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Clarinet Lessons: Intonation

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One very important aspect of clarinet
playing, and
indeed of all instrumental playing,
is how to deal with issues of intonation.
Since the clarinet is a wooden instrument,
okay, and therefore, it is
susceptible to changes in temperature and
humidity, it is extremely important for
us to be able to key monitoring what
the reactions of the instrument are.
So, one of the things that I
would like to talk about, today,
is how to use the tuner critically.
Now the tuner is what I call
the lie detector, okay?
Because, so many times, we tend to
believe that we're actually in tune and
we may even swear by the fact that
we feel that we're in tune, and
therefore sometimes it really is not true.
Now, how and why do we end up being
confused is because there are certain
notes in the instrument where
we have gotten used to hearing
certain colors,
certain tendencies of the instruments.
Now some of the most popular
instruments in the market tend to have
the ABCs notes to be very sharp.
They tend to be about anywhere
between 12 and 15 cents sharp.
Now the way that most people
get around it is by actually
lowering the tongue
position a little bit and
slowing out the air, so that the notes,
we can bring them down.
Now, that it's a way of
doing it which is okay, but
the problem is that sometimes we end
up with over doing the problem, okay.
And it's a great problem to have because
there is in clarinet in the tone,
there's a very fine line between
a note that we bring down
in pitch and
then the sound start losing the core.
And in that grey area of losing
the core and getting the pitch,
many of us confuse that lack of core for
warmth in the sound, and therefore
we end up playing with a slightly
spready sound in some of those notes.
The notes in particular I would
like to show is the ABCs,
usually that tend to sail,
okay, and to be sharp.
Now in my instrument tends to
be playing pretty well, in tune.
But usually when we're getting those notes
with the instruments that tend to be
a little sharp, we'll hear what we
call a little extra ring in the sound.
But that ring is just sharpness but
we call it ring.
It's sort of like I could say I'm really
big boned, not that I'm a little chunky.
And [LAUGH] I can call myself
big boned all I want, but
the scale doesn't lie, right?
So the same thing,
we can have the
And this sounds, it has a nice spark.
But, actually, they are a problem
because normally they are out of tune,
but sometimes it's very hard to
play with other instruments.
Now, I would recommend using a pickup.
Oops, sorry.
A pickup where we can
attach it to the bell, and
we can put it in the input,
hole in the tuner.
That way the tuner can
pick up our sound and
just concentrate on our sound and
not get any extraneous noises.
So then we can get as quickly
as quick response as possible.
Now then,
when we practice with a tuner on,
it is not so
that then we become slaves to the tuner.
Because we are not playing
music with a tuner.
We are playing with other musicians,
and we're forgetting tone.
But the thing is that
the tuner gives us a great
point of departure from where we can work.
With a tuner basically,
the tuning is what we call tempered scale,
a temper scale, which is where we're
talking about equal temperament where
each half step in the scale of twelve
tones in the Western
scale be very equally so
that each half step is one hundred cents.
Now, there are many people who play who
have what we call the perfect pitch.
And therefore, where we're
talking about perfect intonation,
some of those intervals,
in order to be exact, they have
a slightly different amount of
spreading in between the notes.
Especially, for example,
in string playing, they use, quite often,
the Pythagorean scale,
which is Pythagoras devised in ratios
of dividing strings, like a string,
if you divide it in half,
and thirds, etc.,
then you get certain amounts of tuning.
But, for example, like when we're
talking about a major third,
in a Pythagorean scale,
they have it that because of the division,
it would be 408 cents as compared
to an equal temperament, or
how you play with a piano,
that is actually just straight 400 cents.
Now that they might work in certain keys,
if we're talking harmonically speaking,
sometimes we're playing a major seventh,
which we have it that is actually around
1110 cents as compared to just 1100.
Sometimes it is a problem because
it sounds nice in a melodic way,
but harmonically speaking,
that leading tone,
actually if we're playing in
a just normal operation, you know,
one, five, one, then that leading tone
is actually the third of our dominant.
So then,
that dominant tail ought to be just a
little bit lower and we are already sharp.
So the thing is that what
we end up having to do
is a lot of adjusting.
So the intonation really ends up being
something that is fluid, in reality.
So then you have the people who
are playing a Pythagorean scale, but
then certain players when they're
playing in double stops, etc.,
they have to play on what
we call just a scale.
So then, the scale A flat, then there's
no beats that are being clashing.
So then the intervals change yet
again, okay.
So what I would say is for an instrument
such as ours that it will change no
matter what because of the temperature,
and because
depending on how long we have been playing
it and depending on how our reed is.
The reed is a little hard it will
start to play a little sharper.
If it is a little too soft it might be
playing lower than I would recommend.
Try to play as tempered as possible most
of the time and then having the knowledge
and sensitivity about some of those
intervals in the Pythagorean scale and
the Jazz scale then we can actually,
we can spice up the note, okay?
Or do a leaning,
what I call a suggestion of that pitch
without just getting out of whack.
Because, you see, if we are playing in
the Pythagorean scale, for example, and
we are playing that third,
and that third has to go,
from that third we had to play a fourth,
or a fifth, and the Pythagorean scale,
the fifth, has 702 cents,
as compared to 700,
and then we were already in 408,
so then we are already then,
when you do the math, then we keep going,
going, going higher and higher.
And then we have what we call amseries and
nobody wants to be the flat person.
You know?
But it just becomes sharper and sharper.
Now string players have
a little bit of an advantage to
be able to be reigned in because
they have the open strings.
And therefore they're going sharp sharp
sharp, and then they always have to get
back to being able to play in
tune with their open strings.
Now, having said all of that, but
that means is that the intonation
ends up being flexible.
There's not one thing that ends up being
absolutely perfect.
Tempered scale works very
well in the middle, register.
But ifwe hear like pianos and
xylophones as they get really
higher because all their
measurements are the same they start, it
seems a little flat when we're hearing it.
Or like the piano in the low range it
seems to sound a little bit sharp,
because when we're talking about perfect
pitch, those notes do expand, okay?
So, it is very important to maintain
the flexibility and to be able to hear it.
For example, when it comes to clarinet,
we have to try to find
an instrument that gives us a great
deal of stability in intonation.
Why do we go for that?
I believe that is even more important than
an instrument that gives you color for
a pretty sound.
A very pretty sound is something
that is absolutely subjective.
And what somebody would say,
that is a very beautiful ringing sound.
Somebody else may say,
that is just a bright sound.
Or somebody who might say, that sound has
warmth, and is dark and fluid and juicy.
Somebody will say, that sound is dull.
But with the intonation, you are either
playing in tune with your piano or
with your colleagues or you are not.
And that is something that becomes tone,
then becomes a matter of function.
One analogy that I can give you
about the function is, Imagine eyes.
Let's say, I love the very beautiful
blue eyes on a very beautiful girl,
it's just amazing to see
that when they wink at you.
That is nice, okay.
But those eyes have to be in a beautiful
lady with the hair you like etc.
And they're smiling at you.
But if you get those same eyes in a plate,
with the veins,
all the stuff,
it doesn't become something of beauty.
It turns out to be something of a horror,
So that means that the context in which
we're talking about, the elements of sound
and intonation, they have to be part of
a whole in order for them to make sense.
Now, going back to the use of the tuner.
When I'm talking about how we tend
to spice up or suggest the pitch.
First of all, let's just try to make sure
that we can have a scale that is in tune
with a tuner so that we can at least
be able to play in tune with a piano.
Which, if we're not doing too
many things as soloist and
we're playing recitals a lot, that is
a very important thing to be able to do.
So we have to, in the clarinet,
if your clarinet has a decent bore where
it's able to play at least by itself
the scale of the instrument is set up for
it to have good intonation throughout.
Then you will be able to tune
the instrument by checking out
the throat tone G and tuning that for
example to the open G, whichever
way that you're going to play without
voicing or doing special fingering.
So anything like that.
Because that always affects the intonation
and then we do the middle joint.
So let me just show you, I will try
to tune the middle G, just by making
sure that the amount of barrel that
I pull out or I push in is correct.
[SOUND] See, right now,
because I've been playing the instrument,
has gotten a little cold, so
it tends to play in tune or
lean a little low, so
I'm going to push in the barrel [SOUND].
Right there it's lightening up,
now I'm going to check the middle G.
So now,
both octaves are okay.
So, that should give me an opportunity
to play my instrument pretty closely to
being in tune in the tempered scale.
[SOUND] So there we have it, and that way,
one of the important things that I
find that we have to think about,
It's really critical to have an instrument
that we can trust the in intonation so
that then whenever we
are changing our embouchure,
it should be for little color
changes that we would like to do,
that actually have relevance
to the music being played.
I better have to be making all
these little adjustments because
the instrument is out of whack, okay.
So those kinds of things are some of
the things that I believe that we have
to be thinking critically because
there are some notes that we accept
in the clarinet as being out of tune,
like the high ABC's and
the low F and E that have, that usually in
the most popular instruments tend to have,
the low F usually tends to be,
are 15 cents flat.
Some newer models have them even flatter
and it is something that we accept
in our own little club of clarinetist
because we just like our little sound and
we live in our own little world.
And what I would like for
us to be thinking is, we are always
striving to be better musicians.
Better musicians that happen to
use a clarinet to express music.
So, with that in mind, then those
little idiosyncrasies that we accept,
we should really try to make them
unacceptable because imagine if you
hear a singer that is singing and going
It's sharp, would we qualify
that person as a great singer?
Perhaps not, where a violinist that goes
like that or a cellist that plays those
notes flat in the low range so that,
you know, those 15 cents flat.
Well, would we qualify them as being
amazing musicians and instrumentalists?
So why do we give ourselves that
license to forgive ourselves?
It makes no sense
to me
So there's the second
part of the intonation.
Okay, now we have the scale that is
playing relatively in tune with the tuner.
Okay, so now,
let's say that we were trying to play and
then we're playing with
a violinist that is
used to playing C major and
they go do, mi.
And they're going to play
a little bit sharp that E,
because they're playing their
A concert A string is tuned to
a perfect fifth with their open string,
the E.
But that fifth, that perfect fifth,
actually 702 cents, it's not 700.
So that E is going to be sharp.
So that basically they are tuning do,mi,
because they want to be always checking
with their open strings, or
had their perfect fifth,
then we have to make sure that we have a
little bit of room to suggest that pitch.
So that one of the fingers.
You will have to add a little
bit of intensity to the air and
try to erase the pitch a little bit.
For a note like that in a concert E on
the clarinet, that F sharp, it's very
critical to try to do that, so therefore,
we may have to use the fork fingering.
Or if there is no chance because we're
coming from notes that we cannot be doing
that, then if we add the A flat, E flat
key is a way of getting a little bit more
focused and a little bit higher pitch.
For example,
You see right there is tuning,
it is tuning temperately in tune, but
in the clarinet that note has to be
a little bit out of focus because
of the way that we finger it we have
a little bit of stop on the air.
So then when we add the vent,
we are actually able to play
a little better in tune.
And there we can actually, because it has
a little bit more vent and
we have this tone hole that it is opening,
then adding a little bit of spin and
a slightly higher tongue
position will help us to get
the hint of that sharper intonation.
So if you could see this,
then the needle of the metronome
starts leaning a little bit but
it's still in the range of being in tune,
we do it sort of like
spices on good vegetables.
It's just to accentuate.
We are not going to put oregano, and
have a bunch of oregano with
a little bit of broccoli, right?
So we want the broccoli with
a little bit of spice, and
that's what we do for
those kinds of intonations.
Now, where would we use something like
that in music that we're actually playing?
Since I am playing in concert C,
D major for
clarinet, I was showing
you this little F sharp,
I will show you in the context
of playing the slow movement
of Weber's first concerto,
second movement.
The very beginning.
That is with the little hint and
getting the note to
be better focused.
If not, this is what it will sound like
if we go plain vanilla like with just
plain fingerings.
You see
that it ends up
being a little bit
dull in sound.
We call it dull, but
it's actually just spready.
But when we go
then it matches in color better.
It has the energy and
the focus of the note,
but also it's not sharp.
But the other way, we get something
that is in color a little bit more open,
it's not matched up, and is just ordinary.
It's like what everybody else sounds like.
And we don't want to sound
like everybody else, right?
So there is one
of the notes that would
be very important for
us to use.
And we can use it as much possible in that
slow movement of Weber's First Concerto,
Brahms' Third Symphony, Pines of Rome,
any number of pieces that
we need to use an F sharp that we
want to match to our better notes.
Slow movement of
the Brahms's Clarinet Quintet, okay?
Then we are using so
many of those F sharps.
And it is important to try
to get that worked out.
Now that is something that we have
to do in the French style clarinet.
In the German style clarinet, how come
they don't have to deal with that?
Well, their fingering system is different.
And then their F sharp allows for
the tube of the clarinet
to have a straight bore, so
that then there is no
interruption of the sound.
It's elongated and
shortened, in a even way.
In the French system, this is one of the
notes that we pay a little bit of a price,
because as we elongate the tube,
you see it's not straight.
Straight would be when we use the fork.
And that's how come the fork tunes,
and have a better sound.
Because it was covering this hole and then
this one starts opening just below it,
not just interrupting an air flow.
So, the critical things to be
thinking about intonation is,
let's make sure that we do not
confuse color for intonation.
It's important to make
sure that we can match
colors without sacrificing the pitch.
And it is important to give ourselves
the time to practice with the tuner
at all times, so that then we know
how fast the instrument gets cold,
how fast the instrument gets warm.
And it gives us an opportunity
to know more about ourselves and
how it is that we will
be dealing in concerts.
If we're playing outside and it's
a chilly evening or a very hot summer,
then we have to be aware of
where our instruments will go so
that then we can try to keep everything
as smoothly and as solid as possible.