Bass Clarinet Key Clicks

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This post has been much-requested and is well overdue. I think bass clarinet key clicks are an underused (and often misused) technique with a lot of potential: the sounds are interesting but complex, and unfortunately much quieter than say, saxophone key clicks. For the recordings I’ve used a DPA very close to the instrument, so that you can get a really good sense of some of the pitch material possible here, but please be aware that these are quiet – the best solo pieces I’ve seen that use key clicks have all been amplified! (I’d recommend headphones for listening to the sounds on this post!)

If you have questions or other things it’d be useful to know please leave a comment. I do feel that this post is somewhat incomplete and would love to know what else you’d like to know as composers!

So, the most important thing to keep in mind is that what goes down, must come up: every time I press a key on the bass clarinet (which comes with a lot of mechanics!), it makes a noise both on the press and on the release. Here’s a clip with some slow press-and-release actions in the very lowest register:

The most useful action for loud key noise happens in the bottom register of the instrument, where the biggest keys are. These are the C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F# and G# keys, and we can trigger them either open or closed, that is to say that they make different noise sounds (with different pitches) depending on whether the hands have closed the other toneholes or not.

What you’ll hear is me quickly opening and closing the key in the fingering diagram.

So first, with the instrument open:

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And closed – here I’m still just operating the lowest key while holding everything else closed:

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For the main body of the instrument, it’s slightly less about key “noise” and more about a kind of pitched tapping. In the examples I’m playing slowly so that you can hear the pitches, but there’s no reason these can’t be played at any tempo. Here’s an F major scale in the first register, descending:

Here’s E major: 

Eb major:

D major: 

C major: 

Because of the “what goes down must come up” rule, this only really works descending. Ascending, we get this: 

There’s still a little bit there, but I really have to work to get any sound out. It might, however, be useful to get from a position with all the keys covered to one where none are (rather than just letting everything go, which will give you a big spring-back noise). You also can’t use this effect in the second register, as the register key doesn’t work on key noises.

Up till this point I’ve been playing these without touching the mouthpiece at all, but you can and it changes things a bit, if I add the teeniest tiniest bit of pressure to give a bit of pitch it sounds rather nice: 


Another thing I like is the big pads below the keys can be trilled independently with the fingers with the right hand. There are five of them, and there’s more weight to the key the lower you go so the response is lessened, but I rather like the spring back effect.






The trill keys don’t make a lot of noise, but you might find that useful. I give them a few presses each from top to bottom in this clip: 

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Five Pre-1950 Orchestral Pieces by Women for Your Conducting Workshop

The Royal Philharmonic Society has recently announced a workshop for professional women musicians new to conducting. A great idea, featuring an afternoon of conducting and lectures on business and leadership, and a small class size with only 10 women invited. I was about to apply. And then, I noticed that the repertoire included in the workshop is all written by men. I immediately felt a mix of surprise, alarm, disappointment and frustration. This must be some kind of oversight, right?

Anyway, the Internet had some answers after I expressed my alarm and frustration on Twitter: there are no pre-war women composers of this quality (um, seriously?), the music needs to be easy for new conductors (er, and?).

I suspect, however, it comes down to a combination of lack of attention, laziness and a lack of curiosity about music in general.

So, I’ve put together a little list of some pieces for consideration for your next conducting workshop. Full disclosure, and I think this is important: I am no expert on music of this era. So I’ve put this list together in about an hour’s listening and research, with some help from a few friends (especially Anton Lukoszevieze, who has anyway over the last year or so introduced me to so much amazing music). But anyway, if I can do this, anyone can.

I’ve only just started to discover repertoire by women of this era, and look forward to the listening to come!

(And, I’d still like to apply. Although I suspect I haven’t made any friends at that particular organisation today.)

Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, Symphony No. 1

Russian-born Canadian (I didn’t waste any time to get a Canadian in there), she studied with Vincent d’Indy and Camille Chevillard in Paris, and her orchestral output includes two symphonies (including the first, linked here, the second movement of which would be an easy choice for a workshop), a piano concerto, a triple concerto for trumpet, clarinet and bassoon, three piano concertos, two violin concertos, a bassoon concerto and a piece for two pianos and orchestra. Phew!

Ruth Crawford Seeger, Music for small Orchestra

American composer, she was fascinated by Scriabin and a big influence on Elliott Carter. She lacks the extensive orchestral output of Eckhardt-Gramatté, but I’m not sure if you need anything other than her wonderful Music for small orchestra. Deeply atmospheric, the small orchestra gives lots of space to individual instruments, making it an ideal exercise in listening and cueing for any conducting workshop.

Germaine Tailleferre, Ballade pour piano et orchestre

French composer, studied at the Paris Conservatory, and befriended Maurice Ravel, who encouraged her to apply to the Prix de Rome. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of her extraordinary output, which includes a lot of orchestra music. But she is wonderful…

Elizabeth Maconchy, Nocturne

English composer of Irish heritage, Maconchy studied with Vaughan Williams and Charles Wood. Brooding and dramatic, her Nocturne is sure to inspire any budding conductor. (And if you’re looking for something newer, why not check out work by her daughter, the composer Nicola LeFanu.)

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth, Overture to The Wreckers

Going back a little further, Englishwoman Dame Ethel Mary Smyth was not only a composer, but also a member of the women’s suffrage movement, making her a good  choice for 2018, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of (some) women getting the vote in England. This overture is also fairly stirring stuff, very much on par with the Royal Philharmonic Society’s offerings for their conducting workshop.

There. That’s 5. That was fairly easy and I came across dozens of others that I would happily have included. What would you include on your list?

Posted in advice, on collaboration & composition, performance, repertoire | 14 Comments

The British Music Collection’s 50 Things

Hello everyone —

I recently wrote some words on one of my favourite solo pieces, Bryn Harrison’s Open 2, for the British Music Collection. You can read the piece here.

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Buzzing, noisy and distorted multiphonics for Bb clarinet

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In case you haven’t noticed, I have a real interest in categorising multiphonics by type, instead of simply presenting one big database. I think this is much more interesting for me (as it involves a bit more research and creativity) and hopefully more practical for the composer. It also asks you, composers, to think about the kind of sound quality of multiphonic you want, and hopefully over the years I’ve presented a few different options. Here’s another one.

In this post we have a collection of about 40 multiphonics, all with a buzzy, noisy or distorted quality, a lot of them have nice beatings. They’re definitely all similar in type, though a few break the mould, and are a little more fragile than the others.

These are different from spectral multiphonics in that they don’t rely solely on overblowing but involve cross fingerings, which split the airflow (the same is true of the dyad multiphonics I’ve also covered). They also have, I think, a much different sound from the spectral multiphonics, so this is a good way to shake things up, if you want something more aggressive but want to avoid the sound of the elephantine spectral multiphonics (as they can be, well, a bit cliché at times).

As always I am notating in written pitches here. Pitches in brackets are there to help clarinettists find something to aim for or are sounds contained within the multiphonic that cannot be isolated.

I’ve tried to give a general dynamic level, though there’s no hard and fast rule here; these generally need a bit of volume to be produced, but some of the more fragile ones will never get past a mf and won’t be as dramatic in an ensemble context. Hopefully the recordings give you some idea – they should certainly give you an idea of the stability.

I’ve also presented you with extensive notes on each multiphonic. Hopefully this gives you an idea of difficulty and sometimes I include what I have to do as a clarinetist to produce each one – which in turn might be helpful to other clarinetists.

There are a lot of multiphonics here, and these buzzy ones tend to be in within a fairly similar range. I think they all have their own quality, but it also means if your clarinetist is struggling to achieve one of these, there are some alternatives!

They aren’t in any particular order I’m afraid. The numbers relate to my own multiphonic chart (which you will have seen on other posts, so some of these might by chance appear on multiple blog posts). Another one in the high register that’s rather fragile, but beautiful. Don’t try to force it, much easier if you start just from the bottom note and introduce the multiphonic carefully.

# Pitches Fingering Audio Dynamic Notes
#7  imgnoise7  noisefinger7 mf  This muliphonic has two versions – it can be quiet and delicate, but it also has a noisy and loud cousin – a bit tricky to find the position (I suggest aiming for the D# above the stave but not quite making it and adjusting the jaw slightly to accommodate), but sounds great.
#10 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 f  I find this one rather easy to produce. There are obviously a lot of other pitches in there, but I’ve just given you the crucial ones – I really think this is all the clarinetist needs to see.
#20 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f see #10
#31 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  One of those rare almost-octave multiphonics that has a really interesting sound.
#36 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f As long as I don’t squeeze, but make a lot of room in the mouth, this one is easy to produce
#49 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#55 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 mp-mf  This one is a bit fragile, but I rather like it – hard to stabilise so don’t use if it you want stable, but let it do its thing.
#60 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  For me this one speaks immediately and with a lot of power.
#61 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf-f  This one’s a little fragile and hard to maintain the sound – but beautiful.
#65 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#74 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf-f  Some beautiful beating in this one
#75 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  very unstable, raucous – but not difficult so long as instability is catered for
#78 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf-f  One of the first multiphonics I ever learned – not difficult, fairly stable.
#79 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mp-mf  Nice and easy to overblow, with a slight beating.
#83 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 f  see #10
#91 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  This one speaks easily so long as I don’t leave space in the mouth but actually pinch the mouthpiece slightly.
#92 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#94 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 f  Very similar to #94, but I couldn’t have one and not the other. Quite easy to move between the two of them in terms of embouchure and fingering, could add some nice colour changes for the right composer!
#99 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf  see #55
#101 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 f  see #10
#109 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 f  see #10
#112 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#114 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  Extreme beating! Easy to make speak for me, too.
#118 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f This one is a little fragile, due to the register extreme, but when you get the buzz going it works really nicely.
#119 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#138 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf  A little fragile, it seems to move around a bit while playing, but not difficult to make speak.
#139 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  A little less stable than the ones I refer to note #10, but still very resonant
#142 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  Another one of these almost-octave multiphonics. I can get some great beating by just changing the jaw position slightly, bending the top pitch. It’s not easy to control, but sounds good.
#143 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf-f  Some fantastic beating possible here.
#155 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf-f  This one can be a bit fragile but every now and then I get a really stable version – in the recording it seems to start that way, and then I gradually lose it.
#156 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  ff  Speaks easily, it’s loud, it’s brash. It sounds like an oboe multiphonic! Sorry oboist friends. #sorrynotsorry
#164 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mp-mf  This one works really well if you play it a little quieter, otherwise it breaks (as you can hear in the second half of the audio example)
#165 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  ff  See #156
#172 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  ff  Strangely, in my notes it says that this one is stubborn to play — but it speaks really easily for me at the moment. Like, #156 or #10 easily (that’s why all of these alternatives are going to be so helpful for you!).
#173 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  See #10
#202 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#203 imgnoise203 noisefinger7  f  see #10
#221 imgnoise7 noisefinger7  mf-f  How beautiful is this one? It’s quite difficult though, and not particularly stable. Don’t write this for someone new to multiphonics!
#244 imgnoise7 noisefinger7 mf-f This multiphonic has such a great sound, and I’m including it especially as a hommage to my friend and colleague, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, who used it extensively in the duo he wrote for accordionist Eva Zöllner and I. I can’t play/hear it without thinking of him!
Posted in multiphonic, spectral multiphonic | 1 Comment

Composer Opportunity!

Dear composers —

The Bludenzer Tage have announced a unique opportunity to work with Eva Zöllner and I on new pieces for clarinet and accordion, with Carola Bauckholt leading the workshop. This is going to be a great project, and we’re looking to select six composers to be with us this November in Austria. Please do check it out.

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