One of the most important (and tricky) aspects of playing the clarinet is tonguing. Below is an articulation exercise that I’ve found very helpful in my students and my own playing.
ClarinetMike’s Basic Tonguing Exercise [aka BTE or “Betty”]
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
Scene: Cyrille, one of ClarinetMike’s fabulous students, is just starting a clarinet lesson.
ClarinetMike: “Great to see you today, Cyrille. Let’s work on your tonguing today.”
Cyrille: “My tonguing needs help! Sounds great ClarinetMike!”
ClarinetMike: “One of best exercises I know for working on tonguing is the Basic Tonguing Exercise – aka BTE or ‘Betty.’ It is designed to improve the basic tongue stroke on the reed – sort of like adjusting the ‘default setting’ on a computer program.”
Cyrille: “Will it teach me to double and triple tongue?”
ClarinetMike: “No, but it does prepare you for advanced articulation studies. Before you work on double and triple tonguing, you need to have a great basic single tongue. In fact, I like to think of teaching tonguing in three steps: 1. Basic (BTE – ‘Betty’) 2. Advanced Single Tonguing – staccato, legato and other shadings 3. Double and Triple Tonguing.…”
Cyrille [interrupts]: “Tell me about Betty!”
ClarinetMike: “I like your enthusiasm Cyrille! BTE or ‘Betty’ is done by playing a scale with four tongued quarter notes on each note of the scale. (For example, on a C major scale it would be C, C, C, C, D, D, D, D, E, E, E, E, etc.) The idea is to experiment with the stroke and position of the tongue (i.e. less tongue, more tongue, etc. ) to discover how it feels when the sound of the articulation is just right. It is important to work on this exercise in all scales in all registers – not just the low register! Betty can also be done on a short passage from an etude, solo, or ensemble work.”*
Cyrille: “Sounds easy! How often and how much do I need to work on it?”
ClarinetMike: “Work on it every day you practice at least 5 minutes or so along with other articulation studies/exercises. Even when you start working on staccato and double/triple tonguing, you should keep working on this exercise. Tonguing takes time to improve – so be patient and keep working. Ok Cyrille, let’s try it….”
*When working on Betty, try using the voicings from E-Tip #3: Eee’s from my E-Tips for E-Lips embouchure tips.
NOTE: FYI, Cyrille is a “pointy-headed” clarinet reference to the great Cyrille Rose of Rose 32 Etudes fame. Rose was known to have had a sluggish tongue.