Index / Table of Contents (scroll down for recent blogposts)

Index: A-Z List of Clarinet Techniques Discussed in my Blogposts – click to be shown a new page listing each post that mentions the desired technique

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

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: 

Bass clarinet preparations. Lots of ways you can cover the bell of the bass clarinet.

All the possibilities for creating beautiful transitions, trills and multiphonics using only the register key.

On the use of double trills.

Bass clarinet techniques without the mouthpiece is a continuation of some techniques discussed in the articulation post. This second post moves beyond tongue rams, and flute and trumpet embouchures, to singing, whistling and croaking into the bass clarinet.

On close interval dyad multiphonics for Bb clarinet. And for bass clarinet.

On only using the lower joint of the Bb or Eb clarinet.


How-to Posts for Clarinetists:

How to improve your double tongue.

How to slap tongue


On Repertoire:

…on a historical approach to the sound of the clarinet

A Collaborative History of the Clarinet:


Other Popular Posts:

On using the iPad in performance – advantages and disadvantages and a fairly complete how-to

Advice for young composers

The Competition: Details and Application Form

We’ve successfully raised enough money to fund commissions for six composers!

All the details of the competition can be found in the form below. But remember: no entry fees, you’ll be selected by the jury based on two samples of existing work to write a new piece, for which you’ll be paid a reasonable commission, and premieres will take place in early 2016!

New pieces will be for SOLO (unaccompanied) clarinet or bass clarinet (but you may use electronics if you wish).  You must used the attached google form. If you can’t see it in your browser, try a different one. If that doesn’t work, try this direct link.

Please do not e-mail me copies of your scores and recordings. These will not be considered for the competition. The form is the ONLY way you will be considered!

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One week to go!

There’s just one week lef to raise funds for a competition for emergent composers. This competition will aim to support and encourage young composers in collaboration with an experienced new music player, exposing them to a wider audience and providing them with a decent commission to write their music.

Unlike so many competitions which ask for finished unperformed pieces, I’ll be asking to see a portfolio of work and a proposal for a new piece. All the applications will be judged by a panel of expert composers and the winners will have their pieces performed in London in 2016!!

If you haven’t donated already, please consider it! Even a small donation makes a big difference this week!

here’s the site to donate at!!

The First Composition Competition!

Dear Followers of the Blog,

I am going to hold a competition for emerging composers!

I want to find six outstanding young composers who are deeply interested in engaging with the clarinet in order to produce new work. I’m going to offer them the opportunity to collaborate intensely, and we’re going to produce concerts (with the premiere in London in early 2016) and high quality live recordings.

What I need to do first is to raise the funds to award each selected composer €1,000 as a commission before they write their piece. Please, please consider making a donation by following this link. Want more information about the competition and how it’ll work? Just follow the link, all of the details are available there.

3,000 people are currently following this blog using their favourite RSS reader. If every one of you donated just €2, we’d reach this goal! I can’t make the competition happen without your support!


A Collaborative History of the Clarinet: Nielsen / Oxenvad

Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto (1928) was written just three years after the Sixth Symphony was finished, Nielsen at the time was suffering some illness and disillusionment both with his own lack of international success and what he perceived as the state of modern music. The Clarinet Concerto was written in a more relaxed, exploratory vein, along with the Flute Concerto, both ‘studies in empathy.’ (Fanning 2010)

The work was ‘a concerto for [Danish clarinettist] Aage Oxenvad. The composer was so deeply inspired by Oxenvad’s immersions in the essence of the instrument and by his peculiar manner of expressing the soul of the clarinet, that one may safely say that Carl Nielsen would never have written this work if he had not heard Oxenvad. No verbal characterization could be more vivid than Carl Nielsen’s musical one. It tells everything about Aage and his clarinet.’ (Nelson 2008) Oxenvad and Nielsen were close friends, and the clarinettist’s often negatively misinterpreted remark, ‘…he must have been able to play the clarinet himself, otherwise he would hardly have been able to find the most difficult notes to play!’ was not intended as a complaint, but simply an example of dry, Danish, humour (Nelson 2008)

It was Nielsen’s intention that there be five wind concertos, for each of the members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, for whom he was inspired to write his Kvintet in 1922. After the premiere of the Concerto, it was clear from at least one critic that this was truly a concerto for Oxenvad:

‘Oxenvad has made a pact with trolls and giants. He has a TEMPER; a perimitive force, harsh and clumsy, with a smattering of blue-eyed Danish amenity. Surely Carl Nielsen heard the sound of HIS clarinet when he wrote the Concerto.’ (qtd. Bryant 1992; 5)


Bryant. M. (1992) “Carl Nielsen” in Nielsen: The Historic Recordings [CD Liner Notes] London: Clarinet Classics

Fanning, D. (2010) “Nielsen, Carl.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. <;.

Nelson, E. (Accessed April 20, 2008) The Nielsen Concerto and Aage Oxenvad.

A Collaborative History of the Clarinet: Brahms / Mühlfeld

It was in May 1890, when Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was just 57 years of age, that his friend, Billroth, wrote in a letter, ‘He rejected the idea that he is composing or will ever compose anything.’ (qtd Mason 1970; 219) While Mason suggests that it would have been perfectly satisfactory to close with what is arguably one of his greatest masterpieces (the Viola Quintet of 1890), it is to the immeasurable benefit of the clarinet’s repertoire that he met Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907), clarinettist with the Meiningen orchestra.

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Three Octave Tremolo/Moving Passages Chart w/ Quarter Tones for Bb Clarinet

This post is for composers who, when writing fast passages or tremoli (including quarter tones), aren’t sure what combination of pitches is going to work. The clarinet is tricky in this regard, as there’s no simple way to explain it, and other than learning how to play the instrument yourself, you have no way of checking what works and what doesn’t.

Until now!

I’ve created for you a chart that demonstrates quite clearly (I hope) in three octaves the relationships between all the pitches, including quarter tones. You should be able to use the chart without any changes on Eb and A clarinets, but I’ll have to eventually make another one for bass clarinet. You can download the complete chart as a .pdf here. 

So let me explain the chart, which is transposed (in Bb)!

Each entry looks a little like this.



The first note in the system is the starting pitch. Every coloured pitch that follows the double bar line indicates the distance from the starting pitch.

Green = You can write a trill/tremolo between these pitches.

Yellow = The combination can be used in fast running passages, but not in trills.

Red = Avoid, do not write! (especially in the case of the D quarter flat in the second octave – this quarter tone has no viable fingering!)

Blue = These blue marks above some of the yellow and red pitches indicate special trill fingerings. Often these trill fingerings can not be used in running passages, but it means that even though you can’t write a D to an E quarter sharp in a running passage (as in the above example), you can use it as an isolated trill. You shouldn’t need to add the fingering to your score, these special fingerings are almost always a combination of the right hand trill keys, which most clarinetists should be able to figure out without any difficulty!

You’ll notice that there is no series starting from the D quarter flat on the fourth line. That’s because there is no viable fingering for this pitch and it should be avoided in all cases! I was thinking of drawing this every time the D quarter flat appeared, but thought that might be overkill (so to speak). But do try to keep it in mind:



A Collaborative History of the Clarinet: Weber / Baermann

Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847), trained at Potsdam, served in a military band, and after a tour that took him through England, France, Italy and Russia he arrived in Munich in 1811, widely famous. While there, it was arranged that Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), who was visiting Munich in the midst of a tour planned to establish his reputation (Spitta 2010) would present some concerts for the Court, and he engaged Baermann to help him; for the occaision he wrote his Concertino (1811) for clarinet. Its melodies refected the human voice and Baermann’s personality; Baermann’s ‘…bright genial character and sterling worth soon won the young Weber’s heart. Carl Maria, always ready with his sympathies, attached himself in the warmest friendship to this excellent fellow—a friendship which lasted through their lifetimes. In their communion as artists, or in long years of separation, never was this friendship weakened….’ (Max Maria von Weber, qtd. Weston 2002; 121) The Concertino was so well received that the King immediately commissioned two full-scale clarinet concertos (Warrack 1968).

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how to slap tongue

It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn to slap tongue. We’re talking about years here. Years of being plagued by the doubt that I’d never be able to do it, and hearing people say things like, “you’ll never have a career in new music if you can’t slap tongue” (which is these days probably true) and “some people can slap and some people can’t; maybe you just can’t” (which is absurd and never listen to someone who says something like this to you).

The only thing I could think to do was to comb the internet for advice and to ask every single person I met how they learned and how they think about it. Over time I picked up some great tips, and I think I’m pretty good at teaching others how to do it now. So I’m going to share the things that worked for me, as well as a few tips that I’m not entirely sure worked for me, but might help you. There’s quite a lot of text in this post, but I wanted to get as much of this down as possible, for any other desperate clarinetists who are soaking up all the internet has to offer on the subject, as I once did.

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A Collaborative History of the Clarinet: Spohr / Hermstedt

In 1808, Duke Günther Friedrich Karl I of Sondershausen commissioned a concerto for the director of his wind band, Johann Simon Hermstedt (1778-1846), to be written by Louis Spohr (1784-1859). He wrote of his reaction to the commission, and of his admiration for Hermstedt’s playing, in his Autobiography:

‘To this proposal I gladly assented, as from the immense execution, together with the brilliancy of tone, and purity of intonation possessed by Hermstedt, I felt at full liberty to give the reins to my fancy. After, that with Hermstedt’s assistance I had made myself somewhat acquainted with the technics of the instrument, I went zealously to work, and completed it in a few weeks. Thus originated the Concerto in E-minor, published a few years afterwards by Kühnel as the op. 26, with which Hermstedt achieved so much success in his artistic tours, that it may be afrmed he is chiefy indebted to that for his fame.’ (Spohr 1865/1969; 124)


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A Collaborative History of the Clarinet: Mozart / Stadler

Further to last week’s post on taking a historical approach to the sound of the clarinet, I’ve decided to put together a little series on the blog. Since I’m rather keen on clarinetist/composer collaborations, it would only be right to recognise the long, productive and rather awesome history of these relationships within the clarinet repertoire. So to start us off, the most famous of these relationships, that between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Stadler. This is surely not the most comprehensive history you’ll find, but rather a short set of notes with lots of references to some of the great literature on the subject.


Mozart became familiar with the clarinet as early as 1764, through copying C.F. Abel’s Symphony op.7 no.6, but didn’t use them until 1771 in his Divertimento K113, composed in Milan. The parts for this are quite simple, suiting the technical abilities of the orchestral players of the time, who would have most likely had five-key instruments (Page 2010).

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