Get Around Roadblocks

Roadblocks! It’s time we steer the clarinet-car around them! You know what I’m talking about: those things we’ve convinced ourselves we just can’t do. Here are two common roadblocks that are much easier to overcome than you might think.

The “Break”

Oooh, I’ve always hated that term! Just the word alone tells us that there’s some seismic shift about to happen when we go from using two fingers on the throat tone B-flat to nine fingers on the middle B. Yet we don’t seem to worry when we play the throat tone E with two fingers and jump down to the lowest E with nine of ’em.

One neat characteristic of the clarinet is that the blowing resistance is about the same throughout the instrument’s entire range. It’s the overtones that are different. Those are controlled by the column of air you send through the mouthpiece. Your embouchure should never change, but the shape of your throat should!

Try ever so slightly to create the letter “e” with your throat. It’ll change the shape of the air column as you leap from one register to the next. Right hand position is also important: Make sure you are covering that last (and largest) tone hole with your ring finger—even a slight leak there can slow your horn’s response.

High Notes

“I can’t play those high notes! They’re flat! I’ll squeak! They’ll laugh!

To which I would reply, “Be bold! Use more air! Play louder as you go up the scale!”

You’re asking the reed to vibrate twice as fast to play up an octave. So push more air to make it happen. Reshaping the air column is necessary, too. Again, maintain the embouchure and try reshaping the throat slightly to create the letter “e.”

Squeaks are actually higher notes that we just didn’t control properly. Squeaking should be proof that you can play up there; you just have to be in charge of when it happens.

Now grab the wheel and steer the clarinet-car around the roadblocks! Um, just don’t try that in your parents’ car!

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. For more information about Jim, visit

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