Friday, October 5, 2018

CLARINET Tone and Tuning

English: Bb- and A-Clarinet, German System (wi...
Bb- and A-Clarinet
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The enjoyment of musical performance by both the performer and listener depends on several factors apart from the work being performed, two of these are the instruments tonal qualities and its tuning.

The clarinet tone is dependent on the design and construction of the instrument, the clarinet reed and the skill of the player developed over many years of practice.

Instrument design and construction has gradually been improved over the years and quality instruments are now capable of producing a very fine tone indeed, given a good quality instrument the bore of the Clarinet will affect the tone and this has become a fashion thing which has varied over the years, a slightly larger diameter bore will produce more of a mellow tone than a smaller bore which would be referred to as a bright sound, however, it must be recognized that the player has a great influence on the sound produced.

Factors affecting tone are the air supply and how the player controls its flow into the instrument with the tongue together with the lips controlling the reed, a steady flow of air into the instrument is achieved by control from the diaphragm, I prefer to think of it as breathing into the instrument rather than blowing. A fine tone can only be developed by playing long sustained notes and slow tunes as part of the daily practice over the formative years, in fact, this aspect of practice should always be part of the daily routine.

Clarinet tuning is, of course, a very important part of the player's activity, and yet it is an activity which is frequently misunderstood by conductors and players, modern quality clarinets have come a long way in this respect the over the past fifty years but we still see players setting up their instruments incorrectly.

The availability of affordable electronic tuners certainly helps but the recognition of the correct procedure is frequently missing. The body of most common instrument pitched in B flat is made in five parts, starting at the top we have the mouthpiece, the barrel, the upper joint, the lower joint and the bell.

At the end of the mouthpiece and the upper and lower joints cork covered tenon's push into the barrel and the bell, the method of tuning most frequently adopted is to warm up the instrument by playing for a few minutes, temperature will cause the pitch to rise, and then with the joints pushed together play B with all holes covered, this will be a little sharp, then pull out the barrel to lower the pitch to the correct level, unfortunately this approach will put some parts of the instruments range out of tune!

The correct method of tuning is to start with all fingers off, this will give open G then adjust the barrel to bring G into tune, then play B with all holes covered and pull out the center joint to bring B into tune, a good instrument will then be in tune over most of its range, the highest register, above top C may need adjustment on some notes with the players embouchure.

    Adrian McQuire
    Amateur Clarinetist for over 55 years

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