Say goodbye to a stuffy throat tone Bb!

Sent Wednesday, August 22, 2012


For clarinetists who want to perform more easily and beautifully

In This Issue
  • A Note From Michelle Anderson - Guisganderie - my fun new performance piece
  • Clarinet Tips - How to improve the tone of your Bb and A throat tones
  • Follow-up From Last Newsletter - How's your tone?
  • Free Training - video to help you improve throat tones
  • Michelle Recommends - Guisganderie - a fun, short, recording

A Note from Michelle Anderson

Hello Everyone,

A big welcome to all of you who are reading the Clarinet Mentors newsletter for the first time. I try and include a brief, helpful pointer in each issue, and this letter's topic comes by request from some of you.

I have been traveling across various parts of Canada and the US combining family vacations and working at a kids' summer music camp. I completed a week of clarinet coaching at a band camp for students from grades six through nine. It was a very upbeat, encouraging camp, with a wide variety of musical activities for the students.

My personal challenge was to perform something new and fun for the staff recital. It is comforting to pick up an old standby, that I have performed many times. For me, this might mean pulling out a movement of a Weber piece, or perhaps a Cavalini etude. This time, however, I wanted to challenge myself to play something new. I chose Guisganderie, by JeanJean. This is a fairly new, fast, lively piece with altissimo high Bb's and C's, as well as a fun Rhapsody in Blue-like bliss near the end. I loved playing it, and only had one high note decide to wimp out. With a little quick improvising, I think I was able to cover up my wimpy note by changing to something else that fit the music. Sometimes in a live performance, we need to adapt to the unexpected. I'd love to perform the piece again now that I am familiar with it. I have included a link to a great performance of this piece by Corrado Giuffredi for you later in this newsletter. It is less than 3 minutes long, and really fun. For those of you who are more advanced performers, this is a fun piece to learn, and sounds much harder than it really is!

My next newsletter will be sent to you in September, and I hope to have my new 10 lesson course for beginning to intermediate players available later in September. Enjoy the rest of summer (for those of you who read this in the northern hemisphere), and for my clarinet friends in Australia, enjoy the approach of spring.


Clarinet Tips

How To Improve Your Throat Tone A and Bb

You may have noticed that your Bb and A which sit in the middle of the staff are usually weaker in tone than most other notes. It is challenging to match the sound to the high notes that often follow them in an upward sequence, such as a high C. Those notes at the top of the clarinet, finger-wise, are called the throat tones. Usually this refers to the notes that range from open G up to Bb. On most clarinets, they are acoustically bad due to the design of the instrument. This is especially true for our usual Bb fingering, which has the 'A' key teamed up with our register key. The register key is not really designed to play Bb, and it makes the note stuffy, and often a bit out of tune. Today's training video gives you a couple of ways to improve the tone on the A and the Bb.

One method for improving your Bb is to have a competent repair person make some adjustments to the pad or cork on your register key hole. You can have a thicker than usual pad chiseled into a flattened cone so that the part of the pad which closes over the register tube is quite small in diameter, and the pad flares out to full size at the rim. You can also have a plug inserted into the pad which encourages the air to flow outward, away from the center. You can see a sample of this on the video. This is a fairly specialized procedure, and most of you won't need it. However, if the Bb is particularly bad on your instrument, or if you just like tinkering, then you may want to do this.

The other thing that really improves the tone quality of these high notes is to cover some additional holes while you play these notes. Covering some of the holes which are normally left open can make these notes clearer, louder, and more 'matched' to the surrounding tones. This is called using a "resonator fingering". These fingerings can feel very awkward and unfamiliar at first, but they are worth learning. Often the fingers that you will add to improve tone are also fingers that would use anyway for high register note that we often play beside these notes. Once you get comfortable with the resonator fingerings, it can actually improve your fingering smoothness as you cross the break from the low register to the high register. Fewer fingers are in motion, which makes the transition much easier.

These fingerings are demonstrated on the video for you, and I recommend that you watch it. Every instrument responds a bit differently, so you will need to experiment to discover what combination works best on your clarinet. Basically, the idea is to play a Bb using the usual fingering, and add the third finger on your left hand. If it improves the sound, keep it down. If not, ignore that fingering. Next, add the first finger of your right hand to whatever worked best in the previous step. Then try the third finger of your right hand, (using the same testing procedure) and then add the pinky key that you typically use when you play high C. Some combination of these fingers will likely significantly improve the tone of your Bb and A. If you find a fingering that you like the sound of, try moving slowly between open G, A & Bb (both with the added resonator fingers) and high C. If you cycle up and down this finger sequence, the fingerings will start to feel more natural. I now use them all of the time for these notes, but I remember that it felt very strange at first. This is a relatively small improvement to make in your playing, but once you are used to it, it becomes very easy to do. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.

Follow-up From Last Newsletter

Follow-up to the Tone-Improving Exercise from last newsletter:

Have you been trying the long tone exercise? Most people do improve their tone noticeably after 2 weeks of doing this warm-up. I've heard from some of you with great results, others with challenges which can help reveal something else to work on. Usually if the new challenge (such as a too-soft reed, or wimpy corner muscles in an embouchure) is addressed, the combination of that change AND the long tone exercise makes for great improvements in tone.

In case you missed it, you can review that video lesson here: Clarinet Lesson: Warm-up - use these long tones to drastically improve tone and air support

Free Training Video:  [ ]

Free Training

Improve your throat tone Bb and A!

This 10 minute video shows you the technique for the resonator fingerings described above, illustrates some of the adjustments that can be made to your register key, and shows a nice alternate fingering to Bb.    
Link to YouTube video How to improve your throat tone Bb and A

Free Training Video:  [ ]

I have more videos currently in production. If there are topics that you would like help with, please send me some suggestions. If you are on Facebook, you can post your comments at:

Michelle Recommends

A Very Fun Recording To Listen To

This 2 minute recording of Guisganderie by JeanJean is played by the superb Italian Clarinetist Corrado Giuffredi. He has great virtuosic control, and performs here with a superb saxophone quartet. It was this recording that got me interested in performing this piece.


Guisganderie Youtube video performed by Corrado Giuffredi

About Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson is a professional clarinetist and teacher who currently lives in Vancouver BC. She has been a professional performer for 30 years and plays regularly with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the West Coast Chamber Music series. She has performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Touring Orchestra and many other groups. Michelle currently specializes in teaching adults to play clarinet more easily and quickly, and conducts the Vancouver Clarinet Choir.

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