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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Workshops for Young Composers


I am now giving live workshops – this aims to serve as an introduction to clarinet and bass clarinet writing. Approximately two hours in duration, it aims to cover articulation, sound production, multiphonics, glissandi, microtonality, air sounds and preparations. It provides composers an opportunity to ask questions and to hear examples live. I use a lot of score samples as well, so your students have ample opportunity to see how things can be notated.

If you’re interested in having a workshop at your institution, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


(Photos: Allan Chen)

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27 Easy Bb Clarinet Multiphonics

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Two months ago, I decided I wanted to do a post on easy Bb clarinet multiphonics. I wanted to compile a list that composers felt they could use without worrying about whether the clarinetist would be able to execute them. I knew I couldn’t possibly do this alone, so I created a survey: 36 clarinetists from various musical backgrounds took part, and played through 44 different multiphonics (40 that I myself consider to be easy, and 4 that I consider hard – my “control” sample, if you will). These multiphonics were taken from my own home-made database, which has a total of 208 multiphonics. And from our experiment, 27 multiphonics have made the final cut: the easiest of the easy.

Twenty-seven multiphonics composers can use without worrying about whether they can be produced or not!

The breakdown of participation looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 17.10.27

For each multiphonic, the clarinetist would have to mark their ease of play on a score out of 5:

1 – Very easy. Can more or less play straight away, speaks well with pitches mostly balanced.

2. Easy. Took a few tries, but can get a consistent result now.

3. Takes a few tries, and this speaks at least 50 percent of the time when I try to play it.

4. Difficult. Doesn’t speak easily.

5. Can’t get this multiphonic to speak at all.

The response from an exceptionally easy multiphonic would look something like this:

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 17.14.03

with over 70% of respondents listing that multiphonic as “Very easy”, and another 16% as “Easy”. I’ll present this chart in terms of three categories of easy multiphonics: those that achieved a score of over 90%, those over 80% and those over 60%.

Interestingly, the 4 hard multiphonics I put in weren’t hard for everyone – but the results ended up being a lot more scattered, like for multiphonic #105:

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 17.17.23.png

Much thanks goes to the 36 clarinetists who kindly took the time to fill out the form and play through a rather large number of multiphonics (some of my favourite players are on this list — if this list, composers, doesn’t leave you feeling excited about new music for clarinet and all those who are dedicated to it, nothing will!). With links to their websites, and in no particular order, thanks goes to Andy Mellor, Jena Nahnsen, Jason Alder, Markus Wenninger, Alastair Penman, Tom Ward, Michael Perrett, Alexander Wravitz, Melissa Goodchild, David Ciucevich, Elizabeth Millar, Bret Pimentel, Ethan LaRoux, Alex Ward, Matthew Jansen, Gregory Oakes, Vicki Hallett, Shawn Earle, Karlo Margetic, Paul Roe, Nelson Malleus, Caleb Rose, Rane Moore, Laurence Scott, Jack Liang, Patrick Englert, and Natasha Chong. (If you think you’re missing off this list, let me know – if you didn’t put your full name on the chart, I didn’t list it!)

Quite a few of the respondents also offered some great advice in their comments:

  • If you’re having a hard time producing one, it could be worth trying a different reed.
  • Another tip is to first play the top and bottom pitches of each multiphonic, so that you have a clear sense of the sound you’re aiming to produce
  • Using multiphonics is a great way to teach young players breath support, embouchure and oral cavity shaping (and these 27 will hopefully be a great place to start!).

A few people have flagged the question of clarinet make, and whether you play a Buffet, Selmer, or Leblanc will make a difference. I — perhaps foolishly — didn’t collect any data on this. Make probably does make a difference, but I suspect not in the case of the multiphonics I’m publishing today, since the success rate for different players was in general fairly high. (Obviously these are all intended for Boehm-system clarinets, as is everything on my website.) Perhaps this is a good area for future research!

A few people flagged up a couple of these as not having the right pitches – thanks to those that took the time to do this, as I’ve fixed the three here that were just a result of my own errors.

Right, on to the charts.

The super easy multiphonics (over 90%):

# Pitch/Fingering Audio
92 easy 92
153 easy 153
173 easy 92

The very easy multiphonics (over 80%):

# Pitch/Fingering Audio
12 easy 92
28 easy 92
94 easy 92
111 easy 92
115 easy 92
145 easy 92
203 easy 92
205 easy 92
226 easy 92

The easy multiphonics (over 60%):

# Pitch/Fingering Audio
13 easy 92
24 easy 92
29 easy 92
53 easy 92
77 easy 92
78 easy 92
82 easy 92
84 easy 84
99 easy 92
121 easy 92
139 easy 92
147 easy 92
194 easy 194
202 easy 92
204 easy 92
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