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 with my students and in my own playing. Also, below is something extra: a new ClarinetMike Illustration [aka “Storytime with ClarinetMike!”].
ClarinetMike’s Basic Tonguing Exercise [aka BTE or “Betty”]
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
Scene: Cyrille, one of ClarinetMike’s excellent students, is just starting a clarinet lesson.
ClarinetMike: “Great to see you 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 [Single Tongue] 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 or a passage from an etude or solo with four tongued quarter notes on each note of the scale or passage. (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 on notes in all registers – not just the low register!*
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….”
ClarinetMike Illustration: A few years ago I gave a masterclass at a well-known university in the USA. I worked with a graduate clarinet student who was preparing for an orchestra audition. I worked with him on Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo – an important excerpt that’s loaded with lots of fast tonguing. He played it for me and and his tonguing was lacking (actually kinda bad!). I asked him how much he worked on tonguing each day in his daily practice. I expected him to say, “None,” but he surprised me and said something like 45 minutes a day!! I was stunned and thought “how can you practice that much on tonguing and sound so bad!” I realized that he had been likely only working on complicated double and triple tonguing stuff his famous undergraduate teacher had given him at a swanky East Coast conservatory. So, I had him do the above Basic Tonguing Exercise. He showed some immediate improvement and was happy about it! ClarinetMike says, “Don’t neglect the basics, they are always essential!”
*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.