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.
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. (To clarify: Moving back and forth at speed one will hear the failed connection, but in running passages, yellow pitches can be executed well enough that the listener won’t hear the difficulty.)
Red = Avoid these connections if you can. Many can be connected well at slow tempi, quite a lot of them are risky. Do not under any circumstances write tremoli. (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 (in tune!) (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, but if they don’t have an option and tell you it isn’t possible, you can refer them to the chart which hopefully will help clarify things.
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:
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