Your sound. It is what distinguishes you from all the other clarinetists. How would you describe it? Is it bright and lively or dark and moody? Is it open or compact? Focused or spread? Sweet and soothing, or round and robust? How about breathy, clear, woody, reedy, gentle, shimmering, piercing, dramatic, expressive, melodic, edgy … aaauuughghgh! Too many adjectives! But all are relevant in assessing your sound.
Believe it or not, even if you’ve been playing for a short time, you already have a clarinet sound in mind. You’ve subconsciously picked it up just by listening to other players. And the more you listen, the more your sound will take shape.
Listen to Yourself
Be aware that the sound you hear when you play is not totally what your audience hears because you have the vibrating reed inside your mouth, generating most of what you hear through the skull. So record yourself and describe what you hear.
Dig around on the Internet for proponents of the German school, the French school, the Austrian school, the English or Italian schools of playing. Look for Klezmer stylists and Turkish and Greek and Armenian musicians. There are jazz styles of New Orleans (Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Noone), and of Chicago (Frank Teschemacher, Benny Goodman). You’ll hear versions of clarinet sounds that are reflections of the many cultures and regions of the world. And you’ll discover that there’s really no single “right” clarinet sound.
Equipment isn’t going to create your sound. There are many types of mouthpieces, reeds and clarinets that’ll assist you in the nuance of a particular style, and a good teacher can help you wade through the options. But I discovered that after two hours on about any setup, I start sounding like me. Our bodies just seem to naturally do what it takes to create what we wish to hear.
Hop to It
So here’s your assignment for this month: listen, imitate, describe what you hear, and see if you can add to that list of adjectives!
About the Author
Jim Snyder has been the busiest jazz clarinetist of the last 30 years, performing in clubs, concert halls and jazz festivals in the United States and abroad. Jim played for many years in New Orleans, where he was also a member of trumpet virtuoso Al Hirt’s band. He is regularly featured as a guest artist in concerts and recordings and is a staff musician for the Walt Disney Company. His solo CD, “Coliseum Square,” was released on the Apple Jazz label. Visit www.theclarinetguy.com.