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 Getting a richer, more colorful sound
Author: McDonalds Eater 
Date:   2021-05-06 01:26

I've been looking to add more color and richness to my sound as I think I'm currently sounding too "plain" (for lack of a better word). Figuratively speaking, right now I think of my sound as being like just a plain cake: no icing, no toppings, just the cake. Descent, but one-dimensional and uninteresting. Hopefully that made sense.

One recording caught my attention that showcases what I'm looking for in my sound and it is by none other than Todd Levy. Here is the link to the YouTube video:

I recommend you listen with headphones because it's a lot easier to hear, but speakers clear enough should do the trick. He gets this sort of richness, depth, and color within his sound.

I'm looking to change the way I play first as opposed to trying to go down the equipment rabbit hole and all of that. I'm also not looking to be a Todd Levy clone, but I do want more color in my sound.

Any tips or exercises?

Post Edited (2021-05-06 01:27)

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 Re: Getting a richer, more colorful sound
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2021-05-06 04:05

Thanks for posting the Schumann Romance played by Todd Levy. I am ashamed to say I've never heard him before.......wonderful music making. The Milwaukee Symphony and Sante Fe Opera Orchestra are indeed lucky to have him.

Obtaining a rich, full, resonant sound is NOT a matter of equipment (once you have it, equipment may give you a little more here and there but you need IT first).

It is "HOW YOU BLOW" that produces a wonderful sound.

I've said things to students until recently about having a minimum acceptable air pressure in the oral cavity (maybe almost hoping for some device like a tire pressure gauge to show what that is). But that isn't right. It does not take into account varying dynamics, only playing at top volume (really really friggin loud). So what is really going on?

There was a post some years ago from Tony Pay who posited that the entire oral cavity (size and shape) plays a key role in the resonance of the the sound wave that is in the clarinet. At first I was a bit incredulous of that bit of information. Now I have come to believe it is even much more than that.

When we are blowing into a horn there is a completely open system that reaches down to the bottom of our lungs. It seems to me now that what gives the key control to the sound wave in the horn is to have a "FIRM BASE" for the lungs to sit on. In other words you need to firm up the "meat" in your mid-section to create more of a reflective surface for the entire system to work right.

You do this by creating opposition of forces between your diaphragm and your abdominal muscles. One video I saw recently described how your mid-section feels when you cough. And then the woodwind person said you re-create that feeling when you blow. One way I've described it is to firm up your belly in the same way you would if you just asked your little brother to punch you in the stomach (you wouldn't do that sort of thing leaving yourself flabby and defenseless!).

Teachers in the past have gone as far as to say, "you blow the s**t out of it." But the answer is that it just has to "feel that way."

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

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 Re: Getting a richer, more colorful sound
Author: Ed Palanker 
Date:   2021-05-06 18:02

There's no simple answer to this because it involves so many factors. Singers are born with their vocal equipment but can learn to use it better but they can't change it. The truly great ones sound great because of their natural, and then trained, resources. Clarinet players also have "natural" equipment in voicing, tongue size, lip thickness, teeth formation, throat and lung size, you get the idea. If everyone was able to sound like another person almost every clarinet player would sound nearly the same. So yes, you have to experiment with tongue position, embouchure and all the other body parts you have control of but in the end you have to have the sound you want in your inner ear so when you do something different you recognize it. That's not as easy as it sounds, or as difficult either. In the end, you also need the mouthpiece reed combination that allows you to help find that sound since you are not born with the voice box a singer is.
A player can only change their natural sound so much, try to accept that but work towards it. I always liked my sound once developed through my schooling but I always tried to improve it never the less. One point in my professional career I heard a player on the radio and I loved the sound and it haunted me for many months trying to match it. I could hear it in my "inner" ear and one day going through my mouthpiece draw of "rejected MPs I played one I had put away a year or two ago because I could not get my reeds to play on it comfortably and went, wow that's it. Made some reeds for it, yes, back then I made my own, and the rest is history. I've played that MP for the last 30 years, even when I went back to commercial reeds. And I still love my sound and still hear what I want. Even in retirement.


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 Re: Getting a richer, more colorful sound
Author: EbClarinet 
Date:   2021-05-06 20:02

I haven't listened 2 the player but there r unlimited ones of the clarinet. U have 2 decide whether you want a student sound or a professional tone. I'm thinking u want the latter.

Excellent tone quality is acquired over time. Consider which schools of thought u'd like with your professional tone and move in that direction.

Did u know the different rooms/building u're in can cause your tone to not sound good? Record yourself in different rooms and then post some of your playing 2 us. I bet you don't sound as bad as u think. If u'd like to contact me personally, I can send u my tones of playing.

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 Re: Getting a richer, more colorful sound
Author: Bob Barnhart 2017
Date:   2021-05-06 23:59

My first thought on reading your post is that "color and richness" is a bit vague for me. I would ask, do you want more resonance, weight, depth, warmth/brilliance, roundness, projection, etc. However, even these terms have a spectrum of meaning for many people.

First, I would say that it is important to have a clear concept in mind of what you want to sound like. Growing up, I listened carefully to Karl Leister, Robert Marcellus, Harold Wright and Pete Fountain, noting the qualities in THEIR sounds (and playing) that I would like to have. Today, I still have a number of players whose sounds I admire and attempt to incorporate into my sound.

As others have mentioned, the strength and voicing of your airstream, and your ability to vary them is the heart of any tone production. There are many posts about aspects of this, but I find thinking in terms of voicing "Eeee", "Ahhh" or "Ohhh" are helpful in producing different colors. Long tones over the range of the instrument at all dynamics help to develop clarity and intensity that are needed for depth, resonance, projection, etc.

Certainly the mouthpiece and reed have a huge influence on tone production. However, I will say that I ascribe to the belief that you will (more or less) sound like yourself regardless of what equipment you play. However, it important to select a mouthpiece/reed combination that feels like it naturally encourages the sound you want to produce so that it doesn't distract you from focusing on the music at hand. I feel that reed strength is an important part of achieving this. I think many players select reeds that are too hard in an attempt to achieve a bigger/darker sound. However, this can be counterproductive. I recall conversations with Greg Smith concerning this and (I believe) his opinion was that the reed should be soft enough to "allow the mouthpiece to work as it was designed to". Over the years I've become to believe that he is right: one should play a reed that is just hard enough to obtain the responsiveness and performance you require. Rely on your airstream/voicing and mouthpiece to produce the tone quality.

Finally, I would recommend recording yourself to evaluate any changes you make and the associated progress you make. While we have some idea of how we sound to our ears, how we sound up close may not be how we sound at a distance. Therefore, if you can record yourself in a large room or concert hall you will have a better idea of how your sound is perceived by others and whether it is the sound you are trying to achieve.

Good luck!
Bob Barnhart

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 Re: Getting a richer, more colorful sound
Author: brycon 
Date:   2021-05-07 00:15


I'm looking to change the way I play first as opposed to trying to go down the equipment rabbit hole and all of that. I'm also not looking to be a Todd Levy clone, but I do want more color in my sound.

It's admirable that you want to work on your playing rather than switch up equipment.

At the same time, though, Todd plays a Selmer Signature clarinet and Vandoren black diamond mouthpiece. It's a setup with some resistance built into it (a setup many of the amateurs here would say is far too resistant and requires too much effort). If you're playing on drastically different equipment, such as an M13 lyre or something else similarly closed, you might have to do some weird things with your mouth, air, etc. to try a mimic his approach. Just a heads up.

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