Clarinet Tone Talk: A crash course in prioritizing various factors in tone.

Image Creditprioritize interaction over equipment in clarinet sound

You may already know the main factors involved in producing a good clarinet tone: equipment, voicing, and air.

But if you will allow me, I'll elaborate on the subject to highlight important points often overlooked, such as the player's interaction with the equipment and the player's "concept" of tone, what he "hears" (with inner-ear and feels in body) before playing.


There are the internal choices; tongue position, throat shape, soft palette and especially your use of air, how fast, how controlled how ready your air is.


You have external or unalterable parameters, such as style of mp (tip opening and facing shape), quality of clarinet, and also size of individual mouth cavities, jaws, tongues.
Beyond those relatively obvious factors, there's also a third and fourth elements which may be overlooked in a frantic search for the best tone.


You need to consider the interaction of the player, with their individual mouths and throats, with ANY mouthpiece. In other words, you will end up sounding like you. So truth be said, you seek a mouthpiece which "compliments" what you have decided is your most efficient embouchure, voicing, tongue, etc, to enable you to best control "your sound".

This leads me to the Fifth factor, perhaps the most important-

The sound in your ear creates the sound on the clarinet. (or any instrument)

Any adjustments to your voicing, etc, must be chosen for their efficiency in your individual mouth, throat and breathing, not to "improve" tone.

When you have the most efficient voicing for your sound producing mechanism, you simply play different mouthpieces until one lets you play any note any volume, while adjusting pitch in all cases, plus responsive articulation.

It's harder to do than it sounds. I tend to quickly adjust to any setup to make it sound good. It requires a certain confidence in how it "feels" to play your most efficiently.

One little trick to test and hone this confidence: Plug your ears and play by feel. Without the ability to constantly criticize and adjust, you are more likely to "play" like YOU.

The real goal is to "sound like you" a combination of hearing it in your ear and then feel it in your body w/o the instrument, with the most efficient "use" of your self (air, embouchure, soft palette). Embodying those steps as a constant, you try different setups until one compliments what you do, and certainly not the other way around.

Food for thought, I hope!

Would you like to share practice ideas with other musicians? You could do so at the Practice Café.

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