heather roche

More techniques for a mouthpiece-less bass clarinet

Most of these techniques I’ve covered already, in my post on clarinet articulation. If you look there you’ll find information on tongue rams without the mouthpiece (and with, for that matter), flute embouchure (which only works – for me – on the soprano clarinets), and trumpet embouchure.

Just a quick little reminder: when using techniques without the mouthpiece, always make sure there’s enough time for the clarinetist to safely take off and replace the mouthpiece when necessary. I can do it pretty fast, but I’m always much happier when I have a few extra seconds (especially when putting it back on) to double check the position of the reed.

And if you’re serious about writing for the bass clarinet without its mouthpiece, you need to know this piece, Globokar’s Voix Instrumentalisée. I’m going to refer to his work a few times, but knowing that score is already going to be more comprehensive than this post. He wrote the book (so to speak) on bass clarinet without mouthpiece techniques.

And a note about the blog in general. There’s been some suggestion that I should be amplifying my sound files, because they don’t sound very good (or loud) coming out of laptop speakers. Please don’t go through these posts with just laptop speakers!!! You’re going to miss a lot, and while granted, I’m no pro when it comes to making the recordings, I don’t want to have to amplify them as I don’t think that’s going to do much for the quality.

That said, let’s get started:

Whistling into (and at) the bass clarinet

By removing the mouthpiece and whistling from a few different positions, some nice effects can be achieved. This does not create the same effect as a flute whistle tone, and it would be much safer not to call it that in your score, as the clarinetist won’t necessarily know what you mean and is more likely to think you’ve lost your mind or don’t know what you’re talking about.

I actually had never thought much would come of this, so the internet can thank this gentleman for pointing it out to me.

So there are three positions that I found reasonable effective.

Position 1: with the mouth completely covering the hole

From this position, the sound of the whistle reacts with the sound of the clarinet, and one can hear extra harmonics interfering with the sound. I think this is about as close to the flute “whistle tone” as we’re ever going to get.

Here’s whistling outwards in position one (I first whistle the pitch alone, and then in the bass clarinet).


Here’s starting from well outside the clarinet, and then gradually moving in to position 1:


And here is what happens when I breathe in to whistle. This is actually quite tricky in this position, as the clarinet offers a certain amount of resistance, and I can’t really breathe in at the right speed in order to achieve the whistle. It’s especially difficult if I have a bunch of keys pressed down. Best not to write that, I’d say.


Position 2: The smallest possible gap between embouchure and bass clarinet

Here’s a stable whistle from position two, wherein I leave just the tinest gap. A little bit more airy, and one looses the multiple pitches of the first example:


And here from the same position, attempting to whistle a glissandi:


And finally breathing in from position 2, much easier:


Position 3: A wider gap – probably about 2cm – between embouchure and bass clarinet

Here’s the same stable whistle again from position 3. Now we’re looking at normal whistling sound with bass clarinet air sound amplification.


By the way, in all of these examples, you’re going to hear this pitched air sound from the bass clarinet. You can in every position alter what the clarinetist is doing with her fingers in order to change the air sound pitch. Of course, for more information about air sounds in general, you should read this. Here’s what it sounds like, whistling normally, then playing a chromatic scale downwards from position 3:


Singing into the bass clarinet without mouthpiece

Here’s something a bit wacky. If I sing into the bass clarinet, without mouthpiece, while completely covering the hole, the resulting pitch changes depending on what pitch I’m fingering. So I can sing one note, but what you’ll hear will be a filtered alteration of that note. Like in this example, wherein I first sing the note I’m going to use, then sing into the clarinet, moving down a chromatic octave from E to E in the first register.


So you can write a vocal line for the clarinetist and simply have her play scales up and down. That’s easy. You can also use tremoli, here’s an example going from the open G (second line) to the C below:


Or from that same open G to the G an octave below:


Globokar notates tremoli in the clarinet while singing different things like this:


You could also combine a change in the vocal line with these tremoli. For example, here I am singing a glissandi, while doing the G to G octave tremolo:



Similar idea to the singing, except instead of singing, making that rattling croaking sound with the voice. The bass clarinet applies a kind of interesting filter. Here’s what it sounds like on an open G (second line):


And here with first the C below that and then the low G closed:


And finally all the way down to the low C closed:


And of course some chromatic scales:


Speaking text

Another similar idea, the text can be filtered through the bass clarinet quite nicely. Here’s a little demo where I close down to various points as we’ve already seen a few times today (open G, C below, G below that and the low C). I describe in the sample where I am on the clarinet, so hopefully you can understand me:


And here’s a sample with text and playing chromatic scales up and down:


Globokar notates it like this: