Index / TOC (scroll down for recent blogposts)

air sounds flute embouchure no mouthpiece speaking
aluminum foil flutter tongue preparations spectral multiphonic
articulation glissandi quarter tones tongue ram
bending history register key trills
 composer advice  ‘how to’s for clarinetists repertoire trumpet embouchure
double tongue multiphonic shaking water
double trills singing whistling
dyads  CONTRA slap tongue

Table of Contents

The Basics:

  • …on clarinet articulation covers everything from single and double tonguing, slap tongue, tongue rams, and fluttertongue through to flute and trumpet embouchures, and clarinet shaking. (Tongue ram, and flute and trumpet embouchures, are also techniques wherein the mouthpiece is removed from the clarinet. Other mouthpiece-less techniques can be found in this post.)
  • …on writing air sounds for clarinets deals with all the different ways you can manipulate air on a clarinet: air versus pitch, vowel sounds, outside of the mouthpiece, without the mouthpiece, inhaling versus exhaling, various articulation effects, etc.
  • …on soprano clarinet glissandi The details (and restrictions) of using them, in both directions, and how feasible bending is. It also talks briefly about spectral multiphonic glissandi (another post that talks briefly about spectral multiphonics is the air sound post, wherein I talk about spectral harmonic ‘whispers’ which are essentially very quiet airy spectral multiphonics).
  • …on singing and playing covers all the possibilities of singing and playing, dynamics, how to deal with different pitch material in the voice and clarinet, glissandi, and combining singing with other extended techniques
  • …on writing Bb clarinet harmonics helps you to understand how clarinet harmonics work and how you can use them in your music to create harmonic colour trills.
  • A complete tremolo/moving passages chart (including quarter tones) for Bb/Eb/A clarinets – this post uses a kind of ‘traffic light’ system to help composers write tremoli and fast moving passages, while avoiding impossible intervals.

Special Techniques: 

Specifically for Clarinetists:

On Repertoire:

…on a historical approach to the sound of the clarinet

 Other Popular Posts:

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πτελέα | Ptelea has been released!

My first solo album has just been released on HCR/NMC!


Each of the pieces on πτελέα | Ptelea was written in the spirit of intense collaboration: six pieces by six composers from different parts of the globe – the United States, Japan, the UK, Norway and Chile – each composer engaged in a deep relationship with the clarinet and its performer, each piece illuminating the unique musical language of its composer.

Including soundscapes of softly emerging dyads (Bauck), elusive sounds that sit on the border of inaudibility (Morishita) and pre-recorded human voices that emerge from inside the clarinet’s bell (Einbond), all these composers have made careful and intriguing selections of materials – there are no ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ here. Rather, this collection is concerned with aspects of resistance or limitation and the exploration of margins and boundary zones.


1 Aaron Einbond: Resistance (2012) for bass clarinet and live electronics
2 Chikako Morishita: Lizard (shadow) (2011) for clarinet
3 Martin Iddon: Ptelea (2014) for bass clarinet
4 Martin Rane Bauck: kopenhagener stille (2014) for clarinet
5 Pedro Alvarez: Instead (2013) for clarinet
6 Max Murray: Ad Marginem des Versuchs (2015)


Grab your copy HERE.

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A selection of contrabass clarinet multiphonics

When Scott McLaughlin and Mic Spencer were last here working on our composer-composer-performer project, the lure of the contra sitting in the other room proved to be too much to resist (honestly that’s why I keep it out so much of the time, heh.). Scott and I spent an hour or two experimenting with some multiphonics, and I thought I’d put our 15 favourites from that session up on the blog.

Update (24/11/15): there are now 26 multiphonics!

Three of these, 2, 7 and 11, I thought sounded nice with fluttertongue, so I’ve included that in the recording. You’ll hear this in the recording as well, but these pitches can not all be played simultaneously, you’ll always get the fundamental and one of the high notes. (Except where pitches are in (), those are pitches that sound but can NOT be isolated, you’ll always hear them.)

They’re all relatively soft multiphonics, some with very interesting textural properties, and all a little on the fragile side. I rather like them.

And don’t forget these are all for a Leblanc paperclip contra, so there’s no guarantee they’ll work on any other contrabass clarinet.

Everything is transposed!

Use headphones!
Continue reading

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Low register colour fingerings: the special case of the paperclip contra

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to add something useful to the blog, but I think this will be worth it; not only is this a beautiful effect, but it’s also my very first post on the contrabass clarinet. Composers, try to stay calm. I know, I know, it’s hard for me too.


hey there handsome

So, I guess the first thing you need to know about the contra is that each model has its strengths and weaknesses, and if you’re writing for contra, you’ll probably need to be a bit flexible. The Leblanc “paperclip” contra is one of the more popular models, especially in new music, due to its flexibility and compactness. It’s also the only model on which Grisey’s Anubis can be done properly (as far as I know), due to the mechanism of the lowest notes. (If you want a contra that can make a lot of noise and basically – to me – feels as comfortable as playing bass clarinet then you’ll want one of these bad boys. Utterly beautiful, utterly enormous.)

On other models (and on the bass clarinet) if I play a low Eb and then hold down the low C# or C keys on the back of the instrument, a C# or C is produced. On the Leblanc contra, you need to have the D key held down as well in order to make produce the lowest tones, so instead what results are these beautiful colour fingerings in the lowest register, an essentially unachievable effect on any other member of the clarinet family!


The two keys to the left of the large oval (the thumb rest) are the C (on the top) and C# keys.

So what Grisey writes, at the beginning of Anubis, are low notes with different colour fingerings and at different dynamics. If you’ve never heard the piece, there’s a fabulous recording of Carl Rosman on the Musikfabrik online label. The colour fingering stuff starts about 40 seconds in with a spectral multiphonic (but it’s worth hearing the whole thing). And it looks a bit like this on the page:


This is Carl’s copy, you can see he’s written in when to use what finger, as Grisey uses this slightly confusing tabulature, with the lowest notehead indicating C, in the middle C# and then high position (not shown) is normal.

This special case of the low C and C# keys applies to every low note until G#. From G# I can start to add other colour fingerings (like the D and E keys, for example) and from every note above that, there are more and more that can be added, just as is true with all the other clarinets.

So now, some examples. Grab your headphones! For each starting fundamental, I have gone through the following variations, and in each variation I play normal, then with C#, then C:

  1. Slurred – first piano, then forte
  2. Legato articulation – piano, then forte
  3. With spectral multiphonics added (overblowing)
  4. Flutter tongue articulation – piano, then forte (honestly you can barely hear a difference!)
  5. Slap tongue – piano, then forte

Starting fundamental of low Eb:





G# (and here I’ve introduced the use of the D key as well!):

Questions? Comments? Go for it.

Posted in contra, flutter tongue, slap tongue, spectral multiphonic | 1 Comment

(Quiet) Multiphonic Trills for Bass Clarinet

The effect I’m looking at today is fairly recognisable as something Sciarrino uses extensively, but particularly in his clarinet solo, Let me die before I wake. If you don’t know the piece, it’s worth listening to it, if only because it’ll make it that much easier to have a feel for the bass clarinet writing we’re going to be looking at today. Here’s a beautiful recording of Heinz-Peter Linshalm:


If you’re a clarinetist and you don’t know this piece, do check it out. It has become standard new music repertoire for clarinet, and it’s also probably one of the easiest of the big solos – not too long, focuses extensively on one effect, sounds a lot more difficult than it is, etc. It’s a great gateway drug for the rest of the amazing contemporary repertoire that we have available to us!

The notation for this effect is also a lot simpler than you’d imagine: here we have a very complex sound, one that is not terribly difficult to  play (at least for a clarinetist with some experience with multiphonics) and one that offers the composer a great deal of flexibility. Here’s how Sciarrino notates the trills:



The notation he uses isn’t without its problems – I think there’s probably a better way to achieve the same result with slightly more rhythmic clarity – but that’s not the purpose of the post today.

Today the purpose is to transfer this technique to the bass clarinet, offer some explanations and then present you (tada!) with a little database for your compositions. Here’s how the effect is transfered to the bass clarinet (this is the same fingering combination as the beginning of the second line in the Sciarrino):

So, how does it work: Essentially what we have is a multiphonic fingering (the low fundamental with either the index finger or the thumb of the left hand removed) trilling with the low fundamental, which creates enough interference that you can hear the trill faintly, but not so much that you lose the multiphonic (these beautiful floating high harmonics).

(Does this mean that essentially any multiphonic fingering based on a strong fundamental with only one extra key depressed to divide the air column could be used to create this effect? Theoretically, yes. One could really go nuts with these things. In practise, some things work better than others and the best combination seems to be fundamental with either the index finger or thumb of the left hand doing the trilling.)

What works: Transitions from fundamental to multiphonic, multiphonic to tremolo, fundamental to tremolo… these are all accomplished with relative ease. Very gradually allowing the harmonic to emerge, also works beautifully. Glissandi between the harmonics during the tremolo, also very easily manoeuvred.  Picking out individual harmonics is also not too difficult, though does need practise. You’ll hear that the higher harmonics are more difficult, they have a tendency to squeak, but can be controlled for the most part with practise.

Variation in the speed also works beautifully (which Sciarrino makes extensive use of in Let me die…):

This is essentially a quiet dynamic effect – it becomes a very different animal when played loudly. I think if I pushed it any harder than I do in the following example we’d end up with just the high harmonics:

And now, finally, here’s just over an octave of multiphonic tremoli. For each fundamental I’ve demonstrated what happens with the index finger and what happens with the thumb, and shown at least two harmonics for each (really only the very lowest fundamentals give three solid harmonics where you still also retain the sound of the trill). The low C and C# also produce a dyad multiphonic with the fingerings, as you’ll hear on the recordings (and as is notated).

Please use headphones! I’ve amplified the sounds slightly, but you won’t hear the low tremoli without headphones! You can also just download the whole chart as a pdf here.

01 - C

02 - Csharp



03 - D

04 - E flat

05 - e

06 - F

07 - fsharp

08 - G

09 - gsharp

10 - a

11 - Bflat

12 - B

13 - C

Posted in multiphonic, spectral multiphonic, trill | 3 Comments

Composer-composer-performer: Risk-taking in Collaboration and Composition

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing over the next couple of months, documenting the process in a three-way collaboration between two composers (Mic Spencer and Scott McLaughlin) and one performer (me!). Working simultaneously with two composers provides a unique opportunity to reassess my own views of collaborative practices, and hopefully provides an opportunity to make some general and useful comments about how collaboration works. This project is generously funded by an Ignite grant from the CCI (Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange) at the University of Leeds and more about the project in general can be found here, where Scott and Mic are hosting their own blog. 

We’ve also got a 10 minute video of the workshop, beautifully shot and edited by Angela Guyton, in which there’s a lot of (hopefully) useful discussion of the specifics of working with multiphonics — composers and clarinetists alike may find this video helpful.

In our workshop, Mic joked, in front of the students, that it might be helpful for them to see their teachers make mistakes. Scott chimed in, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.”
It isn’t making mistakes that is the important thing, of course. It’s the risk taking that may or may not lead to these mistakes. Finding situations for yourself where you have to take risks, this is the space where learning takes place, and one of the challenges of our current project.

As a performer of new music, and a reasonably adventurous one, it is not difficult to find these opportunities. Working with new composers, in different styles, in different contexts (ensembles, solos, theatre, etc.); these challenges seem to present themselves naturally.

For composers, I suspect it’s more difficult. As Scott and Mic spoke of in the workshop, it’s very easy to fall into normative patterns of composition. You have your process, methods by which you generate rhythmic and pitch material, orchestrate for different instruments, experiment with extended techniques, etc. As a student, your teachers are there to help you challenge your ways of working, to help you find a style. It used to drive me crazy that the composers I work with as students seemed to need to reinvent themselves for each new piece. This is of course, required for the development of the composer. Deciding on a method, following it through in writing a piece, testing it with live performers, analysing the performance and its perceived success or failure, and making a reassessment for the future.

But how can you challenge your process later in your career, once you’ve created habits and good practice?

This project, the attempted symbiosis of two different composerly minds through collaboration, is the challenge. The question then, is, will this project fracture the normative practices of these two composers? And will those fractures find their way into Scott and Mic’s work after this piece has been finished, when they return to composing as individuals?

I suspect the answers are yes, and yes.

Even in our first workshop together, they were able to point out specific ways in which one had influenced the other. As a first experiment, the idea seemed relatively simple. Mic provided the rhythmic structure, and Scott the pitch material (made up almost exclusively of multiphonics). So in this case, Mic’s complicated rhythmic structures were foiled by the transitioning multiphonics that Scott lay over them, for example.

But I think the change goes deeper than this. In order to cope with a kind of material Scott has not encountered in his own work (namely, rhythms), he was, as he said, “forced into a corner from which I was expected to fight my way out.” By which he meant he was presented with material wholly foreign to him, from which he needed to find creative solutions for his own musical material. So that, when using the multiphonics he loves, and which are used extensively in his own work, he needed to do things he hadn’t done before.

Thus, many of the multiphonics were articulated in various ways: fluttertongue, bisbigliandi, smorzato, having different parts of the multiphonic speak at different times, as well as tenuto and marcato markings.

In order to satisfy the conditions of the creative challenge Mic proposed to him, Scott had to take all kinds of risks with the material that he wanted to use. The “mistakes,” such as they were, are unimportant. They amount to, for example, a multiphonic that breaks when fluttertongue is added, or a bisbigliando that doesn’t work because the pitches of the multiphonic change too wildly.

These “mistakes,” such as they were, are the things I am there to assist with. One of my collaborative roles is actually to suggest other ways in which Mic and Scott might solve their own creative problems while working with the clarinet. To suggest ways in which they might take their relationship with my instrument even further. (In the above example of articulated multiphonics, he hadn’t considered using slap tongue, for example.)

But as I wrote, the mistakes are not important. It is the risk taking, a result of the creative obstacles these two composers will continue to place in front of each other over the course of their collaboration, which will radically – I hope – alter the way in which they conceive of their own practices.

The question remains as to what challenges our collaboration will inflict upon me, and I look forward with anticipation to the answer.

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