In preparation for the Microsoft Jazz Band swing dance gig at Third Place Commons, I am working on a clarinet solo. Every year I try to do one clarinet solo; it’s a stretch goal for me. You see I have only been playing clarinet for ~4 years. At the time I started my wife Suzy agreed to learn to play sax if I learned to play clarinet. Within two years she was sitting in as a sub on saxophone when she wasn’t playing her primary instrument the clarinet.
I have two soprano clarinets that I practice on. My favorite is a vintage Selmer Paris silver clarinet with a tunable barrel. It is a freak show of an instrument often confused for a soprano sax by the uninitiated. You can read more about metal clarinets here. My primary instrument is the easiest clarinet for me to play. It is my wife’s castoff, a Buffet R13 Festival.
Playing the clarinet well has been extremely difficult for me. The only reason I have stuck with it is because I luv the sound of the instrument. So I thought I’d give some learning tips and tricks that might be helpful for the sax doubler who is contemplating learning to play the clarinet.
Tips & Tricks for the Sax Doubler
1. I selected the best professional-grade instrument I could starting with a Leblanc Paris and the eagerly moving up to a Buffet Festival when one became available. I just did long tones and easy music for around two years waiting for my embouchure to develop. The sound I initially made was not pleasant to listen too. I periodically took lessons because I’d get stuck on certain aspects of the instrument that a qualified teacher could easily sort out for me.
2. Our concert band had no bass clarinets so I purchased a bass clarinet and sat in that chair for a year. Bass clarinet was very hard for me in the clarion (middle) range because of the voicing. So I purchased a Walter Grabner mouthpiece which made the clarion range possible. Shortly thereafter I upgraded from a Leblanc Paris to a Selmer Privilege bass clarinet and the easy in voicing became 100 percent better. By the end of the year we had four bass clarinets so I moved back to the sax section.
3. I added a BG thumb rest to my instruments. I still have a callus on my thumb but there is no more pain.
4. My mouthpiece set up is designed for sax players. It is a Ralph Morgan Jazz piece with a scoop beak that for me makes the transition from sax to clarinet and back to sax a bit easier. I also like the cheaper Morgan Protone or Hite mouthpieces. I use a tooth patch to lessen the vibration to my top teeth on all my instruments.
5. I really got into barrels by accident and inherited my wife’s Moenning barrel that seemed to me to give a fuller, phatter sound. A lot of this stuff I purchased used on eBay for 10 cents on the retail dollar cost. The literature about this barrel sez, “This Buffet Moennig B-flat clarinet barrel has a reverse taper producing a dark well centered tone.” For me I find that it is easier to create a fuller sound with the reverse taper. YMMV.
6. I prefer the ‘very expensive’ Vandoren Optimum clarinet ligature because I can easily adjust it with the one screw vice wrangling with two screws for a typical lig. This is especially import at gigs where I double as I might have 4 to 5 instruments and getting the reed pressure and voicing the instrument often takes minute adjustments.
7. When I have more than two instruments I will use Plasticover reeds that don’t require wetting to play. I can often impress other musician’s with my ability to pick up an instrument cold and start playing without having to futz with the reed. If I use a cane reed, it most likely will be a Vandoren red box or ZZ reed as I rarely pull out a lousy reed from the box. I buy a box because if I go to a music store and purchase just a couple the price tends to be two to three times as expensive.
8. I place my clarinet where is it available to grab at a moments notice. I really need to practice more than I do so making the instrument available during the week is key. I place my instruments next to my computer and will often pull them out to play something by ear that I am listening too, read a sheet of music that someone has posted, or actually practice a solo that I plan to play in an upcoming gig.
9. I take lessons. Yes, it is expensive. But I don’t have a boat, cabin in the woods, or other expensive hobbies. This is what I love to do so I get the best instructors I can afford and they beat me over the head every week. I have two right now and I’m hard pressed to have a lesson that I don’t learn something new or get something reinforced. I took a long break from music after school. And when I returned to performance music I discovered that I didn’t sight read well enough get gigs and didn’t sound as good as I remembered from my youth.
My Stretch Goal Solo
So here is the solo I am working on for the next gig.
I would like to memorize it and as you can see there isn’t very much there. But if I’m going to stand, which I plan to, having it memorized would be beneficial. The scary part is not only sounding decent for the audience but one of my instructors and three very good clarinet players will be hearing it too. Wish me luck.