ClarinetMike’s 101 Clarinet Tips: #27 “Clarinet Vibrato?”

ClarinetMike’s 101 Clarinet Tips: #27 “Clarinet Vibrato?”

I’m often asked questions about clarinet vibrato such as “Do you use vibrato?” or “As a clarinet teacher, should I allow my students to do it?” or “How do I do vibrato?” Below, I consider the first two questions – I’ll leave the third question for another day.

Many professional clarinet players use vibrato in classical music as well as in jazz. For example, I use some vibrato in the video above. (So, yes, I use some vibrato in classical and jazz.) However, not all clarinet players and teachers hold a high opinion of vibrato, especially in classical music.

The great clarinet player and teacher Robert Marcellus said he used no vibrato at all in classical music; however, he did use it in jazz or in a jazzy work such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (see Marcellus interview HERE). Similar to Marcellus, many clarinet players and teachers believe that a clarinetist should not use vibrato, especially in classical music. And I’ve noticed that some of them are fairly strict about it.

So, question number 2: “As a clarinet teacher, should I allow my students to do it?” After a number of years of carefully considering the issue, I came to the conclusion to not allow my clarinet students to use vibrato on classical music. My primary reason for not allowing them to use vibrato is a pragmatic one. Almost all of my clarinet students (whether high school, college, etc. ) will someday have to audition at a region or solo contest, for college or graduate school entrance, or for acceptance into a professional or semi-professional orchestra, wind symphony, etc.

The widespread influence of those who dislike clarinet vibrato is significant enough (at least in the USA) to potentially limit the audition success of a student. I’ve felt (and continue to feel) that it is not worth the risk. Certainly, there are exceptions. For example, if I was working with a graduate student who came of out a military band and was older and more musically mature, it might be fine to allow vibrato.

The mention of age and maturity brings up a second reason for not allowing clarinet students to use vibrato. In addition to being a clarinetist,  I’m also a saxophone player and teacher and have much experience dealing with saxophone vibrato. (I taught clarinet and saxophone at the college level for more than two decades.) I think of and teach vibrato as a tone and musical enhancement. I believe it is important to get a student’s basic saxophone tone established and “locked in” before moving to an expected musical use of vibrato.

Unlike saxophone, there are no expectations on clarinet vibrato in classical music. Therefore, it seems wise for me to not only wait on vibrato until the student’s clarinet tone is developed, but to also wait for a deepened musical maturity (usually age). Such a deepened maturity would generally be beyond the range of study of most students in secondary and college study.

Since my prose is a little thick above, let me restate with some bluntness (and a little glibness) why I don’t teacher clarinet vibrato to students:

1. If a clarinet student plays with vibrato on an audition in front of a clarinet vibrato-hating judge, they’re DEAD.

2. I encourage the clarinet student to wait until they are on their own as a professional musician before using vibrato. Otherwise, they could end up sounding goofy.

ClarinetMike says, “Thanks for reading my opinions, I welcome others. Thanks!”

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: #27 “Clarinet Vibrato?”

  1. Mark says:

    Loved the summary at the end. But now the big question — which is the correct/most appropriate/easiest way to produce vibrato — jaw, throat, or diaphragm?

    • ClarinetMike says:

      Thanks for the response. For me, I use jaw and (I think) some breath (not sure what that is called). For some reason the notion of diaphragm vibrato freaks me out! Thanks! Mike

  2. Pierluigi Bernard says:

    Dear Mike,
    I totally agree with you!
    As pupil of the great Jack Brymer I obviously love a nice large vocal like vibrato, nevertheless even Jack said to me once ( when I was 18) “don’t look for it when the time will be mature for it, if you really like it it will appear.” As usual he was once again right.

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