Having a hard time getting your beginning clarinets to play good sounds and on pitch on the mouthpiece and barrel? Try this!
It is generally agreed that being able to play an F# on the mouthpiece and barrel is an important milestone for young clarinetists. Often, when a class tries to play together, the pitch is all over the place due to students biting, trying to play loud enough to hear their own individual sounds, etc.
I have been using this approach lately and it has helped:
Once I’m happy with the students’ embouchures, I have them blow air only through the mouthpiece and barrel while maintaining their embouchures. We emphasize keeping the air calm and not blowing a fast enough air stream to produce a sound. I demonstrate first so it is clear to the students exactly what I would like them to do.
The next step is to again blow a steady stream of calm air, but this time gradually increase the speed of the air (while maintaining the embouchure) until a tone is produced. This method has proven highly successful in getting a class to play with fairly matched sounds that, for the most part, are on the desired pitch of Concert F#.
Why has this method proven successful? Well, I can only guess that approaching the sound from “zero” prevents the students from overblowing, pushing so much air that it “blows out” their embouchures, and does not promote biting. From my experience, when I have had the class just “play the sound,” there is a wide spectrum of pitches produced, and students rarely (at first at least) play in the group the same way they do when playing individually. This newer method does not create as much tension, leading to a much higher rate of success.
Jim Shaw is the Director of Bands at Willow Wood Junior High School in Tomball, Texas. A graduate of West Texas A&M University and contributing editor to The Instrumentalist, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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