So, having read the last chapter, we have managed to get our first sound out of the clarinet, well, mouthpiece and barrel anyway. This chapter looks at working at getting a nice sound out of the clarinet, closely linked to how to breathe to optimise the quality of the clarinet sound.
Now, like everything else new in life, you are not going to sound like Sabine Meyer in your first month. Or year, probably. It helps if you have that concept of a clarinet sound in your head, because it makes your developing a nice clarinet sound a lot easier. If you don’t have a concept of a nice clarinet sound, then log onto YouTube and listen to different clarinet sounds, and make up your own mind. There are as many different clarinet sounds as there are clarinettists, so you are bound to find one that suits you.
OK, so we are looking at making a nice sound. Let me warn parents and friends now, for the first few months, the clarinet student is going to sound like someone is strangling the family cat. Word of warning, your family cat or dog is likely to get a bit freaked out on hearing a beginner clarinet sound, but this should pass in a few weeks. You may have the odd complaint from the neighbour, so restrict your practice to after 6.30am in the morning and before 8.30pm at night if you don’t wish to start a neighbourhood war. Really, the worst things that could happen is the next door neighbour gets his own back by starting his own barbeque making business in his garage, with the piercing sound of cutting steel going on day and night, with prank phone calls at 2am in the morning, or some lowlife with a grudge stealing your clarinets from your house while you are asleep, three days before you are due to fly out for an international competition, then selling them to a local pawnbroker for $50. Both of these things happened to me, and I’m still playing.
At the very first stage of formulating a sound, I again would only use the mouthpiece and the barrel. Just like training for a race, you need to build up your fitness, so also does your lip. You can’t expect to play for hours on end in your first week. In your eagerness you may wish to though. However, if you try this simple exercise, you will get that fitness up.
Take just the mouthpiece and barrel, form your embouchure, take a breath (I will get onto breathing in a later chapter) and blow a note for five seconds. You may notice that the sound is not constant, it may be a little wavery. That is because your embouchure is still in its formative stages and needs strengthening. Keep at it, start with a five second tone, trying to get the sound as even as possible, and then gradually increase the length of the tone. Once you have a steady tone over five seconds, increase it to ten. As you increase the time of the tone, listen to how it sounds, and what you can do with your mouth to make it sound better. Record your practice to get an unbiased perspective. I say this because what you hear and what your audience hears are two quite different sounds, you are hearing the vibrations in your head more than what is coming out of the instrument.
Now, once you are getting a decent firm sound with just the barrel and mouthpiece, put the rest of the clarinet together. Left hand on top, right hand on the bottom, with the thumb resting under the thumb rest so that it takes the weight of the instrument. Now, using the same techniques you used with just the mouthpiece and barrel, and without putting any fingers down, put the mouthpiece to you mouth and blow. Hopefully a sound will come out, and you have played your first note of the clarinet, the open G. Woohoo! Play it a number of times. See how long you can hold a steady note! See if you can change the sound of the note. Is the family dog howling?
Here is a link to help you on you way.
Right, now that we have our first note on the instrument, join me in the next chapter for the first 5 notes of the clarinet.