How do you address a clarinet correctly?

Playing technique

In the music school class, even children who put a clarinet in their mouth for the first time will get a note out after a few minutes, and after a few hours they may be able to play a scale and a simple song. From there, however, there is still a long way to go before you can do it so well with strangers voluntary to listen. You might be able to do that in two years with a lot of practice, but that's pretty sporty! And even after many years you still learn - there are whole books about playing technique.

Correct approach

Under approach the clarinetist understands how to hold the mouthpiece of the clarinet between his lips and blow into it. The French expression "embouchure" (that is, "hold-in-your-mouth") is much better at that.

The approach contributes significantly to the sound. The correct approach can only be briefly outlined here,the best - and quickest - way to learn it is with a well-trained clarinet teacher. How are you now?

  1. You stand relaxed. If you can do it properly later, you can of course also sit down, but then if possible on the front edge of the chair, which must not be too deep so that you can breathe properly. The thighs should slope down slightly, otherwise the stomach will buckle and the diaphragm cannot work freely.
  2. Hold the clarinet at an angle of about 45 ° to your body.
  3. You place your lower lip over the teeth of the lower jaw (if you bite now, the lower lip lies between the teeth of the upper and lower jaw) and pull the lower lip taut (similar to smiling). To check whether you are doing it correctly, you can use both index fingers to press on the lower lip just outside the canine teeth and pull something outwards - that shouldn't go far now. With a lot of practice, the lower lip is completely taut. Beginners shouldn't overdo it, otherwise the muscles will be sore!
  4. You put the clarinet in your mouth so far that the reed lies on your lower lip and you can hit the reed with the tip of your tongue from below, at least so far back that you don't touch the foremost reed edge. Otherwise the very thin edge of the leaf would suffer and not last long.
  5. You press the clarinet lightly (a little harder for beginners) against the incisors of the upper jaw and close your lips (especially the upper lip) around the mouthpiece so that when you blow, no more air escapes anywhere.
  6. You should hardly exert any pressure from below against the blade so that it can swing relatively freely.
  7. Imagine the tone that should come now (no kidding!)
  8. You blow into it (breathing and blowing as well as nudging see below)

Correct breathing

How breathing works - greatly simplified

The lungs themselves are two sacs of sacs with strong blood circulation, which we cannot move ourselves, they can only be filled indirectly. To do this, the chest, in which the two lungs are located, is widened when breathing in and compressed when breathing out. The upper part of the lung cavity is bounded by the chest and shoulders and downward by the diaphragm. There are two types of breathing: on the one hand shoulder and chest breathing and on the other hand abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. You can control the shoulder and chest muscles directly and the diaphragm only indirectly via the abdominal muscles. In natural breathing, which even works when we are unconscious, both movements are combined.

Natural breathing?

First of all, it should be made clear that the breathing technique that enables good clarinet playing is actually completely unnatural. Natural breathing is even and goes through the nose; Inhalation and exhalation take about the same time. The process runs involuntarily controlled by the body itself. This helps to keep the correct amount of oxygen in the circulation, to clean and warm the air we breathe and to keep the mucous membranes moist. The breathing technique when playing the clarinet requires jerky inhalation through the mouth (it is not fast enough through the nose) and then (if you are honest) more or less pressed exhalation with different pressure over a loooong time - a red head is not unusual . Of course it is definitely not!

In the worst case, unnatural breathing can lead to a slight dizziness when holding out notes for a long time, similar to hyperventilating. But this rarely happens with experienced clarinetists. The good news here is that the pressure when playing the clarinet is not so high that it makes you crazy (as is supposed to happen when playing the oboe ... ;-) Humans have mastered this type of breathing for a relatively long time, it corresponds roughly to the way we breathe when talking, shouting and singing heavily (when playing the clarinet it is just a little bit more violent).

Usually we do not think about breathing and use both forms, that is, chest and diaphragmatic breathing. Both forms are possible when playing the clarinet. When we consciously want to breathe deeply, we usually do this with chest breathing - our shoulders rise. This form is usually well trained and effective. However, diaphragmatic breathing has advantages when playing: the shoulder and chest are occupied with holding the instrument and operating the valves, and sometimes even downright tense. The diaphragm is still free. Even high pressure can be maintained very easily with the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing, however, requires that the abdominal wall can bulge outwards. It's very easy to stand up, but not to sit with bent legs and a narrowed abdomen.

When sitting, the following applies: under no circumstances sit too low or too far back. The front edge of a chair is ideal. An orthopedic foam wedge can be an effective help with bad and too low chairs in concert halls - you put it on the chair so that the seat slopes forward. And if you also want to use it at concerts: choose an inconspicuous cover color such as black or gray - otherwise the wedge will be very noticeable.


The fingerings for the two main registers, the chalumeau and the clarinet register, are the same for all clarinet sizes from double bass to Eb and are taught in lessons. There are very few special trill fingerings that may work differently on individual clarinet models. Above the clarinet register, i.e. when copying twice, the individual differences of the individual clarinetist and his instrument then begin to have such a strong effect that it is better to try everything out for yourself.

Incidentally, the handles are not that different from those of the recorder, for example. In fact, in the upper register of the German system - the clarinet register, when the overblow key is pressed - the fingerings are practically identical to those of the recorder. "All fingers on it" results in a "C" for both the recorder and the clarinet and "only the left hand on it" results in a "G" for both. The fork-F also works. At least these are the notes that are notated, because the clarinet sounds correspondingly lower because it transposes - with B-flat clarinet, when you pick up the C, you hear a B, with A-clarinet an A.

As a guide, there is Fingering chartswhich even the experienced clarinetist digs out in individual passages to see whether there is perhaps a practical help after all. I have given links to useful fingering charts on the Internet:

Fingering table Bb clarinet, German (at
Fingering tables Boehm, Oehler and Albert etc. ( - English text)

When it comes to the highest notes, the clarinets and individual players are so different that you should try them out and know exactly which notes you should cover all or part of open tone holes with your fingers so that a note is better or at least sounds better.

It is also important to find out from instrument to instrument whether, for example, a fork or key handle is better. With fast runs or trills that may not matter, it depends on comfort or speed, if you have to hold out a note for a long time or to bump ppp, that's already important.


"Pushing" is the process by which the blade is released to vibrate. Actually there is no pushing at all, but rather let go, because you have your tongue on the leaf beforehand so that it cannot swing and then you let go of the leaf more or less quickly, while blowing at the same time.

Instead of trying it like that, it is much easier to imagine saying "TAAA" or "DAAA" or, better still, singing - the tongue movement is then just right and the airflow is pretty good too.

Hard or soft nudges and legato

In contrast to the piano, for example, the clarinet has many dimensions of sound production. With the piano, there is always only one dimension to the touch - regardless of what my piano teacher has always said. This dimension is the speed of the key when it is hit, which is then converted directly into the volume. In a completely different way, the clarinetist has significantly more possibilities for tone shaping. An important one is toasting. We have just got to know it: "TAAA" and "DAAA", of course "HAAA" is also possible, that would then be a sound without a trigger, only with a hint of "breath". And then of course there is also legato - here one note is tied to the previous one, so the air flow and thus the oscillation of the air column in the instrument does not theoretically stop at all. I write theoretically because between two tones - except for the glissando - the oscillation naturally breaks down briefly, but you don't notice it clearly.

Sounding staccato and staccato secco - what is it?

The type of bump has nothing to do with the length of the note - in so far there are hard (staccato) or soft long and short tones: "TAAA TAAA TATATATATA" or "DAAA DAAA DADADADADA" or "HAAA HAAA HAHAHAHAHA" - have all three phrases the same tone length in each case. At least they are notated for the same length, of course "HA" is longer than "TAT" - on the one hand breathing on takes more time and starts shortly before the note, on the other hand the note lingers a little. The differences are small, however, and the tones are perceived as having the same length.

If sounding staccato is required, it means that you are playing: "TA TA TA TA". Secco (pronounced "secko"), meaning "dry" staccato, is played "TAT TAT TAT TAT". With the former, the leaf and the column of air have a chance to swing out, with the latter, the sound is quasi choked off with the tongue. If you are quick with your tongue, it often no longer sounds nice. Most other instruments cannot play staccato as short as the clarinet because the other instruments (for example string instruments) need a longer time to start. Therefore, as a clarinetist in an ensemble, you should adapt to the staccato of the other musicians; you may not take the articulation signs and descriptions quite so literally.

Double tongue - what is it and does it work on the clarinet?

Fast staccato is often required of the musician. The brass players (and also oboists) then use the so-called double reed. The term is a bit misleading, in fact it should be called "half tongue": You are not playing "TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT" or - which is a little easier: "TATATATATATA", but "TAKATAKATAKATAKA". That means, instead of a "real" nudge with the tip of the tongue on the mouthpiece, you interrupt the airflow with the middle tongue on the roof of the mouth. You can hardly hear the difference with a brass instrument, and if you do that at high speed with the clarinet, you can. Double tongue is only suitable for lingering staccato or high tempo (for example in Julius Fucik's Florentine March) - otherwise you should try to practice the classic toast.

Accents (>) - are they just louder?

This would be the case with the piano (see above) - the pianist can no longer change a note that he has struck once, only stop it - the piano note always becomes quieter at the same speed. This does not apply to a clarinet. A clarinetist can play an accent as it is intended: At the beginning the tone gets a little - or noticeably - more pressure (with the air). You take the pressure off immediately and continue playing at the original volume. If you play together with strings, you don't make the effect as strong as together with a brass section.

Proceed in the same way with the reverse sign (<): After touching the normal volume, "turn it up briefly" (also called "pressing down") - and then continue playing at the original volume. Sure, a piano can't do that at all. So when you play with a piano you have to consider whether it is more important that both instruments make the articulation the same (if both are more or less equivalent) or whether it is more important that the clarinet part brings the melody as intended (if the piano is a pure accompaniment).

Tuning - adjust the pitch

As soon as several instruments play together, you have to agree on a common pitch - otherwise it sounds cruel. In particular, slight differences in mood are perceived as rough, scratchy or even sloping, sometimes even painful. A "concert pitch" A with 440 Hertz is actually standardized. This applies to all instruments in our culture, i.e. everything that can be found in an orchestra with the exception of certain percussion. That could already solve the problem.

Unfortunately, as a rule, today you do not vote at 440, but rather at 442 to 444 Hertz (and there is a trend towards higher tuning). For the clarinet, a Bb instrument that transposes, that means: Our fingered B should sound as A with 440 Hertz or 442 or 444 Hertz, depending on the orchestra tuning.

You "tune" your instrument by aligning a tone with a reference tone, for example with a tuner. Then check all other tones. The device can indicate for each tone whether one is too high or too low. Or you can do it in comparison with a reference instrument - this can also be a tuning fork. In the orchestra, a reference instrument sets a tone, usually the oboe. The tone is usually the a (at around 440 Hz), in wind bands it is often a b. All other instruments briefly record this note one after the other, hear whether and how they differ and then lengthen or shorten their strings, tuning slides, pears or the S-bow (for low clarinets) until their a corresponds to that of the oboe. For professionals on stage, for more than 100 musicians, this rarely takes more than a minute. Of course, they know the height and have already tuned their instruments precisely beforehand. For amateurs, one of the challenges of playing together is precisely hearing the tone differences. As with everything else, there are people who can do it better and others who find it more difficult. Amazingly, there are very few (less than 2 in a hundred) who cannot do it at all. So most can learn.

If the a is the same for everyone, the tone is right, the instrument is right, the orchestra is right and everything is good. Or?

Unfortunately, it's not that easy, especially for clarinetists.

In general, every clarinet is built and tuned for a specific pitch. Due to the standard, the instrument should actually be in tune with a sounding a with 440 Hertz. Because the orchestras tune higher today, the manufacturers also build their instruments accordingly, the manufacturer says in the details of the instrument. This means that the instrument should be completely in tune with exactly this tuning: All notes are at exactly the right distance from one another, and each tone hole is in the right place. Unfortunately, even theoretically, this is hardly achievable with the clarinet - and practically every instrument has weaknesses there.Of course, it also depends on the quality of the instrument on the one hand, but also on a few other requirements:

  • The mouth and the approach of the player acts as a piece of the swinging column of air and depending on this, the "short notes", i.e. those in which almost all the keys are open, are influenced to a greater or lesser extent
  • The temperature and humidity of the surrounding room and the instrument change the pitch. The good news is that this is almost the same for most woodwinds, especially clarinets. The bad news is that there are other instruments, such as strings, that are affected too, but can and do tune their instrument to a given pitch without any problems (and perfectly!).

In practice, we almost always have to adapt our instrument to a slightly higher or lower tuning of the ensemble. Basically it's simple at first: To get the instrument deeper, we pull out the pear a little. The bore becomes longer, the vibration wave becomes longer, the tone becomes deeper. To get the instrument higher, we push the pear back in a little. If that no longer works (all together very tightly), we take a shorter pear. Instruments - especially the better ones - often have a second, slightly shorter bulb for this purpose. Because German and Boehm instruments are largely standardized, shorter pears usually fit without much processing by the instrument maker, so it does not necessarily have to be one from the same manufacturer or a custom-made one.

But the following also happens: Let's assume that we have tuned our instrument perfectly with a tuner. Now we're sitting in an orchestra and everyone follows the first oboe, which strikes an "a". Because a Bb clarinet transposes, you have to reach for our Bb clarinet b. Let us further assume that we do that with the "long" h (all keys closed, duodecimal key open). But our clarinet is still way too high. So we pull the pear out until the tone is right. We have now pulled the bulb out by 6 mm - that would be a lot. With a total length of the instrument of about 66 cm - and with a vibrating column of air, which is a little shorter, of about 60 cm - this means an extension of about 1%. Let us now consider the next lower note, i.e. the highest note of the lower register: b (all open). The "shortest" note on the instrument. The 6 mm extension of our tuning measure is not only 1% for this tone, but almost 10%. That means: The change has a much stronger effect on "short" tones than on "long" ones.

What does that mean now? This means that with our measure we have tuned the "long" notes halfway correctly, but the "short notes" are far too deep and we have thus sacrificed the overall tuning of the instrument.

In practice, the effect is usually not that pronounced. But it is important to understand that - if you "tune" your instrument by changing its length, you now have to restore the "in-yourself mood". You can do this with various tricks (see below).

If we play as a player in several differently tuned ensembles and problems arise frequently, we can do the following: Armed with a tuner and a piece of paper, we analyze our instrument:

  1. Normally the instrument is perfect when the pear is fully pushed in and when it is warm - so let's play it for at least a quarter of an hour
  2. Now we play a chromatic scale and note the deviations for each note
  3. We repeat that a few days later and a couple of times in total. There should be a certain pattern of deviations.
  4. Then we determine the standard tuning of our ensemble (s) and carry out the measurement again as described above, but now with an instrument tuned to A (or B) in the basic tuning of the ensemble. If the basic tuning of the ensemble deviates significantly from the standard tuning of our instrument, completely different patterns can result.
  5. Repeat until the pattern is stable each time.

Now we know the "quirks" of our instrument in different basic tunings and should know in which ensemble (or in which tuning) we have to compensate for the errors of our instrument and how. We have to practice that now; how to do this, see below.

We should also know two problems:

  1. The clarinet has the disadvantage that when overblowing in the high register, the notes do not go up an octave, but one and a half octaves, which means that the pitch is always a compromise even with the best clarinets.
  2. In addition (and this affects all woodwind instruments now) there is also the effect of the acoustic resistance of the open tone holes: The pressure wave emerges from the highest open tone hole as if the instrument had been sawn off here - regardless of what is below. At higher frequencies, the resistance of the tone holes increases and the waves no longer exit completely here, but rather continue partially through the hole. The smaller the tone holes, the greater the effect. On the one hand, this means that the covering of deeper tone holes also has a stronger effect here. On the other hand, this - albeit small - extension of the vibrating column of air means that the tones become deeper as a result. But you can't just move the tone holes because they are correct for the low register. We just have to counteract the effect.

Change a single tone by "approach" in height (change mood "within")

What do you have to do to change a tone through "approach" and masking techniques?

While we lengthen the air column in the mood by pulling out the pear, which starts directly where it is effective - namely the length of the swinging air column - we have to start indirectly with the approach and cover technique. In the end, we can only make a difference if the sound column is acoustically lengthened. How do you do that?

On the one hand, we can cover the tone hole, which is actually responsible for the pitch, a little by holding our finger close to it or half covering it. This only works in the clarinet register and not in the deep chalumeau register. The result is usually not perfect in terms of sound either, above all it cannot be done quickly and precisely at the same time, but if the direction is right, it is often better than nothing. Most people don't hear small deviations very clearly in fast runs anyway - unlike with a sustained tone; and then we have time to correct it.

In addition, we can align something with the approach (lip tension and oral cavity), at least in the cent area. In doing so, we take advantage of the fact that the oral cavity can also be a part of the vibrating column of air - normally it is not; the wave is reflected at the tip of the mouthpiece and does not run into the mouth. This is basically the case in the Chalumeau register and cannot be achieved. In the clarinet register, however, especially with the higher, i.e. short notes, the easiest with the very highest notes, with a little practice you can influence the tone by changing the oral cavity. The easiest way to imagine is to form the vowels "UUU-OOO-AAA-EEE-III" while playing. The oral cavity changes and the effect can be heard directly.

How to play a glissando

Glissando (Italian for "glide") means stepless change in pitch. It's easy for string instruments and trombones. Since the effect is spectacular, it is often used in jazz; but on the clarinet it only works with high notes. If you half cover the tone holes of the clarinet in the upper half of the clarinet register, the acoustic resistance of the tone holes becomes stronger, so that the vibrating air column does not run out completely at the first open tone hole (this would be the case in the chalumeau register), but also partially in the The hole continues to run and vibrates - so it could practically vibrate at different pitches, depending on what the player is doing with his lips: he can now dampen the reed accordingly, which suddenly has a significant impact on the tone. With a little practice you can even get the sound column to end not at the mouthpiece tip, but in the mouth itself. Then you can change the vibration frequency so that the transition between two tones is completely smooth and a glissando is created. At the same time you have to open the tone holes. That sounds more complicated than it is; try the vowel shaping as described above! This is not possible further down the scale, especially not in the Chalumeau register, because the acoustic resistance is less effective at low frequencies.

A detailed explanation can be found in the (English language) document "How to play the first bar of Rhapsody in Blue".

That is why in "Rhapsody in Blue" you play the first part of the first bar as a more or less clean, and consequently more and more smeared run. By slowly opening the flaps, one tries to prevent the oscillation frequency from tilting from one tone to the next, so that the transition is as smooth as possible. But it only works perfectly in the upper half of the clarinet register.

How to Play Vibrato

There are several ways to create vibrato on a woodwind instrument such as the clarinet:

  • Diaphragmatic vibrato (as the oboists do, for example)
  • Neck vibrato (jaw movement like jazz saxophonists do)

There are easy-to-understand video instructions on YouTube, practically all in English (but you can repeat it).