Below are some Clarinet FAQ's with answers from our very own Prof Anton Weinberg. Anton has a 50 year playing career spanning classical and pop
genres from performances with London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through to legends such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd,
Jimi Hendrix and Tom Jones. During his playing career he has also held teaching positions at The Guildhall School of Music and Indiana State University in the USA.
Where should the reed sit on the Mouthpiece?
I have heard people say that you should see a thin gap at the top?
The reed must be straight and the top of it level with the top of the mouthpiece. Many books for beginners do say that a thin gap should be visible between the top of the reed and the top of the mouthpiece: I have been unable to trace any clarinettist who could provide an adequate answer why this should be; however I know that this advice appeared in the first renowned instruction book and has been copied ever since, without question. Importantly, as the reed vibrates, it prescribes an ark, it is therefore possible, if placed as aforementioned, that the reed will dip inside the tip rail, thus causing squeaks etc. Placing it level with the top of the mouthpiece retains the facing measurements that are unique to the model of the mouthpiece chosen.
How long does a reed last?
This will depend on how you use and treat the reed.
If you play regularly and for at least 2 hours a day, it will last about a week; if you play infrequently it can last much, much longer - sometimes as much as 3 weeks. Equally, if it becomes dirty and is not wiped clean after playing, its performance will suffer and it can harbour germs as it remains moist and warm. Old reeds tend to play flat in pitch and become stiff and difficult to blow, and also develop a dirty 'white' appearance. Many reeds have their life shortened because the mouthpiece is dirty; they absorb the debris that has been allowed to build up in the slot and very quickly become 'choked' in their response.
I have been told that a hard reed will help my top notes
No it is not, because you will get used to playing a hard reed and consequently the sudden benefit felt will gradually fade. Naturally the reed should not be too soft and also the correct strength for you to blow comfortably. Very hard reeds will simply strain your diaphragm muscles and your embouchure to no good avail.
It is the method of blowing that achieves those top tones and a good tone. Blow the air through the instrument FAST rather than HARD: that is to say blow as though blowing out candles on a birthday cake and not as though you were blowing up a balloon. The increase in speed, but with no added pressure is the same technique as used by singers and string players (with the bow|) and produces the support required for a warm big sound and controlled top notes. Naturally you will have to consult with a good teacher to develop the technique correctly.
How do I develop a fast finger technique?
The simplest, quickest and most effective method is to practice harmonic minor scales in 'broken thirds'. The reason for this is because of the finger movements required on the specific style of key work that the clarinet has. Start slowly and do not rush, but allow the fingers to relax into the patterns of these type of scales. 20 min a day should be the minimum and do not go onto the next scale until the initial one is mastered. The secret is in the broken thirds!
Do I need to oil the bore of a Wooden Clarinet?
Yes; however, there is much controversy over this point because so many teachers and players have not kept themselves informed of new research into this subject. Their views come from a time when manufacturers supplied linseed oil with their clarinets, and cracking was a real problem for professionals. Linseed oil should never be used as it is a drying oil (used by Artists in their oil paints) and will cause warping and therefore possible cracking. Modern flower oils that are specially sold for the purpose of oiling woodwind instruments ( and precious woods) are uniquely hydrophilic allowing the wood to 'breath' and 'behave naturally'.
Is there something published that shows me harmonic minor scales in 'broken thirds'?
There used to be a publication for harmonic minor scales in broken thirds but it was long ago abandoned by the publishers who were Russian. I learned them from scratch-working it out myself which, of course, is the best way.
What is the best way to clean a clarinet mouthpiece after use?
Cold water and some washing up liquid and a soft cloth does everything day to day after practice then a simple soft yellow duster wiped through.