…on close dyad multiphonics for bass clarinet

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post on close dyad multiphonics for Bb clarinet, if you haven’t seen that post, you should definitely check it out.

With bass clarinet, the theory is basically the same, so I’ve included the same text from the earlier post. The information here is pretty important, so do familiarise yourself with the text before using these multiphonics. It’ll help you understand better what the performer has to do in order to produce them, and performers, there are some tips here on how to practise these.

One special thing to note with the bass clarinet ones, is that they are written in French notation (a 9th higher, using the treble clef). This is absolutely my preferred notation for all bass clarinet parts.

A few points to keep in mind:

* The dynamic range of these multiphonics is very limited and always very quiet. With most of them, as soon as I push the dynamic too far, only the top pitch will come out. Be very careful if using these in an ensemble context. Multiphonics, especially these ones, are also difficult, very difficult, to produce if the clarinetist can not hear herself, so please do be careful with these.

* Adding flutter tongue often stabilises the multiphonic. If your clarinetist is not an experienced new music player (but can flutter), then this might help, rather than hinder them!

* Little bends are sometimes possible, and I’ve marked in the chart when that’s the case. And then only the top pitch can be bend downwards. If a dyad can be bent in this way, I’ve written ‘bendable’ in the notes section of the chart. Otherwise, the pitches are very much fixed and it’s difficult to adjust the intonation. Please consider this intonation problem when matching the clarinet multiphonics with other instruments.


On learning to play these multiphonics:

It is absolutely essential to practise these. As with all multiphonics, the fingering alone is not the key to success. It will never be as simple as playing one single pitch, and it would be a mistake to play the fingering once and assume that just because it doesn’t work on the first go, that the fingering doesn’t work.

The production of multiphonics requires a certain amount of flexibility and strength in the embouchure, and there are a few ways besides just playing multiphonics that clarinetists can train this, my favourite being an exercise in which the clarinetist plays a throat b natural, then without changing fingering plays all the possible harmonics on that fingering up and down, repeating the exercise on successively higher chromatic pitches.

In playing multiphonics, it helps when the clarinetist has a clear sense of both pitches in the ear, and then it’s a matter of finding the position of the embouchure to match that.

It is also essential, if playing a piece that uses a series of multiphonics, whether they are close dyads or something else, to practise the multiphonics in order. Adjusting for the tiny changes in embouchure position takes much more practise than one might initially think, and if a piece uses a lot of different multiphonics, this can be tiring to the musician, especially if he or she hasn’t done the work to learn where each multiphonoic sits on the face.

It is also more difficult to successfully play a multiphonic when someone else is playing, this just goes to show what an important role the ear plays in their production. The clarinetist can train this skill as well (playing multiphonics while having headphones with other music on helps a little), but the composer should be aware that he or she makes the clarinetist’s job much easier when the musician can hear herself!

Notes on the chart:

The chart presented here includes the pitches, the fingering, notes on individual multiphonics and trill possibilities.
Please take the pitches with a grain of salt: some of these multiphonics are a little wider or narrower than the interval written, and most of them are very fixed (as in, if one of the pitches is too sharp or flat, there’s usually not a lot I can do about it). I’ve rounded up or down to the nearest quarter tone.

So I would avoid, for example, combining these multiphonics with open strings if writing an ensemble piece, as you might need the string player to adjust when the clarinetist can not. The dynamic range for all of these sounds is also quite limited, ppp to mp, at the very most. Do consider that as well, when combining with other instruments.

Please don’t forget to include the fingerings in your score, and do so every time the multiphonic appears. It is very difficult to remember the fingerings for a multiphonic based on the pitches alone, so please do this as it makes our lives much, much easier.

(The numbers, by the way, refer to my own multiphonic database and not to any of the existing ones, so don’t use the numbers for anything other than your own reference!)

The abbreviations used in the “notes” section:

bottom: The multiphonic can be started from the bottom pitch alone

top: The multiphonic can be started from the top pitch alone

together: The multiphonic can be sounded together

bendable: The top note of the multiphonic can be bent downwards using the embouchure

About the trills: If no number is listed that doesn’t mean a trill is impossible, only that there isn’t an option on this limited version of my chart. Ask a player! Multiphonic trills are easy to find just by experimenting with adding and removing fingers. If you’re interested in double trills, there are some that include multiphonics like these, so please see this post.

Since there are fewer trill possibilities with the fewer number of bass clarinet trills, I’ve also marked what pitch emerges when the trill key is removed. Trilling these multiphonics with a low fundamental creates a beautiful effect, much akin to what Sciarrino often writes (in particular see his clarinet solo, Let me die before I wake for reference). It sounds a little bit like this (apologies, I decided to do this last minute, so there’s a bit of background noise on the track):

And now for the chart:


# Pitches/Fingering Audio Notes Multiphonic trills
06    bottom
13 This multiphonic requires an extremely awkward playing position! Leave space before AND after for the player to change!

bottom, together

17 together 21
21  bottom, together 17 (this multiphonic is difficult, but works much better in a trill with 17!)
101 bottom, together By removing the trill key, a nice trill to low F102 (slowly)
102  bottom, together By removing the trill key, a nice trill to middle C101 (slowly)
107  bottom, top, together  108, 109
108  bottom, top, together 107, 109, 110
109  bottom, top, together  108, 107, 110
110  bottom, top, together  109, 108, 111, 112
111  bottom, top, together 110, 112
112  bottom, top, together  110, 111, 113
113  bottom, top, together 112
149  bottom  By removing the top trill key, one creates a nice trill between the multiphonic and a low G,165
165  bottom, top, together By removing the trill key, one gets a nice trill to low G#,149
279 bottom, together trill both trill keys slowly, nice trill to low F#
280  bottom, together Trill the trill key slowly, nice trill between multiphonic and low F#


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8 Responses to …on close dyad multiphonics for bass clarinet

  1. Pingback: Index / Table of Contents (scroll down for recent blogposts) | heather roche

  2. Pingback: underblown bass clarinet multiphonics | heather roche

  3. Pingback: 14 dyad multiphonics for Eb clarinet | heather roche

  4. Dear Heather,
    thanks so much for creating this wonderful resource! Apologies for perhaps asking some very rudimentary questions here butI was wondering if I could clarify some fingering indications with you?
    – diamond shapes to the top-left corner, is this the register key and/or finger holes?
    – the number 12 (eg. in 113), which key does it indicate?
    Thanks so much!

    • heatherroche says:

      Hi Annie,
      The 12 is the register key, and the diamond shape is the thumb key – though I’ve got a nicer font for fingerings now, so perhaps it’s time to clean these up a bit!

  5. Pingback: Underblown Eb clarinet multiphonics | heather roche

  6. James Thomas says:

    Hi Heather,

    Your blog is an amazing resource, thank you so much! I was just wondering (as a silly composer as opposed to a clarinetist) if a trill would be possible between 279 and 280? The chart above doesn’t include that (just trills to the fundamentals), but it looks like it may be possible because of the similar fingerings (e.g. just trilling the top trill key should do it right?). Sorry if that is a stupid question!

    Best wishes and thanks once again,

    • heatherroche says:

      Hi James, I’m so sorry I missed this comment earlier – I’m afraid that trill isn’t really possible because of the position of the two trill keys on the left side of the diagram (you’d kind of need an extra hand to do this!).

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