Friday, November 20, 2009



Its college application season! For many of you this will mean college auditions are coming up in the next few months. This month I would like to share some thoughts about this process from the auditioner’s perspective, in the hope that this may give auditionees some insight into what goes on.


Let’s start by looking at the audition itself:

#1 and vitally important – the audition begins the moment you enter the room. You will project an image to the audition committee from that moment, potentially several minutes before you even play a note. Enter respectfully yet confidently, smile, make eye contact, and say hello. Organize yourself so that you have everything you need at your fingertips. Don’t rustle through a folder to find your audition sheet, don’t pull all your music out and organize it into the order you want. Have that all ready before you walk in. And of course, dress and act professionally.


Introduce yourself; name, where you are from, your intended major, and the pieces you have prepared for the audition (unless that is specified and you had no options).


#2 While you are performing;

Don’t give away your secrets! Don’t advertise mistakes by making a face, shaking your head, slumping your shoulders, etc. Once you have made a mistake there are only two options; the audition committee noticed it or they didn’t. If they did, they know you also noticed it so let it go. If they didn’t notice – don’t alert them!


Having said that, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I believe most university studio professors would much rather hear a musical, committed performance that may have a mistake or two, than a safe, note-perfect performance. Speaking for myself, when I hear auditions for incoming freshmen I am looking for potential as much as anything. It is usually quite easy to tell the difference between someone who may be exhibiting some problems due to lack of training or nerves and someone who is having problems due to lack of preparation. I look for someone who shows a command of the clarinet, but equally important to me is someone who clearly shows a love for music and a desire to commit to it.


#3 After you play:

Thank the audition committee. Gather your belongings and leave the room, remembering that the audition is not over until you are out of the room. Remain professional throughout. Finally, give yourself a BIG congratulations!!


Let’s back up now and look at the days and weeks prior to the audition.


#1 Preparation is everything!

Common sense, right? Yet it is surprisingly common for people to choose audition repertoire late in the process, to wait too long before beginning truly detailed practice. You need to give time and attention to all the details of your music as much in advance as possible. This will leave time for the pieces to mature, so your musicianship can shine through. At the audition you will want to be able to focus on music-making not note playing.


#2 Change the order:

Practice the pieces in different orders so you are able to play anything the committee might ask, in any order they ask it.


#3 Dress rehearsal:

Schedule a dress rehearsal for yourself. Gather friends and family and play through everything for them so you feel some of the excitement you’ll feel at the audition. This is a huge confidence booster. Preferably schedule this well in advance so you have time to deal with any problems that may come to light.


 I wish the best of luck to those of you who are applying and auditioning for college in the weeks ahead! This is a very exciting process – enjoy it!


Dr D


Monday, October 26, 2009

I have been a little slow with blogging lately…The last time I wrote it was the beginning of the school year. We were all, students and teachers alike, excited by the seemingly limitless promise that a new year holds. Time flies by and here we are, now about half-way through the semester for most of us, deep into the routine. Classes, practice, rehearsals, concerts, papers, projects, midterms…the list goes on.  Perhaps the excitement has dwindled, the lure of the ‘new’ dimmed a bit. It happens. Even with the best of intentions, even with the best priorities, outside responsibilities can threaten to derail progress. Unlimited practice time is filled up with other responsibilities.


 How to come through this period and keep the energy and excitement alive? Its not easy but it is simple. The answer is - ROUTINE. Hopefully you have established a practice routine that is thorough, efficient and encompasses all your needs as a clarinet player. Now is the time that routine will pay big dividends. When every minute counts, you want complete efficiency in your practice. Not only do you need  to learn all the rep you are required to play,  you need to continue to make steady, discernable progress as a clarinetist.


These are two separate items; learning rep and making progress with your clarinet skills. It is important to keep these clearly separated in your mind, especially during unusually busy periods. Of course learning rep can and does lead to improved clarinet skills. However it is not the most efficient means toward that end. Specific goals and specific skills practice is infinitely more effective in this regard. What this means is that every day you must have a clearly defined goal in mind; something about your playing that you are trying to improve. It may be one goal that you focus on daily for a period of time. It may involve two or three goals you are working on concurrently. Either is fine provided you are clear and specific in your goals. Along with this you have specific exercises designed to reach your goal.


So lets go back to your ROUTINE. Every time you practice - let me say that again - EVERY time you practice you need to follow your routine. Your day starts with your warm-up routine. It is followed by skills practice. This is followed by rep and etude practice. This routine gets threatened during busy weeks. It is incredibly easy to forego the warm-up. Equally easy to skip skills practice and jump straight into rep. This is counterproductive. You must stick to your routine. If so, you will continually be improving your clarinet skills, ultimately making the rep/etude portion of your practice that much more efficient and productive. You MUST preserve the skills portion of your practice. These skills are most often directly related to the rep or etudes you are currently playing. Consequently your progress in that area is so much more profound if you are dealing with the underlying issues involved, rather than specific passages.


For those of you without or in between teachers, I am happy to help you set up your personal practice routine. Please feel free to ask questions about goals and which exercises are the best suited to help you meet those goals.  You can either comment directly to this blog or email me privately at


Good luck with the rest of your semester and remember to check back in a few weeks for a new blog!


Dr D




Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New School Year!

Almost time!

Welcome to August! It’s that time again – back to school, ensemble and seating auditions, rehearsals, concerts…clarinet!! Perhaps you focused on specific skills to improve or repertoire to learn over the summer; perhaps you took some time off. Either way school is fast approaching and auditions will soon be upon us!

I thought it might be interesting to discuss auditions this month as many people will have placement and/or seating auditions in the next few weeks. There are some specific steps you can take to help you through the audition process.

1. Get in shape. This goes without saying but I will say it anyway. Don’t wait until the last week to start serious practicing. Start early, several weeks before the date, and renew your daily routine. Start the practice with a 20 minute warm-up to get loosened up and get the reed and clarinet warmed up. Spend another 40 -60 minutes (at least) in skills practice. Choose a set of skills that you wish to focus on and work them every day. You can alternate or change skills as you wish as long as you are spending isolated, concentrated time on the skills you have chosen. Don’t forfeit this portion of your practice to move directly to the audition material. If you stick with this routine it will serve you well.
(There is a previous blog about warm-up/skills practice if you are interested)

2. Learn your audition material. What I mean by this is learn everything you can about your audition music. It may be music of your choice or it may be music that has been assigned to you for the audition. Know the composer – dates he/she lived, style he/she composed in, is it classical, romantic, contemporary. This is important information with regard to interpreting tempi, character, style, etc. Is the audition music an excerpt from a larger work? If so, familiarize yourself with the entire work, not just the excerpt. Know what goes on around you, ie the orchestra parts, the piano part – whatever the case may be.

3. Listen. Listen to recordings of the work(s). Take note of tempo, style, inflection, texture, etc. Record yourself and listen back. This may be one of the most enlightening things to do. You are sure to discover things you hadn’t noticed that you were or weren’t doing.

4. Practice. Restrict the amount of time you ‘play’ the material, increase the amount of time you practice. The bulk of your practice time should be spent on sections that are giving you trouble. Try to avoid over-playing the sections you are comfortable with. Practice SLOWLY with great deliberation and care. Listen carefully and adjust as necessary. Practice small sections at a time, and gradually increase the tempo as you master the section. A good rule of thumb is to move on or increase tempo only when you can play it perfectly five times in a row.

5. Let your personality show. Perfect technical playing is great but excellent playing with personality, emotion and feeling is even better. Invest yourself in what you are playing and know exactly what it is you are trying to communicate to your audience.

6. Finally, present yourself professionally at the audition. Think about the impression you wish to convey. Dress appropriately for the type of audition you are taking. Carry yourself with confidence. Speak clearly and articulately. Your audition actually lasts from the time you step foot into the room until the time you leave.

I wish everyone good luck with the new school year! I hope you get out of it all that you hope for.
Dr D

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Clarinet Exercises For Endurance

Tips on Breathing

Breathing is at the very core of clarinet playing. It is the foundation upon which everything rests – tone, technique, articulation, endurance, and musicality. Because of this is it is in our best interest to spend considerable time working on all aspects of breathing; including inhalation, exhalation, air quantity, air speed, and endurance.

For this discussion I would like to focus on endurance, but first a quick refresher on proper breathing technique. To maximize our air capacity we must breath low with a relaxed and open throat. This enables solid diaphragmatic support. We should avoid the higher chest or throat breath which limits capacity and increases tension in the throat, chest and shoulders.


The pitch of your breath will sound high if you are breathing from the chest or throat. The pitch of your breath will sound lower if it is a low breath with a relaxed and open throat.


Place the palm of your hand on your back, just above the waist and toward the side. If you are breathing properly you will feel expansion along your rib cage.

Two Types of Endurance

We need to work on two types of endurance; the first is 'rested endurance', which is the length of time you can hold a note with a rested, relaxed breath, such as the first breath of a piece. The second type of endurance, 'cumulative endurance,' is a series of quick breaths, which become increasingly more taxing until you are able to take a relaxed, cleansing breath.

Any long tone exercise can be used to work on this. Today we will talk about the 2-Register Warm-up, and how we can use it to work on endurance skills.

The 2-Register Warm-up

This is a three-note pattern which spans the chalumeau and clarion registers. The pattern is:

Low note – add register key – ascend half-step – breath – repeat.


Low E – Long B – C – Breath

Low F – C – C# - Breath

Low F# - C# - D – Breath

Repeat pattern until :

Throat tone E – top clarion B – C.

You should put the metronome on 60 so you can track seconds (it also keeps you from hurrying through your warm-up). When warming up I like to play the pattern with whole-notes, giving a 12 second pattern. Completing the pattern from Low E through throat tone E will give you an excellent start to your warm-up.

Using the 2-Register Warm-up for Endurance Work

For Relaxed Endurance:

Begin the pattern on Low E, starting with a pattern that is long enough to approach your limit without pushing your endurance to the point of gasping for breath. This will of course vary from person to person. For some it might be a five-second per note – 15 second pattern, for others an eight-second per note - 24 second pattern.

Play one or two sets to establish your breathing. Then as you move on through the exercise, extend the last note as long as possible, really pushing to your very limit. In between patterns be sure to rest and start the next pattern refreshed. When you are pushing your limits it will take several seconds to recover between patterns. When you are consistently extending the third note three beats, increase your pattern by a beat for each pitch. Again, resume the pattern and continue extending the third pitch as long as possible.

This is a rewarding exercise because if done consistently, you will see objective, measurable results. Your pattern will increase in length and you can clearly monitor your progress.

For Cumulative Endurance:

Begin the pattern on Low E, again starting with a pattern long enough to approach your endurance limit but not long enough to leave you gasping for breath. For this exercise you will not be increasing the length of the third note, but rather decreasing the length of time in which you breath in between patterns. Start by taking two beats to breath between each set. Reduce to one beat between each. This will eventually take a toll and you will not be able to make the entire pattern before needing a breath. (If this doesn't happen, then your initial pattern is not long enough and should be increased.) As you become increasingly tired, concentrate on a keeping a relaxed throat and a low-pitched breath during each inhalation.


I tend not to work on both types of endurance in one practice session. The two types of endurance each have a somewhat different focus and one's practice will be more efficient and more productive when focus is on one set of skills at a time.

Good luck and please let me know how it works for you! As always I look forward to comments or questions. If you prefer not to comment directly on the post, feel free to email me at

Happy Summer!!

Dr D

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Clarinet Masterclasses

I am going to stray a bit from the 'masterclass blog' and simply share some thoughts.  I have very recently given a couple of masterclasses; one at Emporia State University Woodwind Day - thank you Dr McConkie!! - and one at the University of Miami Clarinet Choir Day - thank you Mr Piccinelli and the All Broward Clarinet Choir! (By the way, Dr McConkie and Mr Piccinelli are both UM alumni and former members of the UM Clarinet Studio!)

As I prepared for these events, I thought quite a bit about what young clarinetists need in order to grow as clarinetists and blossom as musicians. The answer is quite simple: they need to grow as a clarinetist and blossom as a musician! What I mean by that is that we all (regardless of level) need to constantly strive to maintain a balance between skills and art; more specifically between those skills required to play the clarinet and those involved in music-making. These are two separate areas and both need attention to thrive.

In order to grow as a clarinetist we need to attend to details involved in playing the instrument; tone production, technique, articulation, range, etc. This is a means to an end however, not a final goal in and of itself. These skills are the foundation that allow us to make music, our ultimate goal. The clarinet is the vehicle we have chosen for this amazing experience of music-making. (Well chosen, I might add! An exquisitely beautiful instrument it is!)

Herein lies the challenge - balancing skills practice with practicing music. It is surprisingly easy to lean decidedly one way or the other. We must constantly evaluate the structure, balance and efficiency of our practice time to be sure we are attending to all our needs; those needed to play the clarinet as well as those needed to turn a beautiful phrase.

Just some food for thought - I welcome discussion!

As always, I wish you all good health and good reeds!!
Dr D

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Clarinet Altissimo Fingerings

We have discussed ways to develop your altissimo, so now let's talk fingerings. I'll use a pretty standard method of giving fingerings, but let's clarify just in case:
TR= Thumb and Register key
LH1, 2, 3= left hand fingers
RH1, 2, 3= right hand fingerings
All other keys will be identified by their pitch. Ex., Side Eb/Bb, Throat tone Ab, RH E/B, etc.

Keep in mind that this is an incomplete list of fingerings. This is merely a list of my favorites, and some information regarding the context in which you might choose to use them. The purpose here is simply to give you some options. If you come across a passage that does not seem to lend itself to any of these fingerings please drop me a note or leave a comment. I am happy to help find a fingering to fit a particular passage. By the same token, if you have a favorite fingering that I don't mention, by all means leave it in a comment - we are all in this together!

FYI - I play on a Buffet Vintage clarinet with a Robert Scott mouthpiece. Fingerings will vary greatly depending on equipment.

Here goes...
1. TR, LH 2, 3, RH 1, 2; standard fingering.
2. TR, side trills 1 & 2; poor intonation but good for certain technical passages.
3. Overblown throat tone F#; fast arpeggios and certain other fast passages

1. TR, LH 2, 3, RH 1, Ab/Eb; standard
2. Same as #1 but without Ab/Eb; occasionally used for intonation reasons
3. TR, side trill 3; trills or very occasionally technical passage
4. Overblown open G; good for fast arpeggios and certain other fast passages

1. TR, LH 2, 3, RH 1, RH sliver, Ab/Eb; standard
2. Same as #1 but without Ab/Eb; can help with some jumps into superaltissimo such as Eb-Bb.
3. TR, LH 2, 3; RH 3; Ab/Eb; Good for slurred ascent from clarion register, such as Eb octave slur.
4. TR, Throat tone A; soft slur from Clarion C, such as in Debussy Rhapsodie. Not good for sustained notes

1. TR LH 2, 3; Ab/Eb; standard
2. same without Ab/Eb

1. TR LH 2, 3, C#/G#; Ab/Eb; standard
2. Same as #1 but with added RH sliver; raises pitch
3. TR, LH 1, 2, 3, C#/G#; RH 1, 2, 3; "Long" or "Covered" fingering, responds easily, good for sustained note, soft entrance, raises pitch

1. TR, LH 2; Ab/Eb; standard
2. Same as #1 but with added RH sliver; raises pitch
3. TR, LH 1, 2, RH 1,2, 3, Ab/Eb; "Long" or "covered", responds easily, good for sustained note, soft entrance, raises pitch

1. TR, LH 1, 3, RH 1, 3, Ab/Eb; stable, good pitch, not necessarily for fast passages.
2. TR, LH1; Ab/Eb; good for some fast passages but low in pitch
3. Same as #2 but with added RH sliver; raises pitch
4. TR LH 2, RH 1, 2, Ab/Eb; popular but sharp and bright in timbre
5. TR, LH 1, RH 1,2, 3, Ab/Eb;
6. TR, LH2, side trill, Ab/Eb; good for technical passages, especially those involving F#

1. TR, LH 2, 3, RH 1, RH sliver, Ab/Eb
2. Same as #1 but with F#/C# pinkie instead; easier response, raises pitch
3. TR, LH 2, 3, RH 2, Ab/Eb; pitch is higher than #1

1. TR, LH 2, 3, Ab/Eb; standard
2. Same but with F#/C# pinkie; responds easier, raises pitch

1. TR, Throat tone Ab, LH 2, 3, C#/G#, F#/C# pinkie; standard

1. TR, Throat tone Ab, LH 1, 2, RH 1, 2, F#/C#; standard

1. TR, Throat tone Ab, LH 1; RH 1, F#/C#; standard

Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekend Warriors (this one is for you, CT!)

I have been approached by a couple people asking about my previous blog regarding warming up. Specifically, could I give a warm-up/practice plan for someone who does not play every day, someone who plays the clarinet as a hobby.

Well, here is a plan for you weekend warriors!

If you read my previous post, you will see that the same principles apply here. First, you MUST warm up. This 10-15 minute period is critical for getting your air flowing and getting your muscles loosened up. It relaxes and limbers up the hands. In the case of weekend warriors it has the added importance of sparking your physical memory - getting all your muscles back where they should be for good clarinet playing.

Following this is a 15-minute period of skills practice. This is very important for development. Even with a very limited weekend warrior type practice schedule you CAN make advancements in your playing. The key is to not overdo. Do not try to cram a week's worth of practice into one hour. You will end up with a little of everything. Yet, nothing will have received enough time for improvement to take place. So, choose one skill you would like to focus on and do just that - focus. Put all your energy into that one skill and work on it. Be creative, try several different approaches to the problem until you find one that you feel is working. If you focus on one skill you WILL be playing better at the end of the 15 minutes than you were when you started.

Now on to the fun part ~
The third section of your practice is 30 minutes (or whatever you wish) of playing. That's it - just play! Work on rep if you are preparing for something. Work on etudes if that strikes your fancy. Play through anything you want - just play and have fun. Work on what you need/want to work on, but your main focus is to simply enjoy music-making.

That's it! A simple recipe for success that you can take to any level you want. Once every few days, once a week, etc.

I am not including suggestions for etude books, scale books, or repertoire here because it depends on one's level of experience and level of involvement. However, please feel free to leave a comment or send an email and I will be happy to give suggestions.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Warming up seems to run the gamut from the 'slap a reed on and play' technique to the 90 minute warm-up. I think we can all agree that the first technique is not your best choice! Having said that, I don't think the 90 minute warm-up is the way to go either.
Here's why:

The purpose of the warm-up is to - you got it - warm up! It is not to make substantial improvements in your playing, it is to relax and loosen muscles and get blood flowing. That's it. I think of it in three parts; tone production, technique and articulation. We need to warm up all muscles involved in these areas, namely embouchure, voicing and air support muscles, hands, fingers and tongue. Along with this we should be working towards relaxed arms and shoulders as well as good posture.

This should not take over an hour! Those of you who swear by your 60 - 90 minute warm-up, read on - I'll explain!

As stated earlier, warming up loosens and relaxes muscles, gets the blood flowing, and reaffirms the physical memory involved in playing the instrument. This is a direct parallel to stretching before a workout, or starting a run at a slower pace before warming up to your workout pace. At the risk of being redundant, it loosens and relaxes muscles and gets the blood flowing - this is the primary goal of warming up! I can't stress this enough. Warming up is for warming up. Warming up is not for making major improvements to your playing. This should take 20 minutes. Maybe 30.

Stay with me all you 90 minute warm-up aficionados! Here's the catch -- this 20 minute warm-up is always followed by skills practice. These are two distinct areas of practice and I believe they need to stay distinct for productive and efficient practice. The lines get blurred for many people and these two sections get combined into one long (LONG!) warm-up. To me this is less effective. The warm-up can actually be rushed by placing demands on your results too soon in the session. In other words you expect to sound too good too soon in the warm-up. Warming up for the goals listed above relieves us of this pressure, it allows for a more relaxed warm-up. On the other side, grouping warm-ups and skills practice together also leaves some people feeling that 60 minutes into their practice session they have done nothing but warm-up and now need to begin practicing. Equally damaging.

Let's take a step back and look at a typical two-hour practice session.
I Warm-up; 20 minutes
II Skills Practice; 40-60 minutes
III Etudes/Repertoire; 40-60 minutes

The proportions of these areas will vary depending on your needs at the time. For example, the time spent in Area II or III at the beginning of a new semester may differ from that spent the week or two before a recital. Nonetheless, all three areas should be present in one proportion or another - every day!

Back to the warm-up. It should always include: long tones to address embouchure, voicing and air; scales, arpeggios and other patterns to address hands/fingers; articulation exercises for the tongue.

We use the same items (long tones, scales, etc) in Area II of our practice session. We use these tools to focus concentrated energy toward improving one or more specific skills involved in clarinet playing. Perhaps improved tone, better hand position, clearer or faster articulation - the list goes on! To accomplish this we use these same tools but with a distinctly different goal in mind.

What I want for you to take away from this is the concept of a distinct and clear separation between warming up and skills practice. The most efficient and productive practice comes with this separation, with the goals clearly in mind. It allows for a relaxed warm-up followed by focused, concentrated attention to one or more specific goals.

To recap:
I Warm-up for approximately 20 minutes. Goal: Loosen and relax muscles, get the blood flowing. Use long tones, scales, arpeggios and other patterns as well as articulation exercises.

II Skills Practice 40 - 60 minutes. Goal: Improve one or more specific skills. Use long tones, scales, arpeggios and other patterns, articulation exercises, etc.

III Etudes/Repertoire 40 - 60 minutes. Goal: Improve specific elements of your etudes and repertoire.

Perhaps in the next couple months we can discuss specific exercises for warm-ups and skills practice. Another month we can discuss practice techniques for Area III, etudes/repertoire.

As always I welcome your feedback; questions about this or earlier blogs as well as suggestions for future topics.

Thanks for joining us for Clarinet Talk From Miami! Until next month good health and good reeds!

~ Dr D

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Developing your altissimo

We've all felt it...that feeling of trepidation as we are approaching THAT passage. The one with the high notes that just don't quite sound the way we would like. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way - we can play in the altissimo with control, with a pleasing tone, with good intonation.

Here's how~~

Let's start by discussing just what the altissimo is. It is the third register. Nothing more, nothing less. When we move from the lowest register (the chalumeau) into the second register (the clarion), we don't give it a second thought. It is as easy as engaging the register key. We should have the same feeling when moving from the clarion into the altissimo. Let's clarify these registers. The chalumeau register is from low E up to throat tone Bb, in other words everything under the break. The clarion register is from B just above the break to high C. The altissimo is everything above high C.

The concept is that if you have a good setup - meaning a decent mouthpiece with a decent reed, a good embouchure, proper voicing and good air support - you should need only to open the second register key to move smoothly into the altissimo. It should require no other adjustments of embouchure or air. Two issues come to mind as we think about that concept:

The first is whether or not all these requirements regarding equipment, embouchure, voicing and air are in place. Although we will be discussing voicing a bit here, the rest I am going to assume as a given for the purposes of this discussion. If you have questions about any of these points ask your teachers for clarification that you have it all in place, or feel free to send me a comment and ask questions. I am always happy to answer.

The second thing that comes to mind is the 'second register key'. What is that?! It is merely the raising of the first finger of your left hand. When you lift it to move into the altissimo register it is acting as a register key. The idea is that although each register has fewer notes, the same fingering patterns follow through all three registers. (One slight disclaimer to that -when playing in the altissimo you must add the pinky Ab/Bb key to every note except C# to help with response and intonation.)

Here are two exercises to demonstrate this concept:

Exercise 1:

1. Slowly play chromatically in the chalumeau from A to D.

2. Open the register key and play the same fingerings. You have just played clarion E to A.

3. Open the second register key (the left hand first finger) and play the same fingerings. You have just played altissimo C# up to F#. (don't forget to add the Ab/Bb pinky starting with altissimo D)

Exercise 2:

1. Play chalumeau A. Maintaining the same embouchure, voicing and air support, press the register key. You have moved to clarion E. Open the second register key (LH 1st finger) taking care not to adjust embouchure, voicing or air. You have moved to altissimo C#.

2. Repeat the process starting on chalumeau Bb, B, C, C# and D. Hint: use the chromatic fingering for chalumeau B so that your altissimo D# will be in tune.

Important: Don't try to reach for the notes. Adopt the mindset that you are going to simply open the register keys and 'see what happens'. This is critical because 'what happens' will tell you what you need to know about your voicing.

Troubleshooting tip #1:

You open the second register key and it squeaks. Take heart - this is not a squeak It is simply a very high note - perhaps one that you thought you couldn't play! For instance a 'squeak' on the altissimo C# fingering is probably a high G, a 'squeak' on altissimo E is probably a high A, etc. This is most often caused by biting or reaching for the high notes, or simply being voiced too high. This causes the notes to jump into the super altissimo, or the very high notes above high G or so. This is actually good news! It shows that you have the flexibility to play the super altissimo, you just need to learn how to control it so you produce the notes you want, when you want them. We'll leave the very high notes for another month...for now let's concentrate on the basic altissimo, up to F#. Work on maintaining proper voicing when moving between registers. Trust the clarinet to make the jump - don't try to help by reaching for the high notes.

Troubleshooting tip #2:

You open the second register key and nothing comes out. Maybe a sort of low grunt, not a note of any type. This is the opposite problem from tip #1. You may not have a strong enough reed, you may not have a strong enough embouchure or air support. If those things are in place then you are most likely voiced too low. What I mean by voicing is the position of your tongue and throat. Are you voiced in an "eee" or an "ah", or maybe an "ooo"? Is your tongue positioned high up, in an arch, or low in your mouth? Is your throat open or tight? All these variations will have a profound effect on your tone and your ability to play in the altissimo and super altissimo.

Here's a test. Play on only the mouthpiece and barrel. Be careful not to block the bottom of the barrel. It must remain free and open. Check the pitch with a piano. The resulting note should be an F#. Producing a note that is higher or lower than F# gives you valuable information about whether your embouchure and voicing are set up too tight, too loose, too pinched, etc.

Practice exercises 1 and 2 every day. Focus on finding the embouchure and voicing setup that allows you to freely move up into the altissimo by simply opening the second register key. Once you find this setup you are on your way to a beautiful altissimo!

We can talk about altissimo fingerings, the half-hole technique and other altissimo issues in future blogs. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments! Don't forget to make requests if you have something clarinet-related that you would like us to talk about!

See you next month,
Dr D

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Happy New Year to all and welcome to the opening of Clarinet Talk from Miami! We will be blogging once a month about all things clarinet. We'll be talking about specific pieces - sort of a masterclass in the form of a blog - we'll call them masterblogs! Along with repertoire, we will also deal with skills specific to clarinet playing, equipment, tips on practicing, thoughts about auditioning/interviewing, landing your first job...the list goes on!

Who will be writing these masterblogs? I'll start by introducing myself. My name is Margaret Donaghue Flavin (known to my students as Dr D), and I am Professor of Clarinet in the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL. I have been at UM for nearly 15 years, and I have to say it is a dream job. My colleagues are tremendous musicians and people. My students continually inspire me. The University, Coral Gables, and the surrounding Miami area are all beautiful 12 months a year (ok, a bit hot in July and August!). South Florida is diverse, culturally exciting, and - did I mention - beautiful!

Also contributing monthly masterblogs will be several UM alums. They are all former clarinet students from UM and are now performing and teaching at the university level. We'll be sure to include bios each month so you know who these talented people are.

Feel free to request masterblog topics. Perhaps you are working on a specific skill, maybe you would like another perspective on a particular piece...we will accommodate topics if at all possible. Thanks for visiting Clarinet Talk from Miami and I hope you will be back to visit us each month to check out the latest masterblog.

I wish you all Good Health and Good Reeds in the New Year!