#1 Right Hand Down? It is a well-known band director trick to have clarinetists cover the holes of the lower section to help bring down sharp pitch in the throat tones. Is this really a good idea? I think the best answer is “Maybe.” Let me explain.
My understanding and experience are that throat tones (open G to third space Bb) tend to be flat acoustically. (There will always be exceptions, of course.) Someone might immediately ask, “Hey! The clarinet players in my band are ALWAYS sharp in the throat tones!” So, what is going on?
Here’s what I think is the issue: Embouchure. Clarinetists with an immature (i.e. “bad”) embouchure will usually bite down hard on the mouthpiece and thus push the pitch sharp. Clarinetists with a mature (i.e. good) embouchure will find that the throat tones are flat. Therefore, those 3rd clarinets with weak embouchures (and likely soft reeds!) are going to be biting down hard on the mouthpiece and be sharp in throat tones.
Obviously, the best solution is to have the clarinets play with a good embouchure – easier said than done! This would eliminate the need for “right hand down.” However, in the heat of a rehearsal (with contest looming!) I think it is reasonable to have a clarinetist put his/her right hand down for tuning if sharp in throat tones in a slow passage.
A few notes (pun intended) on this:
1. If your clarinetists are sharp and you have them put down their right hand, I suggest telling them that this is likely because they need embouchure improvement. Possibly a good time to plug private lessons!
2. Many clarinet teachers teach “resonance fingerings” on throat tones. I will comment on these in a future tip.
3. Make absolutely sure that students ONLY put down their right hand (for tuning or resonance fingerings) in slow passages. Otherwise, good technique will certainly be hindered.
4. If a clarinetist’s embouchure is good and throat tone pitch is not sharp: DO NOT have them put down their right hand. This will make a flat situation even flatter! Put this together with 3rd clarinets biting down hard and you’ll have a mess!
ClarinetMike says, “Embouchure is everything!”
NOTE: Thanks to my good friend, Bill Powell, for mentioning this issue a few months ago and sparking my thinking.
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