Plastic tube scordatura

As you may have gleaned from recent posts, I’m part of an AHRC-funded research project at the University of Leeds this year with Scott McLaughlin, called the Garden of Forking Paths. Scott and I have been toying with the idea of playing with different barrel lengths, to see what kind of multiphonics might come out of it – this month we’ve been experimenting with a kind of “budget” version, using a bit of plastic tubing (an idea I had from working with William Kuo, who is a big fan of a bit of plastic tubing).

So, by extending the clarinet at the top, the proportions of the instrument are warped, and so the resulting scale isn’t simply transposed down, but stretched out. I made the tube as long as possible without losing use of the register key, but reaching into the altissimo is so-far impossible (maybe this would improve with practice? do I want to spend the time trying to find out? I don’t know?).

But the multiphonics are fantastic. I think so, anyway. They are brash and complex, and you can adjust the beating in a lot of them by moving the “barrel” around.

I wonder if this would be a really effective way to write microtones for less experienced clarinet players? Because learning the quarter tone fingerings is very time consuming, especially if you’re not going to make playing new music a daily thing.

I’d just like to know what you think! Is this something you could imagine using?

So the pipe that I use is 18mm in diameter and 16cm in length – and is inserted in place of the barrel, as shown:


All of the pitches are transposed into Bb here – the first line is the fingered pitch, and the second the resulting pitches. You’ll need to show both lines in your score when you write with this.


And it sounds like this:

Or alternatively, a bit of silliness with it on Instagram:

And then I have 10 good multiphonics for you. There are definitely more, I could probably spend a few happy hours coming up with another 30-50, but these were some of my favourites. Hope you enjoy them!

# Pitches Fingering Audio
1 multiphonic1p multiphonic1
2 multiphonic2p multiphonic2
3 multiphonic3p multiphonic3
4 multiphonic4p multiphonic4
5 multiphonic5p multiphonic5
6 multiphonic6p multiphonic6
7 multiphonic7p multiphonic7
8 multiphonic8p multiphonic8
9 multiphonic9p multiphonic9
10 multiphonic10p multiphonic10
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2 Responses to Plastic tube scordatura

  1. Miguel says:

    Dear Heather,

    First of all thank you very much for your extraordinary blog and for sharing it. I am a composer and although I like to try and work myself with the clarinet, even if I am not a clarinetist, your posts are of great help to me.

    Regarding the multiphonics of this particular post, I am encountering some problems. I tell you in order:

    1) It seems to me that sometimes you write the resulting real sounds and other times the written sounds. You say above the chart: “Pitches”, which seems to me a bit confusing
    2) In the case of multiphonics 4 and 5, the recordings are by mistake interchanged and I wonder if the fingerings are also interchanged and if they are the correct ones because I do not get those notes with those fingerings
    3) Regarding the multiphonic 10, it seems to me that the fingering does not correspond to what is written. I was particularly interested in the multiphonic that sounds in the audio. Could you tell me what the correct fingering is, please?

    I hope you can answer my questions.

    Thank you very much!

    • heatherroche says:

      Hi Miguel,

      I always used transpose pitches, always. Always always always.

      I think you’re right about 4 and 5 being switched, I’ve fixed that now. But I’m pretty sure 10 is right!

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