Mastering the High Register On Your Clarinet
There are more opinions, techniques and myths about this subject than fish in the sea…well almost.
When we ask ourselves the question, “what is a high note?”, the answer will vary from player to player depending on the player’s experience and knowledge of high note playing.
I guess you can liken this to that of any artist really, what is difficult and bothersome to one artist may be run of the mill and easy for another. It all boils down to how much experience and contact time you’ve had with this area of your instrument. I think of the high register of the clarinet as being from G4 to C4 and then the extended ranges as D4 to G5. For the purposes of practicality let’s say that the high register for most players is about E4 to A4 and then anything higher falls into an extended range for most players.
Where to Begin
All clarinets (and saxophones) work on the physical principle of an air stream that is split and then re-generated as a waveform that manifests itself as a tone of some description.
On the clarinet, this air stream is split in a number of methods:
1. Fingerings that allow an overtone or air stream to be easily split and generated.
2. Embouchure and inner mouth and throat shapes that can facilitate the creation of harmonics and overtones.
3. Squeezing and biting the reed. This is a less successful and ultimately self-defeating method, but one that does work in certain circumstances.
Let’s look at each of these methods, albeit briefly to see how and why that work.
These are by far the most successful and reliable ways to generate high register notes on the clarinet and each experienced clarinetist has their own favourite fingerings.
By understanding the physics and the way in which the air stream tends to behave under various conditions, it is possible to create and use fingerings that facilitate and generate reliable high notes. However, all of this comes at a price and that price is practice, skill and experience.
NO FINGERINGS that are not part of the normal functional register of the clarinet will give you instant results without this work! To believe otherwise is a mistake.
All clarinet players that wish to develop reliable and clear high notes should embark on a regular and concentrated regime of embouchure, the inner chamber and throat exercises. These exercises will lead you to be able to produce overtones from a fundamental note on your clarinet.
This is a subject that I will discuss and explore in a future blog down the track.
There are a plethora of web pages that offer charts for a high note and extended-range notes for the clarinet but none of these will work without a mastery of overtones and an understanding of inner chamber and throat use.
2. Embouchure and inner mouth and throat shapes
By re-shaping and understanding how to manipulate the soft palate and inner chamber of the throat and mouth, high notes and extended-range notes can be easily produced.
The issue is that it takes a great deal of practice and experience in order to successfully reproduce these at a moment’s notice and to do so under the pressure of performance conditions. My recommendation is to begin by fingering a “B2” and then by using only the inner mouth shape and your throat, try to create higher tones from this without squeezing to the point of ANY discomfort.
I will be producing a blog and book on this subject later this year, so stay tuned…
3. Squeezing and biting the reed
I do not recommend this technique to any player and mention it purely for the purposes of listing it as a possible way of creating high notes or extended register notes. It hardly rates discussion and anyone that relies on this method is ultimately playing with disaster for both their tone, technique and reeds!
The only true and reliable way to generate high notes or extended register notes on the clarinet is to embark on a study and mastery of embouchure, throat and overtone exercises. Then, this combined with effective fingerings will almost always result in clear, reliable high and extended register notes.
If there were any other method or secret to this register and notes, I would most certainly reveal it to all…but there isn’t. Trust me, I’ve tried them all.
A quick note on mouthpieces and their use to produce extended register notes.
Never be tempted to use any mouthpiece that allows you to play high or extended register notes at the expense of the other registers and tonal qualities of your clarinet. It is ultimately folly and will lead to serious issues involving damage to your lower lip tissues and even throat strain. If you can’t play a soft, medium and loud note in the low, mid and upper register on a mouthpiece without squeezing or biting, discard that mouthpiece immediately.
The ego must never be allowed to rule over commonsense!
My final advice on this subject is to embark on the overtone exercise that I have outlined previously in this blog for with practice and patience, you will succeed.