What I will tell you in these next few paragraphs will definitely transform any bad clarinet section into a good one. They could even make a good section a great one.
It’s all about tone
I have recently become convinced that one of the best indicators in the quality of a band is the overall band sound. By that, I mean the way that the band balances between sections, the way that the instrumentalists blend into their section sound, and the way that each person sounds individually.
Technique is the easy part. To develop technique, keep your fingers closer to the keys and minimize movement. Then practice slowly, and gradually increase tempo. Problem solved.
Tone is the bigger challenge. Fortunately, tone is not nearly so difficult on clarinet.
Solving the tone issue in 5 simple steps
- Push up
The right thumb needs to push up on the thumb rest hard. Lots of clarinet players get away with not doing this; as a result, they have weak tone.
- Push down
To compensate for the thumb rest, you need to keep your head straight. To do this, push down with the teeth. The first two steps are the primary reason that most squeaks happen (except for the obvious right hand tone hole issues).
- Pull back
The corners of the lips go back. This helps to keep the mouthpiece from moving around any more. It also keeps the bottom lip firm on the reed.
- Blow out
A lot of clarinet players thing they are supposed to blow their air down. I did when I played for two semesters in college. Some teachers even teach to blow down. That’s fine. I have experimented with both ways and my simple little brass player brain has found that blowing forward (and therefore making the reed vibrate more) produces better tone.
- Make the string wiggle
What string? The imaginary string that you tape to the bell of the clarinet with your imaginary tape.
Try it out
Try these simple steps on Monday and tell me if your clarinet section comes alive! What if the clarinet section is too loud? My contention is that the clarinet section has a very difficult time being too loud. Especially in the lower register. Upper register notes scream and should use less air (but still make the string wiggle).
Of course, my personal idea of a great band sound is very clarinet heavy. I want clarinets louder than anybody but low brass and horns.