A LOT of air. So much in fact that I might have as well been a human air compressor. I was not playing a very hard setup either: BD5 with sanded down 3.5 V12 reeds. I had to take breaths every 2 or so bars and was always playing loud. I wouldn't say I had a small sound before this, but it seriously felt like I would blow my brain out.

When I get to college, my professor (who is also another big name) told me that I am "blowing too hard and putting too much air through the instrument."

Naturally as a college student I had signed up for masterclasses and it was the same thing: one would tell me more air, the other would tell me too much air.

I have talked to a lot of clarinet friends and I also get mixed answers: some say their clarinet playing changed a lot when they blow their brains out; others swear by not blowing too hard.

So, what then? Should I be blowing as hard as I can (with control of course) or should I be more reserved with my air and play a lighter setup?

Something else that I think it's worth noting and would like advice: I am now wanting to switch to double lip. I have been experimenting with it and I just love the differences in all aspects it's making to my sound. Double lip players, how much air do you blow through the horn?

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-02-19 05:25

BaconLord wrote:

> I just cannot understand how much air I should be putting
> through the clarinet.
>
> So, what then? Should I be blowing as hard as I can (with
> control of course) or should I be more reserved with my air and
> play a lighter setup?
>
You've gotten first-hand experience with the range of opinion on this. The best advice, I think, is to use your ears to listen to the sound you're producing and less to the people who are telling you how you need to play.

You've been through a college program and should have a good background of experience, probably, in a variety of playing situations. You know enough to have some idea of what you want your playing to be. It isn't really a question of how much air you need to use, but one of how much air you need to use to produce the result you want.

My clarinet teacher in college, Anthony Gigliotti, invented (as far as I know) the term BTSOOI (Blow The **** Out Of It) to describe how he often felt he had to play to satisfy Eugene Ormandy as he played in the Philadelphia Orchestra with its huge string sound. But he was also capable of some exquisitely soft playing (mostly for other conductors) that he couldn't possibly have managed if he only blew hard (BTSOOI) all the time or if he always played on reeds that required that kind of force.

Context makes a difference, but absent any demands other than your own expectations and knowing how many differing, even opposing opinions there are, you need to make your own decision about this based on what comes out of your instrument.

> Something else that I think it's worth noting and would like
> advice: I am now wanting to switch to double lip. I have been
> experimenting with it and I just love the differences in all
> aspects it's making to my sound. Double lip players, how much
> air do you blow through the horn?

Enough to make the clarinet sound and respond the way I need it to.

Karl

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Fuzzy 
Date:   2021-02-19 06:03

It seems that there was a clarinet version of this video posted on the bboard earlier. I can't find that post, so I'll share the brass version. The gist is that no air needs to go through a wind instrument. So the question becomes more about how much wind/force needs to go through/against the mouthpiece/reed...or whatever is used to create the vibration.

I don't know if it helps you, but for me - it changed the picture I had of breath moving through the instrument, vs air/vibrations moving in the instrument.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZvDvuxjHvU

Fuzzy
;^)>>>

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2021-02-19 06:05

I find it helpful to know that the what is actually producing the sound we hear is the vibrating column of air ALREADY in the horn. We are only activating it with the reed......and we need air to activate the reed. That said, to get that initiating vibration to work best, we need the air we produce to be very very steady (at whatever amount that is; more for louder, less for softer).


Here's what I'd suggest to start off with the right "feel." Without clarinet, take a really big breath and hold it. Now push (while still holding that breath). You should feel your mid section tighten. When playing clarinet, it should feel like that all the time (the effort I mean). With the next step you should be able to hold your breath from down at your mid section (not in your mouth).......mouth open, no obstruction. Now, if you pars that air out S-L-O-W-L-Y, then that is what one does to get a good pianissimo. From there it merely more and more release of air for more and more sound.


There is also a some amount of tight rope walking between air and the amount of effort of your embouchure. But if you use a smaller tip opening and softer reed (say, for double lip), everything becomes that much more subtle.





.................Paul Aviles



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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2021-02-19 06:21

I have an analogy to SCUBA. You will often be taught and read about the idea of breathing slowly--large breaths, long breaths. This is to make sure you don't start breathing really fast due to anxiety.
What it really means is to simply breathe normally. You need the same amount of oxygen to your tissues all the time-- no more, no less.

I have never thought about how I breathe playing clarinet. Want louder, blow more.
There are other things to consider. You don't want to blow so softly that you are not heard, particularly when soloing. Or when taking a solo while playing orchestrally or in a band. There is regular pianissimo and the louder pianissimo.

There is a lot of more detailed advice here. I'm not a great analyzer.

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/ Amazon, Sheet Music Plus
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus
(902)-225-3276

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: eac 2017
Date:   2021-02-20 21:55

Maybe a better way to think about this question is to think about "air support" not " ow much air" or a volume of air. Try a search on the bulletin board for "air support" and see if reading those posts gives you another take on what I consider a nebulous concept which is difficult to put into words

Liz Leckey

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2021-02-21 00:17

eac, Are you talking about breathing from the diaphragm?

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/ Amazon, Sheet Music Plus
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus
(902)-225-3276

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Arnoldstang 
Date:   2021-02-23 01:47

It is common to hear novices play with a weak clarinet
tone. This usually goes hand in hand with a soft reed but just increasing
the reed strength doesn’t fix the issue entirely.
Instructors use language to help students fix this. An example of this language might be “put more air through the instrument” or “use fast air”.
To the student this confuses the issue as “pp” is now “mp” , “mf” is now “f”. Support doesn’t equate to just playing louder.

Support involves an isometric approach involving two forces; blowing and abdominal engagement. Simply put to achieve a pp sound level we blow at a mp
level and the abdominal tension mollifies this to pp. It is counter intuitive as we would think support would make things louder. What it does is turn a weak pp tone into a more solid tone with more integrity. As in language we have a distinction between the words “soft” and “weak.

Support at ff level is less significant in my opinion but it does help contain the tone somewhat. ie. a less aggressive loud.

The benefit of support is control. Your batting average for clean high soft attacks should be higher. Additionally I think there is an intensity difference. ie soft vs weak.

Here is an exercise to demonstrate how air support effects air flow. Blow air to the palm of your hand about 3 inches away. As you blow tighten or push out with your abdominals. I experience the air slowing down with the increase of abdominal tension.

Freelance woodwind performer

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Paul Globus 
Date:   2021-02-23 05:36

Try playing while lying flat on the floor. That will tell you a lot about what you need to do to breath and blow properly.



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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Luuk 2017
Date:   2021-02-23 14:32

See this thread for an extensive discussion of this subject: http://test.woodwind.org/clarinet/BBoard/read.html?f=1&i=468011&t=467926

Regards,

Luuk
Philips Symphonic Band
The Netherlands

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2021-02-23 18:56

I wish to introduce more heresy.



In light of the older thread, it occurred to me that I have grappled unsuccessfully with the true mechanism for a good sound my whole career. Though I've found a solution for myself that works, I don't feel that I have the ANSWER that can be then put into words that will solve anyone else's problem.


But here is a new thought.


In some other thread on the topic it was brought up that the amount of air IS quite different from a pianissimo compared to a screaming fortississimo. So then, how do we explain the "pressure differential" as the key element when the "pressure" is so different amongst correctly resonant notes (of all dynamics) compared to poorly executed notes (of all dynamics)?


Further, we discussed in yet another thread about the size of the oral cavity being an important aspect of the full vibrating column ......not just what's in the clarinet.



So here comes the new heresy



I think now that it not just the oral cavity space but the full physical tube, from the bottom of the lungs through to the bottom of the clarinet bell that represents the complete and necessary picture. Further still, it is imperative to provide a FIRM internal, terminating "WALL" inside of us for the air column to resonate off of to complete the correct sound picture. We do this by "FIRMING UP" the mid-section (using diaphragm and abdominals in opposition of course).



I've spent several hours sitting on the couch without a clarinet watching TV making sounds like a death rattle realizing that I dole out air for clarinet playing at a rather slow rate most of the time (non-earth shattering dynamic levels) so air pressure and speed are not really what is going on for average to really soft dynamics (and yes, I realize we are talking about the pressure relationship to what is in the mouthpiece/clarinet). So the ONLY thing I do differently than what I did the very first few weeks I started playing clarinet all those years ago is the introduction of a stiffened mid-section (what you do when you say to your brother......"go ahead, punch me in the stomach").




...............Paul Aviles



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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2021-02-23 23:03

Paul Aviles wrote:

> So the ONLY thing I do differently than
> what I did the very first few weeks I started playing clarinet
> all those years ago

You can remember that far back? Not me! :-)

Karl

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2021-02-24 00:43

One thing for sure that I remember was that my "solution" to a better sound within the first year was a really really open mouthpiece and hard reeds. While that CAN make your sound less flaccid, you wind up with more problems down the road such as: no endurance, no decent pianissimo, lip pain, ultimately quitting (if you don't find a better solution).



One thing that made me recall this was the comment above about moving to harder reeds. I don't think the poster meant it in an extreme way but rather as a means to get to a true balance with a given mouthpiece........I'm sure. However, you can (at least I can now) use a VERY hair trigger, light set up (very small tip opening with really soft reed) and achieve the entire spectrum of dynamics and great projection. So you don't need actual resistance within the mouthpiece/reed system to achieve a sonorous sound. This is demonstrated quite nicely by the traditional German use of very long facings, very (less than 1mm) tip openings and 2 1/2 strength reeds. They just put the mouthpiece in their mouth and blow. But what a sound!


Therefore I'm left with "a firm terminus" as the solution.........and a search for a better way to teach that.






.............Paul Aviles



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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Arnoldstang 
Date:   2021-02-24 09:38

Hi Paul, #1 Given that there is such a widespread variance in the world with clarinet equipment how is it possible you have found the magic bullet? I am not being sarcastic here. Every professional clarinetist chooses a mouthpiece. There are literally thousands of good clarinetists making a personal choice.
#2. Are you suggesting that air support is irrelevant on German mouthpieces? This is not rhetorical. I'm sure Joe Allard followers would agree that it is over ally emphasized.
#3. What is the answer to the original post?

Freelance woodwind performer

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2021-02-24 19:02

The answer to the original post is ZERO. The air is already there. See the referenced video regarding playing a trumpet with no air.



What I am saying is that the other things do play a part. Certainly a lot of the imagery that we use in lessons for students are valid as far as they are helpful. But if you (and I mean YOU) try sitting there without a clarinet and purse your lips, you can approximate the amount of air you put into a horn at a given dynamic. NOW, do that without pursing your lips.........open mouth. There should be VERY little air movement......and yet if you use that same amount of effort into a clarinet you get a really nice sound (if you normally get a really nice sound). More puzzling yet is that student blow into their horns with similar "force" (or lack thereof) and get a flaccid, paper thins sound.


So what's the difference?



I also refer back to what Karl said........"Do you remember that far back?" I would submit that the better we are the less we can relate to those nascent moments. That would explain all the gobbldygook that great teachers used to get at the crux of it: Fast air; Cold Air; Air Support; blow to the back of the hall etc.



All I ask is that anyone really interested in this discussion try for themselves what I described and see if that makes any sense.



I said some time ago that I like this forum because we get a lot of different suggestions, or ways of saying the same thing. But I think the other part of it is that we get some pretty good instantaneous peer review.





...................Paul Aviles



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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: BethGraham 
Date:   2021-02-24 22:00

Deleting an unhelpful suggestion.



Post Edited (2021-02-24 22:15)

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: EricBlack 
Date:   2021-02-25 01:55

Hey BaconLord,

I saw this post and the similar post you made on Reddit and have been thinking about it for a few days. I hear a lot of my own internal dialogue in your questions, as this is a subject I have pondered a lot as well. Like you, I have experienced both sides of the coin; some of my teachers demanded massive amounts of air to be put into the horn, another, very little and various others required various amounts in between. It can be very confusing to try and figure out which way is "right." I think one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with as I went through music school and conservatory, is that ultimately there is no "right" way to play. Maybe it's the way I am wired, or perhaps it's a result of the way our education system grades success. But for the majority of my training, I had a deep-seated desire to do things the "correct" way. The unfortunate truth is that there is no "correct" way to play. Oh sure, there are methods and ideas and "rules" regarding embouchure, tonguing, air, sound, etc. that are good guidelines and generally help the majority of players who try them. But for every hard and fast "rule," (play with a flat chin, articulate using the tip of your tongue, your air should be "fast and cold", keep your fingers close to the instrument for fast technique, etc.) I can think of many players who have won major positions or are otherwise phenomenal artists that completely disregard these rules. Music is not an exact science, pedagogy and technique are not either. There is no set path for success. Ultimately, you have to learn to trust yourself and your own ears. Trying to make other people happy with your playing at the expense of your own musical ideas and sound lead to continual dissatisfaction. If you don't like how you sound, even if they do, what is the point?


Ultimately you have to figure out what you want to sound like and trust your ears enough to follow the path required to get you there. You will make natural and almost subconscious changes to your embouchure, air, tongue position, etc. based on what your ears are telling you. My sophomore and junior years of undergrad were some of the most significant in my course of study. I bought a nice pair of headphones and listened to as many clarinet albums as I could find. I put 100's if not 1000's of hours into listening to recordings. It developed my ears in a way simply practicing and performing was never able to. I discovered who's playing I liked, who's playing I didn't like and who's playing I was ambivalent towards. I learned about sound and tone and phrasing and dynamics. The result of all this listening; I now have an extremely clear idea of what sound I want to come out of the instrument in any given moment. This should be the goal of any musician. Your time spent practicing should make it so that you can reliably make those musical and sound ideas a sonic reality. I very rarely consciously think about how much air I need, where my tongue needs to be, how tight my core is etc. or all the other physical aspects of playing the instrument. Because at this point I trust my mind and my ears to inform me as to what my body needs to do to get the sound that I am striving to achieve. Your playing is never going to make everyone happy, so it might as well make you happy.

And just so there is no confusion, I am not suggesting that you ignore your teacher. If you like how they sound and how they play, their guidance can save you a lot of time and internal strife. An outside set of ears that you trust is integral in creating and solidifying your own musical voice. I have learned a tremendous amount from the people I've studied with. We are always learning and should always be learning. Just recognize that what may work for them physically, may not always work for you depending on what you're trying to achieve and that is ok.

TL;DR: Focus on the sound and the music, trust and follow your ears. The rest should fall in place.

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: Arnoldstang 
Date:   2021-02-25 21:02

Excellent response Eric. As a clarinetist/oboist I am reminded of some advice on reed making. If you are in a slump with reed making then practice. We sometimes get all caught up in theories, reeds, mouthpieces and don't get down to the business at hand.
On the matter of teaching I think it important that the student is clear about what is a metaphor and what is science/non metaphor. The science can be very complicated or even unknown. The metaphor is many times a better teaching tool but not to be taken literally. As stated earlier all this thinking material shouldn't stop you from getting down to the business of playing , practice and making music.

Freelance woodwind performer

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 Re: How much air to put through the horn?
Author: TomS 
Date:   2021-03-02 07:46

You should have the sensation of not "blowing into the horn" but "blowing through the horn" ...

Make sure you are not tightening, choking or stressing/tensing the air delivery system, other than shaping and positioning the tongue to concentrate the air stream and in a ready state to damp the tip of the (or just below the tip) reed for articulation.

I like the exercise of stuffing your swab into the bell and playing a "long B" ... the only sound will come out of the register vent. Relax your air delivery system and try to get the lowest pitch ...

Tom

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