Crossing the Break on Clarinet – Smoothly!

There are many factors that contribute to clarinet players going smoothly from A to B in the staff. Many people call this “crossing the break” when really, the goal is to have NO break. I use the term “crossing the break” when talking to other teachers, but never when talking to students because I don’t want them to get in their mind that there is a “break” there. I say “going from no fingers to all fingers” or “moving from A to B” or something like that.

Obviously, the first step to crossing the break is to cover all the holes quickly and securely. When it seems like their fingers are doing the right thing and it’s still not smooth, air is probably the contributing factor. Here’s a visualization that may help.

I say this to the student:

Look at their instrument and push down the A key.

Do you see where the air is coming out your instrument? Way up at the top. The hole under the A key, the open thumb hole, all the finger holes. So the air is escaping the instrument easily at the very top.

Now push down finger a B. (All fingers go down)

Where is the air coming out now?  A tiny, tiny bit comes out under the register key, but about 95% of the air has to make it all the way at the bottom. So it has to go from way up here (point to the top couple holes) to the bell in 0.000 seconds. There is really no time, it just has to be there.

And on top of that, the B has much more resistance than the A since your air has to go so much further down the wooden bore.

So you have to make the air spin SO fast that it is in 2 places at once. It’s coming out the A key and then less than one millisecond later (no time at all really) it’s coming out the bell. And you have to blow enough fast air to counteract the new resistance added by the instrument begin longer.

You have to have super-sonic air speed! Fast, focused, laser air.

Now, I’m far from being an expert on the study of air speed or acoustics or anything like that. (If you do know more about how instruments truly respond on this A-B transition I’d be fascinated to read your input in the Facebook comments!) I just know this really seems to help my kids visualize why they have to use fast air.

Another common problem is the position of the left index finger – students should be using their knuckle and have only one motion. You can read more about that here: Teaching Clarinets to Roll to A Isn’t Enough. This article also has a couple exercises you can try when working on this specific issue.

One final common fix is adding fingers in the right hand and/or left hand early. This needs a whole post to itself – hopefully soon. However, if a student has perfect hand position and perfect air, the A-B should be smooth. Adding fingers is an extra tool that can be used to make it easier.  The 2 basics are “Super-Sonic air speed” and “Knuckle of the index finger.”

A 1999 music education graduate of WTAMU, Tamarie Sayger held band director positions in Plano and Odessa, TX for 5 years. As a private clarinet instructor in Texas for 16 years, she has taught hundreds of students from grade 6-12 in classes, sectionals, and individual lessons. She has presented at district in-services and co-presented at the Texas Bandmasters Association convention. Her website,, provides resources for clarinet teachers around the country. Mrs. Sayger is also a core contributor for, primarily on the subjects of clarinet and private lessons. Her podcast, Crossing The Break, can be found on iTunes.

If you’d like a free printable of “Simple Gifts” that is perfect for crossing the break, you can print it from this article… Measure Mix-Up. (The 1st and 3rd version both work well.)

Related Reading:
The Clarinet “Law of Minimal Motion”
A Note Before A Rest…
Band Lesson Plan for a Non-Music Substitute
Bring on the Beautiful Bassoon

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