The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

ClarinetMike after an orchestra concert.

The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Below I offer my opinions on two fingerings that I think should be taught to beginning (and all) clarinetists.

First space F#/Gb.  Beginners are often taught to play this note in a chromatic scale with thumb and right bottom 2 side (trill) keys. I strongly suggest that teachers teach the standard fingering of left hand index finger instead. Have students use it all the time, even in the chromatic scale.  In actual music it almost always is the preferred fingering for F#/Gb. Learning to “flip” between thumb F and index F# is an important technique for all clarinetists.

I was taught to introduce alternate fingerings early and often – and I agree. However, I would make it clear to the students that the basic (or guide) fingering for F# is index finger. FYI, legendary clarinet performer/teacher, Robert Marcellus, said in an interview, “…the two side trill keys are not chromatic ‘F#’ like a lot of people play. The chromatic of “F#” is just the index finger in the left hand.”

[However, if for some reason you simply MUST teach trill key F# in a chromatic scale, I plead with you to make sure your students also know regular index finger F#. I’ve seen far too many clarinet students use trill key F# all the time as their basic fingering – I suspect their beginning clarinet teachers never taught the standard fingering to them. Further, the inadequate preparation of beginning clarinet teachers is an important topic for another day!]

First line Eb/D# (also Bb/A# second space above the staff). Beginners are often taught to play this note with the left hand fork key (also called the “sliver” or “banana” key). Instead, teachers should teach the students to use the normal fingering of the top two fingers of left hand with right bottom side (trill) key.  And, as above, I strongly suggest this fingering be used also in the chromatic scale. Again, this fingering is almost always the preferred fingering in actual music. Further, the left hand fork key is very difficult to use if a student’s fingers aren’t slender. FYI, one of my teachers told me a story about a famous clarinetist who disliked the left hand fork key so much he had it taken off the clarinet and its hole plugged up!

I want to restate that I think alternate fingerings should be introduced early and often. The more fingerings a clarinetist knows, the better the clarinetist can solve technical problems in music. As John Wooden said, “Little Things Make Big Things Happen.”

ClarinetMike says, “Think for yourself. Remember the great words of John Wooden, ‘There is no progress without change, but not all change is progress.'”

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NACWPI 2019 National Conference: University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls

ClarinetMike says, “APPLY to Perform and Present at the NACWPI 2019 National Conference!”

NACWPI Rolls On!  As a NACWPI past president and former officer on the NACWPI National Board, I am very proud to pass along the announcement below from the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors [NACWPI].

NACWPI National Conference 2019
October 11-13, 2019, University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA

Call For Clinic and Performance Proposals
DEADLINE: May 1, 2019, 11:59PM (CST)

Performance Proposal Submission Directions: CLICK HERE.

Clinic Proposal Submission Directions: CLICK HERE.

NACWPI 2019 Information CLICK HERE

NOTE: Image above is from the website found here.

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How To Successfully Improve Clarinet Tone: The “E-Tips for E-Lips” Clarinet Embouchure Tips!

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

I recently posted my 5-C Clarinet Embouchure click here. Below are 5 embouchure tips I strongly suggest using with the 5-C Embouchure. In addition to working GREAT with 5-C, I think these tips will generally work well with pretty much any clarinet embouchure on any size of clarinet AND will also be very helpful on saxophone. Further, I think that these tips will help fix at least some of the problems in other clarinet and saxophone embouchures. Each tip below begins with the letter “E” and gives an important concept, thus “E-Tips.” The “E-Lips” refers to embouchure.

ClarinetMike says, “Your tone won’t improve unless you change something. Try these and see if some or all work for you!”

The “E-Tips for E-Lips” Clarinet Embouchure Tips
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas USA * 682-888-7639 *

E-Tip #1Engage. “Keep Lower Teeth Engaged.”   Beneath the reed, keep the lower teeth right under the bottom lip – do not allow space between the lip and teeth.  Think “Reed, Lip, Teeth.”  You want to somewhat feel the reed through the lower lip with the bottom teeth. But, don’t push up too much. Think in terms of creating a good platform for the reed to vibrate upon. Keeping the lower teeth engaged allows for sensitive adjustments to the sound, as there is a close connection to the resonator (reed vibrating against the slot of the mouthpiece).

E-Tip #2: Edges. “Don’t Pinch the Edges of the Reed.” Be sure to keep the lower lip flat against the reed so as not to crimp the sides of the reed.  Once past the reed, the lips need to seal to keep air from leaking out. Remember, clarinet sound is produced by the vibration of the reed. The more the reed vibrates, the more sound is produced.

E-Tip #3: Eee’s. “Use ‘Eee’ Syllables.”  I’ve found it very helpful to voice[i] these syllables in the specified ranges when playing in different registers on the (Bb soprano) clarinet:

“Teu” low register (below Open G)  with a French pronunciation[ii] (see video clip below)
“Tee” Open G up to third space C in the staff
“Dee” C# in the staff and higher

Notice above, that each syllable has a progressively higher “Air Position” than the next. By “Air Position,” I am referring to how high the air goes through the mouth.  (I suggest trying this by whispering “Teu, Tee, and Dee” in succession. Notice that the air is higher on each one.) The basic idea is that the higher one plays on the clarinet, the higher the air should go through the mouth. I think it is easier to think “Air Position” than “Tongue Position.”

These voicings help not only with embouchure, but also help out greatly with tonguing. It was a big breakthrough for me to finally realize that embouchure and articulation are very closely related.  [There is a video clip of me pronouncing and explaining these syllables available on my website – Click HERE and watch “Embouchure: Tongue Position = Air Position.”]

Another important and useful syllable is “Hee.” It has a very high air position and works really great for me for voicing Super High G (fourth ledger line above the staff). However, it is not usable in the same way as the others because it is not good for tonguing. (In warm-ups, I’ll whisper “Hee” a few times to set the voicing and then play a Super High G with a “Dee” articulation.) “Hee” is also very useful pedagogically in explaining to a student about voicing and “Air Position.” (Have the student whisper “Teu” or “Tee” and then have them whisper “Hee.”)

E-Tip #4: Ex. “Say syllable ‘Ex’ – Lower Teeth Give, Top Teeth Receive.”  Don’t bite down hard on the mouthpiece with the top teeth – i.e. don’t push down with the head. Think in terms of top teeth “receiving” the mouthpiece from the lower teeth as when saying the syllable, “Ex.” As with all of these concepts, it is important to personalize this to a clarinetist’s unique physiology, equipment, etc. Also, be sure to say “Ex” and not “X.” They are very slightly different.

E-Tip #5: Eat. “Use ‘Chewing Muscles’ Up High.” Starting about High E (third ledger line above the staff) and higher, put molars and back teeth very slightly closer together as if chewing something. Be sure to use “Dee” voicing (see E-Tip #3). The higher the note, the more “chew” is needed. The key to playing up high is to find the best spot in your air position, embouchure, mechanism (i.e. your body), etc. for each note. Or, as Joe Allard used to say, “Every note has its own special feeling.” (This is true for all notes in all registers, actually.) As with the other E-Tips, this concept will take some experimentation.

[i] “Voicings” such as these are used to help with the position of the air, tongue, embouchure, mouth, etc. A clarinetist should be careful to not move stuff the same amount s/he does when actually speaking these in normal conversation.

[ii] On “Teu,” DO NOT drop the bottom teeth away from bottom lip (See Tip #1 above).

NOTE: The tips above are a shortened version of “E-Tips for E-Lips.” The complete version containing important acknowledgements (especially my heavy debt to master single reed teacher Joe Allard) can be found HERE.

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5 Steps to Beautiful Clarinet Tone: The 5-C Clarinet Embouchure!

Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

The embouchure below and related “E-Tips for E-Lips” Embouchure Tips (to be reposted soon) have been heavily influenced by the ideas of master single reed teacher Joe Allard. The embouchure and tips reflect years of careful refinements on an embouchure that was originally passed down to me from Joe Allard through one of his students (see NOTE below). FYI, this embouchure can be used on all clarinets and saxophones.

ClarinetMike says, “The 5-C Clarinet Embouchure works great! Check It Out!”

The 5-C Clarinet Embouchure
Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”
“Building Great Clarinetists”
Clarinet Performing, Teaching and Consulting
Hurst, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas USA * 682-888-7639 *

What produces the sound on the clarinet? Clarinet sound is produced by the reed vibrating against the slot in the mouthpiece activated by the air (see E-Tip #3). Unlike brass players, the clarinet embouchure is not the sound maker (resonator).

What is the purpose of clarinet embouchure? The purpose of clarinet embouchure is to provide a great platform (or “Happy Place”) for the reed to vibrate. The 5-C embouchure below will help a clarinetist develop a great environment or “Happy Place” for the reed to vibrate.

The 5-C embouchure could be thought of as a single lip version of a double lip embouchure (aka “Single Lip-Double Lip”).  5-C allows the reed to vibrate freely as in double lip embouchure. However, since 5-C is a single lip embouchure with top teeth on the mouthpiece, it avoids the problems of double lip: hard to do, hurts for some, lack of stability for marching/standing, etc.

5-C Embouchure Steps

1.  Circumference (or Circle)
2. Corners to Cheekbones
3. Chin
4. Cover
5. Click

5-C Embouchure Details

  1. Circumference (or Circle): Lightly stretch bottom lip flat around lower teeth circumference (or circle).
  2. Corners to Cheekbones: Use “Smile Muscles” (Zygomaticus major muscles) to stretch lightly upwards from mouth corners to cheekbones. These muscles are the ones used when smiling. This should also help flatten out the chin.
  3. Chin: Smooth out chin muscles, focusing the chin to a point. But, DO NOT hinge the jaw forward – use a normal face. NOTE: Steps 1 and 2 will likely flatten the chin just about right – this step could be called “Check Chin.”
  4. Cover: Put some bottom lip over bottom teeth – “Not too much, not too little, just right.”
  5. Click: Top teeth rest on mouthpiece. Think, “Click” (See E-Tip #4).  Don’t bite down hard – think of top teeth “receiving” the mouthpiece. IMPORTANT: Upper lip also sits gently on top of mouthpiece and moves upward toward top teeth with no downward pressure.

NOTE: See HERE for important acknowledgements, etc.

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7 Pro Musician Tips for Superior Performing!

ClarinetMike Performing at the Orfeo Music Festival in Vipiteno, Italy. Notice the Water Bottle On Stage.

This is a follow up to my recent ClarinetMike Blog post, 10 Little Things That Make Big Things Happen! [see note below] ClarinetMike says, “Remember the words of Coach John Wooden, ‘Little Things Make Big Things Happen.’”

7 Pro Musician Tips for Superior Performing!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

  1. Keep It Clean! Carefully clean your instrument and keep it in good repair. For example, on clarinet, don’t wipe out tenons with swab. You’ll end up with cork grease on your swab and then you’ll pull it through your clarinet. Ick!
  2. Number Measures At The Left Margin On Your Music. Don’t number every measure – it’s too messy.
  3. Mark Music Only With Pencil. I suggest only using pencil to mark music – DO NOT USE HIGHLIGHTER! (Bright colored highlighter on music kinda freaks me out!) If your students mark rental music in highlighter, you’ll be in BIG TROUBLE!
  4. Wear Layers of Clothing In Rehearsals, Auditions, etc.  This way you can take them off or put them on based on the temperature of the room, etc.
  5. Use A Black, Wheeled Tote For Your Stuff. Black is preferred so you can sometimes keep it on stage during rehearsals and concerts – no one will notice or care. Also, make sure the tote is small enough to be a carry-on on an airplane.
  6. Water! Always carry a full bottle of water with you at all times. I often will have 2 water bottles for a concert: one on stage and one backstage in the green room, dressing room, etc.
  7. Food! Consider and plan your eating carefully around your gig. I always try to eat a few hours before a rehearsal or concert to make sure I have energy while I’m performing. However, many musicians only eat after a gig.  FYI, for a long time my special performing food was spaghetti and meatballs. [YUM!]

NOTE: My recent ClarinetMike Blog post, 10 Little Things That Make Big Things Happen! is available HERE.

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10 Graduate School Rules For Student Success!

Photo Courtesy of The University of Colorado at Boulder – where I did my Master’s Degree. GO CU!

Hey! I know some of you are anxiously waiting to hear on admission and financial aid from graduate schools for the coming fall. [I know how tough it can be: Hang In There!] Others of you are considering graduate school soon to enhance your career. Still others are currently in graduate school and want to improve the quality of your experience. Well, ClarinetMike is thinking about YOU!

Below are some tips that will help you be more successful in graduate school. They are from an article I published in the NACWPI Journal a few years ago. Many of these tips will also be helpful to new faculty.  ClarinetMike says, “Follow the Rules.”

10 Graduate School Rules For Student Success!
by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

A few years ago I spent some time pondering the graduate school experience and what advice I could offer my students. Below are ten tips that can help a graduate student successfully navigate the waters of graduate study. Most of these tips would also be useful to new faculty members. (NOTE: I was very fortunate in grad school to have had a number of excellent teachers and mentors, so not all of the tips below are based on my own experience.)

  1. Be Calm and Patient. Graduate school is generally less of a “grind” than undergraduate study. It is more of a “roller coaster ride” with high stakes exams, hearings, recitals, etc. Remain calm and enjoy the process. Remember that ” Good things take time” (John Wooden).
  2. Practice Good Habits NOW because “Life is a Habit.” Always be working to improve habits of personal organization (especially time management) and self-discipline. [See my articles and posts on John Wooden.]
  3. Take Care of Your Body. Mom was right – exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep.
  4. Prepare for Culture Shock. This is especially true if you go to grad school in another part of the country – for example, going from the Midwest to the West Coast. Prepare yourself by looking up information on the Internet. Generally, it is true that “It’s not weird, It’s just different.”
  5. Know Rules. Every organization has written and unwritten rules – learn them. Carefully study your university’s Graduate Music Handbook, if available.
  6. Be Courteous. Treat others as you want to be treated. Remember, professors are people too. Thesis/dissertation advisors are among the unsung heroes of academe.
  7. Keep Head Down and Mouth Shut. Don’t try to show off in class. The best way to make a positive impression is to be early to class, well-prepared, and have a positive attitude.
  8. Trust No One. “The walls have ears.” So be careful what you say and to whom. Letters of recommendation can be ruined, so watch out! Follow the advice of John Wooden’s father, “Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses, just do the best you can.”
  9. Write Everything Down. When your advisor, committee members, etc. tell you important information, take good notes and make memos to yourself. Develop your own standardized memo form – be sure it has a date on it.
  10. Perseverance is Everything. Stay at it! Keep learning and making adjustments. You will win if you keep going and don’t give up.

© by The National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors NACWPI Journal, Volume LVIII, Number 2, Winter 2009-10.

NOTE: This article can also be found on the excellent new NACWPI website HERE.

NOTE: I made an adjustment to the original title and a few very small revisions to the text of the original article.

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“Feed The Rhy-No!” [Very Important Update on ClarinetMike’s Rhy-No Practice Technique]

“Dynamics are Yummy! FEED ME!”

It was a dark and stormy night and I was practicing for some upcoming premieres at the Orfeo Music Festival in Italy this summer. I was getting sleepy, so I went over to my nearby couch to rest and fell asleep. I had the most amazing dream. In the dream, the Practice Rhy-No came to me. Below is our brief conversation.

Practice Rhy-No: “ClarinetMike! Feed The Rhy-No!”

ClarinetMike: “Who are you?”

Practice Rhy-No: “I’m the Practice Rhy-No that you blogged about! FEED ME!!”

ClarinetMike: “Uh…, do you want some plants to eat? I have some used clarinet reeds.”

Practice Rhy-No: “NOOOO!  I eat DYNAMICS!!!”

ClarinetMike: “What???”

Practice Rhy-No: “Yes! My food is Dynamics!!!”

After this, I immediately woke up from the dream. I realized that when doing the Rhy-No Practice Technique, we must always add dynamics.

ClarinetMike says, “Feed The Rhy-No!”

NOTE: The above image can be found at

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