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:
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:
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:
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%):
The very easy multiphonics (over 80%):
The easy multiphonics (over 60%):