Clarinet articulation requires a good embouchure and air support both creating good tone quality. It also requires a delicate motion of the tip of the tongue lightly stroking just below the tip of the reed. The good air support is key to the energy behind the tongue and drives the motion of the light, stroking technique. Once this is understood, maintenance is required to create and grow an even and fast articulation.
Achieving an even, rhythmical, well coordinated clarinet articulation starts slowly with careful use of the metronome.
1. Crawl before you walk – learn how to start the sound correctly, then rearticulate on quarter notes on a single pitch like first line E on the music staff. Learn LEGATO (smooth and connected) articulation primarily at this point.
2. Walk before you run – careful practice at slow tempos will help you build and maintain good, even, light clarinet articulation. Slow practice of the chromatic, major and minor scales will help you coordinate the fingers with the tongue.
3. Run before you sprint – slowly build up your tempos. If you try to skip too many notches on the metronome while articulating, a sloppy and uneven tongue will develop into poor articulation habits. Tonguing well slowly greatly improves your chances of tonguing well quickly.
CLARINETISTS – articulation is of great concern to all of us. Two facts about clarinet articulation are that:
1. It is hard to teach well.
2. It is often not taught well.
Just think of this, you are a clarinetist in a sea of beginner clarinetists. Your teacher is truly interested in you forming a good embouchure, making a good sound, fingering the correct notes and playing the correct rhythms. With beginner students, all of these are major challenges and the subtleties of clarinet articulation often gets lost.
Probably, the best teachers of clarinet articulation (Clarinet-now.com opinion) are those who teach from a very LEGATO standpoint. Yes, very smooth and connected. You'll learn more about this below.
When students first come take lessons from me, the articulation is usually TOO HARD and TOO SEPARATED. As this becomes your normal playing practice, when you eventually make it to a private clarinet teacher or study in conservatory or college, changing the articulation to become MORE LEGATO and QUICKER is a major chore. As with clarinet embouchure, the sooner you correct your articulation, the sooner your clarinet playing will improve.
So, this page is not just for beginners. It is for all clarinetists who wish to improve the speed of your articulation and the quality.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of teaching clarinet articulation, it might be good for you to read through these three Clarinet-Now.com articles.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AMATEUR AND PROFESSIONAL CLARINET ARTICULATION
DEFINITIONS OF LEGATO AND STACCATO ARTICULATION
Seven steps to clarinet articulation
1. Set your clarinet embouchure.
2. Lightly put the tip of the tongue just below the tip of the reed (not on the tip and not way down on the reed). Set the tip of the tongue millimeters down from the tip of the reed.
3. Breathe through the corners of your mouth.
4. Start blowing (Yes, before you release the tongue).
5. Now, while the air energy is moving, release the air over the reed by dropping the tip of the tongue downward only millimeters away from the reed. Make sure this motion is down (toward the bottom of the mouth NOT backward toward your throat).
6. At this point, one articulation is complete. To rearticulate, simply stroke the reed lightly just creating a brief interruption of the reed vibrations or sound. Upon more articulations, keep the tip of the tongue as close to the reed as possible. Yes, closer almost than you can imagine.
7. Do not move the chin with the tongue.
Now, I’m going to go in-depth with each of these seven clarinet articulation steps and explain how they are misinterpreted or improperly done by beginners or amateurs.
1. Set your clarinet embouchure. Many student or amateur musicians do not set the embouchure before they articulate. Many take step number one through step number five all at once and the result is usually POW!! BANG!!
After this hard articulation, the sound often scoops up as the clarinetist forms what they know as a good clarinet embouchure. If you are a young clarinetist, watch a professional play clarinet. They set their embouchure completely before they blow. Also, if you watch them end a phrase or piece of music, they keep the embouchure completely set until the sound is long over.
2. Lightly put the tip of the tongue just below the tip of the reed (not on the tip and not way down on the reed). The tip of the tongue is millimeters down from the tip of the reed. Often, what people do wrong here is use too much tongue on the reed, or they articulate on the very tip of the reed.
You might do the opposite and not use the tongue at all. What I did while in junior high and early high school was tongue with the back of the throat with a Kah Kah Kah sound. My first private clarinet teacher broke me of this bad habit and made me use the tongue.
3. Breathe through the corners of your mouth. Again, you need proper air support to generate a good clarinet sound. Having good breath support will give you the best chance for proper clarinet articulation. As noted on the Clarinet-Now.com AIR!! , do not open your mouth to take a breath. Keeping the embouchure while taking air into the lungs is extremely important; otherwise, you are completely resetting the embouchure between every phrase or breathe you take in music.
4. Start blowing (Yes, before you release the tongue). Why would I start blowing before I start the sound? You are building up air pressure behind the tongue. You are building up energy before you release the air.
5. Now, while the air energy is moving, release the air over the reed by dropping the tip of the tongue downward only millimeters away from the reed. Make sure this motion is down (toward the bottom of the mouth NOT backward toward your throat). This is a VERY, VERY, VERY delicate move. The absolute goal here is the start the clarinet sound with a clarinet sound.
What do I mean by this? Don’t start with a CLICK, POW, THUD, BAM, FLICK. Etc… Also, this motion toward the bottom of your mouth is just that, TOWARD. Do not drop the tongue all the way down to the bottom of the mouth. The tongue should hover just far enough away from the reed so it can vibrate.
6. At this point, one articulation is complete. To rearticulate, simply stroke the reed lightly just creating a brief interruption of the reed vibrations or sound. Upon more articulations, keep the tip of the tongue as close to the reed as possible. Yes, closer almost then you can imagine. Most folks have no idea where their tongue is on the reed or how hard or lightly the tongue moves in regard to the reed. Now, it is your time to become aware of this.
7. Do not move the chin with the tongue. This is one of the greatest problems with young clarinet articulation. You chew along with your tongue motion whether it is a legato or staccato articulation. Are you a “chin chewing clarinet articulator?” Sounds like a good “put-down”, doesn’t it? Well, it is very common. Try the next few exercises to test this and look at a mirror to see if you are a “chin chewing clarinet articulator?”
Let’s play E on the first line of the staff to try this. Yes, go get your clarinet, go get your Clarinet-Now!
Try only quarter notes at first. Play an E with quarter notes and make them legato (smooth and connected). Think of these questions as you do this:
How did my sound start?
Answer: Hopefully with just a clarinet sound, not a POW! then sound.
Am I playing legato (smooth and connected)?
Answer: Probably, as you think of legato, you started out with separation between notes and then became more legato. Try it again and do your best to play legato from the beginning.
Are there breaks in the sound?
Answer: Yes or no
What is my tongue doing?
Answer: Moving, right? On what part of the reed? Tip of tongue to just below the tip of reed is best.
Where is the tongue going?
Answer: Which way? Up and down or back and forth. Best is up and down.
Is the tip of the tongue moving only or the entire tongue?
Answer: If the entire tongue is moving, it is too much. Only the tip should move. You can also check this by looking in a mirror and tonguing. Is the bottom of your throat visibly moving? If so, the part of your tongue connected to the bottom of your throat is moving. That is too much.
Is the tip moving in an up and down motion (like from the top to bottom of the mouth)?
Answer: Hopefully, Yes
Is the tip moving in a back and forth motion (like sticking your tongue out or like a snake tongue)?
Answer: Hopefully, No
CLARINET ARTICULATION IN SLOW MOTION:
Now, do this. Try to play legato in slow motion. Yes, start the sound and slowly re-approach the reed with the tongue. You are attempting to slowly deaden the vibrations of the reed. Make your tongue movement so slow that you can feel the reed vibrate. The feeling might tickle the tongue. Keep the embouchure the same, but the slow tongue motion will make a WAH WAH WAH sound upon your experimentation.
When you slow this down, you get a better idea of what your tongue is doing. Now, return to lightly stroking the reed, but do it with grace, gracefully, lightly, etc… Now, attempt to do this in rhythm. Turn a metronome on and articulate quarter notes. At first, your tongue will probably sound TOO HARD, but upon stroking more quarter notes, it will probably even out and make a nice LEGATO ARTICULATION.
If you feel this and hear this, you are well on your way to becoming a great clarinetist. Now, you have to build on this knowledge and practice carefully and slowly. Once you’ve taught the tongue the correct motion and “lightness,” start building up speed slowly with the metronome.
As you’ve noticed, we’ve only articulated on one pitch. This is the best way to concentrate on the tongue. Make sure your embouchure and air support are CORRECT. Why? Often, when young people concentrate on a new concept like articulation, they completely neglect the proper embouchure and air support.
Best of luck to you with your Clarinet Articulation endeavors. On this Clarinet Articulation page, you've seen many links to Clarinet Embouchure. Now, go read about Embouchure...