No More Wimpy Notes!

The coolest thing about this section of Halftime Magazine is that even if you don’t play the same instrument as my colleagues or me, you can still get some really useful information. But this column’s different: If you don’t play clarinet, you’ll gain nothing by reading beyond this paragraph.

What’s hard about the clarinet is that—with some exceptions— there are at least two and as many as six different fingerings that can be used to play a note. However, once you learn them all—and when to use them—difficult passages get much easier, and tone shadings are at your command.

There are two inherently weak notes: the A in the middle of the staff (concert G) and the middle of the staff Bb (concert Ab). Both are played with the left hand, and both only use about six inches of the horn. In a fast passage, we can zip right over ’em, and no one in the sax section will point and giggle, but whole notes can sound anemic. We must fix this!

Playing the A. Go ahead; use your left index finger on that little key above the holes to play the note like you always have, but add the fourth finger (ring finger) of both hands on their respective tone holes and the C/low F spatula with your right pinky and listen. Much more robust, huh?

Playing the B Flat. Put your left pointer finger on the A key. But instead of using your thumb on the register key— y’know those four inline trill keys on the right side of the upper joint—use the second one down with the side of your right pointer finger. You may also add those three fingers I mentioned above that make the A sound fuller.

Ha ha! Wimpy no more! These fingerings are meant specifically for longer notes because of the awkwardness of trying to get to them, but they’ll make the sound and resistance more in line with the rest of the scale as you play over the “break” (a term we’ll remove from our thoughts in a later issue).

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 new CD, “Coliseum Square,” was recently released on the Apple Jazz label. For more information, visit

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