Emergent Bb Clarinet Multiphonics: Part 1 – Overblowing

I think it’s useful, if you’re a composer, to make use of the fragile qualities of multiphonics. Some of them don’t that well as chords that sound together, but as a composer you can take advantage of this, and make use of these emergent multiphonics. This simultaneously has the added bonus of making your clarinetist look like they know what they’re doing: one pitch gracefully becomes two or three, rather than a chaotic huffing-and-puffing desperation to have the two pitches sound together.

I wanted to come up with a nice list of some multiphonics that do this effectively, and to find ones that start on as many pitches as possible. I’m going to ignore pitches below B3 (because you need to use spectral multiphonics for those, that’s your only option) and this first part covers the pitches up to and including B4. This list will by no means be conclusive, the vast majority of multiphonics have some ability to do this, it’s really just a sample. I’ve also tried to pick ones that do this quite easily, but if you’re just looking for easy multiphonics, check this out. 

A few things: the starting pitch can be held as long as is reasonable for breathing, but I’ve only held them for a second or so in the recordings. The top notes can be quite fragile – the higher the top note, the more fragile it tends to be. Listen to the recordings: they should make the colour of the sound obvious.

Some of these multiphonic fingerings can produce multiple second pitches, so I’ve included them wherever possible. Recordings should add further clarity.

This post is a kind of extended variation of stuff I wrote about for The Sampler a few years ago.

As usual these are written pitches, not sounding! And I recommend a pair of headphones, or the bottom pitches, particularly in the lower registers, can be difficult to hear.

Pitch Option 1 Fingering Option 2 Fingering Recording
bquartersharp139 139 bquartersharp158 153
c90 90 c161 139
cqsharp242 139
dquarterflat182 182
d284 284 d154 139
dqsharp166 166
dsharp215 215 dsharp184 184
equarterflat138 139 equarterflat95 139
e247 efixed e174 efixed2.gif
equartersharp258 139 equartersharp194 194
f283 283 f63 63
fsharp237 139 fsharp287 287
fsharp195 195
gquarterflat238 238 gquarterflat249 249
gquartersharp149 149 gquartersharp185 185
gsharp286 286 gsharp199 139
aquarterflat190 139 aquarterflat88 88
a57 a129 139
aquartersharp151 139
asharp125 139 asharp198 139
bquarterflat221 139
b126 126 b106 106
bquartersharplast1 139 bquartersharplast2 139
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Study with me at Goldsmiths University, London

Sometimes clarinetists ask me where I’m teaching, and I just wanted to write a quick blog post to let you know that you can now come and study with me at Goldsmiths.

Based in the heart of vibrant south-east London, Goldsmiths offers a number of fantastic programmes for music performance students, led by staff including Pete Furniss and Mira Benjamin (both of them incredible performers and pedagogues!).

For Masters students, for example, there are two interesting pathways, either in performance or in creative practice (links are directly to the Goldsmiths website). The programme covers a broad spectrum of musics from classical, to experimental, jazz, popular music, generative and electronic musics, etc.

Practice-led PhDs are also an option!

If you’re at all interested, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, or with the department itself: you are more than welcome to contact Pete directly at P.Furniss(at)gold.ac.uk.

I also live locally and love this area of London, so I’m happy to give you an idea of what it’s like to live here if you’re thinking of coming from abroad. Goldsmiths is in zone 2 – which means you can be in the centre of London in 20 minutes. But the area has it’s own vibrancy, full as it is with nice pubs, good cinemas, a few great venues, etc.


Screenshot 2019-02-14 at 11.06.11Screenshot 2019-02-14 at 11.08.18

(Have more or less just nicked these photos from around the Internet of the area, so don’t know who they belong to – except the last one (which is of a sunset from the top of Telegraph Hill, just around the corner from the university), which is by Sam Walton).

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Shakuhatchi-style Bb clarinet playing

I mentioned this technique many years ago when I wrote my post on clarinet articulations. However, I didn’t go into too many details in terms of how it works, what pitches are available, etc.

Basically, by removing the mouthpiece and the barrel, tilting the clarinet slightly and blowing across the opening, one can produce a charming set of flute-like pitches.

There are a few things to keep in mind: this does actually take some practice. The lower you go in the first register, and the higher in the second register, the harder the notes are to produce. In the low register, these tend to go very airy for me – perhaps someone with more flute-playing experience might be able to do a better job of this. It also uses a different kind of endurance: the most time I’ve ever spent on this technique has been in making this blog post, and after about half an hour of doing the technique, the right hand side of my face started to turn numb and I had to take a significant break before I could carry on. So it might not make sense to use this technique for the entirety of your piece, or your clarinetist may struggle with rehearsing it.

(Remember that everything on the blog is written in transposed pitches!)

So that you can see what this looks like when I do it, here’s a video I put on Instagram earlier:

There is definitely an easy range, and I would say that this lies between these pitches, using chromatic fingerings only:

easy range

The bottom pitches are the resulting sounds, and the top line shows the fingered pitches (everything is transposed for Bb clarinet here!). You should always show both, by the way. No clarinetist should be expected to work out what fingering to play, but if you just treat this as a kind of scordatura, and show both the fingered pitches and the resultant sounds, everything should work out splendidly.

In this range, I can get a nice strong tone here (as in the example from Instagram), and the pitches are more or less stable. Below that, it gets increasingly airy as the pitches gradually become more and more difficult to produce. So I would generally recommend sticking to this easy set of pitches.

The entirety of what’s possible I’ve split into two ranges, one for the low register, and another for a second set of pitches possible by overblowing. Here are the pitches (again, bottom set are the resulting sounds of the fingered pitches on the top line).

low register

This sounds as follows (I’ve tried to play the line as slowly as possible, which as you can hear does affect my ability to get as clear and singing a sound as in the Instagram example):

The high register has some overlapping, but I think the sound quality is slightly different:

high register

And sounds thus:


Some clarinetists can only achieve this technique by keeping the barrel on. I, however, can’t manage to do it at all with the barrel attached, so I’ve had to rely on another composer-clarinetist team (in this case Matthias Krüger and the excellent Gilad Harel from Meiter Ensemble) for sending me the resulting pitches of my easy reduced range – so if you’re writing a piece for someone specific, do make sure you ask if they can do this, and in what format!

with barrel.jpg


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15 “fuzzy octave” multiphonics for Bb clarinet

Because the clarinet only has odd harmonics in its spectrum, octaves in multiphonics are impossible. But there are a few that come very close, in a way that I find interesting and rather beautiful. These aren’t perfect octaves by any means. But the ways in which they come close produce some totally unique multiphonic sounds. They are close, beating multiphonics that vibrate in the mouth of the player and sounds almost sung.

They aren’t easy to play, but they aren’t as difficult either (I think). There are definitely dyad multiphonics that are far trickier.

The notes inside () represent pitches that you cannot separate in the multiphonic. Pitches are, as ever, transposed.

Enjoy them!

# Pitch Fingering Audio Notes
30 fuzzy 30 Bb - 30 This one is quite complex, and the top note bends really easily, so it needs to be controlled for the octave effect
31 fuzzy 30 Bb - 31
64 fuzzy 30 Bb - 64
67 fuzzy 30 Bb - 67 You can either have the F# or the C quarter sharp here (I demonstrate the F# second in the recording)
90 fuzzy 30 Bb - 90
104 fuzzy 30 Bb - 104
142 fuzzy 142 Bb - 142 The octave is buried inside this complex multiphonic…
172 fuzzy 30 Bb - 172
176 fuzzy 30 Bb - 176 Rather unstable.
177 fuzzy 30 Bb - 177 Getting rather far from our octaves with this one, but I find it so beautiful… a little tricky to keep both pitches even, as you can hear.
241 fuzzy 30 Bb - 241 Again you can either have the D or the G quarter flat here – I demonstrate both
265 fuzzy 30 Bb - 265 Once again the octave is buried within the multiphonic
324 fuzzy 30 Bb - 324
330 fuzzy 30 Bb - 330 And last but not least — actually this one may well be my favourite.
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Patreon Update

Hello all,

It is a big priority for me to keep the content of this blog free, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Setting aside the time to create new content is one issue, and the blog also costs rather a lot to keep online because of all the space required to upload audiovisual content.

I’m dependant on Patreon in order to be able to continue my work on the blog. It so far hasn’t generated as much interest as I’d like, though I’m regularly assured that this is simply because people don’t know about it. So here I am saying…it exists! Please help!

And it’s also because you don’t necessarily get anything special by being a patron. Until now: from now on, new blog content will go to patrons first. Four weeks later, it will appear on this site. So to get all those tasty multiphonics and interesting new techniques as and when I finish the content, you need to be a patron.

You can sign up for as little as $1 per post. Think of it like buying me a coffee to thank me each time I write something. I do drink a lot of coffee while I’m blogging.


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