ClarinetMike’s 101 Clarinet Tips: #1 Right Hand Down?

HandsPeriodically for the next few weeks, months (years?), etc. I’m going to be offering some tips on clarinet playing that I’ve accumulated over many years of teaching the clarinet.

#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.

© 2011-2013 Michael Dean and ClarinetMike Blog. All rights reserved.

About ClarinetMike

American clarinetist MICHAEL DEAN performs and teaches internationally and across the USA to consistent praise such as "world-class clarinetist and pedagogue," "consummate performer," "inspirational," "outstanding teacher," "super," "brilliant performer," and "one of the best clinicians I have ever seen." His career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, NACWPI, Eastman School of Music, and Royal Northern College of Music with recent recitals and master classes in Italy, Spain, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas. In July, he will return to Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at Orfeo Music Festival 2017. He is featured on 5 commercial CD's and on New Media, such as YouTube. He is currently preparing another new clarinet CD, Postcards from Silver Lake. He's performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. He performed for 11 years with the Paducah Symphony. His articles appear in journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, NACWPI Journal and The Bandmasters' Review. As "ClarinetMike," he writes for his widely-read ClarinetMike Blog, clarinetmike.wordpress.com-viewed in 150 countries on 6 continents. He was recently a tenured Associate Professor of Clarinet for 11 years at Southeast Missouri State University. He returned to his native Texas in 2012 due to family concerns. He is a past president and former National Board officer of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI). Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Arlington. His teachers include Robert Walzel, Phil Aaholm, Carol Jessup, Jess Youngblood, Bob Ackerman, and Pam Youngblood. His web page, clarinetmike.com, features video of his teaching and performing as well as information on his CD's and other publications. He is a BG France Performing Artist.
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3 Responses to ClarinetMike’s 101 Clarinet Tips: #1 Right Hand Down?

  1. I will be looking forward to resonance fingerings. However I find that the index and middle fingers of the right hand should be down, especially when playing G and G#.

  2. Pingback: ClarinetMike’s 101 Clarinet Tips: #1-10 | ClarinetMike Blog

  3. Pingback: ClarinetMike’s Clarinet Teacher Tips: Right Hand Down? | ClarinetMike Blog

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