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:

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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:

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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:

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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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Ease when playing clarinet multiphonics?

Hello clarinet players —

I’m doing some work for a future blog post, and I need your help! Do you have 20 minutes spare to play through some Bb clarinet multiphonics and report back on their ease of play?

Then click here to fill out the Google form

Replace your morning long tone practice with multiphonics for a day and help with some research! :)

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Bass Clarinet Key Clicks

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you can support me on Patreon for less than the cost of a coffee

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