Improve Clarinet Articulation!

ClarinetMike at the University of Michigan teaching a clarinet master class right before pandemic hit.

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 a ClarinetMike Illustration, i.e. “Storytime with ClarinetMike!”

ClarinetMike’s Basic Tonguing Exercise [BTE  or “Betty”]
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Scene: Cyrille, one of ClarinetMike’s excellent students, is just starting a clarinet lesson.

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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….”

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ClarinetMike Illustration: I once gave a masterclass at a well-known university in the USA [not Michigan above]. 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, “Spend quality time with your new best friend, Betty!”

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*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.

About ClarinetMike

American Clarinetist Michael Dean “ClarinetMike” performs and teaches internationally and across the USA to consistent praise and acclaim 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.” Dr. Michael Dean’s career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, NACWPI, Royal Northern College of Music, and Eastman School of Music, with recent recitals and master classes in Italy, Canada, Spain, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Louisiana, and Texas. He is currently planning an international recital and master class tour of Israel for spring 2022. He is on the faculty of the international Orfeo Music Festival in Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence. Michael Dean performed with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra for 11 years and has also performed with the Dallas Chamber Wind Ensemble, Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Abilene Opera, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35 with saxophonist Todd Oxford. As a clarinet performing and recording artist, he has commissioned, premiered, edited, toured with, and recorded new and lesser-known clarinet works. He is featured on 6 commercial CDs, including the soon-to-be-released Postcards from Silver Lake CD. He is also prominent on New Media, such as YouTube and Facebook. He has given more than 600 master classes, clinics and performances at universities, colleges, conservatories, festivals, conferences, and high schools. His ClarinetMike Blog and ClarinetMike QuickTips are widely read on the internet and social media and viewed in more than 150 countries on 6 continents. His articles also appear in professional journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, The Bandmasters’ Review, and NACWPI Journal. He is a past president and former National Board Officer of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI). A committed teacher and noted pedagogue, Dr. Dean’s students enjoy successful careers as professional performers, educators, and administrators and are consistently accepted into prestigious university music schools. They consistently win awards and distinctions at competitions and festivals including solo & ensemble, all-region, all-state, and various concerto and other competitions. After a successful 20 years of teaching the clarinet and music at the university level, he relocated to his native Texas due to family concerns. He is currently an active clarinet and woodwind performer, teacher, clinician, and consultant based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Colorado at Boulder, and University of Texas at Arlington. His teachers include Robert Walzel, Philip Aaholm, Carol Jessup, and Jesse Youngblood. He is a BG France Performing Artist and his professional website is clarinetmike.com. Mike and his family live in Hurst, Texas. His family’s new Golden Retriever, Nimbus, is a relative of Andy.
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2 Responses to Improve Clarinet Articulation!

  1. thomas frasca says:

    Thx Mike. always good to get more info to work with. My tonguing sucks but I am working hard to improve on it. Tee Tee or Taa Taa. Which do you think is best in the end??

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